Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Language trappings and physics

  1. Aug 23, 2016 #1
    I am neither adept at philosophy nor physics, but in the "what is spacetime" thread I got the distinct impression that some people were letting language conventions, which are human-reason based, take precedence over physics, which is experience based.

    Link- https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/spacetime-what-is-it.862012/page-5

    My questions can be summed up thusly: the words "past", "present", and "future" were given their meaning based on incomplete information regarding the universe. When those ideas were created, fleshed out, whatever, the notion of a four dimensional spacetime was not yet conceived. No one had yet to preform a Michaelson-Morley experiment. "Mixed coordinates" the likes of which we see in the Lorentz transformation equations had yet to be shown to be accurate. Simultaneouneity had yet to be shown to be dependent upon reference frame.

    With all these completely new discoveries about the nature of space and time that were absolutely NOT part of the original formulations of the notions of past, present and future being added to our understanding because of observations we made of the universe, why do some of us insist on the primacy of the old notions of past, present and future?

    Those notions were completely defined BEFORE we gained greater insight into what space and time are. Isn't it more logical to assume that the flaw in description arrives from the assumption that language that was formed in ignorance of the universe should have preeminence over observed reality? As I said above, when the notions of past, present and future were originally fleshed out, they were done so in ignorance of the world around us.

    As far as I believe, if the language and the universe are in conflict, the flaw is in the language and it's time to adjust the meaning of words (or create new ones if that is too radical a thing for you).

    Anyone have any thoughts on this matter?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 23, 2016 #2
    It's hard enough to teach everyone the difference between your and you're; do you really think it's possible to get people to start using new words to describe the past, present, and future, especially given since the average person has no clue what relativity is?
  4. Aug 23, 2016 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Then you need to make an even louder complaint to the computer folks, because they have hijacked the words "bugs", "cookies", "nibbles", "Java", etc.

    In other words, what you described is not unique to physics. It is the common rule of the game when you want to go into any area in which the same words have different meanings.

    The problem here is that people pay way too much attention to the labels given to things, rather than understanding the underlying physics and unambiguous mathematical description.

  5. Aug 24, 2016 #4
    Maybe, but those are entirely novel uses of those words. Past still means the past in relativity. It just has a different context when it comes to spacetime.

    The reason I made the thread is because a poster was saying it was ludicrous to think of past and future as something that just "is," when the context was spacetime, which according to the experts in the thread does not evolve over time (since it's spacetime, not space). A given moment in the future or past is just a location in spacetime, correct?

    It's not really a novel usage of the words, just putting them into a larger framework.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted