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Indeterminism in Classical Mechanics

Categories: Natural Science
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About Course

The term classical mechanics is employed to contrast the idea of motion against an idea of change that doesn’t involve motion in quantum mechanics. There are at least three equivalent formulations of classical mechanics, called Newtonian, Lagrangian, and Hamiltonian mechanics. Classical mechanics also depends on Calculus, which had to be developed before classical mechanics could be formulated. Despite the apparent determinism of the theory, there are serious problems of indeterminism, which go unnoticed because the theory is used only for scenarios where it works. Thereby, a caricature of classical mechanics as a deterministic description of nature in contrast to choice and free will is created, which is not entirely accurate. In this course, we will survey various aspects of classical mechanics, their origins, the assumptions latent in its fundamental ideas, and why those assumptions are problematic.

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Course Content

Historical Background
Classical mechanics arose under the backdrop of numerous philosophical problems and ideas, which are nearly forgotten today. We discuss these first to understand how classical mechanics marked a shift from previous thinking.

  • The Unmoved Mover Argument
  • The Theological Response to Unmoved Mover
  • Parmenidean Response to Unmoved Mover
  • Newtonian Response to Unmoved Mover
  • How the Protestant Reformation Enabled Science
  • Age of Enlightenment and Freemasonry
  • Newton’s Questionable Writings

The Genesis of Calculus
Classical mechanics would be impossible without calculus. In this lesson we explore the history of ideas that led to the birth of calculus, and the problems in the assumptions underlying calculus.

Three Formulations of Classical Mechanics
Classical mechanics has three equivalent formulations called Netwon's mechanics, Hamiltonian mechanics, and Lagrangian mechanics. This lesson discusses how these three formulations are equivalent and yet different.

The Problems of Classical Mechanics
Contrary to popular perception, classical mechanics is not deterministic when we consider particle collisions that merge and split particles. That indeterminism creates a role for choice even within mechanics.

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