The Nature of Physical Reality: A Philosophy of Modern Physics

By Henry Margenau | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Space and Time

7.1. SPACE, TIME, AND REALITY

SPACE AND TIME are highly poetic subjects. As objects in the thought of man, they entered the history of ideas with godlike splendor and amid all the symbolic and beautiful trappings with which earlier cultures were wont to surround their idols. The awesome veneration of space and time has been continuous and has been continuously recorded, with the effect that even modern thought cannot entirely free itself from its mystic bondage to the past. The wings of Mercury have left with us a persistent reminder of the ubiquitous presence of something mysterious to be traversed, and the two bearded faces of Janus have impressed themselves indelibly upon our ideas of time. The task of the philosopher of science is, therefore, an unpleasant one, for he must ignore mythology, resist poetic impulses, and dissect with cool deliberation the factual and logical content of the terms space and time. It is upon this prosaic business that we here embark.

The philosopher must in fact do more than guard against tradition: he must renounce an easy tendency which carries ready thought so often beyond its proper destinations. When reflecting on space, the mind at once opens itself to the mysterious aspects of an unexplored astronomical universe, to a contemplation of the never ending, the wholly unoccupied; the known mingles with the unknown, and the inquiry is more likely to end in aesthetic or moral inspiration than in articulate knowledge. Space has this peculiar quality of putting greased runners under our imagination, because its familiar properties are easy to comprehend and to generalize, while so little is known about its qualities in the large.

It is the same with time as with space. Memory, on sweeping back over the past and losing itself in the cherished, shapeless

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