Friday, April 28, 2006

God, Time, Matter, Energy, Causation, and the Universe

Humans have no trouble imagining an indefinitely extended future. In fact, we have a name for it, We call it "eternity." We do have problems imagining an indefinitely extended past. Combined with that apparent limitation of our imagination is our naive assumption that the events we experience have identifiable beginnings. These two facts conspire to lead us to believe that not just life, but the universe itself must have had a beginning.

I claimed that our belief that the events we experience have identifiable beginnings is naive. Let me show why it is naive with a simple example. John, who smoked all of his adult life, dies of lung cancer. That is our final event-state. What was the initial state that started off the sequence of events that resulted in his death? There was no single initial state. There were a multiplicity of them, not all of which are we likely to be able to identify. There is one chain of events having to do with the emergence of the tobacco plant on earth. Another with its being recognized as pleasurable to chew or smoke. Another had to do with the chain of events that led John to take up smoking and another to account for his ability to resist every effort others made to encourage him to quit. Another had to do with the environmental factors that combined with John's smoking to increase the probability that he would get lung cancer. Then there are the genetic factors. Had John had a different mother or father he might not have been as vulnerable to the harmful ingredients in tobacco or the harmful elements of his environment. So we have to build into our model, how John's mother and father managed to come together. There was no initial state that set in motion the chain of events leading to John's death from lung cancer. There were a multiplicity of initial states for these event-chains. In fact each of our event-chains is very likely a set of event-chains.

We are going to have to get rid of our idea that the event-states we experience have beginnings. They have a multiplicity of beginnings and some of these will go very far back in time. You may say that most of these are unimportant in accounting for John's death or any other event but that doesn't mean they didn't exist. We are simply choosing to ignore them. Once one recognizes this fact, one is well on the way to jettisoning the idea that the universe had a beginning. Why must it have had a beginning? Why couldn't it have always been here? That is, in fact, much less difficult to imagine than the idea that some all-powerful God created matter and energy from nothing and set off a chain of events that resulted in the creation of the universe and, giving a nod to those who believe in a personal God, has hung around to meddle in human affairs (as is required in the idea that God answers prayers).

When our daughter was five or six, she asked whether we believed in God. I told her that her mom and I didn't but that it would be up to her to decide whether or not she would. She then asked why people believe in God. I replied with the first cause argument noting that people wondered where the earth and stars came from and believed that God created them. She then asked, "Where did God come from?"

A five or six year old, albeit a smart, unbrainwashed one (we never discussed religion with her), is able to refute the first cause argument (we might call it the "God Argument") for the existence of the universe. It takes an adult to conjure up the silly idea that God created the universe.

The problem here is that we have to imagine a God that exists somehow at some nonmaterial level of existence but who had the power to create matter of many types and energy of many types, mash all of this stuff together into, a very, very, very tiny ball that is so densely compressed that the forces that are trying to escape overwhelm the forces that are trying to keep the ball together and so explodes (Big Bang!) and matter and energy start scattering everywhere. God, having created this material plane of existence from his immaterial plane, then either retreats and watches or hangs around and meddles with things from time to time. You can revise this paragraph to go along with your alternative to the Big Bang theory of the origin of this particular universe. Nothing will change in re God.

Note well, that there has to have been a time when there was only one level of existence, namely a nonmaterial level or we don't really need to posit a God. This was the point of my daughter's implicit counter-argument. In my opinion, it is much easier to imagine that the universe has always existed than to imagine that there was a time when matter and energy didn't exist and some God, living, so to speak, at some nonmaterial level of existence, created matter and energy. I can imagine my daughter asking, "What did he create matter and energy out of?"

Religious sorts might reply that I suffer from the defect of a limited human type imagination and thus cannot understand the mysteries of God's creation of the universe. Only a bona fide nitwit would reply in such a fashion.

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Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

I'm not sure about your "nitwit" statement, but indeed you make a good argument against Aristotle and Aquinas in particular. I keep wondering in regards to this, however, what was before? If time stretches infinitely into the past (not too difficult to comprehend) then there was always a "before." What was before this big mass came together? Why did it compress so much that it exploded, overcoming gravity? What happened before that? You can see where I'm going with this. It's not necessarily an argument against your position, but it's certainly worth speculation. Also worth speculation: in trillions of years, when all the energy in the universe has been depleted (due to entropy) then will things go back to the way they were before the "cosmic egg?" And will it then, eventually, come back together and do another big bang? I would think that it wouldn't, since all the energy would be depleted and so nothing could cause things to come back together, but this is a point in the discussion that's beyond my limited scientific understanding.

11:36 AM

Blogger Mark said...

I am not a physicist, but I believe that current thought is that neither space nor time existed before the Big Bang.

That makes talking about cause and effect a little tricky :)

12:10 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

ogonek, as you probably know, physicists, like the weather, change frequently. Moreover, the last time I talked to some astrophysicists, it was agreed that they weren't agreed.

Kelly, whatever theory the physicists come up with, positing a God isn't going to be of much help in accounting for what happened.

12:58 PM

Blogger Sean said...

A discussion about "What came before that? What is the root cause?" is valid, the way in which we are conscious of reality and perceive it leads us to ask that question, but I agree whole heartedly with LG’s daughter in needing to ask “What came before God?” If one gets to answer “Nothing” to that question, I get to answer that perhaps nothing came before the universe, who needs this god guy to get it going? I wonder why you, Kelly, choose the Christian myths to answer the question of what came first, even after agreeing that Our capacity to understand any god's nature is exceedingly limited. You still go with a Christian dogmatic view of a god, though it seems simplistic and chalk full of human failings. And if you want examples of a Christian God acting childish, in his own petty self interest, while breaking his own laws of conduct and intelligence, I give you these examples, with a thank you Julia Sweeney;

Lot’s daughters getting him drunk and having sex with him. Ew. This was somehow ok??

Abraham asked to kill his son Isaac. I thought Thou Shalt Not Kill... Well, he giveth the law, he taketh away.

Jephthah sets his daughter on fire in praise of the lord for helping him defeat his enemies.

Jesus condemns a fig tree to death for not providing him with a fig in Matthew. Flies in the face of “Turn the other cheek” it seems.

The entire book of Revelations, which reads like an acid trip. Even Dante, in all his self-righteous hatred, came up with a more plausible story.

So, one can justify all these stories from within if one needs them to feel comfortable, like telling yourself for most of your life that daddy didn’t hit mommy and that Father McFlannigan only touched you like that because he was lonely and had too much communion wine, but reality speaks a different tale.

I know everyone says “Never talk about politics and religion!!”, but I have to disagree. Thanks LG for getting some of these discussions going, actually talking about these two profoundly important and influential topics, how ever painful it may be, is the only way we are going to progress in either.

3:48 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Sean is right, these are subjects whose time has come.
The secular world has been mostly silent thro the ages letting religious fanatics self- righteously rant & rave & cause all kinds of problems for mankind.
The only way to deal w/the problems that religions cause are to stand up to the religious. Implore them at least to move forward beyound their exclusive 'we are going to heaven because we have the one true god' baloney.

(I'm not plugging my blog here LG, just making a point)
My April 17th post on "Atheists Identified as Americas Most Distrusted Minority" makes the point that tolerance in America does not extend to those who don't believe in God.
It seems the status quo believes morality is exclusive, also.

One really interesting statistic is that only 1% of federal prisoners profess to be atheists.

4:49 PM

Blogger Marc André Bélanger said...

"Humans have no trouble imagining an indefinitely extended future. We do have problems imagining an indefinitely extended past."

I think it is more of a cultural thing than a human thing. We are brought up with a view of the world centred around this idea of thing. But that is not the case for all cultures. What we conceive as objects, for others would be states of a flow. For exemple, in some amerind languages, the word for table will vary according to its use; it is not a fixed object, but a part of a process. Seeing a world where nothing is fixed makes it easy to do away with ideas of beginnings and ends. So does a cyclical view of things: in a circle, there is no beginning nor end.

10:33 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Good point, Marc.

2:36 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

I agree that marc brings up a good point that our cultural veiws influence our thinking more then we realize.

I recently read a Humanism Today Article on Atheists and Canada, focusing on some differences in veiws on Atheism & other secular attitudes between Canada & the U.S.
One point that was brought out:
"The United states has a constitutional provision which has been interpreted as prohibiting any governmental role in religious matters. Paradoxically, however, there is a degree of confusion in the US between religion & public affairs that is not found in most other developed countries. US politicians invoke God in their speeches, & their coins proclaim to Americans that they trust in God. Such procclamations of belief in God from the highest institutional levels in society cannot help the growth of secular attitudes among Americans."

I would add that it does not help the growth of any kind of higher consciencness, to be stuck in a mindset that can advance no further then an apocalypse.

3:26 PM

Blogger Marc André Bélanger said...

The Canadian government also has an ambivalent place for God and religion. The Canadian charter of rights and freedoms starts with these words: "Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God", and then goes on to say that "Everyone has the freedom of conscience and religion".

6:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time can be said to meaningfully exist only to the extent that there is a basis for distinguishing between event-states. Time can cease to flow in one frame of reference, but elements of time may be imputed for different reasons when viewed from another.

For example, an (obviously imaginary) observer in a universe of total entropy would have no basis for distinguishing between event-states, and therefore no time report is possible, so time is effectively non-existent. But an observer in our current universal state (i.e.: an observer on earth, now) who is thinking about the future entropic state would still sense that there are time elements in that future state because they are able to see those future events as differentiatable from our current frame of reference. For example, we can sequence it, with respect to our current frame of reference: we see our state as existing before, and the entropic state as happening after, so we call the entropic state a future event.

Relative to our current universal state, some time elements, such as sequence and duration seem readily apparent, but there can be states, such as total entropy, in which time ceases to flow for it's "participants". That is time ceasing.

11:40 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I would take ptarmigan's views a bit further and simply say that there is no such thing as time per se. It is a hypothetical construct we use to measure changes of states of events. No state changes, no time. So, an indefinitely extended past means that there was no original event.

Space too is a hypothetical construct by means of which we measure, in the simplest case, certain aspects of solid unchanging objects. We find that it is neceassary to postulate three dimensions of this hypothetical construct to conduct our lives in an orderly way.

So, I take a Kantian view that these are constructs imposed by the mind on our perceptions of the world. He also took the view that our concept of causation is a humanly necessary mental contruct and so answered Hume, if memory serves, by saying that seeing events as causally arranged is conceptually necessary. We can't look at a cue ball's progress in moving toward and then hitting another ball causing it to move in other than causal terms. So, from Kant's view, to doubt our conception of causation, as Hume did, is simply to doubt our ability to think about events at all. That, I think is right. Of course, my memory of all this stuff goes back to the late 50's and early 60's so I may have misrepresented Kant a bit.

8:19 AM

Blogger Le vent fripon said...

Hi LG...you begin this post with a really fascinating idea...that we have trouble as humans imagining something that is beginingless. Maybe this human focus on the endless has to do with 1) a kind of (necesary?) optimism among the human race (Nietsche claims religious people are more willing to reproduce, because by doing so they are bringin an immortal soul into the world rather than something which is doomed to eventually stop existing) and 2) the way we perceive causation, i.e., given a cause it is often easy to guess an effect, but given an effect it is very very difficult to know a cause.

Far out comments about space and time, also.

9:14 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We do have evidence of localized phenomena where time can be said not to flow. For example, within a black hole, we are told, time slows down to the point that it can stop. And of course, Einstein described events where time ceases to flow at the normal rate, from a particular frame of reference.

So, within a locality where time is not flowing, any 2 points can be said to share the same time since there is no information difference to provide the basis for a time report. But, as I said earlier, a third point of reference looking on to those points can still report that a time event occurred.

Up til now we are thinking in terms of 2 and 3 point systems. Within our 3 point system have strong evidence that time does stop in certain localities (i.e.: from certain frames of reference). In our current system, the 3rd frame of reference always exists.

One huge problem is to make the argument as to whether there really can be a system in which all 3rd localities are non-existant, effectively making the time problem universal. (Universal phenomena being a special case of local phenomena.)

This cuts to the heart of your argument, Language Guy. We have to be careful when we speak about the behaviour of temporal phenomena, we tend to treat well accepted evidence about the behaviour of localized phenomena as if it were evidence of the behaviour of the universal variety.

1:53 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Wow. Really great comments, everyone. Most of them are beyond my depth, so I'll limit my response to only what Sean said:

"Lot’s daughters getting him drunk and having sex with him. Ew. This was somehow ok??"
No, it wasn't. The Bible doesn't say it is. One of the major themes of the Bible is human weakness and sin, and how even good people do bad things.

"Abraham asked to kill his son Isaac. I thought Thou Shalt Not Kill... Well, he giveth the law, he taketh away."
If I had a nickel for every time someone pointed this out as supposed evidence of irrationality of Christianity/religion in general, I'd have . . . well, a lot. You don't understand the point of the story. God never actually intended Abraham to go through with it (in fact He particularly abhorred Baal worship because it involved sacrifice of firstborn infants). The point was to test Abraham to see how dedicated he was to God, and then He provided an alternate sacrifice.

"Jephthah sets his daughter on fire in praise of the lord for helping him defeat his enemies."
I have to admit that I had to look this one up. And since I'm not particularly familiar with it, the only response I can give is that it's unfair to attribute the actions of a mortal to God. See also the response to Lot's daughters.

"Jesus condemns a fig tree to death for not providing him with a fig in Matthew. Flies in the face of 'Turn the other cheek' it seems."
Of course, the laws of God don't really apply to animals and plants. He was also trying to make a point here, much like a parable.

"The entire book of Revelations, which reads like an acid trip. Even Dante, in all his self-righteous hatred, came up with a more plausible story."
Let's just forget that it's allegorical, of course.

Anyway, if you would like to continue that particular discussion you can e-mail me, but I warn you I'm still in the middle of finals and it may be a while before I respond.

Anyway, thanks LG for sparking the great discussion in this thread.

8:59 PM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

OK, another virtual nickel or two for your collection, Kelly...

Re Abraham and Isaac: my objection to this is the needless mental anguish God put Abraham through (needless because omniscient, He should have known already how dedicated he was) by (1) asking him to sacrifice his own beloved child and (2) making him wonder, no doubt, WTF was up with his god who up until that point had abhorred human sacrifice. And don't even get me started on the whole "somebody has to pay" scapegoat issue of sacrifice in the first place. Or point out that "it's nothing God Himself wasn't willing to do later" (with Jesus). I'm sure Abraham was grateful afterward for the "growth experience" and strengthened by the knowledge of just how far he was willing to go to prove his faith. In the land of Moriah, where 'twas folly to be wise....

Actually, you're dead on with Jephthah; he was an idiot who made a stupid vow and then believed he had to honor it. Of course if the whole sacrifice custom hadn't been in place to begin with...that much CAN be blamed on God. Speaking of another personal favorite biblical brain trust, Paul praises him in Hebrews as a man of faith. Yeah, right. And Satan was an inventive story-teller.

the laws of God don't really apply to animals and plants

Of course not. The "Dominion Clause" in Genesis (allegory or no) is the foundation of the western belief in Man's right to rape the planet. (Think of the latter as "Mother Earth" for that extra incest piquancy!)

And why shouldn't we forget that much of the Bible is allegorical when so many regard it as the LITERAL word of God?

Non credo quia absurdum.

I hope you've prepared sufficiently for your finals! (Which is as close as I can come to wishing you Good Luck, since I don't believe in it, either! : )

6:42 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

ptarmigan said...

Please understand that I am not representing myself as any kind of physicist but there are some problems with what you say.

"We do have evidence of localized phenomena where time can be said not to flow. For example, within a black hole, we are told, time slows down to the point that it can stop."

First, the idea that time might "flow" is a metaphor that in no way elucidates the concept of time. Morever, as things get sucked into black holes they can be presumed to slow down but that doesn't mean time slows down. Remember time is a metric we use to measure events relative to each other and does not have an independent existence. Prove that it does and you get a Nobel Prize.

"And of course, Einstein described events where time ceases to flow at the normal rate, from a particular frame of reference."

Again, the word "flow." Not helpful. In fact, it sets our understanding of time back. The qualification "from a particular frame of reference" wrecks your point. The fact is we know, for instance, that air flow speeds up over the top side of an airplane's wing relative to the air flow underneath. I suspect that is what is going on in your Einsteinian case though you don't provide enough particulars to say.

There is no such thinga as "a time event" There are events and they are measured via our time construct.

"This cuts to the heart of your argument, Language Guy."

Not so. You have provided metaphors and suggestions as to claims others have made but given no actual checkable details.

8:04 AM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

I'm glad you clarified that LG. I was getting confused in this debate.
I've been trying all this time to figure out how this all fit into something I could understand.

your comment; "Time is a metric we use to measure events relative to each other & does not have independent existance"
Along with le vent fripons; "given a cause it is ofen easy to guess effect, but given an effect it is very difficult to know a cause."

When it comes to the question of how we came to be (literally) we are looking for the cause of our effect & time is our only measurment into a past into which we have no 'hindsight'.
It is not hard to understand that we come up w/a Creator who looks so much like A Father, authority figure.
I can almost understand why we are compelled to search for this Father in the sky.
But, our deductions so far have only mired us in a juvenile battle of 'My God can beat up your God'.

10:15 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Ibad, as far as the testing of Abraham is concerned God does it to make positive examples of people.

In regards to the whole issue of "time" if there is such a thing, I'm still lost. I understand that it's a construct. Assuming relativity to be true (and there's good evidence on both sides as I understand) then say you're traveling near the speed of light. You do this for what you perceive as 20 years, and you come back and everyone else has experienced, I don't know, 40 years. If I'm understanding everyone correctly, it's not that time slowed down, but that he perceived time differently. We can only measure time by reference points, e.g. counting how many times the earth goes around the sun. I think that's what's been established. (Maybe?)

So LG, what you posit is that time was meaningless before the big bang and that the cosmic egg was just there. So there was no meaning to the term "time" when nothing is changing, or, as others have suggested, time was just so damn slow at that point that it was nearly meaningless. As things began to change, then there could have been a perception of time at that point by some hypothetical observer.

I find this very difficult to completely grasp. Throw all the sophisticated arguments you want at me and I'm fine, but once you get into questioning something so basic to human experience as time, it gets confusing. To me it's just about as difficult as questioning space and saying, "Well, there are actually 4 dimensions, but as humans we are only equipped to perceive 3 of them." Some heavy-duty scientists have even posited that there are many more dimensions. Could it also be argued that the number 3, in terms of length, width, height, for example, is somewhat arbitrary? Not that our experience of it is necessarily "wrong," but that the way we subdivide it is somehow not the only way to look at it.

I don't know. I'm way out of my depth here, having not taken a math class since high school calculus and having only minimal physics education (3 credit introductory course) in college.

1:01 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

One more thought: is time merely a way for explaining the relative rates at which things occur? We can observe that a dog begins to cross the road at the same time as the chicken but the dog gets to the other side first. From no frame of reference does the chicken get there sooner than the dog. Doesn't this suggest that there is something real about time, at least from within a particular frame of reference?

1:06 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Kelly, I don't think it has to be so complicated.
My brother is always trying to throw Quantun physics crap at me. Hey, what good is it, if i can't understand it?
your concept of time is suffcient, I'm sure.

1:46 PM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

Sufficient unto the day, at least.

And the really cool thing about that thought experiment is that the results are unaffected if the chicken is carried by Achilles and the dog rides on the tortoise!

The important question remains unanswered, however: Why is a chicken?

"Msabu's bleeding. She does not have this ox. This lion is hungry. He does not have this ox. This wagon is heavy. It does not have this ox. God is happy, Msabu. He plays with us."

2:11 PM

Blogger Sean said...

I will jump in one last time and agree with ibadairon, on all points including the chicken, and disagree with Kelly on all points. Which parts of the bible are allegory and which are not?? While Revelations is easy to pass over as obvious allegory, because it's so wildly insane, other parts strike me equally as crazy, just not so protracted. Again, you can make a case for each and every story of the bible, saying it has this message or that, but the meaning you apply comes after the fact, from within the pre-held belief that the bible is correct. This is not objectivity, it is not truth. And of course the word "faith" trumps all calls for objectivity and truth. I'm frankly tired of the word "faith" being used as a shield from reproach. Have faith in all that you want, but faith does not make something true.

What I will say next I mean no offense by, just take it for its face value and do with it what you will. Just because you or l>t do not understand something doesn't mean it's false or worthless. There are many things we are confronted with that are beyond our capacity for understanding. I certainly run across this all the time myself. Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach all did things that stretch the limits of my mind to understand and then go far beyond. Get into Einstein and other such types and you get into territory of thoughts which few alive can truly grasp. Don't dismiss this information because you feel you can't get your mind around it, dive into it deeper and get all you can from it, it can only help expand your capacity and your mind. And no, my problem with the bible is not that I can’t seem to figure it out, it’s that I figured out its simplicity long ago and moved on.

2:35 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Jeez sean, there you go putting words in peoples mouths, again.
I was pointing out to Kelly that things can also become overcomplicated. Just because you don't understand it doesn't make it valid either.

I hope you are not also implying I'm some sort of religious nut.I'm about as far as a bible thumper as you could get(if you've ever bothered to visit my blog you'd know this) I could probably tell you a thing or two....

4:08 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

LG, I simply don't know how respond fairly to your complaints about my last post because I haven't the slighest idea what you are complaining about. You complain about my use of such terms as "flow" and "frame of reference". These expressions and others are perfectly common in day-to-day speech, and are just as common in discussions of time-space physics.

Meanwhile, you feel free to reduce time to a mere metric, and toss in the unsupported assertion that it does not have an independent existence, without clarifying what that is supposed to mean. You bring in the example of the air flowing over the wing of a plane. I simply don't know how to respond to that. It just baffles me.

You complain about my failing to provide checkable details. Fair enough, next time I will write a thesis. Blogs are so conducive to that. You, in the meantime, may remain free to make sweeping statements to the effect that there is no such thing as time or space, beyond the conceptual. There is no need for you to provide checkable details, though everybody else should.

As far as I can make out, all this is in service of your heartfelt desire to disprove the existence of God. Well, if you have the genius to do so, go for it. It will be you who wins the Nobel Prize, not me. The world will be astounded to meet the linguist who has revolutionized physics, disproved causality AND disproved the existence of God in one fell swoop. Oh yeah...AND has a daughter who demolished the first cause argument at the age of six. All this is so much more impressive despite the fact that neither the father or the daughter have any credentials as physicists.

Perhaps I am too hasty, the daughter may well know something about physics.

12:36 AM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

I've been trying to come up with a nice peace-making allegory involving the cast of characters (Greek demigod, slow-moving reptile) I introduced in the wee hours of this morning...but must admit failure.

We're on the cusp of the "Golden Week" holidays over here. I'm going to go out and forget about the mysteries of the universe for a while. The space is called Juju-Bana in Shirogane (if you know Iwaki, it's near Nwana, Sunny the Nigerian's music bar, upstairs from the barber shop Buraaju), the time is 7:30 PM JST.

If you're going to be in the area, drop on by. I'll be the white guy eating the chicken!

4:10 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

ptarmigan, in my first sentence I said I do not represent "myself as any kind of physicist" and that should have provided you with a clue as to how to interpret what I was saying.

The metaphor of time flowing presupposes that time has a kind of existence no less physical in nature than that of water and air, two things that literally flow. That counts as question begging since you are assuming in your metaphor what is to be proved -- that time has an actual physical reality rather than is conceptual in nature, which is my position.

The same holds for space. Does space have a physical reality over and obove the things we say "occupy space"?

Let's just stick with these two points since they go to the heart of the matter. Say what the physical properties of time and space are such that it makes sense, for instance, to say that "time can slow down." I know what it means for a clock to slow down and may know why (needs to be wound, battery is getting weak). Does time slow down in the same way or in some other way.

How about losing the personally directed invective. I have not attacked you personally. Heaping scorn on my will hardly make your case. That is called an "ad hominem" argument.

8:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Language Guy. I viewed the last couple of paragraphs of my last comment as more in the nature of a "reductio ad absurdem". I believe it is fair to show ridiculous claims as being ridiculous. I did however, twist the knife, and for that I am ashamed, and I apologize.

10:14 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Not that I set out to disprove the notion that time is just a way of looking at things, but I think with my chicken crossing the road thing I'm on the brink of throwing a big wrench into it.

We can all agree that there is a "now." In the "now," if you could freeze it, all things are definitely at one point in space (space itself is rather difficult to grasp, since Democritus was apparently the first one to conceive of truly empty space). There is another "now" following the "now," and there was a "now" just before it. Any change that occurs between this "now" and the next "now" is a measuring stick for time. In certain conditions, under Einstein's theory, processes occur more slowly, and so "time" appears to slow down. But at any point (any "now"), if you could freeze all things and observe them, everything would be in the same place and condition from all frames of reference.

Doesn't this suggest, then, that the movement from one "now" to the next is always a constant? Well, I suppose it would be inaccurate to call it a movement, but "now" is always one point in "time," akin to a point in geometry rather than a line. Our limited understandings apparently tend to expound on this change and view it as a line (or, perhaps more often, a ray, although a line would be more appropriate). But however we view it, now is always now, and it wasn't a moment before, so time is always changing. Simply because no change occurs between two "nows" doesn't mean that they are the same "now," just as there is no significance to the measurement of a second as opposed to any other elapsed segment of time (to use another geometry term).

I'm not sure if this even disproves the idea . . . but it's a start, anyway.

11:52 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Kelly. You, like ptarmigan, are trading in metaphors. What do you mean "freeze time"? Is that like flash freezing water? In short, you have with your metaphor, assumed the truth of what is to be proved, namely that time has physical properties of its own independent of the processes we use our clocks to measure. That is, by the way, classic "begging the question," which, alas, is not how the media use it.

I fear your argument is not as clear as you may think it to be.

Read St. Anslem, he has a great argument that "time hath no space," i. e., is infinitely divisible. He could have argued that space is infinitely divisible. Infinite divisibility is a property of things that are conceptual, not physical -- things like fractions. There is no smallest fraction. The things of this world, including the tinest known ones are not infinitely divisible.

4:44 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Those who are entertained by the discussion of the divisibility of things will enjoy David Pratt's views

4:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kelly, I suggest you simply disregard LG's spurious objections and seek enlightenment from somebody who actually has credentials on the subject, namely Stephen Hawking. I found an online version of his book "A brief history of time":

8:08 PM

Blogger adaminaustralia said...

Sorry to join the conversation late, but I have some insight on the subject I'd like to share:

Einstein's theories of relativity imply that the universe cannot remain in a constant, static state, and that the universe must always be either expanding or contracting. This forced Einstein to add a "cosmological constant" to his theories, which, after it was shown that the universe was not in fact static but expanding (meaning he had changed his theories for no reason, and could have predicted the expansion of the universe years before it was observed), he took back out in shame.

However, the fact that the universe must always be in a state of expansion or contraction does force us (and, in fact forced Einstein) to consider the reality of a "beginning" and an "end" to the timeline of the universe. Einstein did not want to believe this when his theories suggested it. But as I said, it turns out his mathematical equations really were correct, and they do point to a time zero and a time final.

Anyway, back on track now: So, relativity points to a beginning, a "big bang." But it says nothing about what banged, how it banged, or even if it really banged at all. Later work in the theory of inflationary cosmology (Am I the only one who thinks that phrase sounds like makeup for fat people?) attempted to explain just what could have happened to cause this singularity to bang, causing outward expansion.

Their answer? Gravity. Yes, believe it or not, gravity can have a (very large) repulsive effect. Einstein showed that gravity is not, as Newton stated, solely based on distance and mass, but on pressure and energy as well.

For example, if you had two balls of the exact same mass, and you wanted to make them weigh different amounts, you could heat one up, increasing its energy and thus its gravity. Similarly, if you wanted to make two springs weigh different amounts, you could compress one of them, increasing its pressure and therefore its gravity.

Einsteinian gravity states that if the pressure conditions were correct that the repulsive properties of pressure would have a repulsive, not attractive, gravitational properties.

It all gets a bit... mathematical (and I mean that in the worst possibly way) at this point, but a scientist named Guth found that due to certain properties of Higgs fields and quantum physics, data that estimated this "repulsive gravity" at the time of the big bang to be 10^100 (a googol) times larger than the cosmological constant.

There are so many more implications of inflationary cosmology theory that it would (and likely does) fill volumes. So I will leave it at this for now. A nice, (sort of) easy to digest chunk of something you may not have known. Sorry if it's not all relevant, but it's finals week and I'm tired. I do think at least the fact that relativity points to a beginning is very relevant to the conversation, though, since it refutes the point you were trying to make in your original post.


9:14 PM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

I'm still waiting for the brainburp which must follow consumption of something rich like Khorbin has dished up. (Compliments to the chef! My over-consumption of other delectables last night [Mmm, basashi...horse meat!] has, oddly, had no adverse effects on my capacities. Or maybe I'm dead? Place was called "Suzuka" btw...damn this writing system!)

This has been bouncing around in the ole noggin since L>T's comment on quantum physics (which I also don't claim to understand in more than a rudimentary way): what relevance does all this breaking-edge theory have to do with the original problem, really?

Humans have no trouble imagining an indefinitely extended future. ... We do have problems imagining an indefinitely extended past.

Pantôn chrêmatôn metron anthrôpos..."Of all things the measure is Man; of those which are, that they do exist; and of those which do not, that they do not." I submit that both of these phenomena can be explained on the basis of the experience and perspective (psychology?) of the individual. Each of us has had a beginning, a point of inception in this spacetime. We do not remember this event, but we learn (in time?) that such is the nature of entities such as ourselves. We know that the world existed before us, but this knowledge has no referent in our experience. Likewise we learn through experience that all that has a beginning must also end, but here our animal instinct for survival and psychological inability to conceive of our own individual extinction combine to overrule that knowledge and result in the subconscious hope that we will be an exception to the rule and in all manner of conscious belief in forms of personal immortality.

Our latest scientific understanding of the universe is really quite irrelevant to the problem...at least in the daily lives of a Northwest mother of three and a legal alien teaching English in Japan (and of many others as well, I warrant).

Perhaps still premature and not fully formed, perhaps stillborn, but there it is, FWIW.

I'm thinking now it's time to nuke that leftover mayo-mustard chook in the fridge....

1:35 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

I'm not sure why the concept of freezing time begs the question here. That is, unless you disagree with my major premise that there is a "now," and if you do disagree with it then I think you've totally lost me. I suppose "freezing time" isn't really necessary to understand what I was saying, though. Instead, try to imagine that you could locate where everything is in the universe precisely at any "now," and that anyone else at any other point could do the same. If you did it at the same time, all things would be in the same location (location w/i space is not relative). Does this make sense?

9:20 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

ptarmigan, again you are coming with insults, even if indirect. To humor you I went to the web site you directed Kelly to but alas, nothing was there. So I found this site

In it I found nothing whatever that contradicted anything I said. Indeed, what I found confirmed it. Consider
"One could say: "The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary." The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE. 144 "

Nothing is said about space and time that contradictions my position that they are conceptual in nature and do not have physical properties per se. Indeed, there is reference to "imaginary time" (goes in either direction) and "real time" (goes in one direction). The directionality of time is due to the nature of processes -- they go in one direction. You break and egg and it stays broken.

See if you can reply without insulting me. It will be a good exercise for you mind.

9:34 AM

Blogger adaminaustralia said...


The question of whether space is real, or simply a useful tool for describing the arena upon which physical events play out, is an old one indeed.

In the book "The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality" by Brian Greene, this argument is thoroughly discussed. I'll be paraphrasing him, well, because he has a doctorate in physics and I don't.

Greene relates the story of Newton's bucket problem. Imagine a bucket with a handle. The bucket is filled with water, and a rope is tied to the handle. The rope is then tied to the celing, twisted up, and let go. The bucket begins to spin, and at first the water remains flat. As the bucket's motion is transfered to the water inside, the water begins to spin, and is forced outward, causing it to take a concave shape. The water keeps its concave shape even after the bucket stops spinning.

Now, how is this relevant to our space-time argument? Relative motion is a much older concept than Einstein or Relativity. Newton wanted to know exactly what it meant to say that the water was spinning. What was it spinning with respect to?

A natural suggestion is to use the bucket as reference, but this is flawed, since at the beginning the bucket and water were obviously spinning with respect to each other. However, no concave shape was produced until the water itself began to spin. Further, toward the end when the bucket and water are spinning at the same speed, the water is certainly concave.

Now, imagine we performed this experiment in a totally empty universe, with no references. Would something in the bucket be pushed outward? Yes, Newton said. He argued that space itself provides this reference.

He proposed that space exists as a real, physical entity, which he called absolute space.

The great philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, however, stated that space does not exist in any conventional sense. Space, he claimed, is no more than a way of saying where things are relative to one another. If we are unable to detect space, how can we say it actually exists?

Newton and his bucket, while he could not actually "detect" space, had certainly refuted Leibniz by showing a consequence of real space.

The next major player in this debate was an Austrian physicist and philosopher named Ernst Mach. Mach argued that Newton was too quick to skip over other possibilities for what the water could be spinning with respect to. He argued that in an otherwise empty universe, spinning would have no meaning at all; that spinning and not spinning would be the same thing.

Mach suggested that if you were to spin around in a universe with half of the matter of our universe, that the force you would feel would be less than what you would feel in our universe.

I'll get to Einstein and beyond later, but I have a job interview to go to.

4:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

LG, I have committed no offence in referring to your objections as spurious. They are spurious.

Furthermore, it is quite appropriate to suggest to Kelly, and whoever might wish to actually understand something about time and space go to somebody who knows more about the subject.

Sorry you feel insulted, but I did not insult you in any way.

I checked the url I gave you and it is a valid site.

7:09 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Humans have no trouble imagining an indefinitely extended future 'eternity', we do have problems imagining an indefinitely extended past."
Language guy, I think i really got your point on this one.
& ibadairon deserves an 'A' for his answer.

8:49 PM

Blogger adaminaustralia said...

Well, let's see... When I left I was discussing Mach and his take on how there is no such thing as absolute space.

Now, on to Einstein. Einstein was a big fan of Mach and his theories.

Einstein, rather than answer the question of absolute space and the "aether," completely redefined it. He realized that time and space were intertwined into an entity called "spacetime."

So without getting too in-depth, what did Einstein have to say about the bucket? Surely as a fan of Mach's work, and with a theory called "relativity" he would say that the water in the bucket moved relative to something else, right? Well, no, and I'll attempt to explain why.

Imagine the entirity of spacetime to be a giant loaf of bread. Our frame of reference would essentially be like slicing up the bread. Each "slice" would represent a specific slice of spacetime. Two people, Jim and Jane, are moving at different relative speeds. Let's say Jim cuts his bread straight down, like a store-bought loaf of bread, and Jane, because of her different frame of reference caused by her motion, cuts her slices at a 45 degree angle. Both ways of slicing the bread are just as valid as any other, and they are BOTH the correct frame of reference. Again, remember that the slices represent events in space at a certain time. As we can see, Jim and Jane's views of space differ, and their perception of time differs. However, both observers would agree that the loaf, or the "whole" of spacetime is exactly the same.

So, LG, saying "space" and "time" are imaginary is meaningless, sort of like asking where the edge of the earth is. Space and time are in fact an entity called spacetime, and special relativity shows that spacetime is, in fact, a real entity.

9:20 PM

Blogger adaminaustralia said...

I don't think I adequately explained that last bit, and for that I apologize. However, without your having a firm grounding in mathematics and specifically how relativity works, it is really hard to explain to you.

If you want to know more, I recommend the book that I was paraphrasing, so I'll plug it again: "The Fabric of the Cosmos" by Greene.

It's useful to have a bit of physics background when reading this book, but certainly not necessary. The author uses allegories instead of mathematcal formulas, making it a very easy read compared to other physics books. Check it out if you're at all interested in what I've posted, since it goes far more in-depth than I could hope to.

9:26 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Bravo! A+ for the smarty math-science type.

9:28 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Omigod! Metaphors! Khorbin you're using metaphors. What are you doing?! Have you learned nothing from mine and Kelly's folly!? (Or should I said follies, L_G?)

And, to make things worse, you said "frame of reference". Do you not realize that using the expression "frame of reference" wrecks your point?

The Language Guy told me so.

10:02 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Ptarmigan, that last comment is lacking in a bit of credibility. I understand your frustration, but your response is not the best.

11:01 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for reminding me of my manners, Kelly. I often read your comments, and while I don't always agree with everything you say or believe, I admire your steadfastness and your commitment to civility in debate.

I believe, as you do, in civility in debate. Nonetheless, most rules have exceptions, and I believe that in this case, my taking things a bit too far is the appropriate thing to do.

11:44 PM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

My, my, such bluster and ado. Do lay off long enough for the leaves to settle, eh? I do so hate a cloudy cuppah. I am glad, though, for a new perspective on how to cut the sweet loaf I'll have a bit of with. (BTW, I'm always intrigued by those who provide no direct link to their own online ruminations and force you, if interested, to actively seek out their identity. The results are sometimes interesting. Ptarmiganさん、まだ日本にいますか)

Kelly, I'm not sure I followed you a few comments back, but I wondered if perhaps that imagined place might be found at the still point of the turning world....Where past and future are gathered? : )

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future,
What might have been and what has been,
Point to one end, which is always present.

2:29 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Khorbin, everything is great until you say "Space and time are in fact an entity called spacetime, and special relativity shows that spacetime is, in fact, a real entity." It has been a long time since I did physics, but I never saw any formula that contained a variable for space/time, as an entity = a unit. Always space and time were separate.

The second point is that when you use "a real entity" you do not advance the cause, for "real" is a term that fraught with difficulty. What are the physical properties of the "space-time" entity? We try to say what the phywical properties of electrons, quarks, black holes, strings, and all that good stuff are. I have yet to read a characterization of the physical properties of space-time.

8:11 AM

Blogger adaminaustralia said...


Metaphor is one of the only ways to communicate these types of things non-mathematically. It's not a question of whether I COULD have used mathematical equations to show you, but whether everyone would understand if I did. I know this is a big assumption, but I do assume that not everybody on the internet has taken as many math courses as I.

I do feel that I have to defend your use of the words "frame of reference," as it is a prefectly valid way of expressing the idea so that others can understand. In the case of those particular words, it is even accepted scientific speak for that concept. Even if the words aren't scientific, though, I think it's still completely acceptable to use common language ("flowing time", etc) in describing these things. We aren't all scientists here. So I assume it's understood that when I talk about a "slice" of spacetime, that I am not trying to use scientific terms, but terms that enhance others' understanding.

Anyway, on to my response to LG:

Einstein showed that space and time are a single entity almost a century ago. Time is simply another direction, just like the x, y, and z directions.

There IS a unit for spacetime, LG: the meter.

Special relativity states that something's total motion through spacetime is equal to c, the speed of light. Many specialists that routinely work with spacetime equations multiply t times c to convert time into meters.

What I specifically mean when I say that spacetime is a real entity is that it, in fact, exists. It is not an abstraction made up by humans, but a real entity shown to exist by Einstein. Einstein showed that Newton had it (almost) right - that the bucket experiment would work even in an otherwise empty universe. Spacetime is essentially a fixed grid that provides a reference within which the water can be said to be spinning.

I know I'm terrible at explaining these things, and so I'll apologize yet again. But hopefully someone learns just a little something from it.

6:48 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Thinking about this post at my mundane job today, esp. about using 'metaphors' & the implications of...

If, "Time is a metric we use to measure events relative to each other & does not have independent existance. Time is conceptual." As LG says.
In that case, metaphors are not really necessary to explain time.

If, "Time is an entity called spacetime, that is in fact a real entity." As Korbin says.(fabric & texture & all that)Then metaphors are important to describe some thing 'real' but invisible.

In the case of GOD (Kelly's God) the metaphor became the reality.
This is what I've gotten from this post & discussion.

7:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khorbin, I always enjoy hearing what you have to say in scientific matters.

You claim you are terrible at explaining things, but, objectively speaking, the opposite is true. Your explanations are cool and refreshing, and always to the point. Any apparent shortcomings are no doubt attributable to the scrunching up of spacetime in the vicinity of a blog-event.

In fairness to L_G, whose objections I have been wantonly lampooning, I must say he raises a worthy point about the difficulties of proving that spacetime is a real entity. Of course, I would say that the problem is not with the concept of space-time in particular, but with the difficulty of achieving agreement in any philosophical debate over what the word "real" means. If you, I or anybody should claim that the this table, or that desk is "real", any other reasonably intelligent person could find ways to refute that claim and throw it into such doubt that one would be helpless to logically prove to any degree of satisfaction that it is real. Of course, most of us would probably not argue the contrary case, unless we were simply exercising our impishness (or had found ourselves backed into a corner in an argument and couldn't find a more honourable way out).

But, I see the problem of defining anything as real as being very similar to the problem of trying to prove the axioms of a logic system. At some point, one has to accept that not everything can be profitably proved. It's the point at which people simply have to agree to agree about the primitives of the system, and discuss what can be proved from that point on, or agree to disagree and realize that nothing can ever be proved.

In the end, I don't think I would want the job of trying to prove that spacetime is "real" in terms that everybody is going to accept. I suspect that would be a very unprofitable argument, even if I were up to the challenge. But, if I had to tear off a post-it note reason for why I would call spacetime "real" it might go something like this:

We are habituated to not noticing, when we measure the physical properties, such as density, of some item which we take to be real, that we are implicitly assuming that object to exist for some duration of time, and to occupy some amount of space. In our ordinary experience of the universe, we would find it quite laughable to measure the density of something that was said not to exist for some amount of time, or to extend into some amount of space (in 3 directions). In fact, from our ordinary experience of the universe, we would find it laughable to even allow that such a thing is real. But, in the universe that Einstein has described, it appears that one is constrained, by the best reason and evidence our scientists seem to be able to muster, to accept that an object might, as it accelerates towards the speed of light, reach such a point where it might be infinitely dense, but not extend at all forward into space, while at the same time it reaches a point where it doesn't age one single iota.

In the end, time and space--spacetime--is/are so bound up with the behaviour of other physical properties that it would require extreme logical contortions to untangle them. And so, it just seems more efficient to consider spacetime as a "real entity" and let it go at that.

One more analogy: Copernicus showed that it would be more mathematically straightforward and efficient to model the motion of the heavenly bodies if we accept that the earth travels around the sun. But that does not mean that reasonably consistent models could not be made which put the earth at the centre of all things. In fact, Ptolemy had done something like that very thing centuries before. The problem was that sticking to Ptolemy's model was torturous when compared to the simple model Copernicus put forward.

Well, that's my kick at the can. I may not have thought this through to perfection, but I think that might do it. If not, my apologies.

9:57 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to add one last observation: the justification I advanced for considering space and time to be "real entities", does not rely on a claim for their independent existence in any sense of that expression. Quite the contrary, the basis for calling them "real" is tied to a certain notion of interdependence.

10:56 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

ptarmigan has hit the conceptual nail on its head when he says: "the justification I advanced for considering space and time to be "real entities", does not rely on a claim for their independent existence in any sense of that expression. Quite the contrary, the basis for calling them "real" is tied to a certain notion of interdependence."

This is the position I have tried to take, but perhaps not very clearly. The reality of space/time is clear in that we cannot account either for our ordinary experiences of the world or of the sort of phenomena physicists interest themselves in without them. But the independent physical existence of space/time is quite another matter.

7:33 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps just as importantly, I am not sure one can acknowledge the independant existence of other physical properties that we normally might like to think of as having independent existence. In the end, in the Einsteinian model, and models of that ilk, I suspect that arguing for the independent existence of any phenomena might be arguing against its claim to be real.

Oh, hell, I don't know.

8:12 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Weird how these things seem to come around in the end.

So, LG, if I understand you right, you assert that time is real as much as density is real. You can't identify density as a separate thing with its own properties, it is a property of how things are/work.

1:04 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suppose that a finite group of people begin to send finite sequences of data to each other in an attempt to fulfill a desire for A)Knowledge B)Power C)Satisfaction D){the set of all written words} and all the while, possessing limited consciousness, there exists an omni-conscious God that whether you believe in him or not, still exists, has always existed, and always will exist. This is not religion. The beauty in "creation," or the observable universe, or whatever you want to call this thing we call reality, or even if you believe it to be a dream, regardless, God's existence is proved in the beauty and harmony that is self-evident. If you cannot perceive beauty nor harmony, then you cannot possibly know God. This is not religion folks.

6:06 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Sorry, you don't get to define what "religon" means. Also, no more anonymous posting.

9:50 AM

Blogger Joy said...

So, you find it harder to believe in an intelligent creator than to believe that the universe has no beginning. Fair enough. Both ideas are hard to get your head around. Both ideas are impossible to prove since none of us were there in the beginning, or the uh-, well, you get the idea. So what makes one idea "silly" and the other not?

I found this blog by typing in "low-carb" on the google toolbar. Thanks for pointing out the "scam" that advertisers are trying to pull on me to sell more product. You know your facts.

I just do not see how creationism is "silly", a "scam" or "linguistic evil". It is a matter of faith just as much as believing the universe has always been here.



9:15 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

The reason creationism is silly is that the evidence for evolution, while not conclusive (no scientific theory of anything ever is) is overwhelming. There is no evidence whatever for creationism other than the Bible, and it is anything but useful evidence having been written by people with a real poverty of understanding of science.

Its kissing cousin, intelligent design, is a scam because it is a putative scientific theory of just one thing -- the origin of humans. Where is the intelligent design theory of physics or chemistry or botany or linguistics, etc.? Absent a general theory of the natural world, it is a scam.

The idea of intelligent design or intelligent creator runs into the problem that this creator would perforce have to be more complex than the universe it/he/she created. That boggles the mind. Moreover, the only credible argument for a creator is that there must be a beginning to the universe but the creator theory runs into the question of where did it/he/she come from.

8:22 AM

Blogger Joy said...


I didn't ask you about evolution. Let me state my question another way:
Why do you think it is silly to believe SOMEONE has always existed while you entertain the idea that SOMETHING (the universe)has always existed?

Either the "stuff" has always been, or someone with no beginning was here to make it. You ask "where did it/he/she come from." I ask you, where did all the stuff come from?

You say the problem with a creator is that they would have to be more complex than their creation. I don't have a problem with that. What artist has ever created a work more complex than they themselves? Who says a creator would have to follow rules that don't boggle your mind?



12:06 PM

Blogger ridingthebreath said...

I figure this posting chain is dead but I would like to express an idea anyway. With the idea of infinite, it just makes sense that the universe, or that boundary which you would like to draw to encompass everything, though it doesn't exist, has always been around. Our idea of eternity, especially that in the afterlife, seems childish and ignorant of a greater truth. Something the lines of Buddhism and Epicureanism, but I believe that we live forever. We are reincarnated into another existence and our atoms reconstituted. What happens when we die? Nothing absolutely at all, because if you can imagine being atoms, well, you can't really because you wouldn't then be imagining. So be it a nanosecond or 4 billion years which you would hypothetically spend in a state of just atoms and no form or existence, it would be inconsequential as you wouldn't be conscious to experience it. I relate this, and my own lifespan to that of the infinite. Its interestin to think about the fact that dragonflies only live approximately 24 hours or so.

10:41 PM

Blogger Dalli Bagee said...

Time is the perception of Change. Our perception of change is Time. That is Truth. Only Truth matters. I wish you all in understanding and knowing all that is True.

6:08 AM


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