Summary of Mark Osgood's Discussion:

There was posed one fundamental question, upon which much of the discussion was based: "Are there some physical laws that are so basic that even the concept of the universe does not make sense without them?" We were trying to explore the question of weather or not the physical laws we have discovered through science were necessary, or just sufficient for the formation of the universe. The fundamental physical laws introduced were:

1. Conservation Laws

- conservation of mass/energy
- conservation of charge
- conservation of momentum

2. Principle of Least Action

- path of least energy and of least time are followed

3. Thermodynamic Laws

- Entropy of universe must always increase

In our discussion, it was brought up that the principle of least action is really not a fundamental law, but just a result of the conservation of mass/energy, charge, and momentum. We all agreed that the entire set of fundamental physical laws can be summarized by the conservation laws in addition to the statement that the entropy of the universe must ALWAYS increase. I was bothered by the fact that if we are in a collapsing universe, time must run backward upon collapse, therefore causing the entropy of the universe to always decrease past the point of farthest expansion. I suppose this does not pose much of a problem since the universe, upon collapse, will be going from a very disordered state toward a singularity, which is of the utmost order. So to me, the entropy law seems symmetric in time. For any time T that just passed, we could hypothetically know the entropy of the universe. From that knowledge, we could then assume the entropy later in the universe's life, at a time corresponding to the time T (but after the beginning of collapse) to have the same value. Also introduced was the uncertainty principle:

Does this principle in fact invalidate our conservation laws? The group seemed to reach no conclusion on this, due to the difference in interpretations of the uncertainty principle itself. One school of thought is to say that the uncertainty principle is a fundamental quality of nature. This would mean that there are statistical "chances" for the likelihood of any event to happen. I would have to agree with Einstien on this matter. "God does not play dice." I would imagine that we, as large classically sized beings, cannot use anything smaller than elementary particles to measure effects on the quantum level. This is why we cannot deduce both the position and momentum (exactly) of any quantum-sized particle or wave. What we are measuring with yields such large resolutions that any accurate single measurement is impossible and we are forced to use a statistical approach. It's like measuring the position or momentum of a moving basketball with another moving basketball.

Also discussed was whether or not we are responsible for seeing symmetry in the universe. Is the universe naturally symmetric, or do our brains look for certain types of symmetry in the universe? If so, is this due to the fact that we ourselves are symmetric beings? Would an asymmetric intelligent being find a different looking universe based on asymmetrical laws of nature? For instance, look at this pattern:

Do you see the small circles? Do you see the larger order? It is said that our brains first notice a sort of "first order" symmetry, then as we keep looking at things, we see a higher order symmetry. Most people will first see the small circles, then the larger circles, then all sorts of intersections of the circles. An order that is difficult for our brains is the "swiss flag / red cross" shaped pattern that emerges. If you look carefully, you should be able to see it.

Another issue not planned on in the discussion was the question of whether or not mathematics was a universal truth. Paul Brockelman referred to the example of us being able to say "What a beautiful, red sunset.". This saying in english is NOT the same thing as the experience. It is a symbolic representation of A red sunset as defined by our language. I argue that mathematics is yet another language that merely describes the universe around us. It is not part of the universe. It is part of us and our symbolic language. For this reason, I do see that asymmetrical creatures would either think the universe to be distasteful (because it is symmetric) or find laws to fit their asymmetric tastes. It is quite possible that taste, language, and previous experiences with a mostly symmetric world have influenced our interpretation of the universe.

This leaves us to answer the original question: Are there some physical laws that are so basic that even the concept of the universe does not make sense without them? The answer:

We arrived at no conclusion. There is a great deal to be explored in this, and these related areas.

Sean Sullivan