What do we do in physics?

Physics is a discipline of science that has become extremely extended. Physics involves both ‘dropping a rock from a tower’ as well as ‘accelerating protons and bring them in collision’. Public has formed a particular vision about physics. I am not going to preach about how public should think about physics. We all have our own opinion about anything and we are free to have an opinion about anything, including an opinion about physics.

As I wrote above: physics is a discipline of science. But what is science? And what is physics? I am not going to promote the ‘official version’ – but rather I am just giving my own vision about it:

Where does the word ‘science’ come from?

The word “science” comes from the Latin word “scientia” – meaning “knowing”. The word “science” in the German language is given by the word “Wissenschaft”. The word “know” in the German language is given by the word “wissen”. Can you see the relation between the words “wissen” and the word “Wissenschaft”? The word “science” in the Dutch language is given by the word “wetenschap”. The word “know” in the Dutch language is given by the word “weten”. Can you see the relation between the words “weten” and the word “wetenschap”? It may appear that ‘science’ is related to ‘knowing’. But is it?

The word “science” in the Danish language is given by the word “videnskab”. The Danish word “viden” means “knowledge”. But the first part “viden” looks more to words like “video” and “vision” than it does to the word “know”. And words like “video” and “vision” are related to “see”.

When we look to the phrase “I know” in several languages we find the following:

  1. Catalonian: “Sé”
  2. Italian: “so”
  3. Portuguese: “sei”
  4. Spanish: “sé”

Why do all these phrases look like “see”? Is there a relation between “know” and “see”?

I do believe that there is a strong relation between the words “know” and “see”. I also believe that due to the “evolution of languages” certain meanings of words have changed. I believe that “science” is more about “see” than it is about “knowing”. And when we make the extension from “see” to “observe”, I would say that “science” is more about “observing” in the first place than it is about “knowing”.

What more do we know from the language? Let us look to The Proto-Indo-European language.

The Proto-Indo-European words chi and ved.

The Proto-Indo-European word chi means see. Words that are derived from the Proto-Indo-European word chi are the words: see (English), sehen (German), zien (Dutch), se (Danish), all meaning “see”. But also the words scientia (Latin), sapere (Italian), saber (Portuguese and Spanish), are derived from the Proto-Indo-European word chi, but all meaning “know”.

The Proto-Indo-European word ved means know. Words that are derived from the Proto-Indo-European word ved are the words: wissen (German), weten (Dutch), vide (Danish), all meaning “know”. But also the words videre (Latin), vedere (Italian), ver (Portuguese and Spanish), all meaning “see”.

The following table gives a small summary:

Proto-Indo-European chi ved
“see” “know” “know” “see”
English see
German sehen wissen
Dutch zien weten
Danish se viden
Latin scientia videre
Italian sapere vedere
Portugues saber ver
Spanish saber ver

The English word “know” is related to similar words in other languages: kennen (German), kennen (Dutch), kender (Danish).

It appears that the words “know” and “see” are strong related. I therefore believe that science is more related to observe (what I “see”) than it is related to knowledge. So what is science?

Science is about what I have seen.

And that is just my vision about where science is all about. But I also claim that there is a strong relation between “know” and “seen” (read “observed”):

The only thing I know is what I have seen.

And this emphases the strong relation between the words “know” and “seen”.

  • I see (reading a book or a web-page) that “Washington is the capital of the United States of America” and therefore I know (that I have seen) that “Washington is the capital of the United States of America”.
  • I see (looking at the sky) that “the stars are moving through the sky” and therefore I know (that I have seen) that “the stars are moving through the sky”.
  • I see (looking at a stone dropped from a tower) that “stones fall down towards the Earth” and therefore I know (that I have seen) that “that stones fall down towards the Earth”.

What “I know” is what “I have seen” and what “I have seen” is what “I know”. The words “know” and “seen” are synonyms. The word “seen” has to be taken in the broadest meaning of the word, it is not only restricted to “what I have seen with my eyes” – but it also applies to “what I have seen with my brain”, i.e. that “what I have imagined”.

“Understanding the brain” is part of “understanding science”.

I wrote: “Science is about what I see (observe)” and “The only thing I know is what I see (observe)”. But what does our brain do with this? Our brain is not simply restricted to what we see. Our brain starts a process that classifies what we have seen. When it comes to observations, our brain also classifies certain observations as “not important” and such observations are ignored. This occurs in our daily life: “Did you see that?” – “No I didn’t”. However, “I did see it” – but my brain has not “classified” (read “memorized”) it, because my brain has simple rejected that observation, i.e. I cannot remember it and I would say “I did not see it”. Just go to a movie in the cinema. The next time you see the SAME movie – you will “pay attention” to different elements of the movie. The SAME movie – the SAME observation – yet a different classification is performed by the brain and therefore a different “experience” of the observation is obtained by the brain.

For this reason I would like to propose to call “primary knowledge” as “what we observe” and “secondary knowledge” as “what we do with that what we have observed”. Let us consider an example. The following list refers to “primary knowledge”:

  • I have observed a stone falling down towards the Earth.
  • I have observed an another stone falling down towards the Earth.
  • I have observed yet another stone falling down towards the Earth.
  • I have observed again another stone falling down towards the Earth.

However “secondary knowledge” is given by:

  • All stones are falling down towards the Earth.

We can refer to “secondary knowledge” as to the “conclusions” we draw from the “primary knowledge”. But can we rely on the ‘conclusion’ drawn by our brain?

Facts and opinions – true and false – possible and impossible.

What is a fact? A fact is related to “primary knowledge”. When I see “that door is red” – then “that door is red” is a fact. However, it is a fact for me. Meaning that the fact is subjective as it applies to an individual. There can be however no doubt that the fact is true. The words fact and true are synonyms. It is ridiculous to say: “the fact is that door is green while I have seen that door is red. But as the words fact and true are synonyms, the word true applies exclusively to “primary knowledge”.

Facts are true.

What is an opinion? An opinion is related to “secondary knowledge”. When I see “that door is red”; “another door is red”; “yet another door is red” – then “all doors are red” is an opinion. However, it is an opinion for me. Meaning that the opinion is subjective as it applies to an individual. But if the word true applies exclusively to “primary knowledge” – then what can we say about an opinion? We can at best say that an opinion is possible or impossible. Logic is therefore restricted to possible or impossible.

Opinion is about possible and impossible.

But what about the word false? Is false not related to logic? But what is logic? Logic is the process of drawing conclusions and is part of “secondary knowledge” as it involves drawing conclusions from both “primary knowledge” and “secondary knowledge”. But if logic is the process of drawing conclusions that is part of “secondary knowledge” – then only the words possible or impossible apply to logic. There simply is no false!

Logic should be about possible and impossible.

Much confusion in our daily life (including discussion) is due to confusion of facts with opinions. Just remember facts are true while opinions are possible or impossible and there is no such thing as false!

Classical Fact Opinion
True False True False
Epistemological Primary knowledge Secondary knowledge
True Possible Impossible

Using the previous examples, the following list are facts:

  • I have observed a stone falling down towards the Earth.
  • I have observed an another stone falling down towards the Earth.
  • I have observed yet another stone falling down towards the Earth.
  • I have observed again another stone falling down towards the Earth.

All these facts are true. However opinion is given by:

  • All stones are falling down towards the Earth.

And such an opinion can be possible. In general (we may assume that) an opinion is possible unless a fact shows otherwise.

Facts and opinion are personal in the first place. However, opinion can be regarded as public as well, in the case that several persons agree about opinion. Such opinions are shared possible by a large group of persons.

Facts are personal – opinions can be public.

That we should be carefull with drawing conclusions is clear. An example:

Person A performs an experiment by dropping stones from a tower. Person A describes this experiment in a document. For person A the fact is “I have observed stones falling down towards the Earth”. Person B reads that document. However, for person B “(I have observed) stones falling down towards the Earth” is NOT a fact. For person B the fact is “I have read a document about dropping stones from a tower”. For person B the “observed stones falling down towards the Earth” is an opinion and person B can say possible or impossible. In case several persons have read the document and all agree with it, the opinion “stones fall down towards the Earth” can become a public opinion. But such a public opinion “stones fall down towards the Earth” is at best possible and is never true!

So what does that mean for science?

Science is about possible and impossible.

Science is about primary knowledge and secondary knowledge, about facts and opinions. However, there are much more opinions than facts in science. And science is not about true, but science is about possible and impossible. Every person can write a document about science, but any reader of such a document can judge possible and impossible and is entitled to do so.

But what about physics? Physics is a discipline of science, so physics is about possible and impossible. But what do we do in physics?

More about that question in another post… Hope you liked this post!!!

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