Posts Tagged ‘space’

People talk about space as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.  But is it?

When one looks into the night sky, one is aware of a multitude of points of light.  Because were are able to separate these points of light into separate objects, we say there are spaces between them.  We go further ; we say that we can see the spaces.

But, suppose there were no stars in the sky?  Take them all away, and what would one see?  Nothing.

It seems that space is not an object that can be seen, heard, felt, smelt or tasted.

So, what is it?   It is something we infer by virtue of it’s being unavailable to our senses.   It is surely a product of our imagination.

Likewise for those unsensed things that people believe exist in space – atoms, electrons, quarks, fields of this and that.  All are products of human imagination – and often of highly trained imagination.

But is space, and all the invisibles that are in it, real?  I see no reason why not, although our understanding of them might need adjusting in the light of future disciplined imaginings.


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Genesis 2

What is it that drives us to seek answers to ultimate questions?  If ever we were to discover the answer to a question such as, What is the origin of life?  –  what difference would it make to our lives?  In our everyday lives of work and love, fishing and gardening, what would we be doing that is different from what we’re doing now?  I wonder why we have such big thoughts at all.

The origin of the universe is interesting.  The popular notion now is that it all began with a Big Bang.  But nobody has ever seen what it was that went bang and nobody knows why it went bang ; or how.  It is like a penny banger without a blue touch-paper.  In fact it is even more interesting than that.  For that original entity apparently contained all that was needed to create the entire universe, and yet it could have had no mass ; for mass requires at least two entities.  It contained nothing, and yet it contained everything.  It had no dimensions in either space or time. It was invisible in both the literal and figurative senses.

Even more fascinating is that there was no other being to observe it, either on the inside or the outside.  It was all alone.

Even now, there is no shred of scientific evidence that this singular object existed except in the mind of Man. Why ought we believe it ever existed?  Does it matter?


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My invitation to devise a little experiment with time is a good example of how ideas grow in the mind.  As I explained, the experiment has been done before ; and it was probably serendipitous.  Like most experiments, in itself it is of little moment ; but, like a small mustard seed, it has potential for growth provided it is planted in a fertile mind ; a mind that is regularly turned over and with lots of compost in it.

First, imagine the experiment to be done.  Imagine sitting  (with sandwiches and the Thermos) on a hillside that overlooks a winding country lane some way below ; the lane is hedged on both sides and there are trees here and there ; also you see fields, some arable, some meadow.  And, casting your gaze from left to right along the lane, you notice first a cottage, then a large oak a few hundred yards further on, and then further on a cow showing an intense interest in the lush grass in the verge – grass that it cannot reach.

With this glorious panorama in your mind, you then notice a man coming into view ; he is walking along the lane, entering from your left.  You wonder what he is doing there.  Clearly he is going somewhere.  He has a purpose.  Is he going to the cottage?  Is he intent on climbing the oak?  Does he have an appointment with the cow?  Or is he making his way along the entire length of the lane and out of your field of vision?  You don’t know, so you watch and wait.

You notice that, because of the hedges and bends in the lane, the man cannot see the cottage or the oak or the cow all at once.  He must encounter them one at a time.

He passes the cottage and looks at it.  You realise that, while he is able to see the cottage, it is in his present time ; but that, once he is out of sight of it,  then it is in his past time.  He can know the cottage only from his memory.  But – for you, the cottage is still in your present time.

When he reaches the oak, it enters into his present time from out of his future time.  But, again, for you, the oak had always been in your present time ; and it remains so even when it has entered his past time.

At this stage, of course, the cow is in his future time and he has no idea that it even exists, except as a possibility.  But you have all along known it to be there.

So, you see, this Time thing seem to be all about points of view.  And it seems to be bound up with Space.  A number of people in the nineteenth century pondered this experiment, and between them came up with some very interesting ideas.  But the question of space/time is far from settled, even today.

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It is not fashionable nowadays to speak of the Zeitgeist, that something that affects first the collective unconscious and then the collective conscious.  But, nevertheless, it does happen that periods occur when a particular idea seems to be infectious ; when the idea emerges from several people who seem to have no contact with each other.  The problem for Zeitgeist theorists is that it is tricky to establish whether or not the various people with the idea have indeed had contact.

The years from the lateish nineteenth century to about the mid-twentieth were interesting from many points of view.  Were Einstein’s opinions on Time entirely due to his own cogitations?  Or was he influenced (directly or indirectly) by such writers as Henry James and JM Barrie? or by such physicists as AN Whitehead?  Or the eighteenth century writer, Jean d’Alembert.  It is probably idle to speculate, though maybe somebody has already done the research.

There seems little doubt that Tolkien was influenced by other writers in his inspiration for his rivetting tales.  For the relation between Self and Space and Time is the key to his understanding of Middle Earth and those even older realms discovered (or revealed) in his various adventures.  And this understanding seems to have come, not exclusively, but principally from JW Dunne.  But, with Tolkien, we must be careful in our attributions, for he was a formidable scholar and he might well have derived his ideas first from the Old English literature.

At any rate, all these authors and others gave many people pause for thought on the natures of, and relations between, Self, Space and Time.  There was one nineteenth century author (not terribly well-known) who set up a nice little experiment to demonstrate our common ability to see through time – both backwards and forwards.  And what was most important about his experiment was its method rather than the results ; for this seems to have triggered the ideas of the later (and perhaps more sophisticated) thinkers on the subject.

The experiment requires a choice of location but no equipment ; and it can be done as a thought-experiment quite easily because it is so simple.  No precognitive dreams are needed, no mystics, no darkened rooms with incense.

And no deep meditations are needed, either ;  that comes later.

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Conventions bring us comfort, if only because they lend structure to the world we live in.  They provide us with points of reference with which to compare one event with another.  And it is these points of reference which make the ever-changing world relatively stable.

One of our major conventions concerns the physical world.  When, for example, our eyes tell us that we see two tree before us, one tall and the other short, we are curious to know whether the tree that appears to be short is really short, or whether it only appears to be short because it is further away.

We know much about space because we have followed up the apparent oddities of its appearance to us.  We feel that we know these apparent oddities well ; so now they are not often oddities at all, but conventional representations of the world.

We have developed fine measurements for space.  We know that we can locate an object in space by specifying just three measurements – length, breadth and height.  We call these the three dimensions of space.  And we can see along these dimensions at will.  We can see to the left and right of us ; we can see backwards and forwards of us ; and we can see above us and below.  And we can see as far as visibility allows.

We also know that time is related to space ; we even call it a dimension.  But there is something apparently mysterious about time : in the ordinary sense, we cannot see along it.  If we wish to know what lies earlier in time, we must rely on our memories for what once was.  If we wish to know what lies later than us, we must use our imaginations to guess what might come to pass.

Of course, a short discussion of space and time must necessarily leave many matters unsaid.  But it’s interesting to meditate on Time ; and to wonder why it is so mysterious to our senses.

Why can we move freely in the three dimensions of space, yet only move ‘forward’ in time?  Why can we move at almost any speed in space, yet be confined to a fixed speed in time?

Are we really constrained to these limitations in moving in time?  Or is it our conventions about time that hold us back?

It is in this context that such things as precognitive dreams are so interesting.  Perhaps we know more than we can say about time.

Timeless beauty

Timeless beauty

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