Category Archives: time

Aether Discontinuity

Assume space-time is quantized.  This would mean that space-time is broken up into discrete bits.  It then follows that time is broken up into discrete bits.

This disagrees with basic experience: we can start counting time at any arbitrary point.  “Now” could be any time whatsoever.  Moreover, we run our physical experiments at any given point; we don’t have to wait to start our clocks.

But what if our ability to run experiments at any given point is just an illusion of our universe being broken up into such tiny bits that we just don’t notice the breaks?

Could we design an experiment to test when we can run experiments?

If time is continuous, we would never find any point at which we could not run an experiment.  If time is not continuous, though, we would likewise never find any point at which we could not run an experiment, since all experiments would use clocks that start within that lockstep quantized time.

Hence we are unable to tell the difference between quantized and continuous time such that it always appears continuous.

However, even if time is continuous in this fashion, measurement of time is not.  Since there is a lower limit to what we can distinguish between two different times, even if we are free to start measuring whenever we want, all subsequent measurements are physically dependent upon that initial fixed point.  The second measurement must be outside the uncertainty associated with the initial measurement (the clock start) and the third must be outside the second, etc.  Therefore all physically useful measurements of time (counting past zero, that is) are inherently physically quantized by their dependence upon the instantiation of measurement and limits of uncertainty.

If time is both continuous and discontinuous in this fashion, then so is all space-time.

This leads to the question of which is ontologically prior: if you hold that our reality is defined by what we can measure, then the universe is quantized and our experience pigeonholed; if you hold that our reality is defined by our phenomenal experience, then the universe is continuous and measurement is pigeonholing.

Either way it is a question of the metaphysics — not physics —  of space-time.  And without a way to distinguish between these options, no physical experiment will be able to settle the debate either, since we could always be chasing our metaphysical tails.

I’ve mulled over this issue concerning the logical limits of what can be measured by physics for years, but I never developed any conclusions.  However, there has recently been discussion of the feasibility of a tabletop search for Planck scale signals.  This nifty experiment seems deviously simple with the potential for novel results, so go check it out if you haven’t heard of it yet, for example in this discussion.  One issue that the experiment bears upon is the continuity of space-time at the Planck Scale.  My worry is that the above metaphysical distinction between counting zero and counting past zero may trip up the physicists’ search for the continuity or discontinuity at the fundamental levels of matter.

Posted in measurement, metaphysics, philosophy, physics, Relativity, science, time.

What Science Ignores

I was skimming the philosophy blogs today and came across “Should Scientific Methods and Data be Public?” over at It’s Only A Theory (and Brains for that matter).  Gualtiero Piccinini argues that scientific matters ought to be made public.  My first thought was, “What exactly does G.P. mean by public?” and my second was, “Anyone who doesn’t think scientific methods should be public is bat-shit crazy.” (Yes, I get angry about this stuff.  And from here on out, I’m using my own version of ‘public’, which is likely compatible with G.P.’s, but I do not want to look like I am putting words in Gualtiero’s mouth.)

Let me explain.

When practicing science we are ignoring, in part, at least three important things: time, space, and people.  Science is, in some respects, atemporal: we believe that if everything else is held the same, it doesn’t matter when we conduct our scientific experiments.  There is no scientific difference between an experiment performed this week and an experiment performed years ago; we can replicate the experiments of the masters and get the exact same results they did (within experimental error of course).

Secondly, science is, in some respects, separate from space:  we believe that if everything else is held the same, it doesn’t matter where we conduct our scientific experiments.  There is no scientific difference between an experiment performed in New York or in Shanghai; we can replicate experiments of scientists all over the world and get the exact same results they did.

Lastly, science is, in some respects, separate from particular people: we believe that is everything else is held the same, it doesn’t matter who is conducting our scientific experiments.  There is no scientific difference between an experiment that I have performed and one that someone else performs; anyone may replicate an experiment and get the exact same results as someone else.

This, among other reasons, is what makes science so great:  a scientific discovery will last beyond your life and your laboratory and can travel the world indefinitely.  Unlike a great performance (theater or sport, take your pick), it will be exactly replicable for all time.

Now, back to scientific methods being public.  If a scientific method is private, then it means that one or more of the three points listed above is being violated.  Either the experiment is limited to the people who performed it (only certain people can make it work), the experiment is limited to the time in which it was performed (it only worked that one time) or the experiment is limited to the place it was performed (it only works in my basement).  Once one of the three above points can no longer be ignored, then we have lost that which makes science so impressive.

Insofar as people are afforded the right to use language as they wish, I suppose it is acceptable for someone to call an experiment that violates one of the three above points science, or maybe, scientific.  I, however, hold that what is generally thought to be science necessarily requires that the above three points not be violated.

Posted in philosophy, science, time. Tagged with , .

Time and the Limits of Science

Measurement takes time; measurement is a process.  So the measurement of time immediately yields this theoretical issue:

Since measurement takes time, our ability to break time into ever smaller pieces will always be proportional to the method of measurement used.  The faster our measurement device that measures time, the more divisible time will be.  Insofar as there are limits to how fast a measurement process can occur (relativistic or other), there will be limits on the lengths of time we can measure. From this perspective, time is discontinuous: there will be a point at which we can no longer split time into smaller pieces.

From a different perspective, time must be continuous: we can start our measurement of time whenever.  Since there are no restrictions on when our measurement may begin, each and every instant must be just as good as every other instant, hence time is continuous.

So which is it: Is time continuous or discontinuous?

Or is the question badly formed? The discontinuity argument is based upon the ideas of measurement and relativity.  The latter argument, for continuity, is based upon what might be considered a fact of modal reality.  Perhaps the two arguments are not talking about the same thing.

I can’t give an end-all be-all answer to the questions of time, but here is my opinion:   Time is continuous, but when we start to do scientific activities, time can and will only be able to be measured discretely.  Therefore the two arguments are not using one word to describe two different phenomena.

The question then becomes how doing science limits what we can observe.

This might sound like an extremely unlikely situation, but consider the case of organized sports.  When playing a sport or game you are bound, restricted, to following certain rules.  However, by following these rules, you and the other players can demonstrate skills and abilities that you otherwise would not have been able to observe:  Lots of people may be in shape, but only a small fraction of those people are professional athletes.  Those athlete demonstrate their superior physical and mental prowess by performing on the game field by being restricted by the official rules.

Getting back to science, does it now seem so unlikely that we restrict ourselves in certain ways in order to accomplish other tasks?  For time to be scientifically useful, we need to have some sort process that has a fixed point from which to start counting from, and a unit to count.  Then we can compare an unknown process to this known process, and we have done so with much success.

This comparison could not have occurred without the introduction of an arbitrary fixed point and unit of measurement: by restricting our concept of time to these particular processes we enable ourselves to perform scientific research.  Research is not possible if we use the unrestricted modal notion: no comparison can be made because there is no inter-modal process to compare a worldly (intra-modal) phenomenon to.  But with the use of fixed points, units and processes, we also become subject to relativistic limitations.  It seems like a very small price to pay considering the success of science.

To sum up: time is subject to modal considerations, which gives it special properties such as being continuous.  Once we start to do science, though, we restrict ourselves to the non-modal aspects of time, which allows us to use it as a tool in scientific research.  This also makes time appear to have different properties, but upon closer study, these properties are artifacts of the measurement process and not time itself.

Posted in measurement, ontology, philosophy, physics, Relativity, science, time. Tagged with , , , .

something about time

There is something about time that I can’t seem to stop thinking about.

We measure time by agreeing upon an event and then counting from that point onward.  Today is October 17, 2008 AD.  It is this AD that keeps my attention.  It has been 2008 years, ten months and seventeen days since the birth of Jesus of Nazareth: AD stands for Anno Domini, or year of our lord.  Those not wanting to be explicitly Christian use CE, which stands for Common Era, which is just a nice way of saying the same thing without recognizing Jesus as the lord.  Wikipedia dates the use of this term to 525 AD, though this is how everyone has been measuring time forever. AD began to be used in 525, but before that people just used other events (like natural disasters, battles worn or lost, etc.) as starting points to count the date from.

The only result is that time is not universal but relative to whenever people agree to start counting from.  This is nothing new, but maybe like The Ring, if I pass it along, then it won’t bother me any more.  If you become similarly afflicted, I apologize, but you know what to do.

Posted in measurement, Relativity, science, time. Tagged with , , , .

Positive and Negative Biological Time

In my biorelativity series I used mutations per generation as a measurement of distance. However, with my recent historical/generative musings, specifically the post on the logical foundations of biorelativity (the logic of which is at the foundation of how I arrived at biorelativity), I fear I may have ignored the distinction between a mutation and an adaptation.

Consider an organism with some feature. The feature can be considered both a mutation or an adaptation depending on what the organism is being compared to. If the organism is being compared to another organism, then the feature is likely to be called a mutation. If the organism is being discussed in reference to the ecosystem, then the feature will be referred to as an adaptation.

Now I am sure that there may be some technical properties/definitions having to do with genetics or whatnot that distinguish mutation and adaptation. This is not my concern, though, because in my arguments the two can be used interchangeably.

What does concern me is that there are different sets of related concepts associated with the two words. An adaptation is, to my ear, always a positive thing. A mutation can be good or bad, e.g. mutant freak. By this line of thought adaptations are useful mutations, a subset.

Since mutation is the measurement of time and adaptation is only those mutations which are useful, then we can use adaptation to signify the forward motion of biological time (and forward change of a species as adaptations per generation) which will almost always be what people are discussing (“as time marches on, as things adapt…”). Conversely, to describe biological time going backwards, we could say something like ‘unmutating’.


On a slightly different note it is interesting that that there is no word for adapting in the opposite direction: it’s a significant gap. Unadapting? This could imply mere stagnation; the idea here is to think of what it would mean to be adapting in a way to specifically undo previous adaptations. I think a word like this does not nor cannot meaningfully exist: the logical/grammatical structure of adaptation presupposes forward progress.

Consider, “If there were a verb meaning ‘to believe falsely’, it would not have any significant first person present indicative.” (Philosophical Investigations Part II Section x)

“The species is currently *counteradapting*” — It just makes no sense.

Posted in biology, evolution, logic, measurement, philosophy, science, time, wittgenstein. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , .