Saturday, October 9, 2010

time for thought

'Well, philosophers are more generalists, big picture people. At least they should be. At least I think they should be. Scientists study details, and yes, maybe the context of those details...'
'They do? Was relativity theory a detail? The theory of evolution, that was pretty big picture, I'd say.'
Danny sighed. 'Well, philosophers reflect on what scientists do, and what moralists do. They reflect on the nature of consciousness... '
'Don't you think that scientists studying the brain will keep getting closer to a full understanding of consciousness?  What need do they have of philosophers?'
They both began to chuckle.
'I'm not letting go of this one,' Danny said finally.
'Good, good,' she smiled.
'Scientists do science, philosophers reflect on the nature of science. Amongst other things. A naturalist philosopher might look at how scientific methodologies generate knowledge, and how scientific theories generate research programs. I also think the best scientists are philosophically literate - they're interested in that big picture, how everything fits together, the implications of all that.'
'And obviously you find all this very stimulating.'
'Overstimulating, in fact, as I quickly get in to a level way above my competence.'
'Really? For example.'
'Well take any 'what is' question. Like 'what is air?', 'what is time?', 'what is the universe?'. Scientific questions or philosophical questions?'
'More importantly, what are the answers?'
'Air is a mixture of gases...'
'Colourless, odourless, non-toxic. No wonder it took us so long to work out what it was..'
'People used to think it was just emptiness, or so I suppose. As to time, I wouldn't like to even hazard a guess as to what time is.'
'Isn't it just a measure of change?'
'Well... how can that be? In five years, an eight-year-old girl becomes a thirteen-year-old teenager. In the same five years a rock in her front yard hasn't appreciably changed at all.'
'Uhhh... time is relative?'
'Mmmm... if that were true, why are we so obsessed to measure time accurately, with atomic clocks and such?'
'Well didn't relativity theory change our understanding of time forever? Or at least the understanding of physicists and such.'
'Well we could go into this endlessly, but it would be all speculative. That's what I mean about getting in too deep. We all feel fairly expert about our perception of time, because it's a fundamental part of our experience, but to grasp what it might be objectively, like for example to grasp the idea that time began with space, at the beginning point of the big bang, that's a different matter.'
'Well, the point is not to understand time, but to change it. So that we can live forever.'
Danny smiled at the mock-innocent expression on Annie's face. 'Well I'd be happy to drink to that. Would you like a drink?'
She waved the idea away airily. 'I think one thing we can never get our heads around is non-existence. Of time, of space, of ourselves. As you say, we feel confident about things we've experienced, even if it's a false confidence. We're all at sea about things beyond our experience.'

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