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Thread: Is the 4D time-space continuum real?

  1. #1 Is the 4D time-space continuum real? 
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    Did Einstein believe the timespace continuum had a concrete existence, or did he only think of it as math that his geometry was describing?

    I was not sure where to post this, here, philosophy or somewhere else.


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    I will guess that he thought it was as "concrete "as the measurements for space and time were considered to be previously to when he amalgamated them :ie just a mathematical modelling of the underlying reality.

    It is just my guess though for what it is worth (perhaps mainly based on my scrutinizing of this website). I don't know what Einstein himself may have said on the actual subject -or even whether his findings gave him a privileged position to have an opinion about it..

    I think perhaps concrete reality is something we are unable to see directly and we can only measure its consequences and make predictions based on that.


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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    Did Einstein believe the timespace continuum had a concrete existence, or did he only think of it as math that his geometry was describing?

    I was not sure where to post this, here, philosophy or somewhere else.
    While his equations gave substance to the notion of a concrete medium called spacetime I think Einstein was ultimately unsatisfied with the dualistic ontology of electromagnetism and gravity and in part responsible for his incessant work during the latter periods of his life towards a unified field theory. There is no doubt that a significant influence in Einstein's life were the ideas of Ernst Mach and Gottfried Leibniz and while ultimately Einstein's SR and GR contradicted *in specific cases* these ideas, I think Einstein still sought a relativistic solution that ultimately could resurrect a pure relativistic ideal.
    Last edited by Implicate Order; August 14th, 2014 at 01:29 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    Did Einstein believe the timespace continuum had a concrete existence, or did he only think of it as math that his geometry was describing?

    I was not sure where to post this, here, philosophy or somewhere else.
    I believe that Einstein looked at it the same way everyone else does. That spacetime is merely a manifold whose elements are events where an event is a position and a time. For example; an event could be the center of the earth at noontime as measured in Los Angeles CA. Something closer to our experience would be a fire cracker going off at 10:12:23 pm July 4th, 2015 in the North End at a particular Latitude and Longitude. I don't know what it would say something like that as having a concrete existence. That's metaphysics, not physics.
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    Quote Originally Posted by physicist View Post
    I don't know what it would say something like that as having a concrete existence. That's metaphysics, not physics.
    Which was why I was unsure of where to put the question.

    Look people, I can hardly make hide nor hair of this.
    Einstein: "Ether and Relativity"
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    The only one actually helping me at this point is Implicate Order, and I am not sure if I agree with his answer.
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    That's a great read Dan. Thanks for brining it to my attention. What a 'thinker'. You can see him wrestling with the to's and fro's of whether an ether is necessary or not.

    I think the paragraph below sums up his ideological preference for the unification of a) things moving within = matter and b) the ether = spacetime itself however 'bottom line' he was a realist recognising the the universe didn't necessarily care what he thought and 'reality' might have different ideas and further that there might be 'reality' road blocks such as the boundaries of QM which physically prevent the extension of any theoretical physics pathway towards further field theory unifications. Interestingly on a side matter it is quite clear that despite the MM experiment he did not jettison the notion of an ether but rather adjusted the notion from one of an 'absolute independent space' to that of a relativistic medium. I note that Frank Wilczeck also is a strong adherent to this notion.

    "Of course it would be a great advance if we could succeed in comprehending the gravitational field and the electromagnetic field together as one unified conformation. Then for the first time the epoch of theoretical physics founded by Faraday and Maxwell would reach a satisfactory conclusion. The contrast between ether and matter would fade away, and, through the general theory of relativity, the whole of physics would become a complete system of thought, like geometry, kinematics, and the theory of gravitation. An exceedingly ingenious attempt in this direction has been made by the mathematician H Weyl; but I do not believe that his theory will hold its ground in relation to reality. Further, in contemplating the immediate future of theoretical physics we ought not unconditionally to reject the possibility that the facts comprised in the quantum theory may set bounds to the field theory beyond which it cannot pass."
    Last edited by Implicate Order; August 13th, 2014 at 11:44 PM.
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    Did Einstein believe the timespace continuum had a concrete existence, or did he only think of it as math that his geometry was describing?
    Physics is a discipline that makes models of the world around us; 4D space-time is one example of such a model, and a very successful one at that. The question how such a model is related to reality is the same question as to how a map is related to the territory it depicts - the two are not the same, but there is a definitive relationship between them. And I am pretty sure that is how Einstein viewed his theory - as a model to describe the classical world.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter
    Which was why I was unsure of where to put the question.
    This place is just fine. I was merely making an observation, that's all.
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    Thanks Imp Order and Markus.
    I have a copy of his Essays in Science and last night I happened to read his On Scientific Truth again.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by physicist View Post
    I don't know what it would say something like that as having a concrete existence. That's metaphysics, not physics.
    Which was why I was unsure of where to put the question.

    Look people, I can hardly make hide nor hair of this.
    Einstein: "Ether and Relativity"
    On one hand Einstein believed that matter and spacetime are 2 manifestations of the same phenomenon.
    But he refused to
    give this phenomenon any fysical characteristics.
    I think that is why he could not find a valid hypothesis for his unified field theory he was looking for.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke
    Physics is a discipline that makes models of the world around us; ....
    I learned this term differently than you did. The way I learned how the term model was used in physics is as a simplified way of looking at something that's being studied. Consider the definition from Physics For Scientists and Engineers With Modern Physics: A Strategic Approach by Randall D. Knight (a wonderful text by the way!). From page 2
    A model is a simplified description of reality - much as a model of an airplane is a simplified version of a real airplane - that is used to reduce the complexity of a problem to the point where it can be analyzed and understood.
    Do you believe this is consistent with how you used it above? I'm curious about something. How would you define "model" as you used it? Thank you in advance.
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    Quote Originally Posted by physicist View Post
    Do you believe this is consistent with how you used it above? I'm curious about something. How would you define "model" as you used it?
    The exact same way as in your link - as a simplified description of reality. And yes, I think that is consistent with the way I used it. Why would you think it isn't ? Any scenario we examine in physics relies on vast simplifications, it is never possible/feasible/necessary to consider all factors that would be at play in the real world. For example, GR is a good model for gravitation, but it does not consider quantum effects, vacuum fluctuations, the minute friction caused by the presence of interstellar gases etc etc etc. As such, it is a simplified description that enables us to quantify and analyse a scenario. The same holds true for any other model of physics.

    In any case, this is how I understand physics - to provide descriptions of reality that are simplified enough to enable us to quantify, analyse and understand them.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke
    Why would you think it isn't ?
    Because I don't believe that your statement Physics is a discipline that makes models of the world around us; .... is consistent with that definition. E.g. one use of the term "model" would be the liquid drop model or the shell model in nuclear physics. They're simplified versions of the real nuclear physics to make nuclear physics easier to work with. Trying to apply the term "model" to all of physics makes no sense to me. So I guess I have my understanding and you have yours. They just don't agree. Thanks for describing what you meant. I appreciate it.
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    And then I run into something like this:

    Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live. ~Einstein
    ---------
    I think Markus is right on this one.
    Niels Bohr said "Physics is to be regarded not so much as the study of something a priori given, but rather as the development of methods of ordering and surveying human experience. In this respect our task must be to account for such experience in a manner independent of individual subjective judgement and therefore objective in the sense that it can be unambiguously communicated in ordinary human language."
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    I think there is not really anything "right" or "wrong" on this - it's just that I understand the term "model" slightly differently than physicist does. That may also be because English is not my first language, and in my mother tongue physics definitely is a collection of "models"
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    I think there is not really anything "right" or "wrong" on this -
    The wonderful world of physics has certain problems with it including terminology. When a term is used as if it has more the one meaning where it actually is only defined one way then people are using it wrong. When that happens the understanding slowly changes and eventually differs greatly from what it started as. E.g. I was very surprised recently when I saw an astrophysicist from John Hopkins University no less who said that light is energy rather than the proper statement that "light has energy. It gives a total misunderstanding of what energy really is. I'm sure you can think of other cases yourself. A friend of mine wrote something about this in 1975. I've always understood the term as I've described it and as Knight uses it. However if I made a mistake all those decades then I want to know about it!

    Thanks Markus!
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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    And then I run into something like this:

    Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live. ~Einstein
    So what did Einstein mean?
    I'm probably wrong here but I'm sure I read from, what I regarded as a reputable source, that, in one sense, time and space are constructs that allow us to make sense of reality. The writer, however, certainly did not imply space and time were simply products of the human mind, but put forward the notion these concepts may not, in "reality" be exactly the same as understood by humans.
    Could one could take Markus's point about the relationship between a map and the territory it depicts as a reflection of this?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Halliday View Post
    So what did Einstein mean?
    I'm probably wrong here but I'm sure I read from, what I regarded as a reputable source, that, in one sense, time and space are constructs that allow us to make sense of reality. The writer, however, certainly did not imply space and time were simply products of the human mind, but put forward the notion these concepts may not, in "reality" be exactly the same as understood by humans.
    Could one could take Markus's point about the relationship between a map and the territory it depicts as a reflection of this?
    Not just Einstein either.
    Here is a link to a page talking about it a bit.
    Gravity Probe B - Special & General Relativity Questions and Answers
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    Another interesting paper, although I can only understand this paragraph ..

    “Spacetime is the fairy tale of a classical manifold. It is irreconcilable with quantum effects in gravity and most likely, in a strict sense, it does not exist. But to dismiss a mythical being that has inspired generations just because it does not really exist is foolish. Rather it should be understood together with the story-tellers through whom and in whom the being exist. ”


    http://arxiv.org/pdf/1110.3837v2.pdf
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    Thank you Marcbo, I will have something to muddle my way through for a couple of months now.

    1. Introduction
    Spacetime is the fairy tale of a classical manifold. It is irreconcilable with quan-
    tum effects in gravity and most likely, in a strict sense, it does not exist. But to
    dismiss a mythical being that has inspired generations just because it does not re-
    ally exist is foolish. Rather it should be understood together with the story-tellers
    through whom and in whom the being exists.
    The story-tellers of spacetime are the physical fields. It is the interaction with
    fields that lets one believe that there was a spacetime in which particles of a field
    have propagated.
    Here, the fairy tale of classical spacetime will be uncritically retold again: no
    quantum effects will be considered and the result will be an ordinary manifold of
    Lorentzian signature. And yet it is not at all the same old story: the story-tellers,
    the fields are put into the place they deserve - at the centre of the matter.
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    Best of luck with it Dan. As I said, I can only understand the summary I posted .. and a bit of the bit you did ..
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