What properties do all scientific laws share

01.09.1999 13:39

What are and why are laws of nature valid?

Dr. Gerhard Trott Media and news
Bielefeld University

What are and why are laws of nature valid?

Conference at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) at Bielefeld University
Wednesday September 15 and Thursday September 16, 1999

If you ask why a chemical or biological law is valid, you often come across other, deeper, ultimately physical laws. The properties of table salt can be explained by the ionic bond of sodium and chlorine, i.e. ultimately by electrical attractive forces. But even within physics, laws can often be traced back to other, deeper physical laws. This leads to the question of whether there are deepest or ultimate laws, a kind of "final theory" or "theory of everything", and if they exist, what they look like and how they could be justified.
A conference at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) at Bielefeld University, which will take place there from September 15 to 16, will deal with fundamental questions of this kind. It is under the scientific direction of Prof. Dr. Peter Mittelstaedt (Cologne) and Prof. Dr. Dr. Gerhard Vollmer (Braunschweig). Both are both philosophers and physicists. A selected group of 25 scientific experts from all over Germany has been invited, many of whom have similar dual qualifications.

The conference "What are and why are laws of nature valid?" will deal with three questions that are fundamental to the natural sciences in an interdisciplinary manner:

(1) What are natural laws?
(2) What is meant by the fact that natural laws "apply"?
(3) Why do they apply?

These questions, which have become particularly topical due to an abundance of new theoretical approaches, should be discussed from different starting points:

From the perspective of philosophy with reference to theories of classical philosophy (Hume, Kant), positivism and modern philosophy of science.

From the perspective of mathematics and logic with reference to the justification strategies for mathematical and logical systems, since some basic physical laws can presumably be reduced to such non-empirical systems. The program of quantum logic can be classified in this area as the attempt to reduce quantum theory to logic.

From the perspective of physics, the question of its "ultimate" laws is particularly interesting. This question is often discussed in connection with the possibility of a unit of physics in the sense of a "final theory" (Weinberg) or a "theory of everything". In order to justify such a theory, the problem of justification of quantum theory, general relativity and cosmology must be clarified.

From the perspective of other natural sciences, one will first ask whether there are laws at all - for example in chemistry, biology or even psychology. If they exist, then the question arises whether these laws can be traced back to physical laws (reductionism). On this assumption one can reduce the problem of justification of the laws of nature to the corresponding problem for the fundamental laws of physics. In fact, in today's physics there are three ways to understand the fundamental laws of physics and make them understandable:

(a) The attempt is made to reduce basic laws to purely logical structures. This includes the quantum logic justification of quantum theory, the theory of the primordial alternatives and temporal logic (v. Weizsäcker) and the idea of ​​the "logical isolation" of the ultimate fundamental laws of physics.

(b) Many laws of macroscopic physics can be understood as statistical macro-laws that do not have to be based on micro-laws. This emergence of macro-laws from an unlawful behavior on the micro-level leads to "unlawful laws" (Wheeler), which play a role in large areas of physics - also in the meantime in quantum mechanics.

c) There are various proposals for the justification of the contingent components in the theory of elementary particles and cosmology that cannot be explained by methods (a) and (b). The elimination of the initial conditions (Hartle, Hawking), the explanation of the natural constants through anthropic principles (Carter) or through the assumption of the simultaneous emergence of a multitude of universes (Linde) are mentioned here.

The conference program and list of participants can be found at:

The ZiF conference office answers inquiries about the organization of the conference:
Marina Hoffmann, Tel .: (0521) 106-2768, Fax: (0521) 106-60 24;
Email: [email protected]

The organizers of the conference welcome journalistic interest and are available for questions or interviews before and after the conference and during the conference breaks. We ask for your understanding that participation in the entire conference is usually not possible for external visitors due to lack of space.

There is also the possibility of direct contact with the organizers:

Prof. Dr. Peter Mittelstaedt, University of Cologne,
Tel. 02235-71877, email: [email protected]

Prof. Dr. Dr. Gerhard Vollmer, University of Braunschweig,
Tel. 0531-3913452, Email: [email protected]

All lectures held at the conference will also appear in issue 2/2000 of the journal Philosophia Naturalis.

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