Category Archives: Philosophy of Physics

Einstein, Poincaré, and Kant: Between Galison and Yourgrau

I find something deeply puzzling about Peter Galison’s Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps: Empires of Time.  In particular, this wonderful book develops the contextual settings in which the relativistic physics of Einstein’s and Poincaré’s physics were conceived, as well as the intellectual link that existed between them.  In brief, Galison makes clear the role that technology played in formulating the ideas of Einstein and Poincaré.  The hope of Europe was to establish a synchronized system of clocks, for economic reasons (e.g., train services without collisions due to timing issues), political reasons (e.g., von Moltke maintained that a strong relationship existed between German national unity and einheitzeit), and general technology concerns (e.g., inductance in wires can cause incredible and varying lag times in signal transmission, as a function of distance and current among other variables, in telegraphy).  Poincaré, having been educated at the École Polytechnique, possessed the “factory stamp” that their students possessed: even the mathematicians were essentially “mechanicians”. Einstein, educated at one of Europe’s leading technology universities and working in a patent office, machine patents abound, and Poincaré being thoroughly immersed in problems dealing with telegraphy (electrodynamics) and clock synchronization, Galison makes the claim that relativity theory is largely a product of the machine-minded science of the nineteenth century.   Continue reading



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

The Mystery of the Varying Cosmological Constant (and What to Possibly Do about It)

I recently read an article by Jesus Mosterin, called “The Unity of Particle Physics and Cosmology?” (pg. 165-176 in The Problem of the Unity of Science edited by Agazzi and Faye). The article is very interesting, because it proposes something I hadn’t heard before, namely, that the Casimir effect might be the phenomenon that is the conceptual key to unifying quantum and cosmological scales.  The idea is that vacuum energies associated with a cosmological constant, Λ, might be the cause of the effect (there are numerous interpretations); but there is/are a problem(s), which has been noted by Steven Weinberg, Alan Guth, and others.  In particular, the one that immediately comes to the fore is the problematic nature of the consequences of a varying cosmological constant.  (Keep in mind that the early universe seemed to have an enormous vacuum energy present, while, now, all we have is this rinky-dink Casimir effect of quantum mechanical origin.)  Continue reading

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Filed under Cosmology, Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Science, Physics, Uncategorized

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

A “Meillassouxian” Approach to Kant’s First Antinomy of Pure Reason and the Big Bang

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.



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

On Whether We Should Fund String Theory Research

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

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Filed under Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Science, Physics, Popular Science

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

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October 20, 2012 · 6:48 pm