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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Death: Metaphysics II

While in college, I wrote a paper about the unity of space and time. The idea is that time is just a dimension like width, length, and height. Duration is not different than displacement. The obvious challenge is that time sure seems different. But perhaps, college student JimII continued, time only seems different because we are human. Our powers of perceiving spatially are limited to three dimensions, thus in order to experience everything around us, we experience it as a sequence. Perhaps motion, cause-effect, all of it is a human construct. You do lose free will, though not the perception of free will, but still a downer.

I've fiddled with this stuff every once in a while. I've come back to it several times during this period when my life has been so touched by death. I find it strangely comforting. I think because it suggests that the past is real. That the idea of time passing away, is just a convention, like the idea that the earth is motionless. Sure, you have to live your life assuming the earth is motionless and fixed, but it really is not.

It also feels kind of juvenile to find comfort in such things. But, I don't guess it makes sense to judge what brings us comfort. We judge also most everything we do: our work, how we spend our money, how we raise our children, work on our marriage, how we eat. Seeking comfort should probably be done without judgment.

1 comment:

Matlatzinca said...

I disagree that it is juvenile to find comfort in this realization. I think it is a profound and more mature source of comfort. As a physicist you can appreciate the fact that all matter/energy in the universe has been here for about 15 billion years, and will be here for about another 15 or so billion years (maybe more? we'll see). That we are all made of star stuff and will return to star stuff is a sublime and comforting thought. It is beautiful in a fractal way, because the more you zoom in, the more you realize we are all the same energy/matter, just being uniquely rearranged at different times. The time dimension has that neat symmetry to it that you can see in the other dimensions in fractal renderings of benoit algorithms, mountains, clouds, lung capillaries and tree branches.