The Physical World and Human Experience

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Professor Sir Alan Howard Cottrell
Professor Sir Alan Howard Cottrell (1919 – 2012)
Dame Margaret Kate Weston
Dame Margaret Kate Weston (1926 – )
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at Conway Hall 3 May 1984. Chaired by Dame Margaret Weston and presented by Professor Sir Alan Cottrell.

What we call laws of nature are really only our mental constructs, employed to describe the regularities of our experience, and to link different areas of our knowledge. The use of these concepts is an example of the human factor at work in our dealings with the physical world; and this factor must be clearly understood in order for us to improve our understanding of that world.

The human factor often takes the form of assumptions, derived from everyday levels of experience, which have to be discarded in deeper-level investigations of reality. Examples of such assumptions are: that time and space are independent of each other, and that our observations of physical entities do not affect these entities. This latter inter-play between observer and observed is especially important in quantum mechanics, a field which also challenges our conventional notions of time and causality.

Because of the constant inter-play between ourselves and nature, our knowledge of the latter is always dependent on our modes of experience.

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