Saturday, October 6, 2012

What is Space?

There's something afoot in modern Mathematical Physics, and this brilliant lecture delivered by David Harriman really exposes some of it's fundamental problems.  In this article, I will be detailing the ideas presented by Harriman for the purpose of clarity and reference.

A Brief History of "Space"

The lecture begins with the statement that there is no such thing as "space".  For people who understand the difference between concepts and objects, this is uncontroversial.  For others, it annihilates their entire castle in the sky.  When physicists treat the nothing of space as if it is a thing, it becomes a "floating concept that destroys everything it touches," according to Harriman.
'But I zhought zpace could varp and bend!'

So, let's take a journey back in history. Like almost all of modern thought, the concept of space was discussed thoroughly by many ancient Greeks.  Harriman points out that many Greeks assumed that the Universe was finite and that many so-called Atomists proposed that space is a reality separated and independent from objects. This meant that "space" itself has a form or boundary just like objects do.

However, some like Aristotle didn't want to say that "nothingness only went so far and that beyond that there was really nothing."  Aristotle recognized the facts of reality rationally.

When we observe reality, we always start with objects.  We can only see the objects' relative arrangement and how those objects change.  The set of static distances of one object to all others is called location, position, or place.  Space can be seen as the "sum of all places" or more accurately, a conceptual idea.  It is nothing at all in the physical world.

Harriman provides an amusing example.

If you buy an empty house, you may walk in and ask your spouse, "What are we going to do with this space?"  This is a valid use of the concept of space, since what you really mean is "How will we arrange the items with respect to each other in this room?"  We don't mean, "We have a hunk of empty space here.  Do we want to leave it or move it to the back yard so we can make room for some furniture?"
The latter bit of silliness is exactly what the mathemagicians are proposing.  Rationally, the concept of space is derived from the separation of items in reality, the fact that all objects have different locations.

All conceptual attributes, actions, and relationships must ALWAYS ultimately point to objects in reality, since they are derived from them.
To invoke the idea of "empty space" existing independent of entities is as nonsensical as talking about movement "existing" without a moving object or color "existing" without a colored object.  Like space, neither movement or color "exists".
Existence is physical presence. The concepts above are actions or relationships of and between objects but it is the objects themselves which can be said to exist.

To infinity, and beyond!

In addition to space, Aristotle rejected the possibility of actually existing infinities. Infinity is NOT a real quanity, since an infinite object would be indefinite and without any boundary- a self-contradiction.

Saying that there is an infinite amount of atoms in existence is the same as saying that there is a jar with an indefinite amount of marbles.  The amount of objects in existence must be finite.


It is important to remember though, that the universe is not "the jar" in the example above.  Neither is space.  Both space and the universe are concepts, while a jar is an object.  Objects cannot be "contained" by nothing, they are merely separate from each other.  Harriman continues on to explain this. If somebody mentions the name of an object such as "apple" then the image of an apple forms in your mind.  However, if somebody says "Universe" and you attempt to form a visualization, then the question is "what in the world is the perspective you are forming it from?

What's the black stuff giving form to "the universe". And more importantly, where the hell are you if you're not a part of the set of everything, called the universe?

You would have to take the perspective of being, "outside the universe", looking at "it".  Do you picture a spherical region of stars and planets with a region of nothing "outside" of it giving it shape- no stars or anything else (except for you, standing outside of it, of course)?

If that's the image you get when you think of the universe then you must purge that as an act of will, says Harriman.  It is a completely irrational perspective.

All perspectives exist "within the universe" there is no conceivable way around it.  The universe is the concept of all objects in existence and the space between them.  It is all encompassing.  If the universe is "all objects  in existence (things) and the space between them (nothing)" then what is the black stuff giving shape to the "universe" above? If you answer, "nothing" then it is, by definition, included in the universe.  Both space and the universe are concepts without form.

David goes on and asks you to consider these attributes given to "space" by the Mathemagicians and other irrational speculators.

1. It is independent of matter
2. It is ubiquitous but not perceived
3. It is infinite, eternal and immutable.

Does that remind you of any other characters in popular religion? It is, of course, God. Space is the God of mathematical physics.

Fields and Waves

This reification, or treatment of abstract concepts as concrete objects, is carried into every corner of modern mathematical physics.  On the surface, the mathemagician will tell you that a field exists, but when you ask them to define it they tell you that it is:
"a mathematical equation that assigns numbers to points in space"
 leaving you with NOTHING.

We don't define real objects in reality, we point to them and say their name.  Imagine you were still an infant and could not speak yet.  The way your parents taught you their names was by pointing to themselves and speaking a name.  That's how we learn all of our vocabulary at first: point and name.  But if we can define relations between those objects as words or concepts, we must use consistent definitions.

 "In Science, we don’t define words with mathematical symbols like they do in the religion of Mathematical Physics. We define them with words and sentences. It is also necessary to define the crucial terms on which a theory hinges. The looser we define a word, the wider the range of interpretations, and the more dilute the message that gets across will be. We need rigorous definitions to communicate a scientific theory precisely. A prosecutor who leaves a strategic word in his theory undefined is not doing science because he cannot possibly understand what he is talking about. He has left a loophole through which to escape when the press starts asking the tough questions at the end of the presentation. 
The word convex is a good example of a proof ‘definition’ used in Mathematical Physics (i.e., operational-functional definition) and of how it differs from a true definition. The mathematicians define convex as:
" A figure is convex if, for every pair of points within the figure, the segmentconnecting the two points lies entirely within the figure." [19]
This definition requires you to run an experiment to certify that the two points indeed lie within the figure before you can call the figure ‘convex’.
However, in Science, we don’t ‘construct’ definitions step by step (i.e., prove them). We define them before we do anything with them:
" convex: Having a surface or boundary that curves or bulges outward, as theexterior of a sphere." [20]

Extending this method for definitions it's easy to see that the concept of field may be applied to describe certain motions and phenomena like magnetism or electricity, but it provides no physical definition for the mechanism at work.
What physically pulls iron filings into position around a magnet?
What physically pulls a ball to the earth (and vice versa) when I drop it?
What would the stuff look like if I could see it? What is it's configuration?

There's no way that a "mathematical function"- an abstract concept- moves the ball to the earth, or the iron filings around a magnet.
The only scientist that I know of offering rational explanations for these phenomena is Bill Gaede.  Please view his youtube channel and website for rational explanations and definitions of crucial terms such as: space, object, concept, and existence. Thank you for reading.


  1. The speaker confuses something fundamental to his own account (in the video); he rightly insists that space is not thing-like, and thus entirely relational by nature,however, responding to an intervention concerning the nature of a magnetic field, the speaker insists that a field must manifest itself physically, as a reified thing, since fields are predominantly, and in the speaker's opinion, erroneously understood as a mathematical function without physical existence. The response to the intervention exhibits a confused ontology that remains undecided between the relational and the nomadic.

  2. His statement, "I wish they would reify the field" was indeed, irrational. Reification is what we have already- a field is not an object, yet it is being treated as such when physicists invoke it to explain the motion of other objects, like iron filings.

    However, vocabulary aside, the lecture was on point in exposing space and fields as nothing more than concepts.

    "fields are predominantly, and in the speaker's opinion, erroneously understood as a mathematical function without physical existence."

    The speaker's point was that fields can only be understood as mathematical functions; their physical configuration remains undefined. When he said he "wanted it reified" I believe he was just misapplying the word. He doesn't want the field reified, which is what has happened already, he just wants the idea of magnetism to actually describe the physical configuration of the thing pulling on the iron filings.

  3. Excellent article!