Universal Laws? Chaos?
Most recent answer: 07/11/2016
- Matthew (age 36)
Most beginning textbooks don't really deal at all with these philosophical issues, unfortunately. Most philosophical texts are too wordy. I recommend a little series of lectures by Richard Feynman, called The Character of Physical Law.
As for the specific issues you raise, it's very remarkable that we have laws of physics that are completely robust under those sorts of changes of conditions. We can detect signals from events happening under extremely different conditions (two black holes colliding, rotation of binary stars including an extremely dense neutron star, nuclear and chemical reactions in other star systems, radically different pressures and temperatures on earth,....) and they all still follow precisely the fundamental rules of physics. Amazingly, that's true even when the rules (like General Relativity) were based on very limited samples of the range of possible conditions.
So this tells us something special about our universe (and maybe others)- underneath the complicated and often chaotic behavior lie some very general precise laws. It does not tell us that our current laws will work under absolutely all conditions, however. In fact, our two deepest and most general laws (General Relativity and quantum field theory) cannot be combined self-consistently, so at least one will have to go at some point. We hope that it will be replaced by a more general law, becoming just a good approximation to that law under a broad range of conditions. That's what happened to Newtonian physics when relativity and quantum mechanics were discovered.
(published on 07/11/2016)