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In Nanavira's Notes on Dhamma he says:

The source of the confusion is in the contradictory idea of a moment as the smallest possible interval of time—i.e. as absolute shortness of time—, and therefore as no time. Two successive moments are, thus, also no time: 0 + 0 = 0. This is nothing but a mystification: it is like the notion of 'absolute smallness of size' in quantum theory (Dirac, op. cit., pp. 3-4), introduced to compensate for other philosophically unjustifiable assumptions made elsewhere. (Quantum theory, of course, being an elaborate and ingenious rule of thumb, does not require philosophical justification; but ipso facto it provides no foundation for philosophy.)

Why is it that if something does not require a philosophical justification, it provides no foundation for philosphy?

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  • You might do better if you provided a complete citation of the source of the quote. I could be wrong though, since it appears to be little more than bad poetry.
    – BillOnne
    Commented Aug 7, 2022 at 15:54
  • I have no idea what you are asking. Please clarify. Commented Aug 7, 2022 at 19:53
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    "Quantum theory, of course, being an elaborate and ingenious rule of thumb, does not require philosophical justification; but ipso facto it provides no foundation for philosophy." Whoever wrote this knows nothing about quantum theory. Anything they assert about it can be safely ignored. Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 6:05
  • Dirac said that classical mechanics does not provide a notion of absolute size, and that QM does. But these are ultimately scientific and theoretic concepts, not pure philosophy or rule-of-thumb. Dirac in Foundations of Quantum Mechanics ties everything back to experiment and experimental limitations
    – J Kusin
    Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 15:43
  • I also disagree with “Quantum theory….does not require philosophical justification and “provides no foundation”. There is an established method of using metaphysics to better understand quantum mechanics (the science) as Matteo Morganti and Claudio Calosi self describe as. Doing so for scientific and philosophical knowledge.
    – J Kusin
    Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 16:13

2 Answers 2

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Physics was originally called natural philosophy. Newton called himself a natural philosopher and not a scientist and even as late as the early 20C Rutherford was publishing in a journal called, Philosophical Magazine.

Natural philosophy as philosophy or as science provides rationales for its theories. In this, it is no different from any other mode of philosophy. Even religious argument, note the term argument here, is made by reference to scripture, practise and custom.

Thus physics provides foundations for itself and for closely related subjects. But even as natural philosophy, that is as a philosophy on nature or of nature, it has a very narrow purview. Although, tongue-in-cheek, some physicists have called a unified physical theory, A Theory of Everything, it is far from. Even in principle. That this is now taken for granted in some quarters, say by physicalists, shows only a leap of faith into a materialist conception of the whole of reality. Their arguments for such, their sense that this is the only possible possible possibility, are no different at bottom from so-called proofs of God. They rely on a secular faith which they call reason.

This is what I take the commentator to be referring to: Physics is far too narrow a subject to take it for a foundation for anything other than itself. It has not a wide enough compass on the whole of life. Its by the way why Socrates early on in Western philosophy lost interest in the cosmological theorising pioneered in Miletus. He was more interested in man in relation to his society and his universe.

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Physics is based on observations, not axioms. Even relying on observations, is justified within science, by it's success - which makes it's results tentative, and relating to relative degrees of sureness (Bayesian reasoning), rather than proven as happens in mathematics, where their proofs relate to specific definitions. A 'black swan' could arise at basically any moment, to falsify previous inferred rules about swans, say. This is summarised by Hume's Problem of Induction.

General Relativity revealed a deep commonality between space and time. We expect spacetime will likely be quantised, with 'pixels' around the Planck length and time. But it could be spacetime is emergent from symmetries, patterns in, an underlying structure like spin lattices networks (ie, Loop Quantum Gravity).

I like the idea time is a symmetry that relates to the (proposed) law of Conservation of Information, and we should see it as a picture of how information diffuses but doesn't concentrate - because if it did we would experience it as losing records, memories, as time going backwards. Shannon entropy says a signal down a wire can only degrade, it can only add noise not signal, and we can derive the Second Law of Thermodynamics from this, as the wave of news arriving about the cosmos, and the directionality of that flow is the Arrow of Time.

Above all, we don't know yet, time is 'tacked on' to quantum physics currently, and steps towards a unified picture of forces suggests a move to timeless physics, like the Wheeler-DeWitt equation.

“What is time then? If nobody asks me, I know; but if I were desirous to explain it to one that should ask me, plainly I do not know.” ― St. Augustine

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