What Is Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword?

(Last Updated On: October 21, 2019)

What Is Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword?

What Is Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword?

We’re not entirely sure what path of search engine digging brought you to the term “flaming laser sword,” much less one belonging to Sir Issac Newton. We know that Newton was born in the 1600s, and here in the 2000s we still don’t have laser swords. So you might be wondering what this glorious, legendary weapon could possibly be. Does it rival Excalibur, or something nutty like that? Let’s cut to the chase–what is Sir Issac Newton’s flaming laser sword?

And in case you got interested at the mention of Excalibur: What Was Excalibur?

Alder’s Razor

Alright, it’s not entirely fair to just say “Newton’s flaming laser sword” at all times. The idea actually originates as a philosophical razor, like the ones we’ve talked about before on this blog. Hence, you sometimes hear Newton’s flaming laser sword described as “Alder’s razor”. But we’re here to talk about flaming laser swords. So we’ll be using that terminology in this post. Just know that these two concepts are the same.

Further Reading: What is Occam’s Razor? | What is Hanlon’s Razor?

Newton’s Laser Sword and Newtonianism

Newton’s flaming laser sword is born out of Newtonianism. You might remember Sir Issac Newton as the guy who had an apple fall on his head and then do a bunch of neat foundational stuff for physics. Well, his existence also coincided with the Enlightenment, which was basically a time when all the big name European thinkers came about. 

Newtonianism was based largely on empiricism. In short, empiricism is the philosophy that truth comes from data, and things that are otherwise observable. You cannot say a ghost is haunting your apartment without first being able to hold ectoplasm or something. But going even deeper, Newtonianism was far more concerned with math than it was with empirical observation; observations and data came from mathematical models and the like. 

Why Did Alder Forge the Flaming Laser Sword?

An Australian mathematician named Mike Alder brought the flaming laser sword to light in a philosophical essay, “Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword, Or: Why Mathematicians and Scientists don’t like Philosophy but do it anyway”. 

Basically, Alder sought to reconcile why scientists and philosophers tend to disagree on ideas worth investigating. You’ve probably asked the question “what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object” before. That, or the “if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound” one. Either way, a philosopher is going to be much more interested in those questions than a scientist. 

You may be wondering why Alder chose to name his razor a “flaming laser sword” instead of a razor. Ignoring the fact that flaming laser swords are way cooler, they’re probably a lot more lethal. Turns out, it’s the same reason why Alder chose the flaming laser sword. He called it “sharper and more dangerous than Occam’s Razor.”

How Do You Wield the Flaming Laser Sword?

If you too want to use the flaming laser sword of Sir Issac Newton, you wouldn’t have a very hard time doing so. In short, it can be boiled down to the following:

“If a question cannot be answered through experiment, it is not worth asking”.

Back to the unstoppable force and immovable object. If you hit the object and it doesn’t move, your force is stoppable. If it moves, the object is moveable. This question therefore can be tested by experimentation. As for the tree, you can’t really test if there’s a noise–since there’s no way to observe a tree falling without anyone watching. We’re assuming cameras and audio recorders are not being used either; they would ruin the spirit of the question. So to the scientist, this question is not worth asking.

We’re not sure if your philosopher friends will still want to be your friends if you keep telling them their questions aren’t worth asking though. Keep that in mind when you’re ready to brandish Newton’s flaming laser sword. But it’s good to keep in mind when you want to stop faffing about and cut to the chase.

Want more flaming laser swords? Have some lightsaber fun here.



About Kyler 705 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.