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The Quantum of Continuity

Uploaded by palma on Oct 05, 2000

http://philosophos.tripod.com


The problem of continuum versus discreteness seems to be related to the issue of infinity and finiteness. The number of points in a line served as the logical floodgate which led to the development of Set Theory by Cantor at the end of the 19th century. It took almost another century to demonstrate the problematic nature of some of Cantor's thinking (Cohen completed Godel's work in 1963). But continuity can be finite and the connection is, most times, misleading rather than illuminating.

Intuition tells us that the world is continuous and contiguous. This seems to be a state of things which is devoid of characteristics other than its very existence. And yet, whenever we direct the microscope of scientific discipline at the world, we encounter quantized, segregated, distinct and discrete pictures. This atomization seems to be the natural state of things - why did evolution resort to the false perception of continuum? And how can a machine which is bound to be discrete by virtue of its "naturalness" - the brain - perceive a continuum?

The continuum is an external, mental category which is imposed by us on our observations and on the resulting data. It serves as an idealized approximation of reality, a model which is asymptotic to the Universe "as it is". It gives rise to the concepts of quality, emergence, function, derivation, influence (force), interaction, fields, (quantum) measurement, processes and a host of other holistic ways of relating to our environment. The other pole, the quantized model of the world conveniently gives rise to the complementary set of concepts : quantity, causality, observation, (classic) measurement, language, events, quants, units and so on.

The private, macroscopic, low velocity instances of our physical descriptions of the universe (theories) tend to be continuous. Newtonian time is equated to a river. Space is a yarn. Einstein was the last classicist (relativity just means that no classical observer has any preference over another in formulating the laws of physics and in performing measurements). His space-time is a four dimensional continuum. What commenced as a matter of mathematical convenience was transformed into a hallowed doctrine : homogeneity, isotropy, symmetry became enshrined as the cornerstones of an almost religious outlook ("God does not play dice"). These were assumed to be "objective", "observer independent" qualities of the Universe. There was supposed to be no preferred direction, no clustering of mass or of energy, no...

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Uploaded by:   palma

Date:   10/05/2000

Category:   Science And Technology

Length:   9 pages (2,031 words)

Views:   1648

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