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
Category Archives: Philosophy of Physics
This is a paper I am preparing for a graduate conference at Duquesne, whose theme is “physis and nomos.” The paper is to be sent in on December 1, 2012, so any comments before then are especially welcome, but comments afterword are also welcome.
Click here for pdf of the paper: A “MEILLASSOUXIAN” APPROACH TO KANT’S FIRST ANTINOMY OF PURE REASON AND THE BIG BANG
In my more ignorant days, that is, my early days as an undergraduate student of physics, I would say that string theory doesn’t deserve to be funded. In fact, I would have said it wasn’t really physics, or at least that nobody have proved that string theory was physics to me. That has changed. No, my actual view of string theory vis-à-vis physics has not changed; but what has, is my view of the relationship between all of the human endeavors to understand the world, or, more broadly, “what is the case” —even what might be the case. This change has come about as a direct result of my studies of philosophy and, really, my understanding of how the human condition, in its healthiest state, is heavily embedded in the process called the “liberal arts.” Continue reading
Not-So-Faster-Than-Light Particles and the GZK Cutoff: Philosophical Considerations of Wayward Travels
As promised, I am posting some of my philosophy of physics ideas that aren’t as well formulated. Click here. The idea in the attached paper is that there are a number of large-scale phenomena that might suggest that the notion of “travelling” might not be so well defined. In the time to come, I will be blogging about Wesley Salmon’s “at-at” theory, which has been universally embraced by nearly all philosophers and, almost assuredly, every physicist holding a university position. This paper, “Not-So-Faster-Than-Light Particles and the GZK Cutoff: Philosophical Considerations of Wayward Travels,” is really a shot in that direction, contra “at-at” theory. The “at-at” theory says that an object moving from point A and B occupies each spatial point, xi (i = 1, 2,…,n), at some corresponding point in time, tj (j = 1, 2,…,n), satisfying the following two criteria: 1) i=j, 2) the object occupies each contiguous location en route to the final point, and 3) this set, the set of contiguous locations, is the unique set such that distance is minimized between point A and B. Continue reading
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
It should be common knowledge that it isn’t wise to accept, without air of caution, someone’s opinion on a matter as absolute fact, if that person is not an expert in the given field. Consider popular physics, for the moment. What field is it that a physicist (or, as will be the case in the blog post, a mathematician) is expert of? That’s one question. Another is: What does the composition of works in popular physics entail? If the answer to the former is not the answer to the latter, then there is something wrong. I believe something is. Continue reading
I am not going to go too hard on him, James S. Trefil, because he is such a fine author and I enjoy his work; but I must address an error that this physicist makes in one of his books, From Atoms to Quarks: An Introduction to the Strange World of Particle Physics (1980). (See my review of the book by clicking on this sentence.) I have chosen Trefil’s error for discussion, because he is a fine physicist, which makes for a good mark in proving a point, namely, that physics needs philosophy of physics to mind a number of problems that are not central to advancement of the science. These problems include the kind of conceptual one that will be mentioned —one that I hope other physicists do not err on— and conceptual problems in foundations, metaphysics, and so forth. Continue reading