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Dimension, Temperature & Time: Semantically Misleading?

  1. Jun 10, 2014 #1
    We can only engage in discussion of physics through the interface of semantics and -more broadly- linguistics as a whole. No-one has yet devised a method to relate in complete and accurate detail physical phenomenon via mathematical notation alone. Terms have to be given a human understanding and notions defined.

    Re the generally accepted meanings attached to the three above-mentioned terms, is it not more appropriate at a fundamental descriptive level to talk of:

    Dimension: "parameter" instead of the syfy-ish term "dimension". The constant reference to the time dimension and extra dimensions is to my mind much more palatable and less mind-numbing if we simply talk of "parameter" for anything but the 3 spatial dimensions.

    Temperature: "speed" (of massive particles composing a gas/plasma/atoms/molecules) instead of "temperature". I have always found it over-hyped to hear physicists talk of phenomenon in the millions/billions of degrees C like cheap newsmen whenever they talk of HEP and cosmology.

    Time: "relative motion" instead of "time". Time in the absolute cannot be measured independently of motion...time is observed motion, related to a chosen, reference motion. Time is a relative term, not an absolute one.

    "Time" to my mind is the most persistent and misleading term of all and demonstrates the predominance of our language instinct over observation. The term time is so ingrained in our conscience and language ("time" is the number one most common noun in the English language, "year" is second and "day" is fifth) that most laymen actually believe that time has some ethereal, quasi-mystical self-contained existence of its own, somehow driving all other physical phenomenon we observe.

    Shouldn't physicists do something to try to rectify these warped semantics of the lay public instead of contributing to them?

    Last edited: Jun 10, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 10, 2014 #2


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    Yes, consistent, accurate and useful definitions are important to understanding physics. So...
    No, altering a physics definition/term because a term is misused in sci-fi is a really terrible reason.
    No, temperature isn't speed, it is (average) kinetic energy. Not sure what that has to do with hype though.
    No, time isn't motion, even if it is often measured via or used to measure motion. And it can be measured without motion, for example by counting radioactive particle decays.
    No: time is relative. Definitions of terms must be absolute.
    Absolutely not. Quite the contrary, you should endeavour to correct your understanding of physics, not endeavour to change physics to match your incorrect understanding.
  4. Jun 10, 2014 #3


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    Well, I'm perfectly happy with dimensions ... the concept is well defined mathematically, e.g., vector spaces; and time is a fundamental and intuitive concept which is certainly a dimension in the mathematical treatments of special and general relativity.

    Temperature is a fundamental concept in thermodynamics.

    I doubt your argument, such as it is, will be attractive to working physicists, mathematicians, or engineers ... anyone who uses these terms in their technical meanings.

    Nor will it be appreciated be the lay population, for it goes against the everyday sense of the common terminology as used today, I doubt that the average person prefers parameter to dimension!
  5. Jun 10, 2014 #4


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    It's not clear why you think 'time' is somehow misleading, or even how it is 'misleading'. After all, we regulate many of our daily activities according to the time of day or how long we wish to spend engaged in that activity.

    What the lay public chooses to believe or not believe is up to them. If a scientist wishes to devote a portion of his time to educating the public, as many have done thru the years, fine.

    If a layman wishes to become better informed about science and scientific matters, there are any number of books, videos, or other means by which he can educate himself. It's not as if scientists are magically endowed with scientific knowledge; they had to study and work hard to acquire this knowledge in the first place.
  6. Jun 10, 2014 #5
    No. Once you obtain a better understanding of Physics you'll understand why these concepts are silly. All of them are already well definend. You wouldn't change a definition just because you don't understand the meaning of a word.

    No offense, but you appear to be the layman here. This post reads like a rambling by someone attempting to sound intelligent and who wishes to make changes to things that he/she doesn't fully understand.
  7. Jun 10, 2014 #6

    D H

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    Parameter is a very generic term. A constant is a parameter. So is a variable. Just because bad sci-fi has misused the term dimension doesn't mean we should abandon it. Looking at time as a dimension, but a rather different dimension that the spacial dimensions, is critical to understanding relativity. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's incorrect.

    No, temperature is not speed. It's not even the random component of velocity. Put a tank containing gaseous hydrogen in thermal content with a tank containing gaseous xenon. Eventually, the tanks and the gases within them will achieve thermal equilibrium (i.e., at a common temperature). The average speed of the hydrogen molecules will be about 5.3 times that of the average speed of the xenon atoms. Temperature is not energy, either. A block of ice at 0°C has considerably less energy than does the same quantity of water at 0°C. Temperature is a thing in and of itself.

    Why do people post such nonsense? Time is what an ideal clock measures, and one can construct a clock with no moving parts.

    Thread closed.
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