Physics needs metaphysics

‘I have no problem with the idea of metaphysics. We attach ‘meta’ to logic and math. Why is it anathema in physics? It merely suggests we are asking questions bearing on fundamental concepts of a particular discipline. Why ever should we not be able to ask such questions in physics? In all such discussion what matters most is that we do not simply talk the deeps in which the truth dwells out of existence. That would mean taking a very superficial view.’  – Werner Heisenberg

                                                                                                             Sombrero Galaxy

 Metaphysics means either beyond the physical or beyond physics – the study of the natural world. Natural laws are definitively metaphysical. Obviously they are beyond the physical because they are supra-physical. Laws dictate the behavior of objects and energy. They are not beyond the study of physics in terms of operations. In that sense, they are physics. But anything accepted as brute fact means that its very existence cannot be explained. For example, why do the strong and weak nuclear forces even exist? Such virtually undiscussable questions are both scientifically valid and unanswerable. They exist without a reason. These are either ontologically metaphysical or not truly existent.

Of course, particle physics does make claim to a time of origin. These forces supposedly came into being about a quadrillionth of a second into the Big Bang. (The book takes this theory to the mat – many experts do not believe in the BB.) But there is no explanation for their being except that they ‘separated’ from the unified force. Why does this unified force exist, though? Physics cannot exist without metaphysics. You cannot coherently posit forces and laws in the universe without acknowledging a metaphysical component, a first cause.

An arguably worse consequence is the challenge to the baseline scientific principle of a causal universe. To assert such root

phenomena as brute fact is to implicitly claim that they are acausal. Yet all form and movement in the universe exists under their absolute tyranny.

As Karl Popper said, for science “the world is governed by strict laws. But this assertion is not falsifiable…I shall neither adopt nor reject the principle of causality. I exclude it as metaphysical from the sphere of science.”[i]But without causality assumed, science has no meaning. Science cannot function without metaphysical ideas. It is merely the job of science to turn those ideas into falsifiable, testable hypotheses.


[i] Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 1959. Harper Torchbooks. 1965 Translation. Section 12.

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