The Conceptual Foundations of Physical Science

The frontiers of modern science are in the far-out regions, the realms of the very small, the very large, the very fast, the very dense, and so on. It is there that spectacular discoveries are being made, and the boundaries of physical science are being extended into the hitherto unknown. But some of these achievements that have been headlined in the press and in the scientific journals, have had collateral results of even greater significance that have been overlooked by the scientific community. These particular discoveries have given us factual information about some of the fundamental physical entities that have heretofore been accepted as being beyond the range of physical investigation. When we examine all of the implications of this new knowledge, it becomes clear that the prevailing view of the nature of the basic constituents of the physical universe will have to be drastically modified.

Physical science, as it exists today, is primarily mathematical. As expressed by Richard Feynman, “Every one of our laws is a purely mathematical statement.” However, there is another aspect to this branch of knowledge. Although the mathematical expressions of the various physical relations are ordinarily all that we need to know for their practical application, the scientific community is not satisfied with this. We also want to know what the mathematical terms and relations mean; that is, we want a conceptual explanation of these mathematical laws, and an understanding of the physical relations between the various quantities. In response to this desire for something more than mathematics, much of the current research in “pure physics” is being devoted to attempts to broaden conceptual understanding. Here we encounter the problem of verification.

Mathematical expressions of physical relations can be verified by direct correlation with physical observations and measurements. If such an expression is so tested over a wide range, and no discrepancies are found, this establishes that it is valid within the limits to which the correlation has been carried, and to the degree of accuracy of the measurements. It does not necessarily follow that this mathematical expression is unique. There may be other expressions, known or unknown, that produce the same results within the limits to which the one under consideration has been tested. But mathematical expressions that arrive at the same results are merely different ways of expressing the same mathematics. Thus as soon as a valid mathematical answer is obtained, we have the correct answer. Mathematical expressions of physical relations can therefore be verified individually.

The conceptual expression of a physical relation (usually an interpretation of the previously formulated mathematical expression) likewise is not unique. In almost all cases there are known alternatives, and the possibility of the existence of unknown alternatives is always present. These different conceptual formulations are not equivalent. They are different explanations, and only one of them can be correct in each case. Thus, the conceptual explanations (theories) of physical relations cannot be verified independently by comparison with the results of observation and measurement.

The general tendency today is to regard verification of the mathematical aspects of a theory as verification of the theory as a whole, including the conceptual interpretations. The so-called “proofs” of the validity of current popular theories that appear from time to time in scientific literature are purely mathematical. But obviously, a demonstration that the mathematical expression of a physical relation is correct, does not prove that the meaning being given to the various terms of that expression are a correct description of the corresponding physical realities. Conceptual validity cannot be established mathematically.

All this boils down to the fact that the conceptual validity of a theory can only be verified logically, and relative to an assumed set of premises. A theory, or other conclusion, is valid, in this sense, and to this degree, if it is logically derivable from those premises. Unless those premises are of a fundamental nature, however, this validity has little significance. This is the problem of present-day science. It cannot derive its conclusions from the assumptions that it makes about the basic physical entities. In every instance, additional assumptions specifically applicable to the phenomenon under consideration are required. Consequently, the total number of assumptions included in the premises of modern physical science runs into the thousands.

If the fundamental entities and phenomena are correctly identified, and the assumptions as to their nature and properties are correct, it clearly should be possible to deduce the principles and relations governing physical activity in all of the subsidiary fields without making any further assumptions. As matters now stand, however, this has never been accomplished in any of these fields. Not only does every subdivision of physical science require a special set of additional assumptions, any major addition to empirical knowledge in one of these fields necessitates adding still further assumptions, or revising the ones previously made. The universality of this inability to extend the theories into more detail, or into new areas, without making additional assumptions is a clear indication that there is some error, or errors, in the assumptions regarding the physical fundamentals.

This conclusion should not come as a surprise to anyone who realizes how little we know about the fundamental physical entities. Some of them are almost totally unknown, and definite information about the others is scarce. For instance, the physicists cannot answer the question, “What is an electric charge?” We are told that we should not ask the question, that the charge simply has to be accepted as a given feature of the universe that is unexplainable. Time is even more of a mystery.

But these, and the other fundamental entities, enter into every physical event in one way or another, and in order to formulate theories to explain those events, their nature and properties must be taken into account. Where these are not known, it is necessary to substitute assumptions for the missing knowledge. Some of these basic assumptions are pure guesses, with no tie-in to physical facts. In other cases, the assumption is made that the appearance which the item in question presents to the casual observer is a true indication of its nature. Such an assumption has a greater probability of being correct than pure guesswork, but in view of the extremely small fraction of the total range of physical conditions—temperature, pressure, size, density, etc.—that we encounter in our direct experience, the universality of any conclusion drawn from that experience is, to say the least, questionable.

The conceptual foundation of present-day physical science consists of some 30 or 40 of these assumptions about the basic entities and phenomena—the exact number depending on just what items are taken as fundamental in the construction of a particular theory. Let us then ask, “What is the probability that all of these 30 or 40 assumptions about unknown or little known basic entities are valid?” The answer clearly has to be that the probability is very low. The previous conclusion that some error, or errors, must exist in the fundamental assumptions of physical science is thus corroborated by the finding that the existence of such an error, or errors, is practically inevitable.

The only method that has been available for the correction of such errors is to make some change in the assumptions, and see whether this change improves the general theoretical picture. However, few proposed changes have been able to gain general acceptance, and the results of those that have been accepted are inconclusive. Consequently, these have not materially altered the situation described in the preceding paragraphs. The true nature and properties of the basic physical entities are essentially unknown, and the general scientific opinion apparently accepts Einstein’s dictum that they are unknowable. He specifically condemned the idea that “the basic concepts and laws of physics could be derived from experience,” and asserted that they could only be grasped “by speculative means.”

Long-continued inability to make any progress toward connecting these basic concepts with experience has left Einstein’s conclusions without serious opposition, and the issue has receded into the background, where it remains dormant. In very recent years, however, a new factor, not yet recognized by the scientific community, has entered into this picture. Continued extension of the field of scientific investigation has finally taken it to the point where empirical discoveries have provided some factual information about certain of the fundamental physical entities, and have enabled replacing some of the assumptions about these entities with actual knowledge.

One of these very significant discoveries is the finding that, under appropriate circumstances, matter can be transformed into non-matter, and vice versa. For example, matter can be transformed into radiation, or into kinetic energy. From this, it follows directly that the building blocks of the universe cannot be elementary particles of matter, existing in a framework provided by space and time, as assumed by present-day physics. There necessarily has to be a common denominator underlying both matter and non-matter.

The idea that the primary physical entity is something more fundamental than matter, is not new. It has been a subject of discussion in scientific circles for centuries. The new element that has now entered into the situation is the discovery of the transformation phenomenon, which shows conclusively that such a common denominator must exist. Once the reality of this existence has thus been demonstrated, the nature of the underlying entity is evident. Long consideration of the problem by a host of scientists and philosophers, has established that motion is the only known physical quantity that can meet the requirements. Energy has been favored by some investigators, notably Heisenberg, but it is now generally conceded that energy does not have the necessary flexibility. The transformation processes that are now known make it clear that, unless there is some basic entity of which we have no evidence whatever, we live in a universe of motion.

It then follows that the many investigators who have attempted, without success, to construct a theory of a universe of motion must have missed one of more of the salient points that enter into this situation. As it happens, another of the modern discoveries that enables replacing assumption with fact supplies us with the key to the resolution of the problem. This is the discovery of the recession of the galaxies. Astronomical observations indicate that all of the distant galaxies are receding from us at high speeds. Unless we assume that our Milky Way galaxy is the only stationary galaxy in the universe, a hypothesis that is rejected by modern science, it must be receding from all of the others.

If these were ordinary vectorial motions, oppositely directed motions would cancel each other, and the net resultant would be little or no actual change of position. But the galactic separations are increasing rapidly, and if our galaxy is not unique, we must be participating in the changes of position that cause these increases in separation. Thus, we are actually moving outward in all directions from any initial position. This means that the motions have no specific direction. They are simply outward (that is, positive) and can be completely described by a positive magnitude. They are scalar motions.

Here, then, is the reason why the many scientists and philosophers who have recognized the superiority of motion over matter as the basic constituent of the universe, and have tried to construct the theoretical framework of a universe of motion, have been unable to make any significant progress toward their goal. They have been attempting to build a universe of vectorial motion, whereas the information now available shows that the physical universe is actually a universe of scalar motion, in which vectorial motion is a derivative phenomenon of relatively limited scope.