jump to navigation

Entropy and Time February 20, 2009

Posted by mcw5247 in Metaphysics, Philosophy of physics.
comments closed

The Second law of Thermodynamics states that a closed system will never decrease in entropy. That is to say, that the energy of a given system will never spontaniously increase. Ludwig Bolzmann worked with this idea as well as developing a statistical approach to describing how gas molecules interact within a closed container. From his work with this Boltzmann began developing his view on the arrow of time.

His ideas began with watching the gasses interact, and seeing that they always move to the highest entropy state given enough time. He stated that he believed time could only move in one direction, forward. His evidence for this was to give examples of what he called irreversible events, which are things such as air leaking from a baloon or a hot liquid cooling off at room temperature. These are events that always happen in one direction and never the other, and he claimed that this was a proof of how time could only flow forward.

From this idea, one can pose the question of how the universe can be sustaining an increase in entropy over a very long period of time. One response to this is the low entropy early universe, which is to say that shortly after the universe formed all of the matter within it was evenly distributed. This would have been a very low entropy state for the universe to be in and would thus allow for entropy to increase over a long period of time.

Through argument, Boltzmann later refined his ideas, and finally came to his entropy curve discussion. Here he said that it was possible for entropy to be a constant when looked at over a long enough period, and that we could merely be on a fluctuation of this where it appears to us that entropy always increases. This idea is disturbing however as many of our laws depend on how we currently view entropy.


Time Travel February 17, 2009

Posted by phillymb in Metaphysics, Philosophy of physics.
comments closed

Going along with Greg’s post on the topography of time, specifically the portion on Time Dilation, I will explore the mathematical possibility and philosophical implications of time travel in physics.

Who wouldn’t want to travel back to the past to see what life was like or peek into the future?  What sort of implications would this have?  The idea of time travel has entertained us for years from black and white TV shows like the Twilight Zone until now with shows like Lost.  However, from a physical perspective how would time travel be possible?

There are two ways to travel into another person’s future:

  1. Traveling at speeds >10% of the speed of light (https://planetparadigm.wordpress.com/2009/02/12/topography-of-time/)
  2. Taking advantage of an intense gravitational field (more…)

At What Point in Development do Humans Become Conscious?, Part 2: Differing Definitions of Consciousness February 16, 2009

Posted by ews8704 in Metaphysics, Philosophy of biology, Philosophy of mind.
comments closed

It’s been a while since my last post, and since then I’ve gotten some interesting comments (Yay!).Reaching

Tony mentioned that,  even if we are indeed conscious in the later stages of prenatal development, we aren’t  necessarily so in the earlier stages.  I agree; I don’t think anyone could argue that zygotes are conscious.  U.S. law, too,  differentiates between earlier and  later term abortions, with lawmakers and activists seeing 3rd trimester abortions as the most controversial.

Greg and Kyle suggested that consciousness doesn’t depend on memory. I also think they have a point-

One of my older relatives had a medical procedure done where the doctors stuck a tube with a small camera attached to it down his throat. The procedure was supposed to be horrifically uncomfortable, but the doctors needed him awake (conscious?),  in order to tell them if it was going down okay. So the doctors gave him a pill to make him completely forget the procedure. So my relative, to this day, has no idea what the surgery was like, although the doctors report he was very cooperative and helpful throughout.

I think our association of consciousness with memory comes from our experiences with passing out and falling asleep, when we truly do not remember what we were doing and what was happening around us.  Memory can also be helpful for us when we question when humans develop consciousness: If I can remember thinking, feeling, acting, and having a sense of self when I was, say, 5, at least I know  I was conscious by the age of 5, even if I wasn’t before then.

Dr. Brister pointed out that consciousness is sometimes defined as self-awareness, a trait that sets humans apart from other animals. Babies could be conscious of their surroundings, like many animals,  but not yet self-aware, unlike grown humans.  I want to include this in my discussion of differing definitions of consciousness.

Thanks everyone! Now here’s where my post gets weird…


Are There Laws in the Social Sciences? February 11, 2009

Posted by Tony Perrone in Metaphysics, Social science.
Tags: , , , , , ,
comments closed

Forget God, I wanted to play Popper for a bit. That’s right, I wanted to denounce any claim of Marx or Freud being scientists in the name of pure, beautiful physics.

Surely to question the existence of laws in the social sciences is to dredge up the demarcation issue, for is it not the presence of laws that makes physics so elegant and clean? But in my zealous fervor I hit the stopping block that has ever been the bane of philosophers and logicians attempting to find universality: Language.

Just because I was being selfish and closed minded, doesn’t mean I was going to slack in my diligence. I started at the beginning, where any good thought-experiment lab rat should; I asked, “Well, what is a law anyway?” It seems a simple question – we toss the word around daily the way sailors swear – but as is so often the case, a common and well “understood” term seems elusive in a strict definition. Try and consider it in a philosophical sense and, well, I go through a lot of aspirin.

Wiser men than I have approached this subject. I recall quoting Harold Kincaid and John T. Roberts, who made good arguments for and against (respectively) laws in the social sciences. Fantastic as both of their writing was, why not loosen things up a bit here. This is a blog, not a classroom, and I’m certain that if I bore you all to hell you’re just going to give up and surf Facebook anyway (and that is a social law), so let’s shoot from the hip, shall we?

Here’s definition looser than Jared’s old jeans: laws are generalities. Great, but that won’t even get you a sandwich. So, let’s narrow it further, shall we? One might say that laws have explanatory and predictive value. This is fantastic because it gives laws utility, without which many of you won’t give a hoot about the avalanche of words to follow. This tastefully ambiguous definition seems to stand up to most of the available scrutiny out there, and makes for a good basis to continue.

Consider the following: what if laws have to be universal and robust? Crap. This is the mater over which talkative folk start to polarize. We might say that the social sciences fail in these respects, what with their unrelenting string of exceptions and purposefully non-universal explanations. It would seem that the so-called social “scientists” can’t quite get their theories to play nicely together, or even keep them alive for more than a century or so.

Conversely, one might say that our ugly social laws just don’t seem universal or robust because we are having a hard time getting all of the data and accounting for all of the relevant variables. In fact, as long as we’re finger-pointing here, this school of thought could actually drag out a host of examples of “natural” science falling short in robustness and universality. That’s right, stick it to Newton and then go hang out with your global warming buddies; their data sucks, too, they’ll understand your pain.

Adding confusion to the mix, Roberts said that explanatory and predictive value doesn’t stem from universality and robustness. Thus, though social science might not have laws, it doesn’t need laws. Take that, laws! Elitist jerks.

When it comes down to it, though, calling something a law is just a social construction. I don’t particularly believe that theories or ideas can be put into discreet categories, nor should they. I would as readily use Newton’s Rad Idea About Inertia as I would his “Second Law”. The title of law only brings weight when scientists are talking about science, not when they’re doing science. Perhaps it would be more useful, then, to call things more-or-less lawlike than one another, since everything’s being put into relativistic terms anyway.

Getting back to social sciences, though, I pose the question of how well they can predict phenomena. Is society and humanity as predictable as the path of a projectile? (Chaos Theorists: Shut up, I asked if it was as predictable, not perfectly predictable.) If so, does this finally put a stomping end to the determinism question posed by our snooty friends the metaphysicians? Is free will that last, most unpredictable variable in the social scientific model, accountable only in terms of statistical probabilities? Are quantum states a reflection of the free will of sub-atomic particles? Will I ever end this grueling and unnecessarily snarky blog post?






Roberts, John T. “There are no Laws of the Social Sciences” Contemporary debates in philosophy of science. 2004, Blackwell Publishing, pp. 151 – 167

Kincaid, Harold “There are Laws in the Social Sciences” Contemporary debates in philosophy of science. 2004, Blackwell Publishing, pp. 168 – 185 

Special thanks to Wikipedia, the sole source of New Media in this writing.


Chaos Theory January 29, 2009

Posted by pjd4891 in Mathematics, Metaphysics.
comments closed
Parker Doelger and Peter Talarico
Chaos Theory's Mascot

Chaos Theory's Mascot

In today’s class, we discussed how fluid dynamics is not researched thoroughly even though it is one of the most important fields. It is applicable for a wide variety of disciplines. Ocean flow could be mapped more accurately, which has a direct correlation to world temperature, air flow, and pressure. Turbulence has chaotic properties. Since turbulence is so chaotic, can we even accurately map ocean flow?



The Coastline Problem

The Coastline Problem was formulated by Mandelbrot in the 1960’s.  We discussed this in class.  If you keep zooming into the coastline, the length will approach infinity.  As you zoom in, the coastline appears more jagged, because you are focusing on smaller and smaller particles.  What is the smallest particle we can focus on?  Is there anything smaller than a quark? Chaos theory says you cannot have infinite accuracy, so the must be something smaller than a quark.

The Fractal Fern

The Fractal Fern

These fractal examples appear chaotic, but when you make a small change (zooming in), it shows massive changes.

Wikipedia defines a fractal as:

The Julia set is an interesting example as well:
Julia Set

We discussed that chaos theory states that we cannot accurately understand the universe.  Chaos theory questions science at the core.  Since we cannot make accurate predictions, what is the goal of science?  How can we achieve the goal of science?

All through school, we are taught simplified versions of natural events.  I do not believe that mathematical functions exist for all natural events.  I think we can get closely model the flow of the ocean, but not completely accurately.  There will always be factors that we will have no way of predicting or testing.  Life is not supposed to be predicted and science tries to do just this. It tries to rid human lives of emotion in order to give an objective view of how the world works. While science has shown progress throughout time it may be progressing towards something that may not be the correct answer. But then this also gets into the problem with the idea of what is correct and what isn’t. I think science has no self analytical skills in certain circumstances and that it may not see the error of its ways.