To me, the first of January is always a write-off. Nothing productive ever happens. It exists among the days of hangovers and jetlag. But now it is the day after the first, and it is now (as it was yesterday) 2012, and that means it is the perfect time to discuss, well, time. And there have been quite a few timely stories lately, from Samoa and Tokelau going back to the future, to the growing schism between international time and astronomical time. Even the Royal Society has some choice words on tricky temporal travails. And, resolutions aside, I’m going to attempt to be timely myself, and make this a rather short post. I want to share a few thoughts and links about the commercialization of time.
Of course, time is involved in many non-trivial ways in our daily life: the flow and change of seasons that signalled times of growth and harvest; the rotations of the sun that marked out the day’s working hours; the shivers of tide that allow for the gathering of molluscs, and so on. There is a strain of philosophy, particular the early Phenomenologists, that assert that such relationships to time are primordial, originary. These initial demarcations of time and change are what allow our mind to grasp a hold on the concept, to bring it to the rarefied reaches of reason, and to gain a measure of control over it. This is a rich field of thought, but I want to make just a few remarks about one aspect of this control: when time becomes part of – a tool, even – of our commercial and economic spheres.
I once read a quote by John Cottingham, a philosopher famous in the field, and perhaps out of the field, of philosophy, about philosophy and the meaning of life. To paraphrase, it went something like; “People are often drawn to philosophy to find answers to the big questions. If someone finds themselves reading philosophy hoping to find an answer to the question “What is the meaning of life?”, they will most likely be sorely disappointed.” I would have to agree.
It is this thought people should have in mind when reading about immortality and what philosophy may have to say about it. Philosophy does from time to time discuss the subject, though usually this discussion is about the morality of such a concept, rather than the ability to actually achieve it. Continue reading “Achieving Immortality.”
It has long been thought that the universe is spatially symmetric with respect to its fundamental physical properties. Cosmologists relying on data from different regions of the sky (collected from different hemispheres or during different seasons) have always arrived at similar conclusions about the general features of the universe. But new research indicates the universe might not be so symmetric after all.
If you haven’t seenInception, the latest movie spectacle written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan, then find the largest cinema screen that you can, book your ticket, and read this blog entry after you’ve watched it because I’d hate to spoil the plot. If you’re still reading I’ll assume you’ve seen this visual extravaganza that tells the story of a team of individuals who are enlisted to plant an idea in the mind of the heir to a gargantuan business empire. The film tracks the team as they collectively make their way through different layers of the sub-conscious, battling various sub-conscious defense mechanisms, and adapting to radical changes in physical laws amongst other conditions that also helpfully make room for some stunning visual effects.
In Inception the plot is split amongst several layers of the subconscious and the deeper the characters go into the subconscious the quicker the experience of time. For example five minutes of real-time asleep may be experienced in a subconscious state as an hour of elapsed time. In our own cinema experience we are in the theatre for a couple of hours and yet somehow we can track days, months, and even years of narrative time (and in the case of Inception we can even track nested temporal orders). Just how we accomplish this is one question in the philosophy of film. Continue reading “Cinematic Narration and Inception”
You probably know that traveling back in time to kill your grandfather is not only unethical, it’s also prohibited by the laws of nature. This isn’t because the laws prohibit travel to the past (in fact, there are several speculative models of current physics that allow for it) but because killing someone who fathered your father means you aren’t born (and thus not in a position to travel back in time and do the dirty deed). What you may not know is why this restriction on your action seems especially onerous. In a recent Discover article, CalTech physicist Sean Carroll argues that the difference can be explained by an appeal to boundary conditions.
When the universe was newborn (just a couple of microseconds old) it displayed a handedness, or chirality, that, according to a recent article in Science, physicists are finally able to reproduce in the laboratory. Dmitri Kharzeev and his team at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory noticed that the strong force behaves differently when things get hot enough. At temperatures of four trillion degrees Celsius—the hottest temperature ever measured in a lab—protons and neutrons, smashed out of gold nuclei, turn into a flowing plasma of quarks and gluons. The plasma, which behaves like a liquid, seems not to be mirror symmetric. Continue reading “A Chiral Universe”
If you’re curious about the particular coloring pattern on a puffin, say, you can just go and look at one (or look at a photo someone else took of one). If, however, you’re curious, not about a puffin, but about Anchiornis huxleyi, a small, flying dinosaur that lived between 160 and 155 million years ago (and you don’t happen to be a scientist in the movie, Jurassic Park) things are not so easy. Paleontologists who study dinosaurs that have been extinct for millions of years are at quite an evidential disadvantage. They have to base their theories on traces of dinosaurs, such as fossilized bones, footprints and feathers.
David Lewis argues that past events leave multifarious traces which radiate outward, like the ripples in a pond. David Albert argues that we know such traces are reliable records because the universe Continue reading “Traces of Dinosaurs”