Teaching The Boys How To Understand The Conversation In Thin Air

Space, As A Phenomena That We Ascribe To Nature According To Law,–Is A Geometrical Presupposition

Discussion In Thin Air Continues

July, ’80

“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.”


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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One Response to Teaching The Boys How To Understand The Conversation In Thin Air

  1. bwinwnbwi says:

    According to a comment on the NPR science blog: “General Relativity is a classical theory meaning everything it considers is continuous and smooth down to whatever scale you like. Quantum Mechanics shows us that this is never really the case and eventually, at some tiny scale, everything is broken up into discreet bits (energy, momentum, spin … you name it). So even the smooth and continuous Space-Time of GR must, at tiny scales become, discreet and broken up. What makes Entanglement interesting is that it is a purely quantum phenomena but it clearly speaks to linking different regions of space together (where the entangled particles are). So in that way it seems to cross over and deal with GR’s domain (perhaps).”

    The space/time continuum is an explanation for causality while at the quantum level we discover “non-locality, “ i.e., effects that can occur without local causes—instantaneous action at a distance. Is there a problem—maybe not? “Time of mind” or discontinuity occurring in continuity (b~b~bb), in any final sense, cannot become conscious of itself because it carries within itself a rift of nothingness that negates. Without this nothingness our capacity for questioning (and logic) would not/could not exist. At the depths of the physical universe where everything is broken up into discreet bits, where behavior exists in a discontinuous, indeterminate, and non-local way, we also discover a rift of nothingness (~~b). This nothingness, the nothingness that separates/connects particles to waves, the nothingness that links different regions of space together (where the entangled particles are), is also the nothingness (~~b) that permits/births cosmos, nature, and the logic that we use to understand cause/effect (classical theory) and you and me.

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