Category Archives: History of Science

“Nomos and Physis”: Duquesne University’s 7th Annual Graduate Conference in Philosophy

There was a very nice turnout at Duquesne University’s 7th Annual graduate conference in philosophy (themed “Nomos and Physis”).  A big thanks goes to the Duquesne Department of philosophy and Matt Lovett for running such a well-organized event.  The spread of papers presented was diverse array of subtopics: Phenomenology and Nature; Nature In Itself, Nature for Us; Nature in Ancient Philosophy; Contemporary Ontologies and Nature.  The general sentiment around the room seemed to be that the questions, discussion, and commentary was productive.  Probably the most fascinating element of the conference —I know not if it was by design or happenstance— was that the papers reflected holistic approaches to philosophical considerations pertaining to Nature.   Continue reading

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Filed under Cosmology, History of Science, Kantian Philosophy, Natural Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Science, Physics, Popular Science

Autopoiesis and Kant’s Theory of Time

Kant had a pretty trippy and extremely fascinating view of time.  (The Hstorical Dictionary of Kant and Kantianism says “innovative,” which I gladly grant.)  For Kant, time is a “pure form of sensible intuition” (Critique of Pure Reason, N. K. Smith trans., 2003, pg. 75), and “[t]ime is nothing but the form of internal sense, that is, of the intuition of ourselves and of our inner senses.  It cannot be a determination of outer appearances; it has to do neither with shape nor position, but with the relation of representations in our inner state” (ibid. pg. 77).  Continue reading

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Filed under History of Science, Kantian Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Physics, Pure Philosophy

The Time Traveller’s Instantaneous Cube

I offer for consideration a very interesting dialogue from the opening of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (Pocket Books, 2004, page 5).  The protagonist begins:

“You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence.  They taught you that?  Neither has a mathematical plane.  These things are mere abstractions.”

            “That’s all right,” said the Psychologist.

            “Nor having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real existence.”

            “There I object,” said Filby.  “Of course a solid body may exist.  All real things —”

            “So most people think.  But wait a moment.  Can an instantaneous cube exist?”

            “Don’t follow,” said Filby.

            Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real existence?”

            Filby became pensive.

            “Clearly,” the Time Traveller proceeded, “any real body must have extension in four directions, it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and —Duration.”

The dialogue points to what is, in my experience, a much overlooked idea: that there is an interesting constraint applied to time by the first three spatial dimensions.  When we look around, we don’t see triangles, we see things that look like triangles.  This is the sort of thinking that led Plato to the idea of universal forms and the allegory of the Cave.  The dialogue points out an interesting question: Supposing that one can obtain, say, a platonic solid, what if it exists only for an instant —that is, no duration at all?  I don’t see this question come up often in the more academic forums; maybe it does and I am just missing it.  Continue reading

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Filed under History of Science, Literature, Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Science, Physics, Pure Philosophy

An Historian’s Worst Nightmare: Conceptual Anachronisms

Let me be more specific than the title admits.  What exactly is this conceptual anachronism of which I speak; and why is it every historian’s nightmare?  Put simply, it is the placement of concepts that did not exist in the period that the historian tries to apply them to.  Now, the theme of some of my more recent blog posts has been that the importance of recognizing the discipline of “history and philosophy of science” as an autonomous, separate field of study. Continue reading

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