What do we use to observe the cosmos, and what cosmos do we observe?

19 February 2007

While I can’t remain organized very far into the discussion invited by the title, I do have a couple of specific points which may be loosely grouped under history and philosophy of science, Ron Amundson-style.

First, how do we define ‘physics,’ as a discipline? By what we investigate with it? By its methods? By what we exclude from investigation? To put a little different spin on the question, what that can be called physics exists independently of mathematics? I’m leaving aside for the moment any attempt to concisely define ‘mathematics,’ but if someone else wants to take it on, feel free.

Secondly, I’ll choose music but I could just as well pick any number of other areas for this question. Is there something about Bach’s Prelude from the Unaccompanied Cello Suite which is inexplicable by physics, as defined above? If you’re not a fan of Yo-Yo Ma, choose any other piece of music, art, or beauty which you feel to be sublime. What makes it different than every other thing in the same bin? If that difference exists, can it be addressed with science. I refer here to any aesthetic question, and would be happy to hear any suggestions more apt than my own.

Many thanks to Sam for discussion about both of these questions, and Elle for further debate about the second. I’ll leave you with a quote from Umberto Eco‘s The Name of the Rose:

-Brother William of Baskerville: “If this abbey were a speculum mundi, you would already have the answer.”

-Adso of Melk: “But is it?”

-Brother William of Baskerville: “In order for there to be a mirror of the world, it is necessary that the world have a form.”

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One Response to “What do we use to observe the cosmos, and what cosmos do we observe?”


  1. […] these two quotes? Because I think they speak to one of the things I’ve been trying to articulate about science. In terms of novel prose, though, I find that Chet Raymo has already broken trail […]


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