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View Diary: Conservapedia Disproves E=mc² (343 comments)

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  •  Well, the relevant language in that equation (2+ / 0-)
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    mamamedusa, melo

    is modern algebraic notation, which largely is due to much later mathematicians like Euler.  The Greeks would have expressed the same idea in terms of proportionality and the relationship of the side of a certain square to its area.

    While the Greeks were by far the greatest mathematicians of the ancient world, it is their study of the topic that made them so, not their language. Herod the Great is said to have expanded the Second Temple on a massive scale. Any culture with the architectural sophistication to do a project on that scale would have ways of expressing the mathematical relationship in Newtons Law of Gravitation.  What they lack is the observational data and analysis to arrive at it. Even Newton stood on the shoulders of giants.

    I've lost my faith in nihilism

    by grumpynerd on Sat Mar 23, 2013 at 07:47:06 PM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  Language is always a limiting factor. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mamamedusa, AlyoshaKaramazov

      Although it's possible to invent new phrases in any language in order to continue the conversation, you still have to... invent the phrases.

      I keep threatening to post a diary some time about the time I got a seminar room of libertarians hopping mad at me when I disagreed with the instructor that we all owed Newton for "discovering" F=MA.  F=MA is not a discovery or a law of nature.  It's just a definition.  Like, Net Profit = Gross - Expenses.  But without that definition, many other real discoveries can't be expressed.  

      Likewise, some complicated mathematical concepts like square roots can't be discussed in a language that doesn't first have other definitions laid down by which to define it and reach any understanding.

      And there are other words, too, like the word "The World," which I just mentioned.  When the Flood covers "The World," what the hell does that mean?  Does that mean, "All the places me and my bodies know about?"  This goes beyond a matter of poor translation of the Hebrew word, because the concept of a wider world encompassing all oceans and continents was not something they otherwise needed a word for.

      In fact, just defining the word, "The World," in the way we know it, would have been an enormous scientific and technical leap.

      •  F=dp/dt actually (0+ / 0-)

        That's how Newton framed it; force is the derivative of momentum with respect to time (although he wouldn't have used this notation, which comes from Euler and is rooted in Leibnitz's alternative conception of calculus rather than Newton's fluxions, which bears on this issue of whether linguistic formulations are discoveries).  The momentum based equation is actually a more useful and general version of the Second Law than F=ma.

        Saying that this is the definition of force is an interesting position, but I think that it goes too far to rule the Second Law not to be a "discovery" and to say it is "only" a definition. It happens to be a  definition with an unusual and useful property: it links together many commonplace notions in a way that allows you to make predictions you couldn't before.

        Here's the rub: you could choose define force this way:

        F = m^2 da/dt

        but it wouldn't be a very useful definition.  A good definition simplifies much that was complicated, and is not handed to you by nature on a silver platter, so I say it counts as a discovery. So does Net Profit = Gross - Expenses, it may be a definition, but it captures and (very importantly) characterizes something about the world that transcends language.  You could just as easily have defined Net Profit = Gross - Total Assets, but it'd be a useless definition.

        In any case, I say that the the fact that some definitions are more general and useful than others (e.g. F=dp/dt vs F=ma) shows that there is an element of discovery in the formation of a definition.

        I've lost my faith in nihilism

        by grumpynerd on Mon Mar 25, 2013 at 11:55:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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