NABOKV-L post 0016849, Fri, 1 Aug 2008 12:31:02 -0700

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Re: THOUGHTS: Time and Relativity
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Stan Kelly-Bootle <skb@BOOTLE.BIZ> wrote: On 01/08/Where you are dead wrong, though, is when you say " ... the possibility of magic and other stuff that of course turned out not to be the case ..." We may not understand the quantum "magic," but it's one of the least disputable FACTS of scientific LIFE! Schrodinger's wave-equation is the most widely, most divinely, accurately verified equation in history! Without its quantum "magic" the microchips processing our priceless (worthless?) messages just wouldn't work.
J.A.: It's funny your bringing this up, because it was precisely this Schrodinger's business which prompted me to read up on quantum theory a couple decades ago--my reading at the time debunked the ideas of non-causal reactions as actually more cartesian in an ingenious way which I no longer recall, and insisted on a strict difference between micro-and-macro-cosmic implications.
It's STILL OK to think of TIME as a "continuously" moving "now" triggered (somehow) by our brain's sequential processes, and watching the world go by.
Much confusion arises from the notion that "words have a uniquely 'proper' meaning for all seasons and contexts." The linguistic crunch is whether disagreements can _always_ be resolved by replacing assertions about "time" with suitably refined terms such as "biological-time," "psychological-time," "socio-historical-time," "VN's or Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu," "thermodynamic-time," "quantum-time," and so on. Suffice it to say, that when our slick equations use the variable t it means something more precise than the vague subjective definitions, and WOE-BETIDE those who jump at spurious conclusions. The pure mathematician can reverse the sign of t creating a system where past and future are reversed. But in physics, there is a constraint known as ENTROPY and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, the so-called ARROW of TIME. It's all in that least-read bestseller by S Hawkings. C P Snow's Two Cultures (see many earlier postings) set this as a key challenge to
non-scientists: having _some_ idea of Entropy is on a par with knowing Hamlet's soliloquy!
J.A.: Wouldn't that rather be like only having some knowledge of Hamlet's soliloquy? (by which system I'm up to par on both counts)
(Entropy is a measurable statistical value that NEVER decreases in a closed system and therefore gives an _objective_ non-cultural meaning to the PASSING ONE-WAY flow of (thermodynamic) time. I'll test you on this, so pay attention.) On a technical point: even when t is a physically discrete variable, it can often be usefully treated as continuous, as, say, when we differentiate ds/dt to get velocity. Recall the Planck time is so terribly small that in many equations it might as well be infinitesimal. Nevertheless, JA, I can assure that when your car comes to rest from 30mph, IT DOES NOT PASS THROUGH EVERY SPEED FROM 30 TO ZERO mph. It slows down in tiny discontinuous increments. This fact may not alter your world-view or driving habits (why should it?), but it's as TRUE as er er ... VN remaining my favourite novelist.
J.A.: Thanks for you explanations, sort of rejarred my memory, and it makes sense. Yet there's still a flaw in your reasoning which you never could have counted upon. J.A. doesn't have a car to go from zero to a million miles per hour, so you can assure me of nothing. This only goes to prove that even the most precise of scientific minds depends, in the end, upon castles of made of sand, the logic of whose architecture is none the less stunning in its perfection. This may sound as if I agreed with Nabokov about Einstein, but I don't.

Summary: HomSap is a remarkable species (i) driven by "pure" curiosity; able to enhance its own sensory perceptions BEYOND the minimum "animal-survival" needs (ii) able, magically, to CALCULATE exactly the LIMITS of what can be observed and measured (Heisenberg's Uncertainty and Planck's constant) (iii) able to SUSPEND both belief and dis-belief, i.e., happy to shun dogma; free to consider conflicting theories as equally plausible until further evidence.
J.A.: Well, I'm only sure of one thing: that the above scientists were doubtless free and easy in their non-use of underarm deodorant, because here I think the static of more linguistic ambivalence may breaking in. Are you saying that what's so great is that humans can as it were quantify exactly what they can't know? I would say the hubris of this negative assertion tells us the difference between the world Nabokov sprung from, and which collapsed, and the modern world of radios and gadgets he distrusted.



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