TIME / NO TIME: The Paradox of Poetry and Physics

Albert Einstein
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Some have read him as positing at least one atomic swerve in the soul to coincide with and probably help constitute every new volition. A wide variety of further variants have been proposed. The final part of the book returns, symmetrically with the end of book 1, to the nature of the universe beyond the confines of our own world. Moreover, he adds, worlds come and go, our own included. Both themes—the numberless plurality of worlds and their transience—Lucretius regards as helpfully damaging to the religious view of our world as a product of divine creation.

The soul consists of two parts. The soul in both aspects can be shown to be corporeal, Lucretius argues. Its characteristic sensitivity and mobility are explicable by the special combination of atoms that constitute it: it is a blend of the types of atoms constitutive of air, wind and fire, along with a fourth, ultra-fine type unique to soul.

Given that it is atomically constituted, the soul must like every atomic compound be destined for eventual dissolution. Once the body dies, there is nothing to hold the soul together, and its atoms will disperse—as Lucretius argues with a massive battery of proofs around thirty, the exact number depending on alternative ways of dividing up the text. There is therefore, contrary to the most favoured religious tradition, no survival after death, no reincarnation, and no punishment in Hades.

The basic theory is then applied to sense-perception, and above all to vision and visualization, including dreams. The non-visual senses are addressed too, even though, technically speaking, they rely not on simulacra but either on direct contact with their object or on other kinds of effluence. Lucretius devotes a substantial section to describing optical illusions, which his atomic theory claims to be able to account for without sacrificing its fundamental position that it is never the senses that lie, only our interpretations of their data.

Indeed, he defends this latter Epicurean paradox by deploying a classic self-refutation argument against the sceptical alternative: to deny that we have access to knowledge through the senses its only possible entry route is a philosophical stance that disqualifies its own adherents by depriving them of any possible grounds for its assertion 4.

Although cognitive mechanisms provide the main focus, a variety of other animal functions, including nutrition and locomotion, are covered by this part of the book. To explain bodily limbs and organs on the model of artefacts, as divinely created for the sake of their use, is a misapplication of the craft-nature analogy.

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Artefacts were invented for the better fulfilment of functions that already existed in nature—cups to facilitate drinking, beds to improve sleep, weapons for more effective fighting. No analogous story can be told about e.

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This finding is taken by Lucretius to be damning to creationism, for benevolent creators would surely as Plato had maintained have ensured that their product would be everlasting. Besides, he argues, the world is an environment too hostile to human beings to lend any credence to the creationist thesis that it was made for them. While other creatures seem to have it easy, we struggle all our lives to eke out a living.

When the new-born human baby takes its first look at the world and bursts into tears, one can admire its prescience, considering all the troubles that lie ahead for it. Following up on this theme, Lucretius now reconstructs the blind process of atomic conglomeration that gave rise to our world. He then continues with a matchingly non-theistic series of explanations of individual celestial phenomena.

In true Epicurean spirit here and in book 6 too; see especially 6. What matters is that, however many such explanations we acknowledge, they should be exclusively material explanations sufficient to render unnecessary the postulation of divine intervention. Being intrinsically possible, they must also be true, if not in our world, then at any rate somewhere , for in an infinite universe no possibility can remain unactualized an application of the Principle of Plenitude. Continuing the early history of our world, Lucretius envisages how life first emerged from the earth, and an especially admired and influential reconstruction how humans developed from nomadic hunters to city-dwellers with language, law and the arts.

In this prehistory the exclusion of divine intervention, while rarely foregrounded, is plainly the underlying motivation. The fertile young earth naturally sprouted with life forms, and the organisms thus generated were innumerable random formations. Of these, most perished, but a minority proved capable of surviving—thanks to strength, cunning, or utility to man—and of reproducing their kind. This account, which has won admiration for its partial anticipation of a Darwinian principle, the survival of the fittest, is plainly using a kind of natural selection to account non-teleologically for the apparent presence of design in the animal kingdom.

Much the same anti-teleological program underlies the ensuing prehistory of civilization 5. Each cultural advance was prompted by nature, and only subsequently taken up and developed by human beings. Hence, it is implied, no divine intervention need be postulated as an explanatory tool. No Prometheus was needed to introduce fire, which rather was first brought to human attention by naturally kindled forest fires 5. Language emerged 5. The same part of book 5 is rich in other cultural reconstructions, including the origin of friendship and justice in a primitive social contract 5.

To conclude his poem, Lucretius works through a range of the phenomena that physical theorists were standardly called upon to account for: storms, waterspouts, earthquakes, plagues and the like. Once more the exclusion of divine causation undoubtedly motivates the account, the phenomena in question being nearly all ones popularly regarded as manifestations of divine intervention. Lucretius not only explains them naturalistically, but is ready to mock the rival, theological explanations: for example, if thunderbolts are weapons hurled by Zeus at human miscreants, why does he waste so much of his ammunition on uninhabited regions, or, when he does score a hit, sometimes strike his own temple 6.

The De rerum natura is, as its title confirms, a work of physics, written in the venerable tradition of Greek treatises On nature. Nevertheless, Lucretius writes as a complete Epicurean, offering his reader not just cosmological understanding but the full recipe for happiness. Certainly to eliminate fear of the divine through physical understanding is one component of this task, but not the only one.

According to the Epicurean canon, the fear of death must also be countered, and the rational management of pleasures and pains learnt. The magnificent finale of book 3 — is a diatribe against the fear of death, taking as its starting point the preceding demonstration that death is simply annihilation.

To fear a future state of death, Lucretius argues, is to make the conceptual blunder of supposing yourself present to regret and bewail your own non-existence. The reality is that being dead will be no worse just as it will be no better than it was, long ago, not yet to have been born.

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In measuring the amount of time an object will take to reach a certain destination, the crucial factor is whether the destination is moving or stationary. This mystery must have an explanation. Wiseman, T. John Milton wrote many a line decrying the way in which time steals away our youth , including the poem On Time c. Perhaps the most striking thing about those explanations is that, even as each draws only a partial picture of reality, they are mathematically perfect.

The proem to book 2 extols the Epicurean life of detached tranquility, portrayed as maintaining modest and easily satisfied appetites while shunning lofty ambitions and the disquiet these inevitably bring in their wake. For it is Epicurus alone who has made life genuinely worth living, not only by releasing us from the torment of fear but also by teaching us how to manage our desires to the point where we can enjoy their genuine and lasting satisfaction.

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The root cause of our troubles lies elsewhere, Lucretius is implying, and, even after civilization had reached its peak, it remained for Epicurus to bring that cause to light. Good is easily attainable, evil easily endurable. How was evil to be endured?

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It is hard to believe that Lucretius, with his deep understanding of Epicurean ethics, did not plan to rectify its glaring omission from his poem. Those who believe that the poem is unfinished, and that Lucretius had he lived would have developed or restructured its final part, may justifiably suspect that the possibility of good cheer and optimism in the face of pain was the motif that he was saving for that role, wherever and however he might eventually have chosen to work it in. Epicurus had insisted on the existence of the gods, but the mode of existence he attributed to them has become a matter of controversy.

Some scholars take this constitution out of simulacra to describe a highly attenuated mode of biological being which somehow makes the immortal gods an exception to the rule that compounds must eventually disintegrate, so that they are able to live on forever, not in any world like ours since all worlds must themselves eventually perish but in the much safer regions between worlds. Lucretius shows signs of assuming the realist view of the gods 2.

And this is the function Lucretius too gives them, especially in the proems to books 1, 3, 5 and 6. The gods live a supremely tranquil life, never disquieted by either favour or anger towards us. By contemplating them as they truly are we can aspire to achieve that same blissful state within the confines of a human lifespan. But Lucretius adds another dimension to this theology: for as the poem progresses Epicurus himself is increasingly presented as a god. In itself this apotheosis is probably consistent with Epicurean theology: Epicurus did after all attain the same morally paradigmatic status which characterizes the gods.

But in the proem to book 5 Epicurus is permitted to go beyond this paradigmatic role, and to become a heroic benefactor of mankind.

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What Lucretius effectively asserts is that, on a Euhemeristic ranking, Epicurus is a far greater god than Ceres or Bacchus, held to have originally been the institutors of, respectively, agriculture and wine, and also a far greater god than the divinized Hercules.

Epicurus on the other hand has offered us real and permanent salvation from monsters, namely those truly frightful monsters that haunt our souls, such as insatiable desires, fears, and arrogance. But, he adds in an important codicil, this usage is permissible only if one avoids the pernicious religious beliefs that such locutions imply. The same suspicion recurs with even greater force when we focus on the proem to book 1.

In it Lucretius prays to Venus, not only as the universal life force but also as ancestress of the Romans, begging her to intervene with her lover Mars and save the troubled Roman republic from civil strife. Readers, as they progress further into the poem, are no doubt expected to accumulate the appropriate materials for understanding the proem as in tune with the true Epicurean message, but there is little agreement as to how this is meant to be achieved. He now lives in London, England. He is best known as a publisher The Ladysmith Press, Quebec, , a writer of psychology books Emotional First Aid, Couple Dynamics and literary studies Donne, Hardy , and as a poet: his first published volume of poems was in , and his most recent is Always Two: Collected Poems Convert currency.

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The Defeat of Reason | Boston Review

For example: if one person throws a ball at someone who is moving towards him the ball will get to him faster than if he was moving away from the ball. That makes sense. In other words: unlike anything else, light is absolutely not affected by the factor of velocity of any other matter in relationship to it. On the surface this may not seem all that important, but since it has also been established that no matter can ever go faster than the speed of light, it turns out that this has a major effect on the measurement of time.

While the speed of light is constant it has been tested and proven that the closer an object approaches the speed of light the more time slows down. High velocity causes the mass of an object to become heavier and heavier, to the point that it is impossible for anything to propel itself beyond the speed of light. The relativity of time has been tested in many ways including sending clocks into space that return with a different time than on earth. In our daily lives we do not perceive this as the differences are so small to be almost negligible.

But when atoms are shot through super conductors at velocities close to the speed of light this phenomenon has been proven to be true. As time slows down when approaching the speed of light it mysteriously stops altogether when theoretically reaching the speed of light. It is as if past, present and future are happening simultaneously. It is taught in Jewish tradition that God is above and beyond all strictures of time. For God there is truly no past, present and future.

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Modern physics questions the absoluteness of time. Yet the cosmological theories of Mach, Einstein, and Barbour are no more testable, given the scale of the. Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Seán Haldane was born in England in , he grew up in Northern Ireland, and in moved to Canada where he lived.

This reality is crucial in understanding one of the greatest of all paradoxes: how free choice and Divine Providence can both be true when according to logic they should cancel each other out. This is not the proper forum to enter into this complex paradox that has occupied thinkers throughout the ages, but unlike many other philosophies or religions which avoid this and other paradoxes by nullifying one or both concepts, Judaism embraces both free will and Divine Providence as being simultaneously true.

This is the typical Jewish view when presented with paradox — to stretch the mind until one can understand how two mutually exclusive ideas can both be true. Yet it is not just religion which does this. In the new picture of the universe painted by quantum physics, paradox is in fact the only way to understand reality.

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When we really contemplate the above facts about light we see an astounding paradox regarding the relationship of time and light.