Time and Language

by Mark English

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There is the physics of time, and then there is time as we experience it. Natural languages provide quite complex mechanisms for expressing the latter, but it would be a mistake to think that they could ever provide adequate tools for dealing with the former. Physicists cannot dispense with ordinary language, of course, but any satisfactory understanding or articulation of the physical nature of time obviously requires a good knowledge of physics.

There are however some important facts about time which were discovered in the 20th century which can be known and accepted by anyone, including those without any training in theoretical physics. For example, we know by experiment that synchronized clocks do not stay synchronized under certain circumstances (relating to motion and exposure to gravitational fields). If two clocks are synchronized at a given place and one of them is sent off on a journey in space and then brought back, the space-travelling clock will register significantly less time having passed than the other clock. And a clock exposed to a stronger gravitational field than another clock with which it has been synchronized will register less time having passed than the other clock when the clocks are reunited.

These facts have important implications for how we think about time. This becomes clear if you substitute living human bodies for mechanical clocks. An astronaut who travels on a long space journey and returns to earth will be younger than her twin who remained at home.

A natural interpretation of the end result is that time (from the point of view of the stay-at-home) has passed more slowly for the astronaut, and (from the point of view of the astronaut) has passed more quickly for her twin. But such claims need to be clearly distinguished from claims about the other person’s experience.

We do, of course, experience periods when time seems to pass more quickly or slowly than normal. The former tends to be associated with pleasant or absorbing activities and the latter with pain or boredom. And we have the sense that time in general and especially longer periods of time pass more quickly as we age. But these are, and are clearly understood to be, subjective phenomena.

Moreover, fast and slow are intrinsically relational ideas. If last year seemed to rush by, it is only by comparison with how we remember previous years. And a slow motion or time-lapse photography-based film can only be identified as such by contrast to the pace of events in the real world with which we are familiar.

There is another sense in which time can be said to go faster or slower. Different kinds of nervous and perceptual systems run on different time scales. For example, we find flies and many small animals very hard to catch. Their perceptual and motor systems run faster than ours. It is as if to them we are lumbering giants living in a slow-motion world.

The claims about time having passed more quickly for the stay-at-home twin and more slowly for the astronaut should not be taken as these sorts of claims. Quite obviously, they do not relate to the experience of time passing or the experience of aging. Nor should they be seen as adding anything to the basic facts. But the claims are not meaningless. They represent, as I understand them, perspectival views and constitute a natural – and quite harmless – gloss or commentary on the facts.

Has the astronaut traveled to the future? In a sense, she has. Certainly, whenever natural language is applied to areas like this it has the potential to mislead. But a knowledge of and respect for the basic science coupled with an awareness that natural language expressions can be read and interpreted in different ways will minimize misunderstanding and confusion.

I am not questioning the adequacy of ordinary language for ordinary communication nor its adaptability and flexibility in the face of technological change and development. There is, however, often a tension between a scientific perspective and a commonsense perspective. The latter is inevitably shaped by language as well as by other inherited modes of thought.

Applying a language that evolved to deal with certain limited sets of possibilities to situations which involve contingencies that transcend these limits inevitably poses problems. And these problems are all the greater if we are dealing not just with incremental technological developments but with ideas, circumstances and possibilities that are radically new and which lack analogues in the world within which language originally evolved. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that our languages – at a basic and structural level – are ill-equipped to deal satisfactorily with the issue under discussion.

The limitations of natural language to which I am drawing attention apply only to some types of language use; specifically to those that involve the application of ordinary language to certain kinds of theoretical question (such as the nature of time).When it comes to the ordinary social world, and our perceptions of time, language works just fine.

There is great variation in the way different languages deal with time. Some languages are tenseless (e.g. Burmese, Vietnamese, Thai, Malay and most varieties of Chinese) and have other ways of dealing with time but in most languages, the grammatical category of tense plays a central role. The category of tense interacts with aspect and mood in complex ways that vary from language to language, allowing precise, time-related distinctions to be made. The complexity and sophistication of the grammatical structures involved testify to the importance that a command of the subtleties of time (and perspectives on time) have played in human thought and interaction over many millennia.

Tense is relational. The time of the event or state denoted by the verb is indicated in relation to some other temporal reference point or points. In the case of absolute tense, the temporal reference point (or deictic center) is the “now” of the speaker; the moment of utterance. (“It was raining.” “It has been raining.” “It is raining.” “It will rain.”)

More complicated cases involve absolute-relative tense. This involves reference to a time that is related to a temporal reference point which is not the moment of utterance; this temporal reference point is, in turn, related to the moment of utterance. So you are in effect juggling three points or periods in time. The main kinds of absolute-relative tense are future perfect, past perfect, future-in-future and future-in-past.

The future perfect, for example, involves reference to a time located before a contextually determined temporal reference point that must be located in the future relative to the moment of utterance. (“He will no doubt have forgotten about it by the morning.”) The past perfect involves a time in the past relative to a reference point which is itself in the past relative to the moment of utterance. (“I had hoped to find her at home but she wasn’t there.”)

The inferences involved in conditional sentences are often time-based. Past perfect tense is often involved. (“Had he been here when you passed, you would have seen him.”) Or the future perfect. (“If she completes the task by tomorrow afternoon, she will have proven herself.”) Note that a particular view or “map” of the structure of past, present and future is implicit in these forms of expression, and the logic of the sentences rests upon a shared understanding of this time “map.”

In addition to these and similar grammatical structures, there are also many common idiomatic expressions that pertain to how we experience time. Such expressions are almost invariably metaphorical. Crucially, they are generally taken as such, and are not seen as literal or metaphysical or proto-scientific claims. The same can be said for many common expressions about the natural world which, taken literally, are in conflict with a scientific understanding but which, used in the normal way, are perfectly acceptable. (Sun rising, wind blowing, etc..)

Time doesn’t literally “pass” or “flow”. Fine. But these and similar expressions capture something of our experience of time. Time seems at times to rush or race; at times to drag.

All of these experiences involve the mechanisms of memory and various systems within the body which keep track of time at various scales.

The focus here, however, is on how our experiences of, and facts about, time may be articulated, not on how these experiences are generated within the nervous system.

NOTE: At various points in this piece, implicit reference is being made to an essay entitled “The Fallacy of Time Travel” by Ronald Green which was published on this site late last year.

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19 Comments »

  1. It would be (and in fact frequently is) just as much of a mistake to presume that the language of theoretical physics is adequate for dealing with our phenomenological experience of time. Beyond that point, it feels pretty unclear to me what on earth this essay is about.

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    • stolzyblog

      “It would be (and in fact frequently is) just as much of a mistake to presume that the language of theoretical physics is adequate for dealing with our phenomenological experience of time.”

      You are claiming that the language of theoretical physics is frequently taken to be adequate for dealing with our phenomenological experience of time. Really?? By whom? Do reputable physicists and physics popularizers see those areas of cognitive science which deal with perceptions of time (psychology, linguistics, etc.) as pseudoscience and seek to replace them with theoretical physics? I don’t think so!

      I note that in a comment on the essay by Ronald Green to which I linked you praised his views. After railing against “physics popularisers and science nerds” you said: “Bravo to [Ronald Green] for thinking through the relativity paradox on a down-to-earth basis!”

      Unlike you (and Green apparently) I do not see physics popularizers (or even “science nerds”, as you call them) as constituting a homogeneous group. There are good ones and bad ones.

      And, unlike you, I saw serious problems with some of the things Ronald Green was saying in his essay (and in comments). This piece grew out of those concerns, some (but not all) of which relate to what I saw as Green’s rigid and at times eccentric approach to language and meaning.

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  2. The problem is not of language, but of something much more fundamental. This came out in some of the comments to my essay and were brought out in sharp relief in Mark English’s essay.

    It came to the fore in the first sentence: “There is the physics of time and there is time as we experience it.” There in a nutshell is the fallacy of how some – too many – thinkers (physicists?) approach the search for knowledge about the universe – the rigid separation of disciplines.

    No, there is no “physics of time”, separate from human experience of time. Physics is there to describe/explain the human experience/perception of time. To considering physics as the arbiter of “how things really are” has no basis other than the elitist view of physicists To take out humanness from nature and replace it with theoretical constructs based on mathematics dooms us to a barren view of nature that is, in fact, no view at all.

    How can one possibly talk about the physics of time, when that consists of theories that posit time variously as not passing, not being temporal, not being linear, being circular, or not existing at all? What could any of that mean in a world in which humans live in time that manifests as continuous change? What can it possibly mean when the linear movement from birth to death can, surely, not be denied?

    There are indeed serious problems when physicists refer to time travel as something that happens within mathematical formulae, who then use language that demonstrates a basic misunderstanding as to what time travel is. Take out the human and that is the result. So we get a pronouncement such as “the space-travelling clock will register significantly less time having passed than the other clock”, without mentioning that it was less time *relatively* to the other clock. Not mentioning that one word, thereby forgetting poor Einstein, makes nonsense of the whole concept and helps perpetuate the populistic nonsense fed to the wide-eyed public. So when Mark English claims that *in a sense* the astronaut traveled to the future, I would have to ask: in what sense? It seems somewhat equivalent to saying that *in a sense* someone is a virgin!

    The notion that different language affects the way people perceive nature is preposterous and harks back to anthropology of the 1940s and ’50s. The fact that disciplines have their own jargons does not mean that perception of the world is different for them. If quantum physics has the aim of describing “the basic building blocks of nature”, and if Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is set out in his famous formula, that does not mean that it cannot be set out in language that can be understood. In fact, Heisenberg did do just that. But when mathematics makes sense only to itself and “works” because it is “beautiful”, thus satisfying itself within its own system, it does not describe anything apart from its own workings. To quote Ernest Rutherford about theorists: “They play games with their symbols, but we…turn out the real facts of nature.”

    It is surely time to stop playing games within our own little clubs, and combine, using the skills we bring from our own disciplines, if we want to make a serious attempt at understanding nature. It is this that interests my work. In my book “Time To Tell: a look at how we tick”, I steadfastly place humans within my theory of time and show how philosophy and physics follow a parallel path.

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    • Ronald Green

      I have not read your book but I think I can safely say, from reading your time travel essay and your comments, 1) that our respective perspectives are indeed very different and 2) that your basic understanding of what science is and how it works is out of line with generally accepted views.

      For example, you talk of physicists having an “elitist” view of knowledge, claiming that they “take out humanness from nature and replace it with theoretical constructs based on mathematics” and that this “dooms us to a barren view of nature that is, in fact, no view at all.”

      In fact, you seem to be suggesting that anything worth knowing or understanding about the world can not only be fully understood in terms of our natural ways of thinking but also can be satisfactorily articulated solely in terms of ordinary language. But wouldn’t such a view represent a return to old ways of thinking which put our species at the center of cosmic history and of nature?

      “But when mathematics makes sense only to itself and “works” because it is “beautiful”, thus satisfying itself within its own system, it does not describe anything apart from its own workings.”

      Here and elsewhere you seem to be conflating pure mathematics and mathematics as it is routinely applied and deployed in physics. Physics is an empirical discipline and mathematics is integral to it.

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      • Mark English, respectfully, I don’t think you can “safely say” much about a book of 290 pages that you haven’t read, especially as you misrepresent those views whenever you comment about them. I can, though, agree that “our respective perspectives are indeed very different.” As for me, I read as much as I can about views with which I don’t agree, with the view that progress comes from disagreement, not agreement.

        Just for the record, I have never stated, or implied, that “anything worth knowing or understanding about the world can not only be fully understood in terms of our natural ways of thinking but also can be satisfactorily articulated solely in terms of ordinary language.” I have no idea what “natural ways of thinking” are and whose ways they would be. Presumably yours?

        I am wondering whether you disagree that, as I put it, “physics is there to describe/explain the human experience/perception of time.”, or that this “cannot be set out in language that can be understood.”? I did not say that this can *solely* be articulated in ordinary language.

        When you criticize me for implying that “our species [is] at the center of cosmic history and of nature”, I am wondering where you think our view of the universe comes from? As Heisenberg put it: “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” Unless you think that the laws of nature are God-given – and even here we have human interpretation – surely it is only the human (and each from his/her POV) that has “views”.

        Thinking of physics (or of any part of science) as looking for “what nature really is” is problematic, as it it implies that there is the objective Truth “out there”, beyond us and untestable. So when davidlduffy (in his comment below) states that “we know our perceptions of time are faulty”, that is an example. Our perceptions of time are not faulty; those are our perceptions. “Faulty” implies that there exists something different to what we perceive: “real” perceptions. Is a fruit fly’s perception of time less faulty than ours? What is the “real” view of moving objects, and does it not depend upon the accuracy of our measuring device?

        Daniel Kaufman has labeled my position as radical empiricist. I don’t know how science can – or even think it can – explain a world independent of the human point of view. We are what we are, and cannot get out of our humanness. We can imagine imagining, but we can’t imagine not imagining.

        This is an ongoing debate, and it is one that often developes during my lectures and talks. As already mentioned, I am pleased that we can do so here in the electric agora in a civilized and not too-aggressive fashion.

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        • I am wondering whether you disagree that, as I put it, “physics is there to describe/explain the human experience/perception of time.”

          I cannot speak for Mark. But I certainly disagree with this. It seems to be a misunderstanding of physics.

          Let us remember that physics has changed how we perceive time.

          Thinking of physics (or of any part of science) as looking for “what nature really is” is problematic

          On that, I agree with you.

          So when davidlduffy (in his comment below) states that “we know our perceptions of time are faulty”, that is an example. Our perceptions of time are not faulty; those are our perceptions.

          But there, I agree with davidlduffy.

          Time, as I perceive it, moves very slowly when I am bored, but moves quite quickly when I am doing something interesting. I take that to be an example of the kind of thing that David was referring to.

          “Faulty” implies that there exists something different to what we perceive: “real” perceptions.

          And there is something different. The community consensus view of time is different from my own perception of time. Clock time is different from my own perception of time.

          Daniel Kaufman has labeled my position as radical empiricist.

          I agree with Dan. If that is not what you intended, then maybe you have been careless in your choice of wording.

          I don’t know how science can – or even think it can – explain a world independent of the human point of view.

          Science can be different from our perceptions without being independent of the human point of view. You seem to have made an unwarranted leap there.

          At least, to some extent, science can be said to be about what we are able to reliably measure. And that’s already different from our perceptions of reality.

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          • The purpose of science is certainly to explain that which we experience, by way of observation. But not by undisciplined or casual observation. Observation as best made and oftentimes enhanced by technology.

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        • Ronald Green

          “I don’t think you can “safely say” much about a book of 290 pages that you haven’t read…”

          Only I didn’t say *anything* about your book other than that I hadn’t read it and was basing my remarks entirely on your essay and comments posted on this site.

          You ask: “I am wondering whether you disagree that, as I put it, “physics is there to describe/explain the human experience/perception of time.”

          Neil and Dan made some good points on this, I think. And I have made some clarificatory remarks in replies to ejwinner and Alan below.

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  3. Ronald writes “there is no ‘physics of time’, separate from human experience of time…”, but just as with our perceptions of space, we know our perceptions of time are faulty. We know that we cannot perceive rapidly-evolving events (eg below the flicker-fusion threshold for vision, but we may be able to hear it [1]), and just as with microscopy, we can construct a second-order ladder for those events that we trust. We know the “psychological moment” is ~1/5 second, and must be retrospectively constructed, eg automatically allowing for nerve transmission velocity when deciding whether being touched at two different points of our body was “simultaneous”. We know our individual perception of duration may differ from other people in the same situation. We know that drugs and psychiatric diseases can alter our perception of duration, “expansive present” or “backwards time” (and such things are also often associated with distortions of space), and we also know some people think this is very cool. We defer to a good clock for good reasons. And when we read that special relativity involves Lorentzian contractions of length, we adapt our thinking in the same way we adapt our thing about the temporal effects of travel at close to the speed of light, even though we have never seen this.

    Mark, Wagner’s Parsifal (1877) has: “I barely tread, yet seem already to have come so far . . . You see, my son, time here becomes space [du siehst, mein Sohn, zum Raum wird hier die Zeit].”’ I’m trying to work out what tense _that_ is 😉

    [1] I do like Neal Stephenson’s Fly, Bat and Worm parable – what is it that different sensory modalities/brain regions can agree on about the world?

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    • It seems to me that Ronald is adopting what one might describe as a radical empiricist position. On that view, what science explains is experience, not the world independently of it.

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  4. Mark,
    Interesting article.
    However, given your discussion with Ronald, as in similar discussions, I worry that you may be assuming a God’s eye view on nature that somehow science has the power to obtain, and that language somehow mystifies suspiciously. Since language is the primary means we have of communicating the kind of knowledge science gets us, I fear this reminds me of an old joke: ‘Society would be a fine place if there weren’t any people in it.”

    God, of course, does not need language, as Augustine delighted in reminding us – in heaven everything is known directly. Language only exists to teach the ways of God to humans. The indexical is its primary function, but this necessitates explanatory extrapolation, predicated on the utter trustworthiness of a sacred text as Word of God. This leads to a naming theory, and ultimately some form of correspondence theory of truth, (There’s an amusing passage in De Magistro where Augustine’s son uses semiotics to demonstrate that this actually leads to an incoherence – there is no way to teach the meaning of “running” by pointing to one’s legs in the presumed act.)

    Language seems to be learned holistically. Differences in usage run along a continuum, and are not easily sectioned off.

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    • ejwinner

      You say that the essay is interesting but that “given your discussion with Ronald … I worry that you may be assuming a God’s eye view on nature that somehow science has the power to obtain, and that language somehow mystifies suspiciously.”

      So what did I say in my one (so far at any rate) comment to him to raise these concerns? I am not responsible for any presentation (or misrepresentation) by others of my views, and I have been in two minds about whether I should engage with a particular comment of his which misrepresents what I said.

      Ronald Green said this in the course of a response to my response to his first comment:

      “Thinking of physics (or of any part of science) as looking for “what nature really is” is problematic, as it implies that there is the objective Truth “out there”, beyond us and untestable.”

      He implicitly presents these as my ideas, putting the phrase “what nature really is” in scare quotes which could easily be mistaken for indicators of direct quotation. I defend the notion of objectivity, but no way would I talk about “objective Truth” being ” ‘out there’ beyond us and untestable.”

      Whatever is “out there” (why not a simple “there”?), it is certainly not Truth (capitalized or not).

      But again, my goal here is not to articulate my own particular metaphysical (or anti-metaphysical) views, but rather to set out some views on science and language which (I think) would meet with general approval. The finer points of metaphysical positions are debatable. By contrast, certain basic facts about what scientific inquiry is and how it works are taken as given (and rightly so, I think) by most scientists and also by those sections of the general educated public who give due deference to scientific expertise.

      I did not directly reference Ronald Green in the essay, but anyone who read his essay on time will see that I am setting out a position which is opposed to what he said there, both in terms of substantive points and in terms of an understanding of how ordinary language works (especially in terms of meaning and interpretation).

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  5. Mark: You don’t mention what I imagine is the biggest difference between “physical time” and “human time”, namely directionality. Many physicists deny that time has a direction. The general human understanding of time is directional through and through. Can they both be right? Or do you think the human perspective is illusory? The latter, I suppose.

    Note also that biologists and geologists operate with a directional version of time. I think the dividing line is between physics and chemistry, on one side, and all other ways of thinking, on the other side.

    Alan

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    • Alan

      “You don’t mention what I imagine is the biggest difference between “physical time” and “human time”, namely directionality.”

      I deliberately avoided getting into the physics side of things. But physics does deal with the directionality of time (e.g. via thermodynamics).

      “Many physicists deny that time has a direction.”

      Many physicists deny that time is fundamental. Some want to go further than this. I think your claim is misleading, however, and that most physicists would not deny that time has a direction.

      “Note also that biologists and geologists operate with a directional version of time. I think the dividing line is between physics and chemistry, on one side, and all other ways of thinking, on the other side.”

      Didn’t Eddington see this division in terms of macroscopic versus microscopic?

      My own personal/scientific view of the world is very time-based (cosmic history, evolution, etc.).

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      • “My own personal/scientific view of the world is very time-based (cosmic history, evolution, etc.).”

        Interesting. So now I’m not sure what you see as the crucial distinction between physical time and human time.

        Apologies for being obtuse.

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  6. Alan wrote: “So now I’m not sure what you see as the crucial distinction between physical time and human time.”

    I am distinguishing between the physics of time (that is, time as it is dealt with and understood in the context of physics) and time as we experience it. Nowhere did I suggest some kind of absolute dichotomy between two types of time (human and physical) or that the physics of time is totally unconnected with our experience of time. Of course they are connected (though the connections are convoluted and could not be satisfactorily described without drawing also on the cognitive sciences, for example).

    Physics is an empirical discipline, one among many. And (despite Ronald Green’s characterization of my views) I am committed to a “consilient” view of the sciences and intellectual inquiry more generally. Discipline boundaries should not be seen as rigid. They are largely matters of convenience, practicality and organization. A process or phenomenon can often be approached from various directions and dealt with in different — and complementary — ways.

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  7. Mark wrote: “I am distinguishing between the physics of time (that is, time as it is dealt with and understood in the context of physics) and time as we experience it.”

    I am still, though, wondering what you think physics is and what its task is. Despite your protestations, you seem to be giving physics a role of its own within some sort of separate world that has nothing to do with what is going on in the world around us, but rather a discipline that exists in order to justify itself for itself. So when I asked you to confirm what the role of physics is (as, for example on the subject of time), you demurred and pointed me to answers from Neil and Dan. Well, Neil’s response to my description of physics as being to describe/explain the human experience/perception of time was that it “seems to be a misunderstanding of physics.” Nevertheless, he, like you, has not corrected my misunderstanding. As for Dan, he agreed that the purpose of science is to explain that which we experience, by way of observation. Obviously in this context observation is not meant to be undisciplined or casual. Who said that it should be? I searched for your clarificatory remarks, but apart for your appeals to authority and to consensus (which have been rife throughout your comments), I haven’t discerned what you mean when you talk about physics, apart from dissing my definition and comments in general. What I do find – and this is interesting – is that you state that “physics is a an empirical discipline.” While that is not a description of what physics is, it follows to a large extent my own views. How then is this reconciled with your view of there being “the physics of time [that is] understood in the context of physics”? What is it that makes you so angry when I state that physics reflects human views of nature. I can but repeat Heisenbergs’ “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” The dissonance within your points of view seems to cast a light upon your strange remark about not equating objectivity with truth. So objective statements may not be true? (Or will you again say that I am misrepresenting your views?)

    You do, though, attribute some sort of truth to “certain basic facts” – facts would be true, no? – which you say “are taken as given (and rightly so, I think) by most scientists and also by those sections of the general educated public who give due deference to scientific expertise.” So here we are again with appeal to authority and to consensus. Had we kept science to some sort of democratic system, we would be back in pre-science and authority of the Church. We certainly would not have gone through the tumult of post-Newtonian physics and the revolution in scientific thinking regarding quantum mechanics and what the “general educated public” thought about weird behavior of particles.

    The fact that physics contains different theories and disparate points of view, does it not abrogate its function as a discipline that attempts a description of the workings of nature even when that changes over time as we discover and learn more. On the contrary, that is its strength.

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    • [Slightly revised version. Dan, please discard the previously sent one.]

      Ronald wrote:

      “I am still …. wondering what you think physics is and what its task is. Despite your protestations, you seem to be giving physics a role of its own within some sort of separate world that has nothing to do with what is going on in the world around us, but rather a discipline that exists in order to justify itself for itself.”

      How you equate this with what I have been saying escapes me entirely.

      “I searched for your clarificatory remarks, but apart for your appeals to authority and to consensus (which have been rife throughout your comments), I haven’t discerned what you mean when you talk about physics, apart from dissing my definition and comments in general.”

      You say I am appealing to authority. To an extent I am, but authority in a particular sense. Within the context of good science and scholarship individuals may, on account of the extent and depth of their knowledge, be said to speak with authority within their areas of expertise. Nobody is infallible and experts can disagree. Judgments must be made, sure, but usually there is some consensus about the basics and by and large I think it advisable to be guided by experts in areas where one lacks technical or theoretical expertise. (Just to be clear, I am not claiming expertise in the physical sciences.)

      “What I do find – and this is interesting – is that you state that “physics is a an empirical discipline.” While that is not a description of what physics is, it follows to a large extent my own views.”

      Indeed! I would have thought it a basic fact that almost goes without saying.

      “How then is this reconciled with your view of there being “the physics of time [that is] understood in the context of physics”?”

      Seeing physics as an empirical science is perfectly compatible with making a distinction between time as it is dealt with and understood in the context of physics and time as we perceive or experience it. But you seem to want to take all distinctions as being absolute and all expressions as having one sense only.

      “What is it that makes you so angry …”

      Just for the record, it’s frustration, not anger.

      “I can but repeat Heisenbergs’ “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” ”

      You keep hammering away at this. I am aware of the philosophical debates to which you allude. There is room for different points of view here. But your claims (as I read them) are both extreme and eccentric.

      “The dissonance within your points of view seems to cast a light upon your strange remark about not equating objectivity with truth. So objective statements may not be true? (Or will you again say that I am misrepresenting your views?)”

      My “strange remark” came in response to your suggestion that I saw science as looking for “what nature really is” and saw “objective Truth” as being “out there”, “beyond us and untestable.”

      I defend the notion of objectivity, but I would never talk about “objective Truth” in these (muddled) terms. Beliefs or claims about the world may be true or false. Science is all about finding ways of objectively deciding what general claims about the world are true and what claims are false.

      “You do, though, attribute some sort of truth to “certain basic facts” – facts would be true, no? – which you say “are taken as given (and rightly so, I think) by most scientists and also by those sections of the general educated public who give due deference to scientific expertise.” So here we are again with appeal to authority and to consensus.”

      I was talking about “certain basic facts *about what scientific inquiry is and how it works*.” The institution of science requires joint action and so some kind of consensus on what scientific inquiry is.

      “Had we kept science to some sort of democratic system, we would be back in pre-science and authority of the Church.”

      This seems incoherent to me.

      “We certainly would not have gone through the tumult of post-Newtonian physics and the revolution in scientific thinking regarding quantum mechanics and what the “general educated public” thought about weird behavior of particles.”

      As I explained, the consensus I was talking about there was about the rules of the game.

      “The fact that physics contains different theories and disparate points of view, does it not abrogate its function as a discipline that attempts a description of the workings of nature even when that changes over time as we discover and learn more. On the contrary, that is its strength.”

      Our body of scientific knowledge changes as it develops. But it develops in certain ways and is characterized broadly, over the longer term, by a consolidation and convergence of views.

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