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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

T H Ray: on 5/20/11 at 14:51pm UTC, wrote Luigi, I apologize for missing your followup comment of 22 March. I must...

Luigi Foschini: on 3/22/11 at 12:26pm UTC, wrote Thank you for your comment. LF

Luigi Foschini: on 3/22/11 at 12:19pm UTC, wrote Sorry, Tom, but there should be some misunderstanding. I have written that...

Alan Lowey: on 3/19/11 at 11:15am UTC, wrote Dear Luigi, Congratulations on your dedication to the competition and your...

Anonymous: on 3/14/11 at 17:33pm UTC, wrote Luigi, I am familiar with Jacques Hadamard. You will find me quoting him...

John Merryman: on 3/12/11 at 19:43pm UTC, wrote Luigi, Though it wasn't a topic covered in my essay, I think there is a...

Luigi Foschini: on 3/11/11 at 9:02am UTC, wrote Dear John, thank you for your notes. I have read your essay and it is...

Luigi Foschini: on 3/10/11 at 15:11pm UTC, wrote Thank you, Tom. Your essay is interesting too. However, I do not think...


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FQXi FORUM
October 14, 2019

CATEGORY: Is Reality Digital or Analog? Essay Contest (2010-2011) [back]
TOPIC: What Can We Say About Nature? by Luigi Foschini [refresh]
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Author Luigi Foschini wrote on Jan. 5, 2011 @ 14:56 GMT
Essay Abstract

In this essay, I review the importance of languages in the study of reality, following the well-known aphorisms by Galilei, Bohr and many others. The emphasis on these aspects helps us to understand that it is not meaningful to ask if the reality if "digital" or "analog", but we have to search what is the best language to study some specific aspects of the reality. This problem is particularly felt in the case of frontier science, like quantum gravity, where, in front of several theories (syntaxes) available, there are presently neither observations nor experiments leading to the building of a convincing semantics. You will not find here recipes for a definitive theory. Just thoughts and questions.

Author Bio

L. Foschini graduated in physics (1997), electric engineering (1990) and received the PhD in 1994. He is currently staff researcher at the Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) in Milano/Merate (Italy), working mainly in the field of relativistic astrophysics. He is auhor or coauthor of more than 300 publications, half of them of popular science, and two books.

Download Essay PDF File

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Peter Jackson wrote on Jan. 6, 2011 @ 13:10 GMT
Luigi

A very refreshing and often incisive read. I agree that the languages we use for QM and GR are the issue, as nature has just one language. Indeed I've been learning one that fits better already, touched on in my own essay (2020 Vision..), where I also offer a few new words for English!

Your view on maths is interesting. I also define an essential role that only maths can fulfil, whilst also suggesting our reliance on it to avoid development of our conceptual thought capabilities is what has held us back so badly for the last 100 years. In other words I may disagree it's the most essential language to describe nature, but is essential and even more important, must be better understood, tamed and more carefully used.

More broadly, I agree language is a massive barrier to understanding. The pictures that words conjure up in our minds are all different. In many ways this makes the human race stronger and more likely to survive, but it's a constant drag on communication. I'd be interested in how much my own essay communicates with you.

Best wishes

Peter

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Feb. 18, 2011 @ 11:32 GMT
Thank you for your comment. However, I think to language as a useful tool to study and not as a barrier. We have to learn how to use it, instead of thinking to it as something not useful.

Good luck for your essay!

Luigi

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basudeba wrote on Jan. 19, 2011 @ 07:58 GMT
Dear Sir,

Your essay is very interesting. Yes, language is very important, as without it we cannot share the information with each other. This faculty is limited in living beings other than humans. You say: “it is more usual to start from the semantics (observations and experiments) and then build the syntax”. The first is instrumental in developing scientific language, while the second is instrumental in developing popular local language. We agree that “it is not possible to use only one language”.

You say: “It is possible to speak about water at different levels, by means of different languages offering many perspectives, but we are always speaking about water”. This only shows our limitations and is caused due to reductionism.

You say: “the merging of the two fundamental physical theories, quantum mechanics and general relativity”. We consider both as incomplete. You say about “anti-spacetime” without defining it properly.

We agree that: “a quantum should be elementary; otherwise it is not a quantum)”. But the question is wherefrom the quantum came into existence.

You can read and comment on our essay also.

Regards,

basudeba.

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Feb. 18, 2011 @ 11:35 GMT
Thank you for your note. I have not defined an "anti-spacetime", because I think that it does not exist. It was a rhetorical statement.

Good luck for your essay!

Luigi

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Cristinel Stoica wrote on Jan. 22, 2011 @ 16:26 GMT
Dear Luigi,

indeed, as you say, "The matter is not if the reality is "digital" or "analog", but what is the best language - if any - to speak about the nature at any level of complexity.". Your essay is beautiful and well-prepared from "both eyes" - the philosophical one and the physical one. Thanks for reminding us to review our languages from time to time, and to try to deepen their semantics - we may have the surprise to find new meanings, clarify some concepts and remove some contradictions.

Best regards,

Cristi

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Feb. 18, 2011 @ 11:36 GMT
Thank you to you for having read and appreciated my work.

Luigi

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Israel Perez wrote on Jan. 23, 2011 @ 20:38 GMT
Dear Luigi

I have read your essay, and I would like to make some comments.

I: You have reiteratively emphasized the importance of language in physics. But language is a set of symbols following some rules that at the end try to express perceptions, feelings, ideas, thoughts, etc. intended meanings. Popper remarked that in the growing of knowledge the problem is not precisely how we describe the world, in spite of our inability or incapacity to express our ideas by means of theories, but to develop new approaches and insights that help us understand nature no matter the language.

You: For example, quantum mechanics is part of the fundamental physics, but it has no meaning to say if the wavelike language is more fundamental of the particle-like one.

Both languages are necessary to have the best opportunity to speak about the nature. The same could occur also below the Planck scale. So, we should not reject a priori the possibility that quantum mechanics and general relativity could be two complementary, but mutually exclusive, languages.

I: If we knew what a particle is or what a wave is, there would be no duality, so both languages would be in reality just one. Having this complementarity only provokes confusions and ambiguity. If one assumes that they are at the fundamental level one single entity there would be no need for dualities. For instance, this duality can be resolved by adopting the notion of soliton. Thus, a particle can be seen as localized wave packet and in essence as a wave.

You: Many physical theories do not even take into account the arrow of time and are equally valid under time reversal, which is clearly unphysical. Basically, we could say that we are still at the stage of Saint Augustine, who wrote:

What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to

explain it to him who asks, I do not know.

I: I agree with you that physical theories are unphysical under time reversal. One way to get out of this conundrum is considering the self-field (electrical, gravitational) of particles. See for instance the work of Rohrlich attached here.

We all know that the notion of time is preceded by the notion of motion or change. In physical theories like classical mechanics this change is represented by the parameter t, whilst in special relativity this idea is just multiply by the speed of light so the evolution variable becomes ct. It is a common belief that motion is defined in terms of space and time and thus it becomes a vicious circle. This is because one considers motion as something dependent of position and time. I deeper reflexion shows that this may not be the case for motion can be considered as a fundamental quantity independent of space and time.





Please take a look at my essay where I briefly explain the notion of space and time.

Good luck in the constest

Israel

attachments: 2000RohrlichSHPMP31B2000_1ClassicalArowTime.pdf

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Feb. 18, 2011 @ 12:44 GMT
Thank you for your comments.

You wrote that:

"Popper remarked that in the growing of knowledge the problem is not precisely how we describe the world, in spite of our inability or incapacity to express our ideas by means of theories, but to develop new approaches and insights that help us understand nature no matter the language."

However, it is the language that shapes our way to think and, hence, to develop new approaches and insights. A proper care of the language is important in understanding the most fruitful ways to study. Otherwise, you can lose your time on false problems, because the words drive you in the wrong way.

Good luck for your essay.

Luigi

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Member Ian Durham wrote on Feb. 15, 2011 @ 17:54 GMT
Luigi,

I similarly discussed language in my FQXi essay from last year's contest. Here's a link to it:

http://fqxi.org/community/essay/winners/2009.1#Durham

Ian

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Feb. 18, 2011 @ 13:33 GMT
Thank you very much for having pointed to me your interesting essay. I am always happy to read that other people thinks about the importance of the language. I did not know the essay by Fortun and Bernstein: it seems to be interesting and I have ordered it to my bookshop.

Thanks again for your note.

Luigi

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Author Luigi Foschini wrote on Feb. 18, 2011 @ 13:30 GMT
Thank you very much for having pointed to me your interesting essay. I am always happy to read that other people thinks about the importance of the language. I did not know the essay by Fortun and Bernstein: it seems to be interesting and I have ordered it to my bookshop.

Thanks again for your note.

Luigi

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Thomas J. McFarlane wrote on Feb. 19, 2011 @ 06:30 GMT
Dear Luigi,

I enjoyed reading your interesting essay. Your perspective on the importance of the role of language in the first half of the paper is something also discussed in my essay. It seems we make several of the same points in slightly different ways.

Regards,

Tom

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Feb. 21, 2011 @ 12:53 GMT
Dear Tom,

I've read and appreciated your essay. It is really interesting and I am happy to see that you too pointed to some concepts common to my essay.

I have a couple of notes. First, you cited and agreed with Heisenberg, when he wrote that Galilei shared Plato's ideas. No, Galilei was not a platonist, as underlined by his linguistic concept of mathematics. Mathematics as a language is at odds with the platonism, where ideas are something a priori with respect to human beings and the language. Indeed, Plato spoke about maieutics, which was a concept of knowledge based on reminding something already existent and known. This is really not the concept of science emerging from the text of Galilei.

I think that one important step missing in Heisenberg's essays and yours is the Renaissance, which was mandatory to prepare the right cultural humus where Galilei's science could grew.

Another point refers to the fact that you made examples of measurements of finite quantities and you conclude that the nature could be described only by discrete languages. Obviously, if you consider only finite quantities, you will obtain a digital answer.

In addition, by writing that, you implicitly say that there is no infinite in nature, while there are examples pointing to its existence, such as the curvature of a spacetime singularity.

Good luck for your essay in the contest!

Cheers,

LF

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Lawrence B Crowell wrote on Feb. 20, 2011 @ 23:48 GMT
Recently the Navier-Stokes equation has an equivalency with the Einstein field equation.

http://arxiv.org/abs/1101.2451

The solution sets of the two can be mapped into each other. This is an interesting development, for this is a functorial map between different linguistic sets.

Your paper is good.

Cheers LC

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Feb. 21, 2011 @ 12:36 GMT
Thank you for having pointed to me this work. I'll read it.

Cheers,

LF

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Dan T Benedict wrote on Feb. 22, 2011 @ 20:43 GMT
Dear Luigi,

You have written a nice essay, much of which I am in agreement. However, I believe that you have made a mistake in the definition of your premise. You wrote:

"The two pillars of any language are syntax and semantics. The former deals with the basic formal structure of the language, while the latter refers to the meaning of the signs and symbols of the language."

which I agree is a correct and meaningful statement, but then you write:

"Nevertheless, in physical sciences, we can identify the theory with the syntax and the experiment/observation with the semantics (e.g. [8])."*

which is a statement of which I cannot agree. If semantics (meaning) can be identified with experiments/observations (data) alone, then we would have no need for syntax (theory). Experiments/observations can only be the basis and support for a particular theory. The meaning derived from any theory then comes from its interpretation. Meaning can never be derived from data alone, which I believe that you fully agree, since your examples show how meaning changes as the theory changes. But one theory can have several differing interpretations.

IMO the meaning behind of the quantum mechanical description of nature is not yet fully understood. This is due to the fact that, even though QM gives a correct mathematical description of experimental results and observations, it still has several different interpretations, none of which is quite satisfactory to give us full understanding of the microscopic nature of reality. It may be that a deeper understanding will never be achieved, and this is a consequence of the true nature of microscopic reality. It is my hope that this is not true.

If I have misunderstood your statement * above, please let me know.

BTW, you wrote:

"Para-phrasing Augustus de Morgan(7 ), I could say that today the two eyes of the knowledge are philosophy and science: scientists remove the philosophical eye, while philosophers remove the scientific eye, each believing that it sees better with one eye than with two."

This statement is a true gem. IMO philosophy is where theory meets interpretation!

Best Regards,

Dan

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 21:26 GMT
Dear Dan,

thanks a lot for your kind note. Let me to answer you with an example. Please consider a dictionary: it is made of words and their semantic field. Pure semantics. But it is useless without a syntax that allow you to build sentences. But the syntax is not just a way to link the words, but it restrict the semantic field of words (although misunderstandings are always present). A very simple example, which I published with more information in an old essay (quant-ph/9804040v4) is the following. Try inserting the word "only" in every possible place in the sentence: "I helped Mickey Mouse eat his cheese last week". You will see that already such a simple sentence slightly changes its global meaning.

Hope it helps.

Cheers,

Luigi

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Dan T Benedict wrote on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 22:25 GMT
Dear Luigi,

I'm still a little confused. When does interpretation come into the picture? Doesn't it have a major influence on meaning? For example, the sentence:

You did a really good job last week.

could have two different global meanings depending on the context and the manner in which it was said to someone. It could have been said with sarcasm or sincerity. One sentence, with completely opposing meanings depending on context and interpretation, yet it has the same semantics and syntax. Is this not correct? Believe me, I am misunderstood all the time, so I should be an expert. :)

Isn't this why when people communicate via these forums, sometimes it's necessary to add a :) or a ;) so the intention of the statement is better understood.

It seems to me that:

semantics-->(field of all possible meaning), plus syntax-->(greatly reduced subset of possible meaning), plus interpretation -->(one possible meaning)

The interpretation doesn't have to be true for this to relation to hold true.

Have a great day!

Dan

P.S. BTW, That last sentence was sincere :)

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Feb. 24, 2011 @ 13:18 GMT
Dear Dan,

you wrote a nice example, but I think that in science you never arrive at only one possible meaning, as in spoken language. Indeed, you noted the need of some extra symbols like smiles. I add that it is often not sufficient, because we - human beings - have the unconscious that always elaborate (obviously in an unknown way) what we read or hear. The unconscious itself is structured as a language, as found by the French psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan. If you write an offense by joke and add a :), the could be anyway one reader who believe you are not joking, because he/she does not believe to the smile.

The same occurs for science. You can make your measurements, giving a meaning to some physical quantities. Then, you can elaborate a theory linking all these quantities and then having a global picture. But each human being will give to this complex of things different "interpretations". I think that two human beings will never fully agree on an interpretation. They can agree on certain details and be satisfied of this partial agreement. But I think that if they dig into their thoughts, they barely find a full agreement. Perhaps we think to know what is an electron, but if we try writing down its definition, we will barely obtain two similar - not to say equal - sentences.

This is not so dreadful as it could seem at a first look. We are always forced by social convictions to believe that the misunderstanding is something negative. I do not think so. I think that the misunderstanding is the spring that push human beings to develop new science. New theories were born when there were strong misunderstandings, not when each agreed on a certain interpretation. A theory is no more producing new science when there is a globally full agreement on many details.

So, by updating your scheme, I can write:

semantics-->(field of all possible meaning linked to a specific sign), plus syntax-->(link between signs; greatly reduced subset of possible global meaning), plus interpretation -->(if there are several possible meaning, then there is open space for discovery)

The science of books and articles can deal with the first two. The latter is the spring keeping science alive.

Thank you for your intriguing comments.

Luigi

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Dan T Benedict replied on Feb. 24, 2011 @ 17:28 GMT
Luigi,

Extremely well said. Look at how many interpretations just of the meaning of time in the first essay contest. This question has been with us since antiquity, and we still don't have a scientific consensus.

Quote of the day: "The latter is the spring keeping science alive."

I couldn't agree more!

Dan

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Lev Goldfarb wrote on Feb. 25, 2011 @ 01:25 GMT
Dear Luigi,

Since you are interested in scientific languages, I thought you might be interested in the fundamentally new formalism I have outlined in my essay. The reason you might be interested has to do with the absolutely unique feature of this formalism: its syntax and semantics are congruent.

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Feb. 26, 2011 @ 17:21 GMT
Dear Lev,

thank your for having pointed to me your essay, which is indeed interesting. I agree with you that it is necessary to avoid the spatialization of time, although you later write about "irreversible streams" and offer again spatial representation of time (a stream is indeed a spatial representation). Instead, I think to time more like as a "cut" into a space of events (see quant-ph/9804040, pag. 13), a concept on which I am still working.

You write that the key question is the "transition from the point-based representation to the structural representation". Well, a very clear example of this "structural representation" is the Reimannian geometry, which is based on the relationships between points. This was indeed the power of the work of Reimann and later Ricci-Curbastro, which resulted evident in the application of the general relativity, where the need to measure something continuously changing, as it occurs in an accelerated frame, made it useless the cartesian geometry.

May I suggest you also to have a look at the work by C. Rovelli, "Relational quantum mechanics", International Journal of Theoretical Physics 35, (1996), 1637. Moreover, I think you might find very interesting for your studies also the essay by F. Markopolou, "Space does not exist, so time can", Third Prize of the FQXi 2008 Essay Contest "The nature of time" (arXiv:0909.1861). She also proposed a time-only based physics, although at a level below the Planck scale.

Good luck with your essay in the contest!

Cheers,

Luigi

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Lev Goldfarb replied on Feb. 26, 2011 @ 22:48 GMT
"I agree with you that it is necessary to avoid the spatialization of time, although you later write about "irreversible streams" and offer again spatial representation of time (a stream is indeed a spatial representation)."

Dear Luigi,

Thank you for your comments!

However, it appears you *completely* misunderstood the proposed form of representation. The "irreversible stream of events" is a *verbal description* of the proposed formal representation "struct", while you interpreted this verbal description in some geometric/spatial context.

My best wishes,

--Lev

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Feb. 27, 2011 @ 14:06 GMT
Dear Lev,

if you want apples, but ask for strawberries, then you cannot complain if people give you the latter. You are giving me one fine example to support my essay, i.e. words are important. When you want to describe a theory, you have to pay attention to the words. What you simply call "verbal description" is indeed part of the theory, necessary to understand and not something detached or useless artifact.

Ciao,

Luigi

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Mar. 6, 2011 @ 18:00 GMT
Luigi,

Interesting and thoughtful read. We can't know reality and language seems a feeble means to describe it.

Jim Hoover

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 14:50 GMT
Thanks!

LF

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T H Ray wrote on Mar. 7, 2011 @ 13:57 GMT
Well done, Luigi! I agree with you on the identity between mathematics and linguistics. Ditto on the lack of one-to-one mapping between semantics and syntax -- which I interpret as the independence of language and meaning.

All in all, you produce a pleasing blend of philosophy and physics, without confusing the philosophy with the physics.

I hope you get a chance to read my essay entry as well.

Best,

Tom

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 15:11 GMT
Thank you, Tom.

Your essay is interesting too. However, I do not think that reality is irrelevant to science: its understanding - although difficult - is the aim of the science.

Another point in your essay is that you wrote "While our information processing capacity is finite, nature's is infinite...". Human brain is finite and bounded, but the mind is able to generate the infinite: think to the Cantor's diagonal.

Moreover, when thinking to processing capacity, we think to our conscious capacity, neglecting the unconscious. However, the human mind, specifically its unconscious, continuously elaborates any information arriving at our senses and generates by its own. May I suggest a nice reading: it is the book "The psychology of invention in mathematical field" by Jacques Hadamard (who was also a known mathematician) published in 1949, but there should be reprints available to date. Hadamard has shown the role of the unconscious in the scientific creativity.

Good luck for your essay!

Luigi

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Anonymous replied on Mar. 14, 2011 @ 17:33 GMT
Luigi,

I am familiar with Jacques Hadamard. You will find me quoting him as the capstone of meaning in my preprint here

If language is not independent of meaning, however, mathematics is useless for doing physics, because no description of an apple has the physical properties of an apple. The mind may be finite, but if general relativity is true, it is -- like the universe itself, finite but unbounded. Hadamard almost certainly would agree.

Tom

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Mar. 22, 2011 @ 12:19 GMT
Sorry, Tom, but there should be some misunderstanding. I have written that I do not think that reality is irrelevant to science and you replied "If language is not independent of meaning...". One statement does not imply the other. Please can you explain better?

Thanks,

Luigi

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Author Yuri Danoyan+ wrote on Mar. 9, 2011 @ 20:10 GMT
Space does not exist, so time can

No, Fotini just vice verca.

http://www.fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/946

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John Benavides wrote on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 11:22 GMT
Dear Luigi

I read your essay with great interest. Your argument about language is the key argument, but I think that you are misunderstanding something. All the examples that you gave on your essay are all part of the same language i. e. the language of classical logic + classical set theory. On my essay I argue that this is the central idea that all unification theories are missing. Our partial understanding of quantum reality is caused by keep using classical logic to understand a reality which cannot be understand within this classical realm. I propose a new logic (syntax +semantics) and I try to show how in this context, the notions like those of discrete vs continuum, Planck Scale Limit, the Measurement problem are just misconceptions caused by the use of classical logic. I would like to hear your opinions about it.

Regards,

J. Benavides

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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Mar. 11, 2011 @ 09:02 GMT
Dear John,

thank you for your notes. I have read your essay and it is indeed interesting, particularly in some points such as when you draw the attention on the fact that there is nothing corresponding to the Cauchy limit in other logics.

I have studied a little the logic of quantum mechanics some years ago (see quant-ph/9804040), but - although I understand and find interesting the efforts of building new logics - I am on the side of those who think that QM does not require really new or unconventional logic. In my opinion, it would be sufficient to take into account the time, which has not yet been considered too much (even though in the latest years, the problem of the time is literally exploded). This is also what is roughly outlined in my work of 1998, although I've not found a practical solution and it is only a direction of research (for the moment).

Good luck for your essay!

Ciao,

Luigi

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John Merryman wrote on Mar. 12, 2011 @ 19:43 GMT
Luigi,

Though it wasn't a topic covered in my essay, I think there is a particular basic master key which is overlooked in physics and might resolve some of the issues you raise.

Pretty much all of rationality, logic, languages, history and general social and cultural constructs are based on the notion of time as this moment of the present moving from past to future and so it is...

view entire post


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Author Luigi Foschini replied on Mar. 22, 2011 @ 12:26 GMT
Thank you for your comment.

LF

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Alan Lowey wrote on Mar. 19, 2011 @ 11:15 GMT
Dear Luigi,

Congratulations on your dedication to the competition and your much deserved top 35 placing. I have a bugging question for you, which I've also posed to all the potential prize winners btw:

Q: Coulomb's Law of electrostatics was modelled by Maxwell by mechanical means after his mathematical deductions as an added verification (thanks for that bit of info Edwin), which I highly admire. To me, this gives his equation some substance. I have a problem with the laws of gravity though, especially the mathematical representation that "every object attracts every other object equally in all directions." The 'fabric' of spacetime model of gravity doesn't lend itself to explain the law of electrostatics. Coulomb's law denotes two types of matter, one 'charged' positive and the opposite type 'charged' negative. An Archimedes screw model for the graviton can explain -both- the gravity law and the electrostatic law, whilst the 'fabric' of spacetime can't. Doesn't this by definition make the helical screw model better than than anything else that has been suggested for the mechanism of the gravity force?? Otherwise the unification of all the forces is an impossiblity imo. Do you have an opinion on my analysis at all?

Best wishes,

Alan

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