Philosophic Noodling (was Re: Internet Health)

Eric Wald eswald at
Sat Oct 9 18:24:27 MDT 2010

On Wed, Oct 6, Levi Pearson wrote:
> On Wed, Oct 6, 2010 at 7:35 AM, Michael Torrie <torriem at> wrote:
>> Just as long as no one goes around calling it the "fourth dimension"
>> which it clearly is not.
> It clearly is the fourth dimension of the equations governing
> spacetime.  My point that followed this bit was explaining that the
> word "dimension", at least in a sophisticated discussion of physics,
> does not imply that we are discussing spatial attributes.  I agree
> with you that the spatial attributes are fundamentally different from
> time, but all four of them are integral parts of the spacetime
> equations, which describe almost every physical phenomenon we can
> measure to a very high degree of accuracy.  Time is indeed the fourth
> dimension of spacetime, it's just a different *kind* of dimension than
> the spatial ones.

I've always been curious about the way it seems to be imaginary in those
equations.  That is, the square of time is subtracted, where the spatial
dimensions are each added, implying that the scaling factor is ic
instead of just c.

>> Yes you did.  But I wanted to point out that Science also questions the
>> "reality" of time.
> Science questions just about everything, which is the whole point of
> science.  What we get from science is not so much a bunch of facts
> about the way things "really" are, but instead a bunch of models that
> describe how things observably behave.  When you ask whether something
> is "real" or not in the sense we've been discussing, you have moved
> beyond what science can tell you and into philosophy, which tries to
> answer the "why" questions to the "what" and "how" that we get from
> scientific models.  It isn't physics, it's metaphysics.  But
> scientists like to engage in metaphysics as well as physics, because
> it's fun to speculate about the "real" nature of the universe. :)

The "why" questions are also where religion can comfortably take over,
because they can never be falsified.

- Eric

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