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Objectivism holds the view that space is a relational concept, not an entity in its own right. That it denotes a relationship among entities, but is not an entity itself.

General Relativity claims that space is a real entity that can curve, and warp, and bend. Science even claims that galaxies and such do not expand away from each other, but rather space itself expands and the galaxies and such are stationary and only along for the ride, so to speak.

How does Objectivism reconcile this conflict?

asked Feb 10 '14 at 16:28

KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image


edited Feb 11 '14 at 00:08

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Where does General Relativity claim that space "is a real entity" as opposed to a relational concept?

I'd be quite surprised if there was a quote from Einstein saying that. It is upon reading Einstein that I was originally convinced that space and time are relationships and not entities.

(Feb 10 '14 at 18:13) anthony anthony's gravatar image

http://www.hawking.org.uk/space-and-time-warps.html "Thus one can think of space and time together, as a four-dimensional entity, called space-time. http://www.gmarts.org/index.php?go=423 "that this geometry revealed the true nature of space as an entity in itself, leading to the nature of spacetime as the basis of our universe." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introduction_to_general_relativity " The basic entity of this new geometry is four-dimensional spacetime"

(Feb 10 '14 at 18:29) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

@Anthony Also, how else would space itself be able to warp and curve and bend. Abstractions can't warp or curve. Only that which is physical can.

(Feb 10 '14 at 18:30) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

Wikipedia? Seriously?

If the question is how Objectivism reconciles that Wikipedia claims that space is a real entity with the fact that space is a relational concept... Well I don't know how Objectivism does it but I'd reconcile it by making fun of Wikipedia.

As far as the quote from Hawking, it begins with the answer: "Thus one can think of..." Yes, we can think of space and time as an entity. And we can carry on this metaphor to say that it warps and curves and bends.

Then again, maybe Hawking actually believes that space and time are not relational concepts. If so, he's wrong.

(Feb 10 '14 at 18:42) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Again, is the question whether "General Relativity" refutes Objectivism, or whether Hawking or Wikipedia or some physics professor or someone else does? To simultaneously hold that space is relative and that space is an entity (as opposed to a relationship), one would have to believe in subjective reality. I'm sure some people do believe that, but GR doesn't impose that.

"Abstractions can't warp or curve."

So are magnetic fields entities, and not abstractions, or do they not warp and curve? Is a semi-circle not an abstraction, or does it not curve?

Sure abstractions can warp or curve.

(Feb 10 '14 at 18:46) anthony anthony's gravatar image

@Anthony I gave three, not two. Wikipedia, Gsmarts and hawking.org. Also, Wikipedia is an amazing resource and one the most beautiful things "blessed" upon mankind. I also take umbrage at people who snark and snot at Wikipedia. It reeks of elitism. And as I know only too well, many, many websites use Wikipedia as a citation or reference. An amazing amount. Physicists at Physics stack exchange often do so. They use quality standards and citation resources often with references and such.

(Feb 10 '14 at 18:56) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

@Anthony Magnetic fields are mathematical descriptions of electric currents or magnetized forces. Semi circles are mathematical abstractions. Abstractions do not exist in reality.

"Sure abstractions can warp and curve"

I'm talking about in reality.

(Feb 10 '14 at 19:02) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

"GM Arts", not "Gsmarts".

(Feb 11 '14 at 17:03) anthony anthony's gravatar image

There isn't an "Objectivist view of space." Objectivism is not about conjuring up armchair theories of physics (or any other specialized science). Next question.

(Feb 17 '14 at 22:00) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image
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Objectivism holds the view that space is a relational concept, not an entity in its own right. That it denotes a relationship among entities, but is not an entity itself.

Judging by the excerpts in the topic of "Space" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, this characterization of Objectivism appears to be correct.

However, it is not beyond the province of philosophy to challenge any of the special sciences (including physics) on epistemological grounds. There can, indeed, be a fundamental conflict between a philosophy such as Objectivism and the claims and methods of the special sciences. Far from concluding that a special science is correct and Objectivism is wrong, it may indicate instead that a special science does not fully integrate all the relevant evidence, as adherence to reason and reality demand.

The literature of Objectivism says very little specifically about Einstein's theories. By far the most detailed discussion I know of appears in Leonard Peikoff's book, The DIM Hypothesis, Chapter 6 (pp. 115-120). The discussion explains that Einstein relied on deduction from an a priori premise, namely, the "light axiom" (constancy of the speed of light for all observers):

[Einstein] seeks no physical explanation for this fact [about light], and offers for it no empirical basis. He does not even invoke the groundbreaking 1887 experiments on light performed by Michelson and Morley. His method of validating the axiom is to relate it not to fact, but to other ideas, and he does this in essence by consulting aesthetic criteria [such as mathematical elegance]....

... we see Einstein using the method of deduction from a priori axioms.... [For Einstein] such deduction is man's means to discover the very existence of physical reality and also to correct the deceptive appearances that seduce us on the purely observational level.

Combining special relativity with the classical legacy in physics, Einstein went on to deduce an extension of his theory; by applying it to accelerating frames of reference, he reached general relativity, which deals with gravity. The new theory subsumed the earlier, which was now merely one of its instances.

... gravitational attraction for Einstein is not in essence physical. Newton was wrong to think that there is a force of gravity pulling things this way and that, he says. Rather, gravitation results from an interaction between the two constituents making up Nature: matter and space. Combining Newton's observation-based laws with a set of a priori mathematical equations, Einstein deduces that space is not characterless, as Aristotle had held, nor the same everywhere, as Newton had held. Instead, space has a geometrical (curved) structure, which both affects the movement of matter and is affected by it.... Space in Einstein's sense is not reducible to relationships among physical objects; it is not a sum of places; it is a purely geometrical entity, a form of mathematics.... For Newton, to explain an event is to discover its physical cause. For Einstein, to explain an event is to discover its equations.

This, of course, is not a presentation of an "Objectivist view" of space. Rather, it is an evaluation of various leading theories in physics from the point of view of their use (or misuse) of integration, with proper integration as the essence of a valid, knowledge-producing cognitive methodology. The book evaluates Newton as the leader (along with Aristotle in the ancient Greek era), Einstein as good in many respects but fundamentally misintegrated in part due to his reliance on deduction from a priori premises, and more modern views of physics as far worse in their misintegration and/or outright disintegration.

Objectivism's criticisms of physics deal with the fundamental premises of physics (and all the special sciences). Just as philosophy cannot be a substitute for physics, neither can physics be a substitute for philosophy. Only a proper (fully rational) philosophy can establish the fundamental presuppositions that make all the special sciences possible. Here are two further samplings of the kinds of issues that philosophy deals with at the foundations of the special sciences.

  • From Leonard Peikoff's article, "Assault from the Ivory Tower: The Professors' War against America," published in VOR Chap. 19, p. 189:
[T]he latest scientific discoveries, we are told regularly, invalidate everything we thought we once knew, and prove that reality is inaccessible to our minds. If so, one might ask, what is it that scientists are studying? If we can know nothing, how did Einstein arrive at his discoveries and how do we know that they are right? And if certainty is unattainable and inconceivable, how can we decide how close we are to it, which is what a probability estimate is? But it is no use asking such questions, because the cause of modern skepticism is not Einstein or any scientific discoveries.
  • From a 1963 letter from Ayn Rand to a fan in Letters of Ayn Rand, p. 613:
You will find very little rationality in modern philosophy, which is dominated by a revolt against reason. You should be on guard against the influence of modern philosophy which leads you to write such a contradictory sentence as "Einstein's Theory of Relativity does question the objectivity of knowledge." If it does, it would invalidate all theories, including itself; and if so, by what means would you validate it or regard it as knowledge?

But in fact, Einstein's theory does nothing of the kind. Einstein himself objected to the unwarranted distortions of his purely scientific theories by the philosophizing of scientifically ignorant popularizers.

Again, Objectivism cannot replace physics, nor can physics replace physicists' own inescapable philosophical presuppositions about reality and reason.

answered Feb 18 '14 at 03:12

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

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Asked: Feb 10 '14 at 16:28

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Last updated: Feb 18 '14 at 03:12