Physics Viewed From an Indirect Approach

You can download a copy of the paper "A Patchwork of Limits" in .pdf format to be viewed on Adobe Acrobat Reader.

"There is a widely held belief that mathematical formulations ('laws of physics') can comprehend physical reality." (opening line of the paper)

I challenge this belief with a "contrary" view where theories of physics are, in general, exact only as conditions under which they are tested approach limits of isolation, simplicity and constraint and I support the "contrary" view with analysis of actual theories of physics.

The Thermodynamic Critical State is a chief focus. The essay set forth important features of the Critical State and established the groundwork for later development in Quad Nets and Embodiment of Freedom.

Return to Opening Page of Embodiment of Freedom.


The direct approach to physics assumes that reality is inherently and entirely structured and that the structures can be described by mathematics. The indirect approach takes a contrasting position: that reality is not inherently structured, but partially structurable through human activity and cognitive processes; and that mathematically-based structures are projected onto, or built into, selected aspects of reality. The indirect approach includes a psychological model of structuration and a method for evaluating the success of structural representation. Success appears perfect in one area of physics, relativity theory; but in others, exemplified by thermal physics dealing both with ideal gases and also with systems in the critical state, structural representations appear successful only at limit points; moreover, the concepts employed at the limit points clash irreconcilably. These conclusions challenge widely held beliefs in the comprehensive explanatory power of "laws of physics" and "emergent behaviors."

Concluding Paragraphs of the Paper

According to the indirect approach, it is not possible to predict beforehand which aspects of reality will be susceptible of structured representations or what form those representations will take. The researcher must select a problem for investigation on the basis of hint or hunch, carry a toolbox of representational forms that have been successful in the past, exercise judgment in applying the forms in particular circumstances, take advantage of unforeseen opportunities and depend on his or her capacity for spontaneous insight and invention. Attempts, failures and renewed attempts are the essence of the endeavor.

We have thus come by an indirect approach to the conclusion, towards which the author has throughout been striving, of having presented physics as an exemplar of freedom.

You can download a copy of "A Patchwork of Limits" in .pdf format to be viewed on Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Return to Opening Page of Embodiment of Freedom.

Copyright © 2000 Robert Kovsky