Hello, welcome to Physics 132 at University of Massachusetts, Amherst! This course is where we get to use the ideas from Physics 131 (forces, energy, etc.) to really understand two fundamental objects: electrons and light. These two fundamental objects are all around you. You can see this page due to light. How many electronic devices are you carrying right now? Moreover, understanding these two objects is key for understanding the physical original of biological processes. One cannot hope to understand molecular pathways within cells such as photosynthesis and neural activation without talking about electrons and light, but what are electrons? What is light? The goal of this course is to help you develop your own understanding of these questions.
How do you define what something is? Especially, as is the case for light and electrons, when the object you are trying to define is subatomic and so very far removed from our everyday experience? These are not scientific questions: we cannot design an experiment to test their answers. Thus, this physics course must, right out of the gate, go beyond physics to philosophy. Specifically, we must venture into : a branch of philosophy that explores the nature of being, existence, and reality. The word physics actually comes from a Greek word ΦIΣIK meaning “nature.” META is a Greek word meaning “beyond.” So metaphysics literally means beyond nature. In particular, to answer the question of “how do you define what something is?” we need a branch of metaphysics called .
So how will we define things like electrons and light? In philosophy, we would ask, “what will be our ontological framework?”
- Listing what characteristics objects have
- Listing how objects interact with other constructs
Thus, our definition of an electron will be a list of its properties and interactions. In defining light and electrons in this way, we will see that we must actually look at two other objects: electric and magnetic fields to complete our picture. Does listing properties and interactions really entirely define what it means to be an electron or light? Probably not! There are certainly other possible ontological frameworks, but those are topics for a philosophy class. Science is a powerful way to understand the world, but its requirement of experimental falsifiability does have limitations which is why general education courses are so important for scientists!
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among [the study of] the natural" -Wikipedia
Ontology is the philosophical study of being. More broadly, it studies concepts that directly relate to being, in particular becoming, existence, reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences. -Wikipedia