Space, As A Phenomena That We Ascribe To Nature According To Law,–Is A Geometrical Presupposition
Discussion In Thin Air Continues
“Slow down,” I said, “I need to know if I’m keeping up with you guy’s or not. Are you saying that, in effect, space and time are to problem solving what muscles are to locomotion?”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite like that Dave, but yes;” replied Noel, “We are able to predict events in our field of perception because of the meaningful connections that space and time bring to the sensuous contents of that field. However, what gets revealed to us is less about what’s ‘really out there’ as it is about answering the questions that we bring to the table of our understanding.”
“Hold on Noel, what about the effects, the predictable consequences of Einstein’s theory?” said Tony. “If they don’t occur in reality, then where do they occur?”
“Right where they are predicted to occur,” Noel replied, “In the surrounding manifold of our sensual experience. Nature, or the name that we give to that manifold, takes in everything we can see, hear, feel, taste, smell, and explain. Space, as an ontological entity, in the theory of general relativity, doesn’t exist. The being of space has been replaced with purely methodological considerations. What space ‘is,’ or whether any definite character can be attributed to it, is no longer a concern. Rather, we must be concerned with the geometrical presuppositions, the ‘ideal meanings’ that get used in the interpretation of the phenomena that we ascribe to nature according to law.”
“I’m getting tired of this,” said Tony. “Science gets done and benefits follow, which, really, is all we have to worry about, right Stan? How come you’re so quiet, anyway? That’s not like you. Are you sick or something?”
“I’m fine. You know me, quiet as a mouse, but sharp as a tack,” said Stan. There’s a time for talking and time for listening. I’ve been enjoying the latter. I’m not sure how much of this conversation the boys have actually caught. I’d like to try to catch them up; that is, after I throw another log on the fire.”
“Always the educator, eh Stan,” said Tony, “but that’s why we love ya.”
“Take nature for instance,” responded Stan, “for you Tony nature is independent of the observer. It’s a bit complicated, but knowable, and it exists before one begins to experiment on it. That’s not the case for Noel. For him, nature does not exist independent from the observer. In fact, the questions raised concerning nature, for Noel at least, actually bring nature into existence. And, he looks to quantum mechanics to substantiate that claim. On that level, the physical world seems to emerge from the observations made on it. Any argument yet, fellows?”
“You’ve got the stage,” replied Noel, “go for it.”
“Now for the hard part,” said Stan, “On the one hand we have Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and on the other hand we have quantum theory. Both theories are proven successes, but when taken together they are out of joint. The equations that describe the gravitational field are completely different from the one’s that describe subatomic interactions. Moreover, space and time are intimately related in relativity theory. They are dependent on the state of motion of the observer. In quantum theory space and time are not tied to existence at all. As far as man’s limited reason is concerned, there is no quantum world, just an abstract quantum physical description. Given this confusing state of affairs, it would be doctrinaire and dogmatic to say that one theory is better than the other, or that one is talking sense and the other is lacking in it. Right fellows?”
“Who’s patronizing now,” replied Tony.
“Guilty as charged,” responded Stan, “I guess nobody’s perfect! For Tony, the mind’s ability to discover the true nature of ‘reality’ is a religious belief, just like it was for Einstein. If Einstein had a religious belief, it was that the world is comprehensible and objective.”
“I’d probably go to church, if I could sit next to Einstein,” Tony replied.
“As I was saying,” said Stan, “under the rule of cause and effect everything has its place and time, but that is not what works for Noel. Knowledge, for him, constitutes what we take to be the physical world, and new knowledge may substantially alter that world. In other words, for Noel, over time, both knowledge and the perceptual field that we find ourselves in changes according to how it is symbolically constituted. Both Cassirer and Kant agreed on this. The function of the mind’s capacity to connect meaning to sensual contents goes beyond sensual contents and establishes an order among the connections between them. The necessary elements of every assertion—being and non-being, similarity and dissimilarity, unity and plurality, identity and opposition—cannot be represented by any content of perception, but through them, ‘ideal meanings’ get created, and when applied to the perceptual field, they fill our perceptions with meaning. That process, over time, alters both the meaning and the content of our perceptual field. But, what it comes down to in the end is testing the deductive consequences of those ‘ideal meanings’ against the sensual contents in the field of our perceptions. That certainly is the way it works in Einstein’s universe, but, according to Noel, Einstein’s success represents little more than that failed attempt by the old Greek, Pythagoras, when he tried to reduce a whole universe of meaning to a few integral numbers some 2,500 years ago.”