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Posted by Luis Hamburgh on July 27, 2002 17:21:21 UTC


Before Einstein's time a good portion of mainstream science had hypothesized the "luminiferous aether." Taking what they knew about 'normal' waves (sound, water, etc.), scientists had inferred the universe must be full of some kind of 'stuff' capable of waving during the propagation of light. The nature of this ether was a great mystery (no wonder - it probably doesn't even exist), and some even tried to prove its existence (Michelson and Morley being the most celebrated).

Furthermore, while the assumption of this ether was only required by science to explain light propagation, many philosophers saw that this was the ether the ancient Greeks had hypothesized. I think the inference was that this ether was sort of a 'psychic net' for metaphysical stuff. We're all plankton, floating around in this metaphysical sea, and the scientists have finally inferred what Aristotle told us 2,000 years ago!

Importantly, scientists and philosophers saw time as an all-enveloping characteristic of the universe, the 'backdrop' of which was the ether. And in a passive sense, Newton's laws were an affirmation of this assumption; the laws appeared rigid and universally applicable, and time was just one of those things that didn't change. Time was seen as this pervasive thing to which everything in the universe was equally subjected. It was part of the net.

Now, while Einstein didn't exactly aim to pry apart any philosophical ramifications ("It does not need to represent a THING ontologically"), his relativity DID say that, whether or not there is a 'net' behind the observable universe, time is not merely a singular, inviolable, & all-encompassing part of it. Time is, in fact, a dimension -- a fundamental aspect of each and every thing. The passage of time may differ when compared to outside things, because time is a dimension.

>>>"You wrote: ' Of course they do.'
Dear Luis, there is no way to translate that phrase into either math or logic. So I can't
be swayed by it. "

Clocks measure time, because time is not some outside, pervasive, metaphysical thing. Stafford's problem is that he's looking for that 'other' outside time.

If you cannot agree that time is not a metaphysical concept, then this is also compatible with Einstein; the metaphysics (read, ontology) are not needed here. For instance, if you agree that rulers measure distance, and yet somehow resolve this with a sense that "distance" is a metaphysical concept, then you should also be able to agree that clocks measure time.

Put it another way -- anything and everything is capable of measuring space ('that tree is four cubits tall"). AND, anything and everything is capable of measuring time. Stafford even said this.

>>>" 'I say clocks measure what Einstein calls "proper time".' You wrote: 'See? Stafford is looking for the luminiferous ether.' I draw a blank here. You raced on ahead of me and possibly it is because you have learned the standard answer very well."

Well, I know the answer, but not just by rote; I understand these things. It's really not all that difficult! Hopefully from my words above you too have started to understand.

>>>"What do you mean 'nothing can be separated from time, just as nothing can be separated from space'?"

This seems to be the most commonsensical comment in my last post, so I'm not sure how to make this more clear for you. Think of anything (with mass... light is still a huge mystery). A cueball. A book. An electron. A house. A beer can. Now, all of these things exist by virtue that (1) they have mass, and (2) they experience time. That's as simple as it gets. (BTW, we might get confused due to the wording: 'experience' and 'have' are different in (1) and (2) because of how we perceive time vs. mass. The words may be swapped and the point remains a valid one).

>>>"The yardstick thing threw me. Please read again and tell me if that's what you meant to say... You also wrote: 'Actually, this "path length," in temporal terms, is the same as elapsed time. The space (i.e., distance in spatial terms) covered during this proposed trajectory is usually called distance. And, since everything is relative, by comparing these phenomena with other phenomena, we also arrive at calculations of velocity and time dilation.' "

This was clumsy wording on my part. Let me try to define the spatial and temporal aspects a little more carefully:

--the "path length," in temporal terms, is the same as elapsed time.
--the "path length," in spatial terms, is the same as distance
+-Distance means nothing unless compared to outside "path lengths" (i.e., how can you check that the space between "31" and "32" is one inch, without another yardstick?)
+-Elapsed time means nothing unless compared to outside clocks (i.e., "I just spent an hour in that spacecraft, but to you I was in there for three weeks").

"So which one experienced real time?"
"Neither, there is no PRIVELEGED frame of reference"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, there is no OUTSIDE time, so both times -- the rocketship traveler's, and the observer's, are real times. These times are restricted to their local environments, because time is a dimension. It is not something outside of localized, physical processes."

>>>"The next step is to verify or troubleshoot the hypothesis. If it is accepted dogma, and Dr. Dick proposes an alternative explanation, we cannot refute his explanation by insisting upon the accepted dogma. We have to s . . L . . O . . W . . . - . . D . . O . . W . . N to see these both freshly and the feeling alone should do us good."

There is a much deeper fault in Stafford's way of thinking. He insists on looking for the other, pre-Einstein sense of "time." You said it yourself (well, quoted it) -- "It does not need to represent a THING otologically". I'm confused why you'd be sharp enough to zero in on this without understanding why you zeroed in on it.

Should we examine the flat-earth theorists' explanations, instead of accepting the 'dogma' that the earth is a sphere? Stafford is a lost cause, in my opinion.


Going out of town ... if I can't get online I'll talk to you in one week.

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