The laws of science seem to be eternal. The law of gravity, Newton’s laws of motion, the laws of relativity, the chemical properties of the elements, are not subject to change. There is thus a conservation of the laws of science.
The conservation laws of physics state that the characteristics of a closed system do not change. There is a conservation of matter and energy, so that these are neither created nor destroyed. There is also a conservation of momentum, so long as an outside force does not intervene. In chemistry, the relationships between hydrogen and oxygen that create the water molecule H2O are constant. In biology, the law of natural selection is unchanging. In economics, the law of demand, that a higher price does not induce a greater quantity demanded for the same good, is universally true and always will be.
The question then is, why is there a conservation of laws. Physicists state that symmetry implies conservation. If one rotation is like another, there is a conservation of angular momentum. There are space-time symmetries, permutation symmetries, discrete symmetries such as those of particles and anti-particles, and unitary symmetries such as the conservation of electric charge.
That still does not explain why there are symmetries. We can start the analysis with logic. The rules of logic cannot change. Consider the rule of subsets. If B is a subset of A, then the existence of B implies the existence of A. If that rule were to change, then the existence of B does not imply the existence of A. But that would defy the definition of subset.
Take another example. If A implies B, then not-B implies not-A. If that were to change, then not-B would not imply not-A. But if we have B and not A, A cannot imply B. Thus logic must be unchanging to avoid contradiction.
Logic underlies mathematics. Eternal logic implies eternal mathematics. The square root of two will always be the same number. The area of a circle will always be pi times radius squared.
Much of physics takes mathematical forms. Part of the basis for the conservation of physical laws is the conservation of mathematical relationships. But there is more. Consider the law of gravity. Gravitational attraction equals the multiplication of masses divided by the square of the distance among the masses. Can this equation change? If the equation were to change, then there would have to be some physical law (L1) describing and, indeed, mandating the change. But would L1 be unchanging? If not, some even higher law, L2, would create the change. If all the Ls could change, then the highest law, LH, would be the unchangeable law, that all other laws change. So ultimately, there has to be some physical law that does not change.
The physical properties and their relationships, such as the law of gravity, do not seem to change. It would be a more complex universe is they did change, based on L1, L2, and LH. Perhaps some constants such as the speed of light, while normally universal at this moment, could change over time, such as due to the size and expansion of the universe. But why would, for example, the equation for gravity not change?
Newton’s first law of motion states that momentum is conserved: objects at rest or else in motion continue in that state unless acted upon by an outside force. This law can be applied to the laws of science. They continue until acted upon from the outside. The law of gravity will continue unchanged until some outside force changes that law. But if that happened, there would, as argued above, be some higher law L1 that induces that outside force, and so ultimately there is some law that cannot be changed by any outside force. A law that anything can change would itself be changed into a law that such change cannot happen. So ultimately it is the eternity of logic that creates an eternity of the laws of science.
The laws of science include social science. The economists of France in the 1700s called their theories “physiocracy,” meaning the rule of natural law. There are economic laws that prescribe prosperity, and these laws do not change. There are three laws of prosperity:
1. To the creator belongs the creation.
2. Only coercive harm may be a crime or tort.
3. The profit of the earth is for all in equal shares.
While science is conservative, human beings should be conservative of the laws of prosperity, progressive in moving towards these laws, and radical in opposing tyranny that denies these laws.
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FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., is an economist and has been writing weekly editorials for Progress.org since 1997. Foldvary's commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He has taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and currently teaches at San Jose State University.
Foldvary is the author of The Soul of Liberty, Public Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary's areas of research include public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.
Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.