I am UIC: Slowly reasoning through spacetime

Spacetime is a conceptual understanding of the universe that integrates three-dimensional space into a continuum with a fourth dimension that is time. It is a mathematical model that has implications for philosophical perspectives on reality and matter’s relationship with the universe.

On Feb. 7, I tried to tackle these ideas for the first time at a Philosophy Club event. Two visiting scholars from the University of Oxford shared their perspectives on the philosophical consequences of this mathematical model.

There are certain phenomena, such as length contraction and time dilation, that present physical and observable insight into the nature of one’s relationship with time and space. The former describes the situation in which the length of an object appears shorter as it moves with increasing speed with respect to the viewer’s frame of reference. However, if the viewer were to move at the same speed as the object, then its observed length would correspond with that of the object at rest.

Essentially, all of our day-to-day measurements are relative and there is nothing inherently objective about the distance between my bed and my desk, or the length of my car.

Even though we have mathematical models to describe reality, we can’t determine from an equation whether the ontological existence of a given variable is dependent or independent from the other elements of the equation. So if I determine that Y=X*C, I can’t consequentially conclude that what X represents will remain valid if Y is removed from the picture.

The two speakers concluded that spacetime doesn’t tell matter how to behave; the ontologically dependent metrics that we use to characterize matter determine how it behaves.

How exactly did they arrive at this conclusion?

I’m still not really sure nor do I think I fully understand what spacetime is. But it was interesting to see how philosophers extract ontological claims from physics and I would recommend for students to attend future Philosophy Club events and discussions like it. You may find some answers to your questions or, more likely, some questions without answers.

Hoda Fakhari is a senior studying biochemistry and English with a concentration in media, rhetoric and cultural studies. She is interested in making connections between subject areas that appear uncomplimentary in order to arrive at more diverse and relevant ways of understanding people and society.

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