2

... from those of yester-years, or yester-millenias?

Westerhoff, writes in his transaltion of the Nagarjunas Madhyamakarika (Verses on the Middle Way) that:

The idea of fire-atoms as ultimately real objects is obviously only of historical interest. It is far from clear, however whether the conception of elementary particles of contemporary physics is much more attractive to the permutationist.

While the mahabhutas had the advantage of being relatively close to objects of ordinary experience, such as fire, water and so forth, various sub-atomic particles, quarks, or string are purely theoretical posits very different from what we usually observe. Nobody has ever seen a string, and nobody ever will.

This strikes me a little excessive in placing a clear gap between the theoretical posits of yester-years, even if they were a millenia ago, and of today. A string in string theory is after all, if you follow the history inspired by a string or a rope that anyone can pick up, the same equation describing its ideal form is used. This then, is not far removed from the 'ordinary experience' he mentions earlier.

And then of course, one might suggest that that the longer the mind attends to such a concept the further removed it becomes from the everyday. After all, a fire-atom may have been inspired by a spark from a fire; but already, here an atom of fire is very different from a spark? Doe it go out, or does it give steady light and heat? Aren't all atoms of fire alike, whereas some sparks are brighter, and others dimmer?

I also have the impression, though I can't be precise, that there subtle distinctions in how these atoms are concieved that would remove them further from the everyday than Westerhoff is making out.

Is it correct to say then, that the strings of string theory are as wholly removed from our experience as Westerhoff is making out? Which is not to deny a difference of degree, nor of quality.

NB Its probably worth pointing out, for what its worth, that the title of the question is playing with the title of a collage by RB Kitaj.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.