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 The Ancient of Days. 
 William Blakes (1757-1827)
The Ancient of Days   (Blake)

Final Answers
© 2000-2015   Gérard P. Michon, Ph.D.

Philosophy and Science

The knowledge of which geometry aims
is the knowledge of the eternal
 Plato  (427-347 BC)
If only one person knows the truth, it is still the truth.
 Mahatma Gandhi  (1869-1948)
God exists since mathematics is consistent,
and the Devil exists since we cannot prove it.

 Bourbakist  André Weil  (1906-1998)
Physics isn't a religion. If it were,
we'd have a much easier time raising money.

Leon M. Lederman  (b. 1922; Nobel 1988)
  • Creation and Discovery in Science.
  • Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  If we listen, we  must  talk.
  • The Anthropic Principle:  The laws of physics must allow human life.
  • Science and Politics:  Political support for Science makes a society worthy.
  • What's Mathematics anyway?  The groundwork of scientific knowledge.

Related articles on this site:

Articles previously on this page:

  • The Lamppost Theory:  Look where there's enough light to find anything.
    The above articles have moved...  Click for the new location.

Related Links (Outside this Site)

Scientific Symbol Resources at symbols.net
Birthplace of the Buddha.  Beliefs, archaeology and science coming together.
Confucius (551-479 BC)   |   Table of Mathematical Symbols

Videos :

Bertrand Russell on God (1959)
Bertrand Russell on "Face to Face", with John Freeman (1959)   1   |   2   |   3
Michel Foucault on Bachelard
What we still don't know (BBC) by  Sir Martin Rees,  Astronomer Royal.
The Story of Science   by  Michael J. Mosley   (BBC, 2012)
  1. What is out there?
  2. What is the world made of?
  3. How did we get here?
  4. Can we have unlimited power?
  5. What is the secret of Life?
  6. Who are we?

On the Nature of Science

  Godfrey Harold Hardy,  
 mathematician (1877-1947)
It is not worth an intelligent man's time to be in the majority.  By definition, there are already enough people to do that.
G.H. Hardy

Morganne (2004-01-29)   Scientific Creations
Isn't it true that Art is created and Science discovered?

This is mostly so, but not entirely.  Even for a Platonist like myself, it's difficult to argue that scientific facts are just sitting there waiting to be discovered by some clever sleight of hand.  First, a language must be created for those facts to become expressible.  This language is purely a human creation.  Second, a physical law need not be absolutely true to be considered scientific.

For example, Newtonian mechanics considers only objects whose masses are independent of their speeds, spins and temperatures.  It's now clear (from the many experimental results confirming the quantitative predictions of Special Relativity) that such things simply do not exist.  Yet, Newtonian mechanics was and remains a superb scientific theory.  It's clearly not the ultimate law of nature, but it would be silly to demand that Science and scientists suspend all publications until all flaws are resolved.

Scientists must routinely invent and create new concepts like mass, velocity or entropy.  The meanings of such constructs may evolve and none of them are strictly necessary to describe physical reality.  They are just clever human creations whose beauty is ultimately revealed by their ability to organize human thoughts and computations about the World.

An artist may have a lot more creative freedom than a scientist does, but Science still entails considerable leeway.  At the deepest level, scientific theories are beautiful carvings which describe a specific abstract approach to reality, just like most sculptures capture one aspect of reality for the sole sake of beauty.  In both cases, random chiseling is not permissible; a lot of skill and channeled creativity is required.

A heap of scattered scientific facts is to a consistent scientific theory what an uncarved block of marble is to a polished statue.

(2005-06-20)   David Hume (1711-1776)
Skepticism and Empiricism.

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

Locke, Bekeley, Hume, Newton.
Recovering the power of the senses.
The arrogance of the senses.

 Rene Descartes 
 1596-1650 (2005-06-20)   René Descartes (1596-1650)
Mind and Matter.  Free will and the clockwork universe.

Anne Finch Viscountess Conway: Body, mind and spirit.

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

 Benjamin Franklin 
 1706-1790 (2005-06-20)   Benjamin Franklin (1606-1790)
Intuition:  Certainty all at once.

Certainty all at once.

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

 Pierre-Simon Laplace 
 1749-1827 (2011-10-29)   Separating Religion from Science
The question of the existence of God is not a scientific one.

Napoléon:   Où est Dieu dans tout cela?
Laplace:   Sire, je n'avais nulle besoin de cette hypothese.
Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827)

(2004-03-26)   SETI: Listening is not enough.
In the SETI project, we've spent only a few minutes "talking".  What's wrong with that?

We've spent only a tiny amount of time "talking to" possible extraterrestrial civilisations.  If those have the same attitude, there is no point listening.  The painful conclusion is that we have to spend some unselfish time talking if listening has any sense at all.  This is true in spite of the fact that we'll never get any feedback.

I argue that  morality  (in the sense Immanuel Kant defined it)  is either unselfish or nonexistent.  If we value at all the extraordinary gift it would be to receive a message from other civilizations, we must extend the same courtesy by sending them something to listen to.

If we bother listening, we have a moral obligation to talk.

(2004-03-26)   The Anthropic principle
The Universe we see must have properties that allow human life.

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

(2004-03-26)   Support Science
What makes a society worth defending... [Bob Wilson about FermiLab]

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

(2006-08-30)   About Mathematics
What's "mathematics", anyway?

Most philosophers have not practiced enough mathematics to grasp the significance of any nontrivial mathematical endeavor, let alone put them all in perspective.  Most mathematicians have not practiced enough philosophy to feel any need to reflect on their own discipline, let alone "define" it.  So, who's to say what mathematics  really  is?

Well, ... / ...

 Come back later, we're
 still working on this one...

Mathematics is all about the acquisition of  certainty.  Following traditional rules to obtain results does not validate such results; the rules themselves must be scrutinized "mathematically" to remove all doubts and allow absolute confidence in whatever results are ultimately stated.

For example, Distribution theory  validates our intuition about Dirac's delta "function".  If  intuitive  manipulations of the delta function weren't valid, ditribution theory shows that other trusted algorithm wouldn't be either.  Results based on the concept of distribution are as trustworthy as those which involve only elementary arithmetic.

(Tom H, 2007-05-15)   What is time ?
(Blue22op, 2007-05-15)   Are scientists working on a time machine ?

Here's one of my favorite quotes  (a translation by John A. Wheeler of a provocative statement of J. Henri Poincaré):

"Time is defined so that motion looks simple."

In other words, "time" is defined as the independent variable which makes the equations of mechanics take on a simple form.  This operational definition was designed in a simpler era of "classical" physics.  It still holds for nonrelativistic quantum theory, where time remains an old-fashioned  independent variable.

However, at a deeper level of understanding, time cannot be simply such an "independent" parameter against which events are recorded.  Instead, it's a component of spacetime  (to a degree, time and space can be traded for each other).  This has profound implications for our modern descriptions of the physical world.  Especially in the quantum realm.

Time Travel and Perpetual Motion

Time travel is like perpetual motion; it's both unavoidable and impossible.  Let me explain this paradox:

At the microscopic level, time-travel is unavoidable.  Elementary particles routinely go backward in time; there's no difference between a particle moving forward in time and its antiparticle moving backward in time.  So, a "particle-antiparticle" pair creation may also be described as a particle changing the direction of its "time flow".

Now, can this fundamental mechanism be harnessed to make coherent systems consisting of many particles (and carrying definite information with them) go back in time?

The answer is as much of a "no" as what applies to the related question of whether it's possible to transform brownian motion into coherent motion (that would be what's called perpetual motion "of the second kind").  If you don't believe in one, you don't believe in the other...

Of course, science is not supposed to be about beliefs, but it is (to a degree).  It's a much more productive belief (from a scientific standpoint) to assume that perpetual motion can't exist than the opposite...  In one case, you'll refine the basic laws of thermodynamics.  In the other case, you may waste your life on doomed tinkering.  Similarly, the impossibility of time-travel imposes useful constraints on the very laws of fundamental physics we are aiming to formulate.  It's almost certainly the more useful of two possible beliefs, to put it in provocative terms.

This does not mean you can't have fun thinking about the paradoxes of time-travel.  However, those very paradoxes should be an indication that attempts at building an actual time-machine are as doomed as attempts to build a perpetual motion machine.  Or vice-versa.

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 (c) Copyright 2000-2015, Gerard P. Michon, Ph.D.