I explore the application of the “no-go” theorems of quantum mechanics to the problem of the openness of the future. The notion of fatalism can be made precise if we think of it as a claim that the future has a Boolean property structure. However, if this is correct, then it may be the case that by the “no-go” theorems of quantum mechanics the future must be at least partially open in the precise sense that there cannot be a fact (...) of the matter at a given time about some events at later times. (shrink)
In Books V – VII of the Republic we are presented with a picture of knowledge as something entirely distinct from right opinion, and we have described to us a method called dialectic by means of which a suitably endowed person may attain to this knowledge. By knowledge, Plato means knowledge of the forms, although it is far from clear what this really means. And it is also not clear exactly what he means by dialectic, or how it is that (...) dialectic leads to this special sort of knowledge. The key passage, 511b – d, is surely one of the most cryptic passages in philosophical literature, maddening in its suggestiveness. In my talk today I want to risk presenting an interpretation of what Plato might have meant by all of this, and also briefly allude to its broader significance. My key points are these: Dialectic is not just the art of friendly conversation , but a dialogue carried out in a particular way, with a particular end in mind. Plato seemed to want to believe that knowledge of the Forms would allow certain, or necessary analogical reasoning, even though he was uneasy about the obvious impracticability of such a scheme. Problems to be encountered in Plato’s theory of knowledge are indicative of the unresolved tension between the mystical and the rational which existed in Greek thought at this time. Now, the obvious question which strikes the beginner, when he first hears of this notion of dialectic, is, how can mere conversation or debate lead to certain knowledge of the transcendental patterns after which the world is fashioned? It would be very unusual, to say the least, to expect such a remarkable conclusion to any familiar sort of dialectic, such as might, for instance, occur in this seminar room. In fact, it is rare that a philosophical debate (as opposed to a monologue!) comes to any sort of conclusion at all. For instance, we have before us as models.. (shrink)
Is the human species itself the ultimate Untenable Absurdity? This paper will be a serious (for which I apologize) but rambling philosophical reflection on the grim prospects for our species in the face of peak oil, climate change, warfare, overpopulation, and other looming ecological catastrophes.
The purpose of this paper is to pick up the threads of a debate about the ontology of becoming in spacetime that was triggered by a provocative article published by Nicholas Maxwell in 1985. This debate is itself merely a recent episode in a long dialogue that goes back at least as far as the time of Parmenides and Heraclitus (Savitt 2001). Here is the question around which this debate centres: is change or becoming the distinguishing feature of the (...) natural or physical world, as suggested obscurely by Heraclitus and argued at length by Aristotle? (See Robinson 1987, Furley 1967, and Aristotle’s Physics, in, e.g., McKeon 1941.) Or is our usual uncritical belief in the reality of change the product of some sort of perceptual illusion or intellectual error, as believed by Parmenides and a small host of recent authors such as Gödel (1949) and Julian Barbour (2002)? I won’t be able to solve the whole of this momentous problem here. However, I intend both to set aside a few unwarranted assumptions which have for a long time dogged our thinking about the puzzle of becoming, and to assemble some tools which should aid in finding a solution to it. In particular, I will argue that we can do much better than is usually supposed in identifying structures which can both “live” within Minkowski spacetime and represent objective becoming. I shall also discuss whether such structures would necessarily contradict the Principle.. (shrink)
There are a lot of expressions of pessimism these days about whether we can save the environment — and thereby ourselves. Some of this pessimism is self-serving, but most of it is quite genuine. People look at the trends, and they despair — or else go into denial. And those who despair will almost invariably point to one factor above all others — the threat of overpopulation. No matter whether we recycle all our waste, switch entirely to non-polluting energy sources, (...) sponge the skies of CFCs and greenhouse emissions, turn the deserts into gardens, and save the rainforests and the poor whales, all these gains will be washed away, these people say, by a surging tide of hungry hominids. My topic today, therefore, is the population boom. I want to consider the following question: is it inevitable that humanity must overwhelm itself in hungry babies? And I shall argue that the answer is a firm no — that while it is possible, and maybe even probable, that this catastrophe will happen, it is not inevitable. First, let’s take a clear-eyed look at some worrisome numbers, so that no one can say we are ignoring the facts. The world population clock has recently clicked over the six billion mark. I myself remember when it passed three billion. That was back around the time when the Beatles were driving teenie-boppers into hysterics; not all that long ago, really. We are currently adding nearly 90 million new hungry mouths every year, roughly three Canadas. Try to imagine the consequences if 90 million immigrants showed up at our borders in one year. In fact, the rate of increase has slowed down a little bit since the sixties and early seventies. Demographic experts are desperately trying to project on the basis of current trends, but the best they can do is to guess that world population will level out around ten billions or so, roughly around 2050. Will we all breathe a sigh of relief at that point, convinced that we have dodged the bullet? The problem is, of course, that it is not clear that we can continue, much longer, to provide even for the present world population, let alone a few billions more, given our current, highly wasteful methods of land use and resource extraction.. (shrink)
It seems to me that it is among the most sure-footed of quantum physicists, those who have it in their bones, that one finds the greatest impatience with the idea that the ‘foundations of quantum mechanics’ might need some attention. Knowing what is right by instinct, they can become a little impatient with nitpicking distinctions between theorems and assumptions. —John Stewart Bell [4, p. 33].
The most pressing problems facing humanity today - over-population, energy shortages, climate change, soil erosion, species extinctions, the risk of epidemic disease, the threat of warfare that could destroy all the hard-won gains of civilization, and even the recent fibrillations of the stock market - are all ecological or have a large ecological component. in this volume philosophers turn their attention to understanding the science of ecology and its huge implications for the human project. To get the application of ecology (...) to policy or other practical concerns right, humanity needs a clear and disinterested philosophical understanding of ecology which can help identify the practical lessons of science. Conversely, the urgent practical demands humanity faces today cannot help but direct scientific and philosophical investigation toward the basis of those ecological challenges that threaten human survival. This book will help to fuel the timely renaissance of interest in philosophy of ecology that is now occurring in the philosophical profession. Provides a bridge between philosophy and current scientific findings Covers theory and applications Encourages multi-disciplinary dialogue. (shrink)
The twilight of certainty -- Einstein and light -- The Bohr atom and old quantum theory -- Uncertain synthesis -- Dualities -- Elements of physical reality -- Creation and annihilation -- Quantum mechanics goes to work -- Symmetries and resonances -- "The most profound discovery of science" -- Bits, qubits, and the ultimate computer -- Unfinished. business.
It has now been nearly 25 years since Richard Routley (1973) argued persuasively, at the 15th World Congress of Philosophy, that we can discern a need for a “new, an environmental, ethic.” And yet, students of environmental ethics still sometimes feel that we have to defend our discipline as serious philosophy. My purpose here is to revisit, from a somewhat different direction, the ground covered by Routley, and argue that environmental philosophy (which I consider to be a broader enterprise than (...) the ethics that flows out of it) is not “pop” metaphysics or a trivial branch of applied ethics, but something that, if done well, could be a whole new approach to philosophy ⎯ one which could revitalize our discipline and re-establish its relevance in a troubled time when nothing might be more valuable for humanity than a careful rethinking of first principles. (shrink)
I present a thought experiment in quantum mechanics and tease out some of its implications for the doctrine of “peaceful coexistence”, which, following Shimony, I take to be the proposition that quantum mechanics does not force us to revise or abandon the relativistic picture of causality. I criticize the standard arguments in favour of peaceful coexistence on the grounds that they are question-begging, and suggest that the breakdown of Lorentz-invariant relativity as a principle theory would be a natural development, given (...) the general trend of physics in this century. (shrink)
It is generally believed that an invariant notion of a global present or "Now" cannot be defined in special relativity, because of the relativity of optical simultaneity. I argue that this may be a non sequitur since it is not necessarily the case that the psychological "Now" should be thought of as associated with constant time slices in spacetime. By considering a science fictional version of the Twin Paradox due to Robert A. Heinlein, I argue that it is psychologically plausible (...) to associate the common specious present of several observers in relative motion with certain hypersurfaces of proper time of those observers corrected for acceleration history and relative motion in an obvious way. If this is correct then the relativity of optical simultaneity may be simply irrelevant to the question of the relativity of a globally distinguished "present". (shrink)