Philosophy of Science Discussion Forum

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Comment by Christopher
The Skeptic's Challenge is to find something in life that cannot be doubted. You ask me "What are you sitting on?" And I say "A chair." You then ask "How do you know it's a chair?" And I say "Because I when look down I see it. And I can feel it beneath my body." And you then ask "Could you be wrong? Could you be misperceiving the thing you are sitting on? Is it within the realm of possibilities that you are sitting on a rock, but when you look down at it, and when you feel it, your perceptions are misperceptions, and you mistakenly think you are sitting on a chair?" And I admit "Yes. I could be wrong. While it seems ridiculous, it is true that from a purely logical point of view it is possible that I could be wrong."
The assertion "I am sitting on a chair" does not meet the Skeptic's Challenge. It is possible to doubt this assertion. While in all likelihood I am sitting on a chair, it is not a truth beyond all possible doubt.

In Physics we assume "Physicality exists," or in more modern terms "Space exists." And in Physics we also assume "Time exists." But what if we didn't make that second assumption? What if there wasn't, outside of ourselves, a physical dimension called "Time?"

Descartes took on this Challenge. He began with looking at the physical things in his room. In his case, he considered a ball of wax in his hand. And he concluded that his experience of those things in his room could be delusions and so his knowledge based on perception of these things was not beyond all doubt.
Descartes was looking for an assertion which by it's very nature must be true; a self proving axiom. And he thought he found it in the statement "I think, therefore I am." After going around and finding it possible to doubt the existence of the things in his room, he then tried to doubt his thoughts. He considered the idea "Thought does not exist." But, he realized when he had this thought ("thought does not exist") that that was a thought itself. To think that thinking does not exist is to think. So, he concluded that the idea "I think" is something that cannot be doubted. To try to doubt it is to think, and is therefore also to prove that it can't be doubted.
He then rounded out the concept in the eloquent statement "I think, therefore I am."
It was such a brilliant piece of logic that for three hundred years no one could find a flaw with his reasoning. Then came along a man named David Hume. Hume pointed out that when someone thinks the thought "Thought does not exist" that that is in fact a thought. But, he went on to also point out, it is possible to doubt that that thought, along with all of the other thoughts floating around, all come together into a single "I," as in the statement "I think." All those thoughts we see, including the thought "Thought does not exist," are not necessarily connected. So, we know "Thought exists," and we know this beyond all doubt, but we don't know "I think ..." beyond all possible doubt. And with that Descartes' brilliant reign was over.

The Skeptic's Challenge is an interesting intellectual tangent in life. It can be fun, for a limited amount of time, to try to find some self proving axiom about life. But there are a lot of other interesting questions to ask about life. And these questions require us to make certain assumptions and then work from there. The person who says "Assume nothing" is a unaware of his own workings. The human journey requires us to live in a world of assumptions. And, hopefully, we make good ones.

Reply
Many philosophers seem to assume that a statement has to be considered as invalid unless it can be directly logically proven. Neither in science nor in everyday life would you get very far with this attitude. As you may be aware, only tautologies (i.e. meaningless statements of the form A→A ) are logically certain. Any meaningful statement has to be of the form A→B. All conclusions B are logically possible unless one can show that they imply non-A (in which case you would have A→non-A, which is obviously impossible). In this way you should be able the exclude all the invalid alternatives regards the question if you are really sitting on a chair or not, or if your perception of time is real or just a product of your mind (in the latter case you could for instance take successive photographs of a running clock which would (in all likelihood) show the hands at different positions and therefore prove the objectivity of time (it doesn't matter by the way in which order you view the photographs because time is defined by change as such but not by the spatial direction of the change (you would obviously not grow younger by watching a film running backwards)).
Even though your brain can fool you into perceiving something which is not there (when you dream for instance), these illusions are still based on real perceptions from earlier instances, albeit somewhat distorted through associations that ignore the laws of the real physical world.
In any case, it is the task of science to make objective sense out of our subjective perceptions, and all elements of a valid physical theory are therefore by definition objective and real (albeit not necessarily directly observable).
In this respect, Descartes' "I think...'' is certainly a good assumption to start with, after all, how do you want to be sure about the reality of external objects if you are not even sure about your own ? A certain degree of scepticism is undoubtedly necessary in order to make any progress in science, but in the end one has to resolve this in order to provide the answers to the questions.

Comment by Amrit Sorli
In Newtonian physics, time is an independent physical quantity (absolute time), running uniformly throughout the entire cosmic space (absolute space). In the General Theory of Relativity, time is no more an independent physical quantity - it is linked with space into four-dimensional space-time. Time runs slower in those parts of the universe where roundness of space-time is bigger, gravitational field is stronger. Experiments confirm that the clocks near the sea run slower than on top of high mountains. Gravitation is stronger near the sea than on the top of the mountain.
To be empirically consequent, one has to admit that by means of elementary perception (sight) it is only possible to conclude that the speed of clocks on the mountain is faster than at the sea. It is only by indirect reasoning that we interpret different clock speeds as if they mean different time stream speeds. By observing the clocks at the sea and on top of the mountain it is only possible to state that the speed of irreversible physical, chemical and biological change (hereinafter referred as "change" only) is slower in stronger gravitational fields and faster in weaker ones. Time can be only experienced and not clearly perceived as matter and cosmic space. There is no clear evidence of its existence as a physical entity.

The question arises: How can time be experienced without being perceived? The answer is given by analysing the current scientific way of experiencing:
Information enters the senses, goes into the mind where it is elaborated, reaches the subject and becomes an experience. In scientific research the rational part of the mind elaborates a perception of an experiment through analysis, comparison and synthesis: that's how experience is formed. The eyes perceive a stream of irreversible change of an experiment: change X1 is transforming into X2, X2 is transforming into X3 and so on. When change X2 enters into existence, change X1 does not exists any more, when X3 enters into existence, X2 does not exists any more. Once elaborated by the mind, the irreversible stream of change is experienced as a linear running of time. Change X1 as past, X2 as present, X3 as future. This way mind can elaborate the perception of change of an object or event.
The subject, the one that is experiencing, has the capacity to watch how mind elaborates perception. By watching the mind functions, one becomes aware that scientific theories are only mental objects through which reality is experienced, that common scientific experience is indirect. Direct experience, where the mind does not interfere between perception and experience, is also possible. Time, space and matter are experienced as being perceived. Change X1 exists only as a memory, change X2 exists as present reality happening into space, change X3 does not exist yet as reality, it exists only as an image of the mind. Cosmic space is not three-dimensional, it simply exists without having dimensions, it is formless. In today's science time is experienced as physical reality that exists independently of the human mind, however there is no experimental evidence for such understanding.

For Immanuel Kant, space and time are not realities existing in themselves. They are, instead, a priori forms, that is, exigencies of our knowledge. Sense knowledge (pure intuition) carries within itself the following exigencies; Every sensation must be located in space, i.e., above or beneath, to the right or to the left, and in time, that is, antecedent, subsequent, or concomitant to other sensations. Hence space and time are conditions, not of the existence of things but of the possibility of their being manifested in us. In a word, they are subjective forms.
Elementary perception confirms Kant's statements. With eyes only constant stream of irreversible change in space can be perceived. On the base of elementary perception (sight) can be concluded only that Time Exist As A Stream Of Change in Space. Experience of time as linear phenomenon happens when stream of change is experienced through time as a subjective form. By watching the mind functions, one becomes aware that change runs in formless space.

According Time As a stream Of Change In Space clocks are instruments with a constant speed of change and are reference for measurements of duration of all change. The speed of clocks as well as all other change depends on the strength of gravitational field in a given volume of cosmic space. The "twins paradox" of Special Theory of Relativity confirms only that the speed of biological change in a fast space ship is slower than on the earth. That's why the twin travelling few years in a fast space ship is coming back younger that his brother which has remained on the earth. No experiment was done that proves the existence of time as physical entity that rules the speed of biological change in the spaceship and on the Earth.
According Time As a stream Of Change In Space, idea of the beginning of the universe develops into an idea of eternal universe. Something that does not exist, can not have a beginning. Time as linear phenomenon past-present-future exists only as a subjective form, it does not exists as a physical entity, so it can not have a beginning. As there is no beginning of time as physical entity, there is no beginning of the universe. Universe simply exists, it never was created, it has no beginning and will not have an end. Man is projecting his birth and death in the universe, that's why he is thinking that universe has been born and will die one day. Universe itself is the God. Understanding that one enters into a deep harmony with the universe, that is the only guarantee for prosperity and peace on this Earth.

Reply
As already mentioned in the Relativity Forum, if clocks are observed to go slower (whether by motion or in a gravitational field), this has to be interpreted as a physical effect on the clock (by whatever mechanism) but not by a change of the structure of space and time. The causes of physical changes can only be physical themselves and not metaphysical.
Although the dimensions of space and time are the forms of existence and therefore have to be infinite (because this is the only way to accommodate an arbitrary number of objects and causal events), I would not go so far to say that time is only in the mind and does not exist in reality. As I have pointed out in my reply to Christopher above, one can certainly assume that time objectively exists outside the human mind (after all space and time are forms for all objects and not just human beings). However it exists objectively only as a form but not as a physical object and can therefore not be subject to any kind of manipulation. This is the fundamental mistake Einstein made with his Theory of Relativity. Although the latter seems to be confirmed by many experiments, these must, as a matter of principle, be explained as physical effects within a Euclidean space and time (see for instance my page regards Relativistic Electrodynamics).

Amrit Sorli (2)
In the universe the passing of physical time cannot be clearly perceived as matter and space directly; one can perceive only irreversible physical, chemical, and biological changes in material media. On the basis of elementary perception (sight) one can conclude that physical time exists only as a stream of change that runs through material space. The terms "physical time" and "change" describe the same phenomenon. Physical time is irreversible. Change A transforms into change B, B transforms into C and so on. When B is in existence A does not exist anymore, when C is in existence B does not exist anymore.
The question arises: Why is it that irreversible physical time is experienced as past, present and future? The answer is obtained by analysing the scientific way of experiencing. The human senses perceive a stream of irreversible change. Once elaborated by the mind, the stream of change is experienced chronologically through psychological time that is a part of the human mind.
Let's look at the relationship between physical and psychological time by carrying out an experiment. Take a ball and allow it to roll down an incline. You can perceive only the movement of the ball in space, but you experience that the ball has also moved through time. How come? Perception passes first through psychological time and then the experience occurs. That's why you experience the movement of the ball in time. But on the basis of elementary perception (sight) one can only state that the ball has changed position in space. By observing the continuous stream of irreversible physical change humans have developed psychological time through which we experience the universe. Psychological time is reversible. One can return to the past, in psychological time, through memory. This creates an idea that physical time also has a past, but this is not so.

Reply (2)
I would certainly agree with your statement 'Time is Change' (which I and other people have pointed out already a number of times on these pages (see for instance my discussion with Simon Pennington and William on my Relativity Discussion Page). However, I think the distinction between physical and psychological time is somewhat misleading here as it arises merely from the difference between a quantitative and qualitative definition of time. In any case, 'time' is associated with physical changes but the subjective time is not quantified. For a quantitative definition of time one needs a 'time standard' to which all changes in physical reality are compared. The somewhat tricky point here is that all changes are merely referred to the changes of the time standard and are therefore only defined in a relative sense, i. e. if the frequency of the time standard would change without that one notices it, then one would obviously come to wrong conclusions about the chronology of the physical world. However, this situation applies to all definitions of physical standards and the only thing one can do here is to make sure that all aspects of reality remain consistent in this respect.
Even if time is perceived merely qualitatively (or what you call psychologically), it would still be an expression of some physical change and in this sense irreversible (neither remembering something nor watching a film of past events means travelling back in time but merely viewing some rather imperfect copy of the past).
Since a time standard is ideally independent of all external influences, the passing of time can consequently by definition not be manipulated, i.e. time travel is impossible.
Another point worth mentioning: if time is defined through change (and I can't see another definition), then the claim of some philosophers that time does not exist can hardly be upheld as change obviously exists.

Comment by Marco Biagini
In the following site I analyse the incongruencies of the materialistic conception of the mind, on the basis of our present scientific knowledges about brain and matter. This analysis points out how Quantum Electrodynamics proves that the brain cannot generate consciousness, which existence implies the presence in man of a unbiological/unmaterial element. The problem of consciousness is then strictly connected to the one of the existence of the soul and, consequently, the existence of God (see here).

Reply
Your key argument (as given on your website) is 'No concept which presupposes the existence of consciousness can be used to try to explain the existence of consciousness' as otherwise you would have a logical contradiction. Now, the notions of 'Soul' and 'God' certainly also presuppose the existence of consciousness and hence could not explain the existence of consciousness, i.e. your conclusion above is then also invalid. The point is that self-referential statements are by definition meaningless, not only scientifically but also logically (philosophically). In this sense, all philosophical Soul-Body 'problems' are logically flawed and lead to contradictions. One should never try to mix up Physics and Metaphysics, i.e. the objective and subjective aspects of existence.

Marco Biagini (2)
Let me say that I disagree with your answer. In fact, I have defined the soul as the cause of the existence of our consciousness, and God as the cause of the existence of our soul. These definitions do not presuppose the existence of human consciousness. For example, it is absolutely consistent from the logical point of view, to hypothesize the existence of a conscious God, independently from the existence of any conscious man. Of course it is not possible for us to explain the existence of divine consciousness, but the concept of a conscious God allows us to explain consistently the existence of human consiousness.

Reply (2)
History has shown that the concept of God is in many cases merely a convenient device if attempts to grasp reality in a rational way fail. For instance, in the middle ages, diseases were considered as a direct act of God simply because the corresponding knowledge of medicine did not exist at the time. Of course, the finite nature of our existence means that there are always borders of knowledge and therefore first principles of some sort are required (no scientist would question this), yet it would be wrong to say that certain aspects of reality are a priori beyond the reach of a rational explanation (in order to say this we would have to be omniscient). In this sense, it is at least a theoretical possibility that not only the development of consciousness but of life in general may be linked to certain aspects of physics (if not present physics than a physics to come).
Anyway, I should remind you that God ultimately also has to be considered as the first principle behind the laws of physics, so there is nothing undevine about an objective (or 'materialistic' as you call it) approach to reality. On the other hand, trying to establish God directly as a pseudo-scientific explanation is in my opinion an implicit attempt to make God himself part of the material world, which is a contradiction in terms. God can not be disclosed through objective logic but only through subjective experiences beyond this.

Marco Biagini (3)
I agree that in the past ages, some phenomena, now explained by the laws of physics, were ascribed to a direct divine intervention. However, I think that there is a fundamental difference between the present age and the past ages; with the advent of quantum electrodynamics, for the first time in history, man is able to give a consistent explanation of chemical and biological processes on the basis of some general mathematical laws. The point is that these laws do not provide any explanations, neither conceptually, of the existence of consciousness. I think that there are some strong arguments against the possibility of a future scientific explanation of consciousness and our psychical life. Even if this cannot be considered an absolute proof (from a philosophical point of view), it is certainly a very strong argument supporting the existence of the soul. The fact itself that those who want to deny the existence of the soul are forced to hypothesize a new set of laws of physics proves the incompatibility between (present) science and materialism.

Reply (3)
First of all, I would question that Quantum Electrodynamics is a consistent theory. In my opinion it is in fact deeply flawed as it wrongly applies concepts of Classical Physics like 'energy' and 'momentum' to light (see my page about Energy and Momentum Conservation and my page about the Photoeffect). Quantum Field Theory in general is merely a naive construct based on the assumption that all physical phenomena (e.g. light) behave according to classical physics, i.e. that a Hamiltonian function exists for the corresponding system. It is obviously a circular conclusion if one assumes for instance that virtual photons are the mediators of the electrostatic field, because in order to exert any force these photons would themselves have to possess a static force field of some kind, which not only is an unfounded assumption but actually contradicts experiments (as shown on my Photoeffect page). In this sense, much of modern physics consists of conceptually and logically inconsistent 'theories' that are actually modelled and adjusted after the data, so it is no big surprise that the two seem to match. However, this was very much the same situation for instance with the Ptolemaic theory of the solar system (and everybody knows what the outcome of this was).

But anyway, I don't think that anybody actually denies the existence of the soul (or more generally speaking the dualistic nature of our existence). The point you are making has more to do with the (age-old) philosophical question if the body presupposes the soul or vice versa, which in fact makes about as much sense as the question which side of a coin presupposes the other. If you really want to address both aspects of reality together, you have to view this problem holistically in the sense that both are inextricably linked to each other (it is for instance without question that changes in the physiology of the body can directly affect the psyche and vice versa). However, any studies of this kind could not be called objective and exact science any more. The point is that science has in general been so successful just because the subjective element has been excluded from its scope (eliminating therefore the logical problems of a dualistic theory), but this does not mean science denies the subjective reality (not as far as I am concerned anyway).

Comment by Angela Morgan
First, let me just say thank you from a fellow scientist for what you are doing on this web site. There is so much disorganized thinking and delusional assumptions (is that redundant?) out there and it's refreshing to see someone being true to science rather than serving their desire to prove things that common sense tells us are irrational.
I attribute the willingness to attempt to prove irrational things and then believing all-too-easily in the illusions created as result of trying to do so to the desire many have to believe in the supernatural.
At any rate, I work in various think tanks and have repeatedly come up against theoretical physicists who imagine all kinds of ridiculous things about time due to the lack of an adequate definition of the word. Would you please help everyone out by posting my definition here, which explains why everyone is so confused? Thanks!
time: a concept and word created to measure the movement of matter travelling through space;
time is to second as metric system is to millimeter;
time is a measuring system for movement, and it doesn't 'slow down' or 'speed up' any more than a millimeter shrinks or expands. Only the object being measured can speed up, slow down, shrink, or expand.
The problem with the physicists who do not remember the definition of time is that they forget that 'time' isn't something we discovered, named, and have yet to figure out. Rather, we needed a system for measuring movement, we created a system for measuring it, and we named it 'time'.

Reply
I would certainly fully agree with your definition which more or less supports what I have been saying on these pages. However, on its own such general arguments are unlikely to convince physicists who tend to insist on the mathematical consistency of Einstein's Theory of Relativity including time dilation and length contraction. The point is that a 're-scaling' of the space and time units, albeit violating logical principles, seemed mathematically the only possible way for Einstein to account for the constancy of the speed of light, whereas he should have realized that it is the concept of 'speed' which has to be modified here (see my page regarding the Speed of Light and Theory of Relativity).

Comment by Robin
I have a question. Math being a human construct, I always wonder if we as humans are only observing things such as relativity. What I mean in a practical perspective is that most of science is based on physics, and while physics is an accurate way of measuring and quantifying the universe, it is not actually the universe. While a person may observe one thing different from someone else, doesn't mean they are not observing the same phenomenon. On a side note, human science is flawed; while we may think we have the answers sometimes we do not. An example: when we run tests trying to isolate certain phenomenon such as the effects vitamin d has on the health of bones we come up with all sorts of statistical information that supports our theories, when in part I believe the only reason we come to some conclusions is because of our pre-determination. Not to say that all science is flawed, just sometimes our interpretation of the statistics. I have not studied physics extensively but feel that sometimes we think we are 'gods' rather than human beings.

Reply
You are basically right with what you are saying. Any scientific theory can only describe certain aspects of reality, and physics is no exception here. It is also true that this limited knowledge we can gain depends on our pre-determination and the interpretation of the data, so our 'knowledge' may be skewed in one way or another. Eventually we find then a better and more consistent theory to explain reality; this is how science progresses.

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