Wednesday, August 15, 2007
No, I have NOT been smoking any of that stuff...
Pity, really. I could do with a good relax.
ANYWAY, I've been reading quite a lot of random material lately.
Let me just start off by talking about Manuel de Landa's A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. If you are in any way interested in a) historiography; b) philosophy; c) cultural history; d) economic theories; e) the debate about the relevance of science to the humanities, and vice versa; or f) any or all of the above, READ it.
I know it's 10 years old, and that there's other work building on the book, but this is just a fascinating read. And I'm only halfway through. Plus it works with everything I've been reading about dynamic (nonlinear) systems theory in the last few months.
On the other hand, I've just finished the latest Harry Potter (well, the day after it came out), and the last Tales of the City, Michael Tolliver Lives.
The most interesting topic I've been reading about, however, is to do with time. Now, Einstein's theory of relativity posits that time is experienced relatively - the speed at which your body travels through space affects your experience of time (or at least, that's my vague memory of the theory wrt time).
Then there's a concept I came across a while back - Henri Bergson's Virtual, which states that our perception of Now is based on our experience, as visualised through the connection of many possibilities. It's kind of complicated, but I'll give it a shot: effectively, our minds draw from a space called the Virtual (strangely enough, a virtual space) in which every image and concept (whether already-experienced or potential) exists. The way we make sense of any experience we have is to draw upon the Virtual. In other words, we make sense of the current sensations by filtering the various images that come to mind.
What has this got to do with time? Well, the images that come to mind are not just memories (aka. images of the past) - they are also images of presents-that-aren't, of pasts-that-never-were and futures-that-could-be. In other words, time is relative and somewhat circular - it is only present experience that is able to create a linear
impression of time (aka. past -> present -> future).
Anyway, all this is to say that there are plenty of valid philosophies and models for the way time operates.
Which (finally!) brings me to two interesting articles that have come across my desk in the last few weeks. The first, in which it turns out a simple light experiment comes up with very strange results. Apparently, the photons in this experiment either form stripes or spots depending on whether they are observed directly (following the uncertainty principle). However, the strange bit is when photons form spots when observed - but where the observing device is revealed after the photons have already passed through the barrier that supposedly decides the outcome. In other words, a future event affects the present outcome.
Now, a systems perspective would suggest that this is a matter of feedback playing itself out in time - elements related to the situation feeds back to the inputs and decide the ultimate outcome of the situation. It's a nonlinear model of time; the past and the future collude to make sense of the present. (Sound somewhat similar?).
Now, that's presuming time exists at all. Maybe it is just easy to think of time as an organizing concept; yet another social construct (nonetheless with real effects) that helps us to make sense.
[CTheory.Net: 1000 Years of War]
[Manuel De Land Annotated Bibliography]
[Good Morning Silicon Valley: Had we but world enough, and time]
[MSNBC.com: Putting Time in a (Leaky) Bottle]
[DISCOVER: Newsflash: Time May Not Exist]