Segments in this Video

Meet the Panelists (01:30)


Debate moderator Alok Jha asks whether eternal universal laws exist and introduces biologist Rupert Sheldrake, CERN physicist John Ellis, and philosopher of science Nancy Cartwright.

Rupert Sheldrake: the Pitch (05:24)

In the 17th and 18th century, Christian thinkers used a “platonic” theology to interpret the laws of nature, continued by most 20th century physicists. Sheldrake argues that laws act like habits evolving through cosmic natural selection, supported by empirical evidence of new compounds.

John Ellis: the Pitch (02:26)

Ellis argues that laws of nature exist, and are not evolving. He is not interested in the Multiverse Theory because it is not testable. As a physicist, he has trouble with metaphysical "why" questions.

Nancy Cartwright: the Pitch (03:53)

Cartwright argues that the laws of physics only apply in certain situations such as building lasers, and that they do not help us understand or interact in the world. She gives the example of a marksman shooting Newton's billiard ball.

Theme One: Do the Laws of Nature Exist? - Part One (07:18)

Cartwright argues that the laws of physics do not explain situations where non-physics factors play a role. Ellis says physics have important engineering and economic applications. Sheldrake argues that habits of matter become deeply ingrained and imitate laws. New phenomena such as observing atoms at low temperatures are testable hypotheses.

Do the Laws of Nature Exist? - Part Two (03:32)

Sheldrake found that melting points among chemicals synthesized in the 20th century have increased dramatically. His hypothesizes that laws or "habits" of nature evolve. He and Ellis debate whether or not assuming the laws of nature are fixed is an extraordinary claim.

Theme Two: Are Laws Human Hubris? - Part One (05:38)

Ellis provides cosmology examples where physics laws hypothetically evolved. Cartwright states that new laws came into existence in biology and in social sciences as predictable phenomena.

Are Laws Human Hubris? - Part Two (06:02)

Sheldrake discusses predictable statistical behavior in biology; he believes inheritance and psychological memory depend on habit principles, rather than natural laws. Ellis says the discovery of a change in physics laws would require high standards of proof, but could shift the universe as we know it.

Theme Three: Can We Abandon Laws? (07:47)

Cartwright argues that there is no "normal" scientist. Sheldrake says the principles governing an evolutionary cosmos must evolve too. Ellis says that laws of nature are subject to change, based on new data, but physics laws have not been proven to evolve.

Credits: Unnatural Laws: Are Eternal Laws an Illusion? (00:07)

Credits: Unnatural Laws: Are Eternal Laws an Illusion?

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Unnatural Laws: Are Eternal Laws an Illusion?

Part of the Series : Institute of Art and Ideas: Cutting Edge Debates and Talks from the World's Leading Thinkers
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $169.95
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3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



From Newton's laws to E=mc2, we think we have uncovered the secrets of the universe. But some claim these laws evolve and others point to their human and cultural origins. Might eternal natural laws be human hubris? Or is the mind of God in our grasp?

The Panel

CERN physicist and coiner of the term "Theory of Everything" John Ellis, author of The Science Delusion Rupert Sheldrake and American philosopher of physics Nancy Cartwright debate the sacred assumptions of science.

Length: 44 minutes

Item#: BVL115767

ISBN: 978-1-63521-119-1

Copyright date: ©2015

Closed Captioned

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