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FQXi FORUM
October 23, 2019

CATEGORY: What's Ultimately Possible in Physics? Essay Contest (2009) [back]
TOPIC: What is ultimately possible in physics depends on foundations and philosophy by Peter Lynds [refresh]
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Author Peter Lynds wrote on Oct. 5, 2009 @ 10:40 GMT
Essay Abstract

I argue that what is ultimately possible in physics will ultimately depend on the willingness and ability of individual physicists to seriously concern themselves with the question of whether a theory's physical foundations and assumptions actually correspond to Nature or not. Several examples in modern physics related to the topics of time and space-time are discussed where I feel this issue to be especially pertinent, including the existence of spacetime, the theory of cosmic inflation, the standard interpretation of the 'block' view of time provided by relativity, the theory that time and space are quantized, and thermodynamic time reversal. I conclude with some comments about Albert Einstein, a physicist I believe physics can today still learn much from, not just for his theories and ideas, but also from his approach to physics.

Author Bio

Peter Lynds is a 34 year-old independent who lives in Wellington, New Zealand. Links to his papers are available at his website http://www.peterlynds.net.nz, while an FQXi discussion about a recent paper about time and cosmology can be found at http://www.fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/111.

Download Essay PDF File

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Steve Dufourny wrote on Oct. 7, 2009 @ 08:07 GMT
Hi dear Peter ,

Happy to see somebody who has the same age than me ,34 hihihihi

It's a well explained essay about the philosophy of physics and the rules of fundamentals correlated with our realities .

I liked a lot the words you use

"You could say people didn’t really think the theory was true because they had rejected the idea

of truth in science. Truth in science must mean correspondence to reality, or it means nothing."

Good luck for the contest

Steve

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amrit wrote on Oct. 7, 2009 @ 12:15 GMT
Dear Peter

Yes, the question of whether a theory's physical foundations and assumptions actually correspond to Nature or not is of great importance for development of physics.

We have to search the process "perception - processing in the mind - experience"

My research shows that space-time is basic mind frame in which we process perception of physical change that run in timeless cosmic space where physical time is run of clocks.

Main stream physicists say to me that searching the process "perception-processing-experience" is the question of philosophy of physics. It it not. It is core question of theoretical physics. I'm happy our essay opens this tabu theme of physics.

yours amrit

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Paul Halpern wrote on Oct. 7, 2009 @ 13:16 GMT
Peter,

A well-written and informative essay. Interesting points about the need for theory to match whatever is the fundamental description of nature.

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T H Ray wrote on Oct. 7, 2009 @ 17:40 GMT
Sorry, I have to agree with Hawking--science is not a quest for reality (which is indefinable, at any rate, in any way that can be called objective)--science possesses the quality of metaphysical realism (Popper; Realism and the Aim of Science). Its only claim is a demonstrated correspondence between theory and result (measurement, as Hawking said); published, peer-reviewed science is no more than this.

You ask of what value is it?--knowledge, for the sake of knowledge alone, is sufficient.

Tom

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J.C.N. Smith wrote on Oct. 7, 2009 @ 18:21 GMT
Mr. Lynds,

Thank you for an interesting essay. Given your expressed views on science and you predilection for quoting Einstein, I was surprised not to find another apropos quote which I've seen attributed to him: "Mathematics are well and good but nature keeps dragging us around by the nose."

In light of the fact that you've obviously given a great deal of thought to the topic of time, I'd be interested in your reaction to the essay which I've contributed to this year's collection: 'On the Impossibility of Time Travel,' as well as on another, earlier essay which may be found here. I realize that there is much reading to be done these days with so many interesting essays having been submitted to this competition (the total was 113 at my latest count), but when/if you find an opportunity, I'd welcome your thoughts.

Cheers

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Author Peter Lynds wrote on Oct. 8, 2009 @ 00:16 GMT
Hi Steve. Thanks.

Hi Armit. Thanks. I agree with you about the non-existence of time and space-time.

Hi Paul. Thanks. I appreciate it. Hopefully you may have an essay in next year's competition. Your entry last year was excellent.

Hi Tom,

"science is not a quest for reality"

It is for me, and it's the main reason I'm interested in it (and physics in particular).

I don't think you can deny that science is concerned with reality and agree with Hawking, and then invoke "metaphysical realism" and agree with Popper (someone very much concerned with reality, and someone I largely agree with except for some of his ideas about truth). In relation to knowledge, something must be true or false to qualify as knowledge. Of course, deciding between ourselves which one it is in any objective way is impossible (hence the great worth of the scientific method), but this doesn't mean that a scientific assertion still isn't a case of being definitely right or wrong and correctly corresponding to Nature or not. It has to be if one wants to believe in "metaphysical realism" and that there is definitely a universe out there, existing independently of us. Moreover, and more pertinently to my essay, if one doesn't believe that science is a case of an assertion correctly corresponding to reality or not, there is not necessarily a need that a theory be accountable to it.

Hi J.C.N. Smith,

Thanks. I actually used that quote in my FQXi essay contest entry last year.

I'll try to read your essay and the other paper you mentioned.

Best wishes

Peter

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Narendra nath wrote on Oct. 8, 2009 @ 04:13 GMT
Dear Peter, nice to meet you again this year though you came very late. Somehow i get worried when some claim to sense reality. To me it seems to perfect to be approached fully. What we do in sciences is to go on getting better and better picture of reality but its absolute form is beyond us. We have been created in th euniverse 13.7 billion years old, only few thousand years back. How we came into being and with what logic of evolution still needs to be ascertained. Cosmolgy to me seems to have all the hidden truths. It is still a very subjective study though conventional Physics has become far more objective. For humans both objectivity and subjectivity play a part as derived from our emotional and rational mind. Although science is attributed to be all objective, i wonder if the emotional content cam be eliminated completely. We may use whatever words we like but then to me , silence contains all the true knowledge. How it get to approach it is a challenge. Order contains noise but not the converse and so also is the nature of silence!

It is all philosophical , please excuse me but Physics was a discipline of Philosophy in the times Einstein did his Nobel prize works. he also admitted in private that the path breaking ideas that came to him were not a part of his own thinking process. these appeared all of a sudden. the only hting he did that he comprehended their import sand had the tools of Maths available to him , to implement the same quickly enough! Let us be humble and compasdsionate in search for the best possible relative truths in understanding our universe and processes taking place in nature. Finality as an aim will be dangerous for Physics itself.

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Terry Padden wrote on Oct. 9, 2009 @ 07:19 GMT
Peter

1. You write "Einstein's .... (snipped) .... coupled with a very

high proficiency with mathematics" WRONG.

MInkowski rated him lazy at maths. Einstein had to recruit helpers to assist him uncover and use the necessary maths for GR. In his own papers the maths of the Photo-Electric effect, Brownian motion, etc is high school stuff. the maths of SR is junior high level. For his post GR papers (EPR etc.) again he had helpers for the maths.

2. I agree with your general position but my essay provides a different take on it. e.g. for me Instants are unavoidable - ask anyone. The problem is how to effectively formalise what we know to be real.

3. You are too gushing about Einstein - like nearly everyone. (Now that statement is a good way to upset people round here !). He used his authority to promote Minkowski's maths into the "reality" of 4D Space-Time continuum. Given the basis of your paper and criticism of S-T you should, as I do in my essay, recognise a major mistake on his part.

4. You have not come to grips with the two types of existence / reality and confuse or conflate them. The mental / Platoist = epistemic that enables our logical and mathematical models; and the experiential based physical / empirical = ontic that provides the physical principles. In my essay I focus on this issue: The Rational & The Reasonable.

I enjoyed your paper.

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Author Peter Lynds wrote on Oct. 9, 2009 @ 14:08 GMT
Hi Terry,

Thanks. Yes, Einstein often had help with the math behind his theories. Yet, he was also able to very quickly cut to what was crucial and essential about some approach, including the formalism--something he did again and again. Moreover, despite his confessed difficulties with math, I think he would probably be more proficient with mathematics than 99% of philosophers. At the same time, he was also probably more proficient with philosophy (and mindful of reality etc) than 99% of physicists (and probably philosophers too!). This is the point. I think it is very rare to find this combination in an individual, and when it happens, the results for physics can be great. In relation to modern physics, approach, and emphasis, I think there is a lesson here.

Although I must confess to being a fan, I don't think I'm too gushy about Einstein. I agree that he could have done more regarding the reality of space-time. He did get there though (as illustrated by his 1952 quote referenced in my essay). In relation to things time and space, I also think he was mostly spot on, and if he wasn't, it usually didn't take him long to remedy the situation (as was the case with general covariance).

In relation to existence, I think mathematics, theories, ideas, logic, etc, all only exist in a platonic sense. Science is about trying to find which of these ideas correctly correspond to physical existence (and asserting that they do).

"I agree with your general position but my essay provides a different take on it. e.g. for me Instants are unavoidable - ask anyone."

As I don't think that instants exist, I don't think they're unavoidable. They (and instantaneous magnitudes, etc) still have a place in physics, but because they don't actually exist, one must be very careful about what one infers about them. As an example, I read in your essay abstract that you believe that the present or the 'now' exists. If instants don't exist, neither can the present.

Best wishes

Peter

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T H Ray wrote on Oct. 9, 2009 @ 18:18 GMT
Peter,

You wrote "...if one doesn't believe that science is a case of an assertion correctly corresponding to reality or not, there is not necessarily a need that a theory be accountable to it."

On the contrary, correspondence between theory and result (measurement)is all the scientific content there is. Belief has nothing at all to do with the subject. Einstein, in fact, ridiculed "merely personal belief."

Tom

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Anonymous wrote on Oct. 10, 2009 @ 01:17 GMT
Peter

Thanks for a prompt reply.

1. You agree there are 2 different modes of existence - but your essay does not make the necessary distinction. A difference without a distinction is the inverse of a common error, but still an error.

2. We disagree about the reality of "Now". You "think" it does not exist. That is a mere Platoist conclusion. I, and you, and everyone knows empirically that we are different now than we were before and we will be different after. The only path from before to after is through the now. Empirically we can and do only measure in the now. Every measurement in science has a specific "Now" designation called the Time of the observation. Take away "now" and science as the study of ordered quantified empirical reality collapses. Empirically the existence of Now is undeniable. Only philosophers like you and Einstein would be so bold / daft as to formalise it out of existence.

3. Your response ends "If instants don't exist, neither can the present." This is formally Rationally / logically correct - but only "If" they don't exist. In which case refer to (2) - they do exist. With an incorrect premise anything is possible - I think that is philosophy, isn't it ?

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Terry Padden wrote on Oct. 10, 2009 @ 22:53 GMT
Terry Padden was again (but hopefully is no longer) anonymous.

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nnath wrote on Oct. 11, 2009 @ 02:30 GMT
Dear Peter,

May be you do not consider my post of Oct.8 as of any significance towards your own essay.But i still curious to your response, but you have the right to ignore the same!

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Author Peter Lynds wrote on Oct. 12, 2009 @ 00:54 GMT
Hi Tom,

"Belief has nothing at all to do with the subject."

I disagree. All of science is based on the belief that, despite all of our observations being subjective, there is an objective physical reality for science to be concerned with. If one denies that science is concerned with reality, one might as well also deny that such a reality exists. After all, one cannot say it is correct that an objective physical reality exists, when one has denied that such an assertion can be said to be true and correspond to reality in the first place!

Hi Terry,

I would urge you to read section 3 of my essay. My essay from last year's contest too (www.fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/240)

Hi Narendra,

Good to see you this year too. Thanks.

Best wishes

Peter

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Don Limuti (www.zenophysics.com) wrote on Oct. 12, 2009 @ 07:02 GMT
Peter,

Glad to see your entry, I was getting worried.

Einstein saw space and time as a philosophical (mathematical) conundrum. His way around this was to "axiomize" physics the way that Euclid axiomized geometry. He stole a potent technique from those tricky mathematicians.

He did this by declaring space as that which is measured by rods and time as that which is measured by clocks. Now if the question is asked (on the classical scale) is space and time "real" we can say who cares we have rods and clocks "Shut up and calculate!" (to quote Feynman).

On the quantum mechanical scale rods are no longer a good measure because we have entered the land of wavelengths where the concept of a rod gets fuzzy. And without rods clocks cannot be built. In my opinion we desperately need someone to declare one or two good axioms for QM like Einstein did for classical physics. You may be the man!

Don L.

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Narendra nath wrote on Oct. 13, 2009 @ 02:53 GMT
Thanks for your thanks, but no specific response to my comments of Oct 08 , was it? i too have been wondering about the concepts of space and time. But some persons confuse these concepts with measurements of length by rods and of time by clocks. Concpts do not depend on such things. Thes eare not physical materials that you are making measurements on. You tackle the masses that exist in space, which is massless. Similarly, you watch the motion of masses and then use time as concept to describe it through measurement.

I am eliciting from you about the nature of space, curved or rolled or what ever you wish to represent it by! i am worried about the homogeneity or inhomgeneity of bot spave and time. What happens when such distortions may take place. May i draw your attention to several mysteries that are not getting tackled by physics/cosmology about the early universe close to Big Bang. What i feel is that the Physics we haqve worked out in past few hundred years simply is not valid for the extremely violent times of the early universe when temperatures, density and pressures were enormously large. I personally feel convinced that LHC or any other accelerator that we may build in the near future, may not simulate such conditions ever. The only hope lies with precise and accurate cosmological measurements pertaining to that period. That may well help revolutionize physics. i expect quantum and inbetween quantum and classical physics of the day to dominate then. Also , gravity interaction with quantum aspects and the' mesamorphic 'region as proposed by Tejinder Singh in his essay, may be valid there.Further , i postulate that the nature of Gravity is also very mysterious and it may wekll be changing as per the demnds of nature then. It is only later that gravity has stabilised after about the first half a billion years to what we call its nature in Physics of today. For example, it may well be highly repulsive to result even in the extremely fast inflation from Big bang to the initial size of the universe, before the dark energy associated accelerated evolution of the universe visible started. Even the dark matter which is non-baryonic in nature exerts a differnt repulsive gravity force on the visible baryonic matter to result in the expansion of the universe that is taking place.

Yes lal these are conjectures but do these seem to be illogical and incorrect to make. After all , even the strong nuclear force has to be highly repulsive to conform to the demands of nature by way of non- collapsability of the nucleus to a point. The same is true for nucleons themselves when they get formed by quark / gluons boundness. Free quarks do not exist in visible worls but they may well have existed in the early universe!Excuse me for any spelling mistakes,as the post has become long, hopely eliciting concrete response, instead of thanks.

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Roy Johnstone wrote on Oct. 13, 2009 @ 09:56 GMT
Hello Peter,

I enjoyed both your 2008 and 2009 essays, probably because I identified very closely with the principles espoused in them, particularly those relating to the "nature of time".

In relation to recent comments above, can I say that I think, in a sense, you and Terry are both right in your debate about the existence of "the present/now". I agree with you that any notion of...

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Terry Padden wrote on Oct. 14, 2009 @ 04:29 GMT
Peter

I will RE-read section 3 - but probably don't have time to read the old one.

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Terry Padden wrote on Oct. 14, 2009 @ 05:47 GMT
Peter

I have Re-read section 3. in it you write in quotes below

1. "Relativity tells us that all times in the universe, past, present and future, are all laid out together in a fixed, four-dimensional space-time block. This follows as a natural consequence of the lack of a preferred present moment in relativity, with judgements of simultaneity being relative."

This is NOT TRUE. I have had to point this out to several authors here. The authors of essay 555 (Michael Silberstein & Mark Stuckey) acknowledged their error after i pointed it out. Please see that correspondence so i don't have to repeat myself. (You may even enjoy the repartee)

You are just repeating the party line. It is propaganda; not truth. Everyone is indoctrinated to believe it. Please don't.

2. "However, this "block" view of time seems to be very much at odds with how we as people seem to experience the world, where, subjectively, time seems to flow. "

Replace "seems" with "is" and delete "seem to" and this sure is the TRUTH.

3. "More often, however, people just accept that motion and change are illusions".

You must know lots of strange people. I must get out more. No one I have ever met, outside of a misconceived or misunderstood journal paper, doubts the reality of motion and change.

4. "However, as long as one recognizes that instants, the instantaneous, and space-time points - all static, discontinuous entities - do not actually exist,"

What is that "recognises" covering up ? A great big assumption that you are making, based on the fallacy of (1) !

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T H Ray wrote on Oct. 14, 2009 @ 19:31 GMT
Hi Peter. You wrote:

"All of science is based on the belief that, despite all of our observations being subjective, there is an objective physical reality for science to be concerned with. If one denies that science is concerned with reality, one might as well also deny that such a reality exists. After all, one cannot say it is correct that an objective physical reality exists, when one has denied that such an assertion can be said to be true and correspond to reality in the first place!"

There are several unwarranted assumptions here.

1. Science is based on belief.

Not at all. Science in fact, assigns no value to personal belief.

2. Our observations are subjective.

Individually, perhaps. When individual results are replicated by others,however, we call the result objective. If it's illusion, it's an illusion we all share, so that the illusion cannot be differentiated from objective results.

3. Science assumes reality.

If this were true, science would be tautology; i.e., we can't fail to find what we're looking for. Most of science's most significant conclusions, in fact, rest on negative results; e.g.: nonvariable speed of light in a vacuum; absence of evidence for creationism or intelligent design that can't be accounted for by a theory of common ancestry; quantum nonlocality. What we know to be true is mostly counterintuitive, and not supported by experience or belief about "reality." Science does not, as Newton put it, "frame hypotheses" a priori. If we say that reality is what we discover, that does not mean that reality is what we believe in.

Science is not philosophy. (Which is why, in fact, I did not enter an essay in this contest.)

Tom

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Roy Johnstone wrote on Oct. 15, 2009 @ 03:47 GMT
Terry,

I agree with you that people who accept that motion and change are illusions are actually pretty scarce. There is one prominent, well published physicist who does though and that is Julian Barbour. I can't accept his "static" postulate for all sorts of reasons, but he has, hopefully, at least prompted more people to question our assumptions about "time" and the way it has...

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Terry Padden wrote on Oct. 15, 2009 @ 06:55 GMT
Ray

1. I have no problem with any formalism, including Barbour's (by the way I am not here entering into the argument about Duration. Not enough space or time). If people want / need to use Configuration Space or any other Pllatoist entity I say: " let them !" - but eventually they must relate their formalisms to the real world of scientific observation. Too often physicists and...

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T H Ray wrote on Oct. 15, 2009 @ 09:13 GMT
Roy,

You wrote "I think Peter's meaning there was exactly what you stated in your own response! That "science is concerned with reality", ie not personal subjective beliefs. If I am wrong with this, could you perhaps explain what other scientific principle results from eschewing personal belief?"

Sure. There is no scientific principle other than demonstrated correspondence between theory and measurement. Theory--not experience, philosophy or belief-- explains the result.

Tom

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amrit wrote on Oct. 15, 2009 @ 12:41 GMT
Fundamental terms in physics should be based on experimental data, means fundamental terms should describe physical phenomena that are measurable directly.

Mass is measurable directly.

Electrical charge is measurable directly.

Magnetic field is measurable directly.

Gravity is measurable directly.

Space-time as a fundamental arena of the universe is not measurable directly.

Gravity waves are not measurable directly.

Both are only math models.

Direct measurement of phenomena means that they exists as a physical reality.

Until we do not measure therm directly should be treated as hypothetical.

yours amrit

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Author Peter Lynds wrote on Oct. 15, 2009 @ 22:12 GMT
Hi Don,

Thanks for your thoughtful (and kind) comment.

"In my opinion we desperately need someone to declare one or two good axioms for QM like Einstein did for classical physics."

I agree. In particular, I think we really need to figure out the causal reason(s) for qm. Easier said than done, but if we were able to, we would also be able to make sense of it. I see your essay...

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Author Peter Lynds wrote on Oct. 15, 2009 @ 22:43 GMT
PS: Tom, in relation to Einstein and belief, I was just reminded of his quote when asked how he would have reacted had experiment not confirmed that the path of passing starlight was bent by the sun. "I would have to pity the dear Lord. The theory is correct all the same."

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narendranath wrote on Oct. 16, 2009 @ 14:19 GMT
Dear Peter, i note that you are in support of either the concept pf space or time. Well, they are not something physical for their existence to be proved through any experiment. Everyone knows that the ether experiment had already failed.These concepts are for the convenience of building theories of relativity and gravity as also to be able to measure distances and timing speeds. There are other concepts too that exist in physics in order to be able to build the respective theories. No concepts no Physics, as these are based on the generality of observed facts as seen by several scientific observers. But i do agree that scientists can build successful theories of processes/phenomenon using alternate concepts. For example, Einstein, though an initiator of quantum concept does not like Quantum mechanics and hoped that one day a new theory will emerge not treating every phenomenon to be determined or expressed in terms of probabilities only. Personally i also feel independent events of any physical process may well be deterministic but experimentally we can not measure it except through averaging over a large number of events. Thus measurement is behind averaging requirements and so introducing probabilities and distribution functions become necessary. But i also believe that the the creation of the universe that we have and are observing has surely an order as well as logic/intelligence behind it. It just can't be random in nature! The manifestation of the capacity to observe, that is through an observer, changes the outlook by way of what we observe. Thus observed event is affected by the observer. But then we don't have a way to observe the universe from outside!

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Lev Goldfarb wrote on Oct. 16, 2009 @ 15:40 GMT
Dear Peter,

I wanted to draw your attention to the fact that “the question of whether a theory's physical foundations and assumptions actually correspond to Nature or not” is not as simple as you seem to suggest, mainly due to the following situation.

In physics, in order to deal with ‘reality’ we must rely on *some* formal language, since all spoken languages are not suited for this purpose. So without some formalism we cannot (properly) do physics, and hence cannot verify any ‘correspondence to nature’.

In general, it appears that a sufficient number of physicists are not completely blind to the inadequacies of modern physics, but the problem comes back to the above fact that, above all, one needs a fundamentally new formalism to be able to see (gradually) what will be gained by jumping to a new ship.

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T H Ray wrote on Oct. 18, 2009 @ 17:24 GMT
Peter, you wrote:

" ... in relation to Einstein and belief, I was just reminded of his quote when asked how he would have reacted had experiment not confirmed that the path of passing starlight was bent by the sun. "I would have to pity the dear Lord. The theory is correct all the same."

Right. It was correct not because he believed in it; it was correct because he had precisely calculated the difference between the star's actual spatial coordinates and its apparent measured position. Actually, we now know that the calculation was not perfect,just close enough to support the theory (general relativity). In order to truly understand Einstein's references to "the Lord" and the "Old One," one must defer to his oft-expressed Deism, a completely rationalist religious view that is functionally atheistic. Because there is no personal god in the Einstein belief system (borrowed from Spinoza), there is no room for assigning personal belief to natural phenomena. He meant that if the theory were not supported, science would be useless to describe how the universe works, because the order that theory described could be supported only by personal belief.

As Lev Goldfarb points out, we can only communicate the correspondence between how we think the world works, and how it actually works, by constructing a system of formal language, i.e. a self consistent theory (which, in fact, is something that Einstein also pointed out in other writings). We then test that correspondence by measurement.

Tom

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Author Peter Lynds wrote on Oct. 18, 2009 @ 21:28 GMT
Hi Narendra,

Thanks. I largely agree with your comments.

Hi Lev,

Thanks. To say something meaningful about physical reality in physics does not demand that that something be mathematical. It so happens that physics theories predominately are mathematical because math is so effective at modelling the universe and physical processes, and this is what physics predominantly does in order to draw conclusions about how the universe behaves.

I'm very much aware of the inadequacies of current formalism, and yet, I don't think anyone could deny that it has been incredibly effective, and remains to be. I personally also think it represents our best option. I see the more pertinent thing as our being more mindful and careful with regards to physical reality, assumptions etc, and the formalism we generally already have at hand.

Hi Tom,

"Right. It was correct not because he believed in it; it was correct because he had precisely calculated the difference between the star's actual spatial coordinates and its apparent measured position."

He thought it was correct despite it not having yet been tested, because he believed it correctly corresponded to reality! (not to measurement, because had measurement not confirmed it, he still would have believed it).

Best wishes

Peter

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Roy Johnstone wrote on Oct. 19, 2009 @ 04:55 GMT
Peter

You responded,

"I disagree. I think it is simply a question of the correct interpretation, and in the same way that one can say 2 follows 1, and 3 follows 2, without making reference to time and tense, before, after etc, one can assign an order to events without referencing the present. The same applies to the readings of clocks, dates etc. I would make the same point in connection to J C N Smith’s essay. A "configuration of the universe at a particular time" would also presumably represent an "instant."

I agree with your statement about ordering in the relativistic sense. I was really talking about the more general use of time values in our theories, including dimensional quantities, eg v=d/t. I believe it is an incorrect interpretation, manifested in this way that we *represent* time, ie a before and after clock reading, so that *as it is currently formulated* Terry is right about the need for tense in current physics. To make a fully relativistic theory and, in the case of J C N Smith's model, a fully "Machian" theory, should and could we instead formulate our theories in a fully "tenseless" physically relational way? I think Carlo Rovelli's idea is a very well motivated and promising one in this regard.

I cannot speak for Mr Smith, but I think the essence of his "configuration as time" idea does not necessarily imply "instants", but rather makes motion/change primary. The problem then becomes how to describe transience of evolving matter configurations in terms of evolving *spatial* relations between entities (as the orthogonal 4th dimensional component of the 4 vector?), rather than Terry's "transient time".

Cheers

Roy

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T H Ray wrote on Oct. 19, 2009 @ 08:45 GMT
Peter, you wrote

"He thought it was correct despite it not having yet been tested, because he believed it correctly corresponded to reality! (not to measurement, because had measurement not confirmed it, he still would have believed it)."

Nonsense. That is insulting to Einstein's life as a scientist.

Tom

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Oct. 19, 2009 @ 17:05 GMT
Dear Peter Lynds,

You concluded in your essay: "Theoretical physics currently finds itself in something like a crisis."

As an engineer I can only add for sure that I found basic mistakes. This essay contest guided me via Steven Oostdijk's essay to www.milesmathis.com/are.html

I dislike the verbose and as I feel unnecessary provocative style of Miles Mathis, and I cannot yet finally judge. However, Mathis is certainly in some sense correct with his nonsensical claim every point on the graph will have two dimensions.

This reminds me of Cantor who rigorously proved that a cube does not have more points than the line. I see rigorous formalism of such kind often anchored in deeply rooted wrong belief I would like you to get aware of.

Causality it often seen as the relation between a single cause and a single effect or possibly a plurality of effects. Adam and Eve and the regeneration from Noah's Ark are genetically unrealistic.

The other way round, we may always consider a plurality of causes and focus on a single effect.

Let me object to "past, present, and future". I feel the present something unphysical like a real number without any extension.

Very few experts seem to entirely agree with me. I would appreciate to discuss their reasons.

Regards,

Eckard

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J.C.N. Smith wrote on Oct. 20, 2009 @ 01:26 GMT
Just a brief post to second the comments made by Mr. Roy Johnstone, who, for all intents and purposes, is as close to being my "alter ego" when it comes to thinking on the topic of time as I've ever previously had the good fortune to encounter. That having been said, I speak only for myself when I add that my concept of time is about as primitive and naive as they come. It's my view that what traditionally has been thought of and referred to as "the flow of time" is, in reality, nothing more and nothing less than the evolution of the physical universe.

We, collectively, got off track in our thinking about time when our inventions of the calendar and clock "led us down the garden path," so to speak, by enabling us to talk about "time" as though it were something separate and distinct from configurations of the universe. We've been suffering the consequences ever since. Lee Smolin was absolutely correct, in my opinion, when he wrote, "More and more, I have the feeling that quantum theory and general relativity are both deeply wrong about the nature of time. It is not enough to combine them. There is a deeper problem, perhaps going back to the origin of physics." ('The Trouble With Physics,' page 256)

If anyone is interested, they can find more about this in my current FQXi essay 'On the Impossibility of Time Travel' and in reference 4 to that essay.

Cheers

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Oct. 20, 2009 @ 07:01 GMT
J. C. N. Smith seconded Roy Johnstone who wrote: Terry is right about the need for tense in current physics.

Well, why not declaring Einstein disabled as a believing physicist and distinguishing between the reality that does not include the future and the abstract notion of time? Cf. my M290.

Well, this would be at odds with the idea of an a priori existing spacetime from infinity to infinity amen.

I quote from Oostdijk's essay the last sentence I agree with:

"I think we must conclude that the actual advancement in physics applications in the last century is by large from the work of engineers and not from advances in basic physics theory."

Let me justify my decision to likewise question Cantor's naive set theory: Who can tell us a single application of aleph_2? Isn't the value of the allegedly rigorous foundation of mathematics rather to provide an excuse for reasonable pragmatism? I do not expect any established belief to declare itself wrong. Will not this be the duty of those who get aware of mounting trouble in physics?

Eckard

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Roy Johnstone wrote on Oct. 21, 2009 @ 01:58 GMT
Eckard

When I said... "*as it is currently formulated* Terry is right about the need for tense in current physics", I was trying to emphasise that we are tied to that way of calculating because of the misleading *current formulation*. For instance, how would you go about calculating velocity without a before and after clock reading, ie T0 < T1?

I thought I had been fairly clear that I actually agree physics should be tenseless and that the traditional notion of magnitudes of "time" are unphysical and unreal.

Cheers

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Oct. 21, 2009 @ 22:09 GMT
Dear Roy,

Unless we flip a record, it reflects the original direction. The distinction between past and future is something else. Physics "should" not be tenseless. It is unfortunately tenseless so far, and it will - as I hope - become ultimately realistic.

Perhaps the only agreement between you and me will be to not agree because you seem to share Einstein's belief in a life after the dead. Ritz died in 1909 but as I quoted in my M290 from Zeh, the late Einstein admitted that the Now worried him seriously.

Maybe I can understand why you consider magnitudes of time unphysical and unreal? Maybe you will be forced to agree that the time span between two events is a measurable non-negative quantity while our ordinary time is indeed not even known to our ear.

However, as did the believing physicist Einstein, you seem to believe in a closed system of a completely created spacetime including all future.

As did Einstein, you will understand reality as follows: "If ... we can predict with certainty the value of a physical quantity, then there exists an element of reality corresponding to that quantity."

Given I intend to analyze an actually existing sound signal, then I cannot and I intend not predicting it.

I agree that tenseless language can be combined with horribly awkward add-ons.

I am just convinced that the distinction between past and expectation is more natural if we humbly admit that predictions are always uncertain to some extent.

Regards,

Eckard

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Peter Lynds wrote on Oct. 22, 2009 @ 20:41 GMT
Hi Roy,

Thanks. I can't help but get the feeling that you didn't understand what I said. For example, in relation to your questioning how one could "go about calculating velocity without a before and after clock reading" one can say that one reading follows the other without making reference to before and after, in the same way that one can say that 2 follows 1, without making reference to before and after, past and future etc. It is just a matter of interpretation.

Hi Eckard,

"I feel the present something unphysical like a real number without any extension."

I agree.

Hi J C N Smith,

"It's my view that what traditionally has been thought of and referred to as "the flow of time" is, in reality, nothing more and nothing less than the evolution of the physical universe."

I naturally agree with that too.

Best wishes

Peter

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Oct. 23, 2009 @ 22:15 GMT
"It's my view that what traditionally has been thought of and referred to as "the flow of time" is, in reality, nothing more and nothing less than the evolution of the physical universe."

Any objection?

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Phil wrote on Oct. 25, 2009 @ 20:37 GMT
I agree with your approach, and I see many others here do to. I don't know if you've read Peter Jacksons essay 'Perfect Symmetry' yet, but if you look below the surface (and see the posts) I think you'll find the proof that you're right.

Phil

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Roy Johnstone wrote on Oct. 27, 2009 @ 00:24 GMT
Peter,

RE: velocity. In my haste, I probably didn't frame that question very well and certainly not fully! What I was really getting at is that because it is a vector quantity, the preferred ordering is required to describe the *direction* as well as the rate of motion. The clock readings then must correlate with the order of points along the trajectory. I guess what you are saying is that there need not be any *tense* involved with the motion in the first place or therefore the clock readings and I can agree with that. In fact I believe that is exactly the sort of thinking we need!

I just feel we have created a problem with our use of clocks and the resulting standard time unit of the second which we have conventionally applied to all measurements, thereby introducing our own external, absolute time (albeit based on physical processes). This is where the preferred ordering of readings is interpreted as "time direction" and why I said it is required in current physics. For a fully relational (Machian?) model, I feel we should be representing these things more as purely physical relations between objects/variables in the system of interest. I don't know how to do this whilst "preserving" the sense of trajectory, particularly in the case of acceleration, but maybe much smarter people, perhaps Carlo Rovelli or yourself, can succeed!

Cheers

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Oct. 28, 2009 @ 19:14 GMT
Dear Roy,

I learned from physiology that the only non-arbitrary reference for measuring time as well as for naturally describing a process in real time is the very moment. We need not more and not less than to choose this point of view instead the birth of Christ at midnight in Greenwich.

Regards,

Eckard

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