The Laws of Nature
By Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
In several discussions with various individuals, there seems to be some confusion about the nature of the laws of nature. While it can and is often said that the laws of nature make things do what they do, this is not so, because they are abstract ideas and only exist in an objective mind – a relationship between reality and an individual’s mind. So, they do not exist in nature apart from man; nor do they exist in a man’s mind apart from reality; but are rather the rational integration of the facts of reality that identify how reality works. And this is based upon the law of identify – the idea that a thing is what it is – and the law of causality – a thing acts according to its nature (according to what it is). Because a man (a philosopher) can identify the law of identity and the law of causality, he knows there is no need for something out there making things act according to what they are – a law of nature, like Newton’s equations of motion, unlike human laws, do not force something to act that way – they are and they act; and we observe this directly and conceptualize that observation.
Part of this confusion stems from Plato’s theory of the Forms – that the Forms exist out there and direct matter (imperfectly) to do what they do and become what they become (intrinsicism); and those who reject that because they observe no Forms think they are simply made up by individuals and have no relationship to reality (subjectivism). However, there is a third way of understanding the issue: that a man can observe reality, integrate his observations, and come up with the identification of how things work in nature and in society (for man). This third alternative is the ground work for all of man’s knowledge, the rational integration of the facts by an active consciousness (objectivism).
To say otherwise is to make a mistake – of thinking that there is some ideological force out there making things do what they do, or no understanding of how things work because he has not integrated the facts properly. The objective view is that we start with observations (perception and introspection) and make differentiations and integrations into concepts and statements.
So, when Newton observed and conceptualized his laws of motion (inductively), he may have implied that something in reality made things work they way they do – like an idea forcing things to work a certain way – but that undercut his whole approach to identifying the laws of motion; when he actually made observations and integrated them into a conceptual whole based on a rational integration of the observed facts. For example, there is nothing out there forcing reality to behave according to the laws of motion or the law of gravity, but rather it acts that way and is identified by a rational mind. To keep it simple, F=ma is not active in the universe, but rather the universe (reality) is what it is and acts accordingly, and Newton formulated this relationship that he discovered that thing travels a straight path until acted upon by a force. (And yes, I realize that Newton held it in his mind as F=d/dt (mv) a force is needed to get something moving if were stationary, and would change speed and direction as a force was applied.)
Since this is based on the conception of the law of identity and the law of causality, there is no need to postulate that something out there makes things what they are or makes them change the way they change. A plant grows when planted due to the fact that it is a plant; a rock rolls down hill (in a gravitational force) because it is a rock; when I type out this essay I am acting because I am a human being and writing this essay is something I have chosen to do. And to say otherwise is a direct contradiction to what is observed, for one does not observe something out there guiding matter, but it acts and is discovered to act in predictable ways.
Perhaps the reader would say that is not a lot of facts you are presenting here to back up your statements, so I can come up with other examples: A horse gallops because it is a horse and that is what it does, and it is not as if some outside force of nature makes it do that type of motion (a horse cannot fly because it has no wings but rather has legs); a pencil needs to be sharpened every once in a while as the tip wears down, but there is not force of nature making the lead write onto the paper, that’s just the way it is; Earth orbits the sun, not because the law of gravity makes it act that way, but rather it acts that way and we can conceptualize that. In other words, a thing being what it is and acting accordingly is not cause by the law of identity, but rather the law of identity and the law of causation are formulated by observing reality in a logical, non-contradictory manner, and then integrated in a rational man’s mind.
In short, the laws of nature are identifications of how things work in reality, and are not an ideological force making things act the way they do, nor are they simply made up and reality just happens to follow that law of nature.
[added on edit 03/11/2022]
What we know is epistemological, and some concepts are metaphysical and epistemological. One can probably think of the laws of nature that way -- the facts are real, but identified by a human mind. Don't misunderstand my words as meaning entities do not act that way because the laws of nature are man-made, because by that, I only mean that the relationships are identified by man. The facts are metaphysical, but the formulation is man-made: F=ma would not exist without Newton or some other genius identifying that relationship.