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Do Physical Laws Make Things Happen?

Stephen L. Talbott

This chapter is part of a work in progress and is subject to continual revision. Date of last revision: March 16, 2004. The chapter was originally published in NetFuture #155. Copyright 2004 The Nature Institute. All rights reserved. You may freely redistribute this chapter for noncommercial purposes only.

In "The Limits of Predictability" I tried to show the great distance between understanding a certain lawfulness inherent in events and predicting or explaining the events themselves. Contrary to all current thinking within science, the more uncompromisingly we formulate the precise and determining action of a physical law, the less it tells us about the events it governs. We gain more and more exactness about less and less of the world's concrete expression.

I illustrated this by describing what happens when we release a leaf in a vacuum chamber. The leaf now "drops like a rock". That is, we get a trajectory that seems to be little more than the graphic display of a mathematical expression we ca