Mechanics;science and principles

The physics that was born in the 17th century soon became a scientific paradigm. The key to his success was Newton’s use of mathematics. I maintain that the analysis of Newtonian mechanics contained the reasons for the crisis that it went through in the 19th century, and also the resources to overcome it. We study in this article the reasons of an epistemological nature that explain these avatars from the poliana epistemology.

Summary : Modern physics was born in the XVII century and soon became the principal scientific paradigm. The key to its success was the use that Newton made of mathematics. I hold that Newton’s analysis of mechanics contained flaws which led to its crisis at the end of XIX century and at the same time had resources to overcome this crisis. I study in this paper the epistemological reasons for these vicissitudes using Polo’s theory of knowledge.

Key words : Leonardo Polo, mechanic, Newton, epistemology, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of science, philosophy of nature, gnoseology, theory of knowledge.

Introduction

The current situation of science in general, and of physics in particular, is far from being the calm and smooth place, the fully explored and known landscape, that the scientists and thinkers of the 19th century expected. The birth of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity came to solve problems that were born then within the same science, but they also opened new territories until then completely unknown, raised new questions and broke the expectations of tranquility that rested on the Newtonian consolidated physics.

Today nobody dares to set dates, as it did in the past, to the achievement of the old ideal of unification of knowledge, which is now called the unified theory, or the theory of everything. We have learned the lesson that the arrival of the 20th century taught us. Science today is certainly the most prestigious type of rationality. It could be said that he alone supports many in the hope of a better future. But the predominance of scientific thought is not capable of hiding large shadows that are projected on the future and that have as a backdrop the experiences that humanity has lived during the 20th century and that have been made possible by the advances of science.

It is logical that the changes that the new century brought with it pushed philosophy to set its sights on science. It can be said that in those years a new branch of philosophy was born that has been concerned since then with understanding it: where lies the astonishing power of that mode of knowledge born in the 17th century and which has not stopped progressing to this day, What products can carry the scientific label, what is their scope, how far can we trust it,… are some of the many questions that have been raised and that largely remain unanswered. Not a few people think that philosophy itself is mortally wounded by science, since it is cornered by science in a corner that will become increasingly narrow.

In reading Polo’s work I have found important and numerous indications that allow us to face the understanding of science itself, its success and its limitations, or how it has had to do with the course of history itself since its appearance. It seems to me that Polo’s contribution constitutes an invaluable help in the task that the philosophy of science set out to do from its beginnings. His theory of knowledge contains a far-reaching philosophy of science that I dare call innovative.

When Polo explains the various operations of intelligence, he looks in history for an endorsement of his ideas. It is very interesting to see how his statements about abstraction, and about the rest of the operations of the understanding, allow us to see from a box what is happening at the dawn of philosophy. I think that it is also possible to look out on the balcony of the history of science with great fruit from the light projected on it by Poliana epistemology. It is not, of course, about explaining history by placing it in the narrow molds of a theory. This is not what he does when he illuminates the birth of philosophy with his inquiries about the beginning of thought. What it offers are arguments that allow us to see the coherence and timeliness of its proposals.

What I try to do in this work is to trace those indications that seem to me key to a better understanding of science and its history. The length of this work forces me to approach this task from the briefness of a few pages. This will undoubtedly determine the structure of the work. I think that what Polo has already written about these issues will allow us to undertake much more extensive and profound studies. What follows is an interpretation of its own in which Polo’s writings are the source of inspiration. To him I owe, therefore, the successes that may be written here. The interpretative deficiencies, both in the history of science and in Polo’s philosophy, exposed in this work are my sole responsibility.

  1. Newton defeats Aristotle

There seems to be agreement in pointing out that experimental science began its journey in the proper sense in the 17th century. Newton’s mechanics is the scientific theory that has earned science the prestige it has held ever since. It is true that Newton himself recognized that he came so high because it was “on the shoulders of giants” that preceded him (Copernicus, Kepler, Descartes, Galileo, etc.), but Newton cannot be denied having managed to formulate and lay the foundations of what science (and not just physics) is today. Although his most important work, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, contains the name of philosophy in the title, his way of thinking moves in a very different orbit and can already be considered strictly science in the modern sense of the word,

At the beginning of modernity, there is a general feeling among the most important thinkers of the moment that they are starting a new way of thinking. Greek philosophy had explored a great extension of the world of ideas and discovered a large part of the problems that have been recurring throughout the history of thought, but it did not initiate science, although some of its representatives thought in scientific terms. The Greeks can be said to have practiced most of the methods * (1)However, the Greek thinkers did not give rise to science as we understand it today, although they did carry out intellectual acts proper to science. In reality, more justice is done with science if it is understood as an activity rather than just as a method. And it is also an activity of extraordinary complexity, which requires the exercise of a plurality of intellectual acts, which has its own characteristics and also requires a peculiar attitude in those who practice and develop it  * (2) .

With the maturity of science that Newton represents, Aristotle’s thinking seemed definitely displaced. Certainly, the elements of the Aristotelian work that we could call scientists had been largely surpassed, in particular his vision of the universe or worldview. Aristotle’s thought was supported, in large part, by the knowledge that the naked senses of instruments could contribute and lacking the baggage of experimentation that had already accumulated in the beginning of modernity. But Aristotle’s ability to read in that experience is hardly surmountable. In Aristotle, elements that we now consider scientific (observational representations, for example) and elements that can be considered purely philosophical were shaking hands. Aristotelian philosophy is not a type of rationality that starts from a completely separate level of common experience or, with the limitations of then, of scientific experience, but was firmly entrenched in the body of knowledge available in its time . His philosophical conclusions may be fully valid today, even if his scientific elements are outdated, outdated, and even false. In any case, it does not seem sensible to reject his philosophy a priori simply because his science is out of date. But the thinkers who started modernity rejected Aristotelian thought globally. rather, it was firmly entrenched in the body of knowledge available in its time. Her philosophical conclusions may be fully valid today, even if her scientific elements are outdated, outdated, and even false. In any case, it does not seem sensible to reject his philosophy a priori simply because his science is out of date. But the thinkers who started modernity rejected Aristotelian thought globally. rather, it was firmly entrenched in the body of knowledge available in its time. Her philosophical conclusions may be fully valid today, even if her scientific elements are outdated, outdated, and even false. In any case, it does not seem sensible to reject his philosophy a priori simply because his science is out of date. But the thinkers who started modernity rejected Aristotelian thought globally. * (3) , which I think has not been without consequences from then until today: we will try to highlight some of them.

Although the beginning of the revolution that led to the substitution of modern science for Aristotelian science may bear the name of Copernicus, it can also be said that it was Newton who led it to its definitive triumph. The change in thought at that moment in history was going to drastically condition his future and already contained, in germ, the crises that he had to face, such as the one mentioned in the late nineteenth century. I think that also in those years we can trace the cause of the strange mixture of feelings that we can experience when considering the extraordinary effectiveness of science along with its, so many times questioned since the beginning of the 20th century, its relationship with truth. Paradoxically, it seems to me that we could affirm that the power and efficacy of science and its strange relationship with truth are linked,

  1. The achievements of mechanics

Newtonian mechanics achieved important achievements, as evidenced by the fact of its effective use and application to this day. His triumph was so important that it also induced a global view of material reality, a worldview, which was dominant for almost three centuries  * (4) . We could summarize their achievements in the following two sections:

  1. Unification of the stellar world with the Aristotelian sublunar world. From then on it was no longer necessary to resort to a fifth element, the ether, which made possible the peculiar and most perfect circular movement of the astral bodies. Although, paradoxically, later it was necessary to resort again to the hypothesis of the existence of another type of “ether” to save the coherence of the mechanical theory against the phenomena of light propagation. It was no longer necessary to resort to the existence of two worlds with different movements from each other. The barriers that separated the harmonious celestial region from that corresponding to our world, the scene of continuous “violent” movements, had been broken.
  2. Unification of ordinary experience with mathematics. In other words, he managed to quantify the material reality that we have to face on a daily basis. Curiously, the greatest mathematical achievements among Greek thinkers had been driven by the aspiration for a description of astral movements. It was precisely this complex description that centuries later led to the collapse of the Ptolemaic building. With Newton, it was not only possible to describe and calculate astral movements, but with the same mathematical principles, it was possible to calculate, for example, the trajectories of projectiles. It was logical that the Aristotelian worldview was shattered in the hands of the new mechanics.

The positive consequences that these achievements brought with them were, on the one hand, reaching a general and coherent understanding of all material reality. Simplicity in formulating theories, especially if it increases their descriptive capacity, has always been an aspiration and a clear indication of correctness. The second mentioned unification gave the possibility of exercising effective experimental control over the movements that occur around us. The latter was, in my opinion, what made the true start of experimental science possible. The key to the new science is in the effective possibility of experimentation. But this possibility is supported by the high degree of knowledge of mathematics achieved. Thus, mathematics was the true key to change.

Newton gives a real option for mathematics, so in reality we can describe mathematically. It matters less what things are in themselves than the mathematical description that can be made of things. This is already evident in the title of his most important work: Mathematical principles of natural philosophy. The title really responds to its content in which, when it refers to the terms that are supposedly known to everyone as: time, space, place, and movement, it indicates that the common people conceive of these magnitudes with respect to the sensible and that this involves certain prejudices that need to be destroyed by their distinction in “absolute and relative, true and apparent, mathematical and vulgar”  * (5) .

It can be said, certainly, that the novelty contributed by the new science comes from its hypothetical deductive method that culminates with the experimental contrast. But this is only possible due to the peculiar unification that is reached between mathematics and ordinary experience  * (6). The importance of the experiment can be emphasized, but the experiment reaches its value, it is feasible in the modern sense, because a way of experiment is found in which the number is used, directly or indirectly. By virtue of the new calculation tools, it can be experienced in the world that interests me from a practical point of view, not in the remote world of celestial spheres, but in which we can build artifacts. The new physics will also allow over time to build artifacts that serve to exercise our control also in the celestial world. But the key to the experiment is in the number. Verifying experimentally in the science born with Newton, directly or indirectly, is solved in a number adjustment. This new approach leads to a real scientific revolution * (7)  but, curiously, in that union of number and experience is already implicit the crisis that will come a few centuries later and, at the same time, in Newton’s net option for mathematics is the resource for such crisis be, at least in part, overcome.

The achievements of mechanics rest on the basis of a new method in which mathematics is the cornerstone and experiment confirms that our hypotheses are correct. According to Polo, along with the above, the success of the mechanics rests on two postulates that, strictly speaking, are not verifiable: the isotropy of space and the isochrony of time. None of these postulates is of a mathematical nature but their assumption is necessary for the mathematical principles formulated by Newton to be applicable and the experiment to make sense.

Where Newton plays the effectiveness of the theoretical set that he exposes is in his analysis of reality, that is, in the simplifications that he introduces and through which he will understand material reality and its movements, which are the ones that are intended to be controlled. The main notions that result from his analysis are mass, force, space, and time. These objectifications are for Newton fundamental magnitudes. That is, in them the description of the material reality is resolved  * (8) -they are fundamental- and, in addition, they are magnitudes because he has managed to quantify them, assign them numbers. In this way he has achieved a way of quantifying the totality of material reality and its movements. The success of the analysis will depend on whether the experiments confirm the different hypotheses that are formulated about physical reality. Newton has made a kind of “sketch” of reality, but when we compare the sketch with the model he represents (the experiment) the result is strikingly similar: the numbers proved Newton right.

  1. Understand the change from the hierarchy

In any simplification or analysis, there is a part of the analyzed reality that is maintained, and another that we omit because it is not considered relevant to the objectives pursued. Newton’s analysis was an effective method of dealing with the motion of physical reality that is presented to our ordinary experience. The development experienced by physics since then and the success in the predictions made regarding the then observable movements of the celestial bodies, and also of those closest to us, turned mechanics into a paradigm of science: an example to imitate by any discipline that aspires to be scientific and, over time, an aspiration of all kinds of rationality. The ideal of being able to verify with certainty the truth of what is claimed seemed to have been achieved by physics. Dominion over the material world would then be guaranteed and, with it, also progress. In this context, in the 19th century, many voices predicted the exhaustion of what in the physical world remained to be discovered. This kind of scientific euphoria began to darken in the late 19th century and seemed to dissipate completely during the 20th. Over the past century, despite the many questions raised by the crisis in Newtonian physics and its replacement, or better, correction by quantum and relativistic physics, empirical science has continued to progress to this day. At the same time, the questions about the truth of what we came to know with physical science have not diminished. Dominion over the material world would then be guaranteed and, with it, also progress. In this context, in the 19th century, many voices predicted the exhaustion of what in the physical world remained to be discovered. This kind of scientific euphoria began to darken in the late 19th century and seemed to dissipate completely during the 20th. Over the past century, despite many questions raised by the crisis in Newtonian physics and its replacement, or better, correction by quantum and relativistic physics, empirical science has continued to progress to this day. At the same time, the questions about the truth of what we came to know with physical science have not diminished. Dominion over the material world would then be guaranteed and, with it, also progress. In this context, in the 19th century, many voices predicted the exhaustion of what in the physical world remained to be discovered. This kind of scientific euphoria began to darken in the late 19th century and seemed to dissipate completely during the 20th. Over the past century, despite many questions raised by the crisis in Newtonian physics and its replacement, or better, correction by quantum and relativistic physics, empirical science has continued to progress to this day. At the same time, the questions about the truth of what we came to know with physical science have not diminished. many voices predicted the exhaustion of what in the physical world remained to be discovered. This kind of scientific euphoria began to darken in the late 19th century and seemed to dissipate completely during the 20th. Over the past century, despite the many questions raised by the crisis in Newtonian physics and its replacement, or better, correction by quantum and relativistic physics, empirical science has continued to progress to this day. At the same time, the questions about the truth of what we came to know with physical science have not diminished. many voices predicted the exhaustion of what in the physical world remained to be discovered. This kind of scientific euphoria began to darken in the late 19th century and seemed to dissipate completely during the 20th. Over the past century, despite the many questions raised by the crisis in Newtonian physics and its replacement, or better, correction by quantum and relativistic physics, empirical science has continued to progress to this day. At the same time, the questions about the truth of what we came to know with physical science have not diminished. Despite the many questions raised by the crisis in Newtonian physics and its replacement, or better, correction by quantum and relativistic physics, empirical science has continued to progress to this day. At the same time, the questions about the truth of what we came to know with physical science have not diminished. Despite the many questions raised by the crisis in Newtonian physics and its replacement, or better, correction by quantum and relativistic physics, empirical science has continued to progress to this day. At the same time, the questions about the truth of what we came to know with physical science have not diminished. * (9) . Paradoxically, it could be said that these questions and questions open to thought by physics grow at the rate of progress and achievements that have been reaping.

How to explain the changes referred to in the previous paragraphs? I refer to the one that occurs in the 17th century, with the boom period that follows, and the storms that arose in the sea of ​​science and the philosophy of science in the 19th-20th centuries, whose turbulences remain today and even, in some respects, it could be said that they have increased. To try to answer this question, we now turn to Polynesian epistemology. As we mentioned at the beginning, the coherence of his theory of knowledge with the exposed facts would mean a certain confirmation of the success of his proposals.

I consider that one of Polo’s most original contributions is the distinction of a plurality of operations that, as anyone who has worked in his epistemology knows, are divided into two operational lines (rational and generalizing)  * (10) , each of the which constitutes a different operational hierarchy. The thematic explanation of the different operations, as well as the double operational line, not only does not break with the epistemological tradition of classical philosophy, but constitutes a notable extension that provides important novelties. We will only use it to the extent that it serves to achieve the purpose of this article.

  1. Mathematics and imagination face to face

Newton’s commitment to mathematics is the key to the success of the analysis proposed in his mechanics. Why? Mathematics corresponds to a type of operations of the understanding that Polo calls logos  * (11) . These cognitive acts gradually manage to unify -according to the hierarchy of the two operative lines-, by means of operative intellectual acts, the objects of the two indicated lines. Although we do not go into the details, we can summarize the characteristics of these types of objects by saying that they are objects that Polo calls “pure objects” or relational properties  * (12) , their type of intent is hypothetical  * (13) And, this is the most important thing for us at the moment, they are the only mental objects that deal directly, although still being intentional objects, about the physical real. The latter requires a somewhat broader explanation.

For Polo there really are physical numbers. Material reality has numbers that Polo calls physical numbers. These numbers are the way in which physical principles (the four causes discovered by Aristotle) ​​co-cause each other, so we can say that reality “has” numbers. Polo affirms that “the physical number is the success of the concausality” * (14). But the way we know the physical number is by means of the thought number, which deals with the physical number with a type of intention that is precisely the hypothesis. We do not know the numbers as we know the principles. The latter, for Polo, are not known intentionally, that is, with operational acts, but through acts that are habits. Knowledge of physical principles, of causes, is knowledge of the physical real, but it is not effective in order to control it. A knowledge that is operational or intentional and that also deals with the physical does allow us to exercise control over material reality since the operations of the logos are not intentionally about the abstract, how it happens with other objects of intelligence, but about what that reality has, that is, about the numbers of reality. But it is important to insist that the numbers thought are not the physical numbers: there are more physical numbers than we can think of. The way in which we refer the thought number to the physical number is precisely, for Polo, the hypothesis. This is possible as a hypothesis precisely because there are more physical numbers than thought. The hypotheses, therefore, are thought-out numbers, but which are about, are intentions, about the physical numbers that they do not exhaust * (15) .

Among other things, what Polo is doing at this point, from the perspective of his epistemology, is to reveal why mathematical objects seem to be pure inventions or novelties that occur in our minds and that they are “a priori” regarding the physical world: in fact there are not a few mathematicians or physicists, even some very important ones, who consider themselves Platonic  * (16). Mathematical objects are so “pure”, or purely thought, that they seem to have a life of their own independent of physical reality, a life that is only discovered by our intellect. But on the other hand, Polo accounts for the effectiveness of the number without departing from the Aristotelian realism, without having to admit a kind of harmony pre-established by God, who would be the creator of both the world of ideas and the complex reality of physical changes. . Mathematical objects are intentional, not ideas per se, but their intent is hypothetical in the aforementioned sense.

This way of dealing with mathematics also illuminates the problem of verification and falsification of hypotheses. With a new hypothesis, a previous hypothesis is not falsified, since each hypothesis has its own coherence. One hypothesis can replace another but without the first being properly falsified. Simply with a few numbers we can reach to think better or worse the numbers that reality has and on it will depend the effective control that we exercise over it. Simply stated: five does not replace three because one number is as great as the other. The problem is if the reality that we want to describe has three or five: thinking three or five we make a hypothesis about the possession of reality.

It seems clear that Newton’s analysis had the wisdom to think about the numbers with which we can describe the movement of the physical that we get to know in our ordinary experience, what we know directly with our senses, for example. Newton’s success, and the boom in science that followed, can be said to have been due to the harmony between what mathematics told us and what common experience showed us. The numbers seemed to be an endorsement, a confirmation of observable and experiential physical reality. This was the unification of mathematics and reality achieved by Newton.

I am not going to try to justify Newton’s success here because his very success justifies it. What we have done has been to indicate, from Polo, why that success is possible; We have tried to show that it is the commitment to mathematics, together with the analysis of reality that allows its use at that time, which makes Newton’s triumph by controlling movement possible. The problem is that the movement that can be captured with mechanics does not seem to be the only movement that we can know in the natural world and, on the other hand, all analysis involves a simplification. The objectifications resulting from said analysis allow us to contemplate reality, in this case, with a purpose -although it is not the only one- of control. The vision of reality that we have through the previous analysis does not allow us to see the complete reality: there are areas that have been left out. If we constitute this analysis as a paradigm of knowledge and we do not have experience or news of the areas that have been left out of it, we will not find problems. We will stumble upon them when we get to experiment in those regions that the analysis had excluded. In the insufficiency of the Newtonian analysis, the germ of the crisis that was unleashed at the end of the 19th century was hidden, as we have said. We will stumble upon them when we get to experiment in those regions that the analysis had excluded. In the insufficiency of the Newtonian analysis, the germ of the crisis that was unleashed at the end of the 19th century was hidden, as we have said. We will stumble upon them when we get to experiment in those regions that the analysis had excluded. In the insufficiency of the Newtonian analysis, the germ of the crisis that was unleashed at the end of the 19th century was hidden, as we have said.

The Michelson-Morley experiment, the problems to explain the nature of light, the theory of relativity and, above all, the experiments that gave rise to the birth of quantum mechanics caused the breakdown of tranquility and optimism in which Scientists, in particular physicists, had lived for the past few centuries. What caused confusion at the turn of the century, and still continues to produce confusion in many, which led to the questioning of some solidly established philosophical principles that then seemed to begin to falter (the principle of non-contradiction, for example), was the rupture between what mathematics tells us, increasingly sophisticated and difficult to “understand” but that allow experimental contrast, * (17) . This cognitive level of the physical world is the one that corresponds most directly to what the imagination makes known to us. The adjustment between the level of knowledge in which the logos moves – it is on a purely intellectual plane – and the level in which the objects of the imagination move is the one that fails to account for what happens in the logos. new experiments. A breakdown or lack of adjustment occurs that is no longer salvageable as a consequence of the enormous hierarchical distance between the objects of one and the other cognitive level.

Physicists and mathematicians can continue to “make up” numbers. These numbers are hypotheses about the real numbers whose correspondence with them is verified by the experiments. The development of physics is a confirmation of the timeliness of this approach and of the effectiveness of choosing mathematics, as Newton did, when what you want is to control movement. The challenge for the scientist is to invent new hypotheses, new numbers that provide us with knowledge – purely intellectual in this case – about the possession of the physical real: about physical numbers. The difficulty is that the imagination is at a sensitive level of knowledge and, consequently, lower than that of logos, which is purely intellectual, that is, the objects of the logos are not about abstract objects, nor are they the elevation of a phantasm to the level of the intellect, as occurs with abstraction. This is why we can properly speak of invention when referring to numbers. Imagination does not make us aware of the possession of the physical but is, as is the case with objective non-mathematical knowledge, a knowledge that Polo calls aspectual. Furthermore, imagination only offers us knowledge of sensible formalities of reality, however elaborate they may be. Those formalities are the aspects that make up, for the most part, our ordinary knowledge of the physical world. Imagination does not make us aware of the possession of the physical but is, as is the case with objective non-mathematical knowledge, a knowledge that Polo calls aspectual. Furthermore, imagination only offers us knowledge of sensible formalities of reality, however elaborate they may be. Those formalities are the aspects that make up, for the most part, our ordinary knowledge of the physical world. Imagination does not make us aware of the possession of the physical but is, as is the case with objective non-mathematical knowledge, a knowledge that Polo calls aspectual. Furthermore, the imagination only offers us knowledge of sensible formalities of reality, however elaborate they may be. Those formalities are the aspects that make up, for the most part, our ordinary knowledge of the physical world. * (18) . The experience of what has happened and is happening with physics shows that, in fact, our knowledge of material reality seems to depart more and more from what we admit as belonging to common sense. This is why we find ourselves in the strange situation of realizing that we achieve more and more effective control over the physical and, at the same time, it seems that we are increasingly far from understanding the reality that we control.

We said that the Newtonian analysis already contained the crisis that would have to be faced sooner or later and, also, the resources to get out of it. The crisis comes from insufficient analysis. The resources reside in the option for the mathematization of reality. Getting out of the crisis actually means accepting that what mathematics tells us we cannot represent imaginatively and, therefore, that we have to leave behind in certain areas of physics the “common sense” that is contributed by the cognitive level of the imagination.

  1. The insufficiency of Newtonian analysis

Where is the insufficiency of Newtonian analysis? In reality it is a big insufficiency because it introduces simplifications that lead to capturing a very limited scope of movement. A type of movement that can even be doubted that it is physically real  * (19). The movement objectified by Newton corresponds precisely to the time that is objectified at the level of the imagination. Therefore, it is not even a physical time in the strict sense, nor is it a time objectified by the external senses. It is a time that already has a high degree of formality but it is not the time understood at the intellectual level either. It is the same time, and also space, which corresponds to Kant’s a priori forms. Simplification certainly allows mathematization: the formulation of hypotheses about physical reality. But the objectification of time and space used belongs to the knowledge that the imagination provides us with. This allows us to account for the success of Newton’s mechanics in relation to ordinary experience and, also,

Another very important notion in Newtonian mechanics is that of mass, which is closely related to the notion of force because they are objectified on the same level. Polo points out that in a first level of objectification of Newtonian physics – in which the principle of inertia is formulated – what is inertial is the same movement. At a second level -that of Newton’s 2nd law: f = the inertial mass itself is mass, that is, the mass expels the acceleration outside of itself and thus makes it possible to quantify the force -the other key notion of mechanics- and its relation to time. Mass is also the notion that serves to link time with space since in the law of universal gravitation mass refers to distances and also includes force. Mass therefore plays a key role in unifying and putting into operation the different elements that are the product of Newtonian analysis: space, time, force. Its constancy – its inertiality – is the key to achieving the synthesis that allows the system to work. To achieve this unification, it is also crucial to remove the mass from space, thus reducing it to one point. In other words, the relationship between bodies depends exclusively on their masses and their distance. But now the bodies are not extensive and what assumes the consideration of spatiality or extension is pure distance. Mass captures the materiality of physical reality, of physical bodies, but in a peculiarly reductive way: on the one hand, it expels movement and, on the other, also expanse.

We could summarize very briefly the implications of the objectification or analysis of the physical present in Newton saying the following:

  1. There is a separation between matter and movement achieved through the notion of mass. Matter is inert or inertial, a constant factor that allows us to unite space, time and force. This will force later to adopt a dynamic principle that will be energy. But the energy will also be external to the matter that maintains its constancy in any case.
  2. There is a separation between space and time. Time does not pass through space and time flows to the margin of space that receives an absolute consideration, like time,  * (20). It can be said that there is a substantialization of space and time. This mutual exclusion is what allows its space and time to be unified with the material, through the mass, in a mathematically simple way. But it is a posteriori unification. We could say that it is a unification that comes very late with respect to the strictly physical consideration of space and time.

A unified and closed vision of physical reality has been achieved. The objectification that has been made of the material and, in particular of the movement, bore important fruits while the experience remained in the sphere in which the cognitive weight falls on the imagination. The fractures resulting from this analysis are those that will later take their toll at the end of the 19th century and those that will have to be remedied through other objectifications that exceed those of mechanical analysis.

We might ask ourselves now what leaves the objectification of the Newtonian movement out of its consideration? For starters, you forget about life movement. Although we do not discuss this now, it is clear that life does not allow itself to be enclosed in the narrow analysis devised by Newton. Wanting to approach the study of living beings with a method that was heir to mechanical approaches would be a serious obstacle to understanding life. An approach of this style would be the one that leads to consider living beings as structures that are the headquarters of energy exchanges, or in other words, optimization systems and energy use, for example  * (21) .

The consideration of the Aristotelian final cause is also completely excluded. Strictly speaking, Newton’s inertial motion is not caused. The objectification of the mass together with the other simplifications introduce important reductions in the understanding of the causes: the purpose, for example, is completely eliminated. The key to this suppression, as has already been pointed out, lies in the notion of mass and the reduction in the consideration of the types of movements that this suppression introduces. Paradoxically, the fact of leaving no place for the consideration of the final cause leads to the determinism that is characteristic in Newton’s physics.

Newtonian mechanics substantially modifies the understanding of the causes discovered by Aristotle. In the Aristotelian scheme, the elimination of any of the causes notably alters the understanding of the others and their relationships. Newton’s analysis prevents us from understanding the final cause as the physical cause of the world. Within the mechanics, if the purpose is maintained, it is like something external to the world. It is impossible to understand, from Newton, the final cause in a different way to intentional purpose, that is, without anthropomorphizing it.

Along with this important elimination, the understanding of the rest of the causes is also modified in a remarkable way. In the Aristotelian tradition, material and formal causes are considered as causes intrinsic to substance. Instead, the efficient cause is extrinsic in transitive physical movements. Another of the important alterations introduced by Newtonian analysis is to make the formal cause an extrinsic cause to the substance and, at the same time, understand the material and efficient cause as the intrinsic causes  * (22) .

Conclusive considerations

A problem that emerges from what has been said so far is what we admit as an understanding of physical reality. The Aristotelian approach expanded by Polo also helps us to face it. To understand physical reality is to understand its principles, but an adjusted knowledge of the principles is not achieved through objective knowledge. On the other hand, we can objectively know something that physical reality has: it is a hypothetical knowledge (thought numbers) of the way of having the causes among themselves, that is, of the concausalities (physical number). This type of knowledge allows control of movement. But the knowledge of the physical principles (the causes) is neither objective nor, consequently, useful in order to control nature but to contemplate it.

Scientific Platonism, problems in the demarcation of science, difficulties in interpreting the results of quantum mechanics, the aspiration for a unified theory that gives the explanation of the whole, understanding science as a kind of hermeneutics of nature, physicalist tendencies in biology, etc., these are some of the problems that would be clarified if they were considered in light of the distinctions that we have approached in this work.

The coherence between what the history of science presents to us and the proposals of what we could call the Poliana epistemology, indicates that these proposals can constitute a very valuable contribution to understand today’s science and to be able to frame it in the body of knowledge: the way to control science itself.

 

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