General Science and Philosophy


The Phases of Matter

Authors: John A. Gowan

In this deeply thoughtful, informative, and rewarding book, Laughlin, a physics Nobel laureate (1998), discusses the emergence of natural law from organizational/collective principles in nature and in various phases of matter - as in (among many other and more exotic examples) the familiar shift from the laws of crystalline order to those of hydrodynamics and finally to the gas laws, as ice melts to water and water evaporates to vapor. He is at pains to point out that most of the phenomena in our daily lives are produced by the higher-level emergent principles and laws of phase organization due to the collective action of vast myriads of atomic constituents whose individual properties count for very little in the final social milieu - and not just because an individual atom is only one among many, but because totally different organizational principles are at work in the different phases of bulk matter, in contrast to those operating between small numbers of individual particles: for example, the quantum behavior of atoms vs the Newtonian behavior of bowling balls. Laughlin raises the question: which laws are the more fundamental - the quantum laws of the individual atoms, or the emergent laws of the collective? Although he identifies this as a semantic distinction that cannot be definitively answered, as a practical matter of survival (in biology), he comes down in favor of the collective.

Comments: 8 Pages. numerous small changes

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Submission history

[v1] 2013-10-11 12:12:42
[v2] 2013-11-30 10:05:16

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