INDEX

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Tim Maudlin on Time




Time isn’t just another dimension, argues Tim Maudlin. To make his case, he’s had to reinvent geometry.


George Musser

Physicists and philosophers seem to like nothing more than telling us that everything we thought about the world is wrong. They take a peculiar pleasure in exposing common sense as nonsense. But Tim Maudlin thinks our direct impressions of the world are a better guide to reality than we have been led to believe.

Not that he thinks they always are. Maudlin, who is a professor at New York University and one of the world’s leading philosophers of physics, made his name studying the strange behavior of “entangled” quantum particles, which display behavior that is as counterintuitive as can be; if anything, he thinks physicists have downplayed how transformative entanglement is. At the same time, though, he thinks physicists can be too hasty to claim that our conventional views are misguided, especially when it comes to the nature of time.

He defends a homey and unfashionable view of time. It has a built-in arrow. It is fundamental rather than derived from some deeper reality. Change is real, as opposed to an illusion or an artifact of perspective. The laws of physics act within time to generate each moment. Mixing mathematics, physics and philosophy, Maudlin bats away the reasons that scientists and philosophers commonly give for denying this folk wisdom.

The mathematical arguments are the target of his current project, the second volume of New Foundations for Physical Geometry (the first appeared in 2014). Modern physics, he argues, conceptualizes time in essentially the same way as space. Space, as we commonly understand it, has no innate direction — it is isotropic. When we apply spatial intuitions to time, we unwittingly assume that time has no intrinsic direction, either. New Foundations rethinks topology in a way that allows for a clearer distinction between time and space. Conventionally, topology — the first level of geometrical structure — is defined using open sets, which describe the neighborhood of a point in space or time. “Open” means a region has no sharp edge; every point in the set is surrounded by other points in the same set.

Maudlin proposes instead to base topology on lines.

Read it all here.


Related reading: Meauring Time with the Clepsydra; The Clepsammia; Theories of Time and Eternity; Change and Constancy





Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Paul Griffith said what many of us are thinking

Courtesy of Duke Photography
Originally from England, Paul Griffiths, the Warren professor of Catholic theology, came to Duke in 2008.


Duke theology professor Paul Griffiths created a firestorm recently by criticizing time-consuming racial equity meetings that, in his view, detracted from research, teaching, and study:
It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, clich├ęs, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show.

He was promptly accused, in response, of “racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry.” Yet in the entire correspondence, which he recently published, he says nothing that could reasonably be construed that way. It also came out that he had been subject to a kangaroo court for months over his objections to the meetings. Dr Griffiths resigned yesterday. A recent graduate wrote in response to the news:
In a discussion about the racist incidents with some other Div School students, I said that perhaps the way we were responding to the incidents was hurting rather than helping, because after every incident the black students would make public announcements about how hurt and afraid and rejected they felt, and then everyone would hatch plans to re-educate the whole university on issues of racism. I suggested that instead perhaps we should respond to the perpetrators like we would a bully, with strength and confidence and even defiance, to show them they didn’t have power over anyone. You would have thought I had suggested we start a chapter of the KKK. They made it clear I was a horrible person in denial of the harsh realities of racism for suggesting such a thing, and I learned to keep my mouth shut.

This is a clear example but not the only one. Rule by authoritarian mobs with a vested interest in promoting intergroup conflict is morphing into our future as a society.

Meanwhile, academics are popping up everywhere to advance ideas like those of Australian philosopher Robert Simpson: “However, once we extrapolate beyond the clear-cut cases, the question of what counts as free speech gets rather tricky,” so “I’d propose a third way: put free ‘speech’ as such to one side, and replace it with a series of more narrowly targeted expressive liberties.” He cites Canada as a good example but Canada has just enacted a law against Islamophobia, a law whose implications are engendering increasing alarm. Dr Simpson's article is a sound reason to believe that we should stick to opting for free speech in all but the most “clear-cut cases.

Last week, we looked at some ways in which the war on freedom is rotting our intellectual life: In a world governed by naturalism, power is its own justification and it need not be exercised in a rational way. Many of the controversies and contentions that surround us are easier to sort out if we keep that in mind. For example, let's revisit some earlier themes, to see the shape of what’s to come in more detail:

Read it all here and here.