Some of the implications of the “One Object” idea…

0. Review and Context: This post continues with the subject of one vs. many physical objects. The earlier posts in this series have been, in the chronological and logical order, these:

  1. Introducing a very foundational issue of physics (and of maths) [^]
  2. The One vs. the Many [^]
  3. Some of the implications of the “Many Objects” idea… [^]

In this post, we cover the implications of the second description, i.e., of the “one object” idea.


1. The observed multiplicity of objects as corresponding to certain quantitative differences in the attributes possessed by the universe-object:

In the second description, there exists one and only one object, which is the entire universe itself. This singleton object carries a myriad of attributes—literally each and everything that you ever see/touch/etc. around you (including your physical body) exists as “just” an attribute of this singleton object. In the general case, such attributes exist with quantitatively different degrees in different parts of the singleton universe-object. Those contiguous regions of the singleton object where the quantitative degrees of the given attribute fall sufficiently closer in range are treated by our perceptual faculty as separate objects.

In the general philosophy, there is a certain observation: Everything is interconnected. However, following the second description, not only are all objects interconnected, but at a deeper level, they are literally one and the same object! It’s just that each perceptually separate object has been distinguished on the basis of some quantitative measures (or amounts) of some or the other attribute or property with which that distinguished region exists.

A few consequences are noteworthy.

2. Implications for what precisely the law of causality refers to:

In the second description, what physically exists is the single physical object (that is the physical universe) and nothing else but that physical object.

The physical actor, in the primary sense of the term, therefore always is the entire universe itself, acting as a whole. The “appearance” of multiple objects—and their separate actions—is only a consequence of the universe having varying properties in different parts of or logically within itself.

Just the way the attributes carried by the universe are inhomogeneous (i.e., they differ in quantitative measures over different parts), so are the actions. The quantitative measures of actions too are inhomogeneous. In the general case, for any of the actions taken by the universe, the same action in general occurs to different degrees in different parts.

In the deepest and the most fundamental sense, since there is only one physical actor viz. the entire physical universe, what the law of causality refers to it is nothing but this physical actor, i.e., to the entire universe taken as a whole.

However, since the very nature of the singleton object includes the fact that different parts of itself exist with different attributes of differing degrees and therefore can and do act differently, the law of causality can also be seen to apply, in a secondary or derivative sense, to these distinguishable parts taken in isolation. The differing natures of the inhomogeneous parts together constitute all the causes existing in the physical universe, and the nature of the actions that this singleton object takes, to differing measures in different parts of itself, constitute all the effects.

The fact that the universe-object exists with various physical attributes or properties, leads to different concepts with which the universe-object can be studied.

3. The idea of space as derived from the physical universe:

One most prominent, general and fundamental property which may be used for distinguishing different parts of the universe-object is the fact that the distinguishable parts, taken by themselves, are spatially extended, and the related fact that they carry the attribute of being located where they are.

Locations and extensions are given in the sensory perceptual evidence. Thus, extensions and locations are directly perceived. They in part form the perceptual basis for the concept of space.

Space is an abstract, mathematical concept. Using this higher level concept, we are able to ascribe places even to those combinations of spatial relations where there is no concrete object existing.

4. A (mathematical) space as an abstraction based on certain attributes of the (physical) universe:

The above discussion makes it clear that the universe does not exist in space. On the other hand, space may be said to exist “in” the universe. However, here, here, the word “in” is to be taken in an abstract logical sense, not in the sense of a concrete existence. Space does exist in the universe but not concretely.

Space is an abstraction based on certain fundamental, directly perceived, spatial attributes or properties possessed by the singular universe-object. The two most fundamental of such (spatial) attributes are extensions and locations; other spatial attributes such as connectivity/topology, of being enclosed or covered or placed inside/outside, etc. are merely higher-level ideas that isolate different ways in which groups of objects with various extensions and locations exist. The extensions and locations themselves pertain to certain quantitative but directly perceived differences over different parts of the universe-object. Thus, ultimately, all spatial properties are possessed by the perceptually distinguishable parts of the singleton universe-object.

Since the concept of space is mathematical and abstract, many different ideas or imaginations may be used in formulating the concept of a space. For instance, Euclidean vs. hyperbolic space, or continuous vs. discrete space, etc. Not only that, multiple instances of a given space also are easily possible. In contrast, the idea of instances, of quantities, does not apply to the universe-object; it remains the unique, singular, concept, one which, when taken as a whole, must remain beyond any quantitative characterization.

Since there is nothing but the universe object to exist physically, the only spatially relevant statement we can make about the universe itself is this: if some part of the universe does indeed exist, then this part can be put in a quantitative relation with one of the instances of some or the other space.

The italicized part is based on the assumption that every part of the universe does carry spatial attributes. This itself is just an assumption; there is no way to directly validate it.

Note that the aforementioned statement does not imply that the physical universe can be said as being present everywhere. The universe does not exist everywhere.

To say that the physical universe is present everywhere is an epistemologically misconceived formulation. It is indicative of an intellectually sloppy, inconsistent way of connecting the two ideas: (i) physical universe (which is what actually exists, in the physical sense), and (ii) space (which is a mathematical and abstract concept).

“Everywhere” refers to a set of all possible places implied by a certain concept of space. Physical universe, on the other hand, refers what actually exists. It is possible that the procedure of constructing a concept of space includes places that have no correspondence to any part of the physical universe.

5. A space can be finite or infinite, but the physical universe is neither:

Space, being a mathematical concept, can be imagined as infinitely extended. However, the physical universe cannot be. And the reason that an infinitely extended physical universe is a nonsense idea is not because the physical universe is, or even can be known to be, finite.

The fact of the matter is, no quantitative statement can at all be made in respect of the physical universe taken as a whole.

Quantitative statements can only be made if some suitable mathematical procedure is available for making the requisite measurements. Now, any and all mathematical procedures are constructed only in reference to some or the other parts of the universe, not in reference to the entirety of the universe taken as a whole. The very nature of mathematics is like that. The epistemological procedures of differentiation and integration must first be performed before any mathematical procedure can at all be constructed or applied. (For instance, before inventing or applying even the simplest mathematical procedure of counting, you must have first performed integration of a group of similar concrete objects such as identical balls, and differentiated this group from the background of the rest of the she-bang.) But as soon as you say: “differentiate,” you already concede the idea that the entirety of the universe is not being considered in the further thought. To differentiate is to agree to selectively pick up only a part and thereby to agree to leave some other part(s). So, as soon as you perform differentiation, from that point on, you no longer are referring to all the parts at the same time. That’s why, no concrete mathematical procedure can at all be constructed which possibly can allow you to measure the universe as a whole. The very idea itself does not make sense. There can be a measure for this part of the universe or for that part. But there can be no measure for the universe taken as a whole. That’s why, its meaningless to talk of applying any quantitative attributes to the entirety of the physical universe taken as a whole—including the talk of the universe being even finite in extent.

No procedure can be said to have yielded even a finite amount as a measurement outcome, if the thing asserted as measured is taken to be the universe as a whole. As a result, no statement regarding even finitude can be made for the physical universe. (I here differ from the Objectivist position, e.g., Dr. Peikoff’s writings in OPAR; they believe that the universe is finite.)

It is true that every property shown by every actually observed part of the physical universe is finite. The inference from this statement to the conclusion that every part of the not-actually-observed but in-principle possibly existing part itself must also be finite, also is valid—within its context. However, the validity of this inference cannot be extended to the idea of a mathematical procedure that applies to all the parts of the universe at the same time. The objection is: we cannot speak of “all” parts itself unless we specify a procedure to include and exhaust every existing part—but no such procedure can ever be specified because differentiation and integration are at the base of the very conceptual level (i.e. at the base of every mathematical procedure).

The idea of an infinite physical universe [^] is flawed at a deep level. Infinity is a mathematical concept. Physical universe is what exists. The two cannot be related—there can be no mathematical procedure to relate the two.

Similarly, the idea of a finite physical universe also is flawed at a deep level.

Now, the idea that every part of the physical universe is finite, can be taken to be valid, simply because the procedure of measuring parts can at all be conducted, and such a procedure does in principle yield outcomes that are finite.

To speak of an infinite space, in contrast, also is OK. The idea here is to make a mental note to the effect that any  statements being made for some parts (possibly infinite number of parts) of this space need not have any correspondence with the spatial attributes of the actually existing physical universe-object—that the logical mapping from a part of a space to a physically existing spatial attribute would necessarily break down for every infinite part of an infinite space.

As far as physics is concerned, infinity is only a useful device for simplifying—reifying out—the complications due to certain possible variations in the boundary conditions of physics problems. When the domain is finite, changes in boundary conditions make the problem so complex that is is impossible to yield a law in the form of a differential equation. The idea of an infinite domain allows us to do precisely that. I had covered this aspect in an earlier post, here [^].

6. Implications for the gaps between perceived objects, and the issue of whether empty space plays a causal role or not:

There is no such a thing as a really “empty” part in the physical universe; the idea is a contradiction in terms.

In contrast, on the basis of our above discussion, notice that there can be empty regions of space(s), in fact even infinitely large empty regions of space(s) where literally nothing may be said to exist.

However, the ideas of emptiness or filled-ness can refer only to space, not to the physical universe.

Since there is no empty part in the universe, the issue of what causal role such an empty part can or does play, does not arise. As to the empty regions of space, since there can be no mapping from such regions to the physical universe, once again, the issue of its causal role does not arise. An empty space (or an empty part of a space) does not physically exist, period. Hence, it has no causal role to play, period.

However, if by empty space you mean such things as the region between two grey “objects” (i.e. two grey parts of the physical universe), then: that region is not, really speaking, empty; a part of what actually is the physical universe does exist there; otherwise, during their motions, the grey parts could not have come to occupy this supposedly empty regions of the space. In other words, if literally nothing were to exist in the gap between two objects, then the attribute of grayness could never possibly travel over there. But no such restriction on the movement of distinguishable objects has ever been observed, reported, or rationally conceived of, directly or indirectly. Hence, in conclusion, the gap region is not really speaking empty.

7.  The issue of the local vs. the “non-local” actions:

In the second description, since only one causal agent exists, what-ever physical action happens, it is taken by this one and the only physical universe. As a particular implication of that fact, where-ever any physical action happens, it again is to be attributed to the same physical universe.

In taking a physical action, it is easily conceivable that wherever the physical universe is actually extended, it simultaneously takes action at all those locations—and therefore, in all those abstract places which correspond to these locations.

As a consequence, it is possible that the physical universe simultaneously takes the same action, but to differing degrees, in different places. Since the actor is a singleton, since it anyway is present wherever any action occurs at all, any and all mystification arising from ascribing a cause and its effect to two separate entities simply vaporizes away. So does any and all mystification arising from ascribing a cause and its effect to two spatially separated locations. The locations may be different, but the actor remains the same.

For the above reasons, in the second description, instantaneous action-at-a-distance no longer remains a spooky idea. The reason is: there indeed is no instantaneous action at a distance, really speaking. IAD is only a loose way of saying that there is simultaneous action of, by, in, etc., the same causal (and effectual) actor that is the singleton object of the physical universe.

In fact we can go ahead and even say that in the second description, every action always is necessarily a global action (albeit with zero magnitudes in some parts of the universe); that there is no such a thing as an in-principle local action.

However, the aforementioned statement does not mean that spatially separated causes and effects cannot be observed. All that it means is that such multiple-objects-like phenomena are not primary; they are only higher-level, abstract, consequences of the more fundamental processes that are necessarily global in nature.


In the second post of this series [^], we saw how the grey regions of our illustrative example can be distinguished from each other (and from the background object) by using some critical density value as the criterion of their distinction or separation.

Since the second description involves only a single object, it necessarily requires a procedure for separating this singleton universe-object into multiple objects. There are certain interesting ideas concerning such a separation, and we will have a closer look at this very idea of separation, in the next post.


Of all the posts in this series, it is this post where I remain the most unsatisfied as far as my expression is concerned. I think a lot of simplification is called for. But in the choice between a better but very late expression and a timely but poor, awkward, expression, I have chosen the latter.

May be I will come back later and try to improve the flow and the expression of this post.

Next time,  I will also try to write something on how the two objections to the aether idea (mentioned in the last post) can be overcome.


A Song I Like:

(Marathi) “maajhee na mee raahile”
Music: Bal Parte
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Shanta Shelke


[A very minor revision done on 4th May 2017, 15:19 IST. May be, I will effect some more revisions later on.]

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Some of the implications of the “Many Objects” idea…

0. Context and Review:

This post continues from the last one. In the last post, we saw that the same perceptual evidence (involving two moving grey regions) can be conceptually captured using two entirely different, fundamental, physics ideas.

In the first description, the perceived grey regions are treated as physical objects in their own right.

In the second description, the perceived grey regions are treated not as physical objects in their own right, but merely as distinguishable (and therefore different) parts of the singleton object that is the universe (the latter being taken in its entirety).

We will now try to look at some of the implications that the two descriptions naturally lead to.

1. The “Many Objects” Viewpoint Always Implies an In-Principle Empty Background Object:

To repeat, in the first description, the grey regions are treated as objects in their own right. This is the “Many Objects” viewpoint. The universe is fundamentally presumed to contain many objects.

But what if there is one and only one grey block in the perceptual field? Wouldn’t such a universe then contain only that one grey object?

Not quite.

The fact of the matter is, even in this case, there implicitly are two objects in the universe: (i) the grey object and (ii) the background or the white object.

As an aside: Do see here Ayn Rand’s example (in ITOE, 2nd Edition) of how a uniform blue expanse of the sky by itself would not even be perceived as an object, but how, once you introduce a single speck of dust, the perceptual contrast that it introduces would allow perceptions of both the speck and the blue sky to proceed. Of course, this point is of only technical importance. Looking at the real world while following the first description, there are zillions of objects evidently present anyway.

Leaving aside the theoretically extreme case of a single grey region, and thus focusing on the main general ideas: the main trouble following this “Many Objects” description is twofold:

(i) It is hard to come to realize that something exists even in the regions that are “empty space.”

(ii) Methodologically, it is not clear as to precisely how one proceeds from the zillions of concrete objects to the singleton object that is the universe.  Observe that the concrete objects here are physical objects. Hence, one would look for a conceptual common denominator (CCD) that is narrower than just the fact that all these concrete objects do exist. One would look for something more physical by way of the CCD, but it is not clear what it could possibly be.

2. Implications of the “Many Objects” Viewpoint for Causality:

In the first description, there are two blocks and they collide. Let’s try to trace the consequences of such a description for causality:

With the supposition that there are two blocks, one is drawn into a temptation of thinking along the following lines:

the first block pushes on the second block—and the second block pushes on the first.

Following this line of thought, the first block can be taken as being responsible for altering the motion of the second block (and the second, of the first). Therefore, a certain conclusion seems inevitable:

the motion of the first block may be regarded as the cause, and the (change in) the motion of the second block may be regarded as the effect.

In other words, in this line of thought, one entity/object (the first block) supplies, produces or enacts the cause, and another entity/object (the second block) suffers the consequences, the effects. following the considerations of symmetry and thereby abstracting a more general truth (e.g. as captured in Newton’s third law), you could also argue that that it is the second object that is the real cause, and the first object shows only effects. Then, abstracting the truth following the consideration of symmetry, you could say that

the motion (or, broadly, the nature) of each of the two blocks is a cause, and the action it produces on the other block is an effect.

But regardless of the symmetry considerations or the abstractness of the argument that it leads to, note that this entire train of thought still manages to retain a certain basic idea as it is, viz.:

the entity/actions that is the cause is necessarily different from the entity/actions that is the effect.

Such an idea, of ascribing the cause and the effect parts of a single causal event (here, the collision event) to two different object not only can arise in the many objects description, it is the most common and natural way in which the very idea of causality has come to be understood. Examples abound: the swinging bat is a cause; the ball flying away is the effect; the entities to which we ascribe the cause and the effect are entirely different objects. The same paradigm runs throughout much of physics. Also in the humanities. Consider this: “he makes me feel good.”

Every time such a separation of cause and effect occurs, logically speaking, it must first be supposed that many objects exist in the universe.

It is only on the basis of a many objects viewpoint that the objects that act as causes can be metaphysically separated, at least in an event-by-event concrete description, from the objects that suffer the corresponding effects.

3. Implications of the “Many Objects” Viewpoint, and the Idea of the “Empty” Space:

Notice that in the “many objects” description, no causal role is at all played by those parts of the universe that are “empty space.” Consider the description again:

The grey blocks move, come closer together, collide, and fly away in the opposite directions after the collision.

Notice how this entire description is anchored only to the grey blocks. Whatever action happens in this universe, it is taken by the grey blocks. The empty white space gets no metaphysical role whatsoever to play.

It is as if any metaphysical locus standi that the empty space region should otherwise have, somehow got completely sucked out of itself, and this locus standi then got transferred, in a way overly concentrated, into the grey regions.

Once this distortion is allowed to be introduced into the overall theoretical scheme, then, logically speaking, it would be simple to propagate the error throughout the theory and its implication. Just apply an epistemologically minor principle like Occam’s Razor, and the metaphysical suggestion that this entire exercise leads to is tantamount to this idea:

why not simply drop the empty space out of any physical consideration? out of all physics theory?

A Side Remark on Occam’s Principle: The first thing to say about Occam’s Principle is that it is not a very fundamental principle. The second thing to say is that it is impossible to state it using any rigorous terms. People have tried doing that for centuries, and yet, not a single soul of them feels very proud when it comes to showing results for his efforts. Just because today’s leading theoretical physics love it, vouch by it, and vigorously promote it, it still does not make Occam’s principle play a greater epistemological role than it actually does. Qua an epistemological principle, it is a very minor principle. The best contribution that it can at all aspire to is: serving as a vague, merely suggestive, guideline. Going by its actual usage in classical physics, it did not even make for a frequently used epistemological norm let alone acted as a principle that would necessarily have to be invoked for achieving logical consistency. And, as a mere guideline, it is also very easily susceptible to misuse. Compare this principle to, e.g., the requirement that the process of concept formation must always show both the essentials: differentiation and integration. Or compare it to the idea that concept-formation involves measurement-omission. Physicists promote Occam’s Principle to the high pedestal, simply because they want to slip in their own bad ideas into physics theory. No, Occam’s Razor does not directly help them. What it actually lets them do, through misapplication, is to push a wedge to dislodge some valid theoretical block from the well-integrated wall that is physics. For instance, if the empty space has no role to play in the physical description of the universe [preparation of misapplication], then, by Occam’s Principle [the wedge], why not take the idea of aether [a valid block] out of  physics theory? [which helps make physics crumble into pieces].

It is in this way that the first description—viz. the “many objects” description—indirectly but inevitably leads to a denial of any physical meaning to the idea of space.

If a fundamental physical concept like space itself is denied any physical roots, then what possibly could one still say about this concept—about its fundamental character or nature? The only plausible answers would be the following:

That space must be (a) a mathematical concept (based on the idea that fundamental ideas had better be physical, mathematical or both), and (b) an arbitrary concept (based on the idea that if there is no hard basis of the physical reality underlying this concept, then it can always be made as soft as desired, i.e. infinitely soft, i.e., arbitrary).

If the second idea (viz., the idea that space is an arbitrary human invention) is accorded the legitimacy of a rigorously established truth, then, in logic, anyone would be free to bend space any which way he liked. So, there would have to be, in logic, a proliferation in spaces. The history of the 19th and 20th centuries is nothing but a practically evident proof of precisely this logic.

Notice further that in following this approach (of the “many objects”), metaphysically speaking, the first casualty is that golden principle taught by Aristotle, viz. the idea that a literal void cannot exist, that the nothing cannot be a part of the existence. (It is known that Aristotle did teach this principle. However, it is not known if he had predecessors, esp. in the more synthetic, Indic, traditions. In any case, the principle itself is truly golden—it saves one from so many epistemological errors.)

Physics is an extraordinarily well-integrated a science. However, this does not mean that it is (or ever has been) perfectly integrated. There are (and always have been) inconsistencies in it.

The way physics got formulated—the classical physics in particular—there always was a streak of thought in it which had always carried the supposition that there existed a literal void in the region of the “gap” between objects. Thus, as far as the working physicist was concerned, a literal void could not exist, it actually did. “Just look at the emptiness of that valley out there,” (said while standing at a mountain top). Or, “look at the bleakness, at the dark emptiness out there between those two shining bright stars!” That was their “evidence.” For many physicists—and philosophers—such could be enough of an evidence to accept the premise of a physically existing emptiness, the literal naught of the philosophers.

Of course, people didn’t always think in such terms—in terms of a literal naught existing as a part of existence.

Until the end of the 19th century, at least some people also thought in terms of “aether.”

The aether was supposed to be a massless object. It was supposed that “aether” existed everywhere, including in the regions of space where there were no massive objects. Thus, the presence of aether ensured that there was no void left anywhere in the universe.

However, as soon as you think of an idea like “aether,” two questions immediately arise: (i) how can aether exist even in those places where a massive object is already present? and (ii) as to the places where there is no massive object, if all that aether does is to sit pretty and do nothing, then how is it really different from those imaginary angels pushing on the planets in the solar system?

Hard questions, these two. None could have satisfactorily answered these two questions. … In fact, as far as I know, none in the history of physics has ever even raised the first question! And therefore, the issue of whether, in the history of thought, there has been any satisfactory answer provided to it or not, cannot even arise in the first place.

It is the absence of satisfactory answers to these two questions that has really allowed Occam’s Razor to be misapplied.

By the time Einstein arrived, the scene was already ripe to throw the baby out with the water, and thus he could happily declare that thinking in terms of the aether concept was entirely uncalled for, that it was best to toss it into in the junkyard of bad ideas discarded in the march of human progress.

The “empty” space, in effect, progressively got “emptier” and “emptier” still. First, it got replaced by the classical electromagnetic “field,” and then, as space got progressively more mathematical and arbitrary, the fields themselves got replaced by just an abstract mathematical function—whether the spacetime of the relativity theory or the \Psi function of QM.

4. Implications of the “Many Objects” Viewpoint and the Supposed Mysteriousness of the Quantum Entanglement:

In the “many objects” viewpoint, the actual causal objects are many. Further, this viewpoint very naturally suggests the idea of some one object being a cause and some other object being the effect. There is one very serious implication of this separation of cause and effect into many, metaphysically separate, objects.

With that supposition, now, if two distant objects (and metaphysically separate objects always are distant) happen to show some synchronized sort of a behavior, then, a question arises: how do we connect the cause with the effect, if the effect is observed not to lag in time from the cause.

Historically, there had been some discussion on the question of “[instantaneous] action at a distance,” or IAD for short. However, it was subdued. It was only in the context of QM riddles that IAD acquired the status of a deeply troubling/unsettling issue.

5. Miscellaneous:

5.1

Let me take a bit of a digression into philosophy proper here, by introducing Ayn Rand’s ideas of causality at this point [^]. In OPAR, Dr. Peikoff has clarified the issue amply well: The identity or nature of an entity is the cause, and its actions is the effect.

Following Ayn Rand, if two grey blocks (as given in our example perceptual field) reverse their directions of motions after collision, each of the two blocks is a cause, and the reversals in the directions of the same block is the effect.

Make sure to understand the difference in what is meant by causality. In the common-sense thinking, as spelt out in section 2. of this post, if the block `A’ is the cause, then the block `B’ is the effect (and vice versa). However, according to Ayn Rand, if the block `A’ is the cause, then the actions of this same block `A’ are the effect. It is an important difference, and make sure you know it.

Thus, notice, for the time being, that in Ayn Rand’s sense of the terms, the principle of causality actually does not need a multiplicity of objects.

However, notice that the causal role of the “empty” space continues to remain curiously unanswered even after you bring Ayn Rand’s above-mentioned insights to bear on the issue.

5.2:

The only causal role that can at all be ascribed to the “empty” space, it would seem, is for it to continuously go on “monitoring” if a truly causal body—a massive object—was impinging on itself or not, and if such a body actually did that, to allow it to do so.

In other words, the causal identity of the empty space becomes entirely other-located: it summarily depends on the identity of the massive objects. But the identity of a given object pertains to what that object itself is—not to what other objects are like. Clearly, something is wrong here.


In the next post, we shall try to trace the implications that the second description (i.e. The One Object) leads to.


A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “man mera tujh ko maange, door door too bhaage…”
Singer: Suman Kalyanpur
Music: Kalyanji Anandji
Lyrics: Indivar


[PS: May be an editing pass is due…. Let me see if I can find the time to come back and do it…. Considerable revision done on 28 April 2017 12:20 PM IST though no new ideas were added; I will leave the remaining grammatical errors/awkward construction as they are. The next post should get posted within a few days’ time.]

Why is the physical space 3-dimensional?

Why I write on this topic?

Well, it so happened that recently (about a month ago) I realized that I didn’t quite understand matrices. I mean, at least not as well as I should. … I was getting interested in the Data Science, browsing through a few books and Web sites on the topic, and soon enough realized that before going further, first, it would be better if I could systematically write down a short summary of the relevant mathematics, starting with the topic of matrices (and probability theory and regression analysis and the lot).

So, immediately, I fired TeXMaker, and started writing an “article” on matrices. But as is my habit, once I began actually typing, slowly, I also began to go meandering—pursuing just this one aside, and then just that one aside, and then just this one footnote, and then just that one end-note… The end product quickly became… unusable. Which means, it was useless. To any one. Including me.

So, after typing in a goodly amount, may be some 4–5 pages, I deleted that document, and began afresh.

This time round, I wrote only the abstract for a “future” document, and that too only in a point-by-point manner—you know, the way they specify those course syllabi? This strategy did help. In doing that, I realized that I still had quite a few issues to get straightened out well. For instance, the concept of the dual space [^][^].

After pursuing this activity very enthusiastically for something like a couple of days or so, my attention, naturally, once again got diverted to something else. And then, to something else. And then, to something else again… And soon enough, I came to even completely forget the original topic—I mean matrices. … Until in my random walk, I hit it once again, which was this week.

Once the orientation of my inspiration thus got once again aligned to “matrices” last week (I came back via eigen-values of differential operators), I now decided to first check out Prof. Zhigang Suo’s notes on Linear Algebra [^].

Yes! Zhigang’s notes are excellent! Very highly recommended! I like the way he builds topics: very carefully, and yet, very informally, with tons of common-sense examples to illustrate conceptual points. And in a very neat order. A lot of the initially stuff is accessible to even high-school students.

Now, what I wanted here was a single and concise document. So, I decided to take notes from his notes, and thereby make a shorter document that emphasized my own personal needs. Immediately thereafter, I found myself being engaged into that activity. I have already finished the first two chapters of his notes.

Then, the inevitable happened. Yes, you guessed it right: my attention (once again) got diverted.


What happened was that I ran into Prof. Scott Aaronson’s latest blog post [^], which is actually a transcript of an informal talk he gave recently. The topic of this post doesn’t really interest me, but there is an offhand (in fact a parenthetical) remark Scott makes which caught my eye and got me thinking. Let me quote here the culprit passage:

“The more general idea that I was groping toward or reinventing here is called a hidden-variable theory, of which the most famous example is Bohmian mechanics. Again, though, Bohmian mechanics has the defect that it’s only formulated for some exotic state space that the physicists care about for some reason—a space involving pointlike objects called “particles” that move around in 3 Euclidean dimensions (why 3? why not 17?).”

Hmmm, indeed… Why 3? Why not 17?

Knowing Scott, it was clear (to me) that he meant this remark not quite in the sense of a simple and straight-forward question (to be taken up for answering in detail), but more or less fully in the sense of challenging the common-sense assumption that the physical space is 3-dimensional.

One major reason why modern physicists don’t like Bohm’s theory is precisely because its physics occurs in the common-sense 3 dimensions, even though, I think, they don’t know that they hate him also because of this reason. (See my 2013 post here [^].)

But should you challenge an assumption just for the sake of challenging one? …

It’s true that modern physicists routinely do that—challenging assumptions just for the sake of challenging them.

Well, that way, this attitude is not bad by itself; it can potentially open doorways to new modes of thinking, even discoveries. But where they—the physicists and mathematicians—go wrong is: in not understanding the nature of their challenges themselves, well enough. In other words, questioning is good, but modern physicists fail to get what the question itself is, or even means (even if they themselves have posed the question out of a desire to challenge every thing and even everything). And yet—even if they don’t get even their own questions right—they do begin to blabber, all the same. Not just on arXiv but also in journal papers. The result is the epistemological jungle that is in the plain sight. The layman gets (or more accurately, is deliberately kept) confused.

Last year, I had written a post about what physicists mean by “higher-dimensional reality.” In fact, in 2013, I had also written a series of posts on the topic of space—which was more from a philosophical view, but unfortunately not yet completed. Check out my writings on space by hitting the tag “space” on my blog [^].

My last year’s post on the multi-dimensional reality [^] did address the issue of the n > 3 dimensions, but the writing in a way was geared more towards understanding what the term “dimension” itself means (to physicists).

In contrast, the aspect which now caught my attention was slightly different; it was this question:

Just how would you know if the physical space that you see around you is indeed was 3-, 4-, or 17-dimensional? What method would you use to positively assert the exact dimensionality of space? using what kind of an experiment? (Here, the experiment is to be taken in the sense of a thought experiment.)

I found an answer this question, too. Let me give you here some indication of it.


First, why, in our day-to-day life (and in most of engineering), do we take the physical space to be 3-dimensional?

The question is understood better if it is put more accurately:

What precisely do we mean when we say that the physical space is 3-dimensional? How do we validate that statement?

The answer is “simple” enough.

Mark a fixed point on the ground. Then, starting from that fixed point, walk down some distance x in the East direction, then move some distance y in the North direction, and then climb some distance z vertically straight up. Now, from that point, travel further by respectively the same distances along the three axes, but in the exactly opposite directions. (You can change the order in which you travel along the three axes, but the distance along a given axis for both the to- and the fro-travels must remain the same—it’s just that the directions have to be opposite.)

What happens if you actually do something like this in the physical reality?

You don’t have to leave your favorite arm-chair; just trace your finger along the edges of your laptop—making sure that the laptop’s screen remains at exactly 90 degrees to the plane of the keyboard.

If you actually undertake this strenuous an activity in the physical reality, you will find that, in physical reality, a “magic” happens: You come back exactly to the same point from where you had begun your journey.

That’s an important point. A very obvious point, but also, in a way, an important one. There are other crucially important points too. For instance, this observation. (Note, it is a physical observation, and not an arbitrary mathematical assumption):

No matter where you stop during the process of going in, say the East direction, you will find that you have not traveled even an inch in the North direction. Ditto, for the vertical axis. (It is to ensure this part that we keep the laptop screen at exactly 90 degrees to the keyboard.)

Thus, your x, y and z readings are completely independent of each other. No matter how hard you slog along, say the x-direction, it yields no fruit at all along the y– or z– directions.

It’s something like this: Suppose there is a girl that you really, really like. After a lot of hard-work, suppose you somehow manage to impress her. But then, at the end of it, you come to realize that all that hard work has done you no good as far as impressing her father is concerned. And then, even if you somehow manage to win her father on your side, there still remains her mother!

To say that the physical space is 3-dimensional is a positive statement, a statement of an experimentally measured fact (and not an arbitrary “geometrical” assertion which you accept only because Euclid said so). It consists of two parts:

The first part is this:

Using the travels along only 3 mutually independent directions (the position and the orientation of the coordinate frame being arbitrary), you can in principle reach any other point in the space.

If some region of space were to remain unreachable this way, if there were to be any “gaps” left in the space which you could not reach using this procedure, then it would imply either (i) that the procedure itself isn’t appropriate to establish the dimensionality of the space, or (ii) that it is, but the space itself may have more than 3 dimensions.

Assuming that the procedure itself is good enough, for a space to have more than 3 dimensions, the “unreachable region” doesn’t have to be a volume. The “gaps” in question may be limited to just isolated points here and there. In fact, logically speaking, there needs to be just one single (isolated) point which remains in principle unreachable by the procedure. Find just one such a point—and the dimensionality of the space would come in question. (Think: The Aunt! (The assumption here is that aunts aren’t gentlemen [^].))

Now what we do find in practice is that any point in the actual physical space indeed is in principle reachable via the above-mentioned procedure (of altering x, y and z values). It is in part for this reason that we say that the actual physical space is 3-D.

The second part is this:

We have to also prove, via observations, that fewer than 3 dimensions do fall short. (I told you: there was the mother!) Staircases and lifts (Americans call them elevators) are necessary in real life.

Putting it all together:

If n =3 does cover all the points in space, and if n > 3 isn’t necessary to reach every point in space, and if n < 3 falls short, then the inevitable conclusion is: n = 3 indeed is the exact dimensionality of the physical space.

QED?

Well, both yes and no.

Yes, because that’s what we have always observed.

No, because all physics knowledge has a certain definite scope and a definite context—it is “bounded” by the inductive context of the physical observations.

For fundamental physics theories, we often don’t exactly know the bounds. That’s OK. The most typical way in which the bounds get discovered is by “lying” to ourselves that no such bounds exist, and then experimentally discovering a new phenomena or a new range in which the current theory fails, and a new theory—which merely extends and subsumes the current theory—is validated.

Applied to our current problem, we can say that we know that the physical space is exactly three-dimensional—within the context of our present knowledge. However, it also is true that we don’t know what exactly the conceptual or “logical” boundaries of this physical conclusion are. One way to find them is to lie to ourselves that there are no such bounds, and continue investigating nature, and hope to find a phenomenon or something that helps find these bounds.

If tomorrow we discover a principle which implies that a certain region of space (or even just one single isolated point in it) remains in principle unreachable using just three dimensions, then we would have to abandon the idea that n = 3, that the physical space is 3-dimensional.

Thus far, not a single soul has been able to do that—Einstein, Minkowski or Poincare included.

No one has spelt out a single physically established principle using which a spatial gap (a region unreachable by the linear combination procedure) may become possible, even if only in principle.

So, it is 3, not 17.

QED.


All the same, it is not ridiculous to think whether there can be 4 or more number of dimensions—I mean for the physical space alone, not counting time. I could explain how. However, I have got too tired typing this post, and so, I am going to just jot down some indicative essentials.

Essentially, the argument rests on the idea that a physical “travel” (rigorously: a physical displacement of a physical object) isn’t the only physical process that may be used in establishing the dimensionality of the physical space.

Any other physical process, if it is sufficiently fundamental and sufficiently “capable,” could in principle be used. The requirements, I think, would be: (i) that the process must be able to generate certain physical effects which involve some changes in their spatial measurements, (ii) that it must be capable of producing any amount of a spatial change, and (iii) that it must allow fixing of an origin.

There would be the other usual requirements such as reproducibility etc., though the homogeneity wouldn’t be a requirement. Also observe Ayn Rand’s “some-but-any” principle [^] at work here.

So long as such requirements are met (I thought of it on the fly, but I think I got it fairly well), the physically occurring process (and not some mathematically dreamt up procedure) is a valid candidate to establish the physically existing dimensionality of the space “out there.”

Here is a hypothetical example.

Suppose that there are three knobs, each with a pointer and a scale. Keeping the three knobs at three positions results in a certain point (and only that point) getting mysteriously lit up. Changing the knob positions then means changing which exact point is lit-up—this one or that one. In a way, it means: “moving” the lit-up point from here to there. Then, if to each point in space there exists a unique “permutation” of the three knob readings (and here, by “permutation,” we mean that the order of the readings at the three knobs is important), then the process of turning the knobs qualifies for establishing the dimensionality of the space.

Notice, this hypothetical process does produce a physical effect that involves changes in the spatial measurements, but it does not involve a physical displacement of a physical object. (It’s something like sending two laser beams in the night sky, and being able to focus the point of intersection of the two “rays” at any point in the physical space.)

No one has been able to find any such process which even if only in principle (or in just thought experiments) could go towards establishing a 4-, 2-, or any other number for the dimensionality of the physical space.


I don’t know if my above answer was already known to physicists or not. I think the situation is going to be like this:

If I say that this answer is new, then I am sure that at some “opportune” moment in future, some American is simply going to pop up from nowhere at a forum or so, and write something which implies (or more likely, merely hints) that “everybody knew” it.

But if I say that the answer is old and well-known, and then if some layman comes to me and asks me how come the physicists keep talking as if it can’t be proved whether the space we inhabit is 3-dimensional or not, I would be at a loss to explain it to him—I don’t know a good explanation or a reference that spells out the “well known” solution that “everybody knew already.”

In my (very) limited reading, I haven’t found the point made above; so it could be a new insight. Assuming it is new, what could be the reason that despite its simplicity, physicists didn’t get it so far?

Answer to that question, in essential terms (I’ve really got too tired today) is this:

They define the very idea of space itself via spanning; they don’t first define the concept of space independently of any operation such as spanning, and only then see whether the space is closed under a given spanning operation or not.

In other words, effectively, what they do is to assign the concept of dimensionality to the spanning operation, and not to the space itself.

It is for this reason that discussions on the dimensionality of space remain confused and confusing.


Food for thought:

What does a 2.5-dimensional space mean? Hint: Lookup any book on fractals.

Why didn’t we consider such a procedure here? (We in fact don’t admit it as a proper procedure) Hint: We required that it must be possible to conduct the process in the physical reality—which means: the process must come to a completion—which means: it can’t be an infinite (indefinitely long or interminable) process—which means, it can’t be merely mathematical.

[Now you know why I hate mathematicians. They are the “gap” in our ability to convince someone else. You can convince laymen, engineers and programmers. (You can even convince the girl, the father and the mother.) But mathematicians? Oh God!…]


A Song I Like:

(English) “When she was just seventeen, you know what I mean…”
Band: Beatles


 

[May be an editing pass tomorrow? Too tired today.]

[E&OE]

What do physicists mean by “multidimensional” physical reality?

Update on 2015.09.07, 07 AM: I have effected a few corrections. In particular, I have made it explicit that the third quantity isn’t the strength of an independently existing third property, but merely a quantity that is registered when the two independent quantities are both being varied. Sorry about that. If the need be, I will simplify this discussion further and write another blog post clarifying such points, some time later.


The last time, I said that I am falling short on time these days. This shortfall, generally speaking, continues. However, it just so happens that I’ve essentially finished a unit each for both the UG courses by today. Therefore, I do have a bit of a breather for this week-end (only); I don’t have to dig into texts for lecture preparations this evening. (Also, it turns out that despite the accreditation-related overtime work, we aren’t working on Sundays, though that’s what I had mentioned the last time round). All in all, I can slip in a small note, and the title question seems right.


We often hear that the physical reality, according to physicists, is not the 3-dimensional reality that we perceive. Instead, it is supposed to be some n-dimensional entity. For instance, we are told that space and time are not independent; that they form a 4-dimensional continuum. (One idea which then gets suggested is that space and time are physically inter-convertible—like iron and gold, for instance. (You mean to say you had never thought of it, before?)) But that’s only for the starters. There are string theorists who say that physical universe is 10-, n-, or \infty-dimensional.

What do physicists mean when they say that reality is n-dimensional where n >3? Let’s try to understand their viewpoint with a simple example. … This being a brief post, we will not pursue all the relevant threads, even if important. … All that I want to touch upon here is just one simple—but often missed—point, via just one, simple, illustration.


Take a straight line, say of infinite length. Take a point on this line. Suppose that you can associate a physical object with this point. The object itself may have a finite extent. For example, the object may be extended over a small segment of this line. In such a case, we will associate, say the mid-point of the segment with this object.

Suppose this straight line, together with the 1-dimensionally spread-out object, defines a universe. That is a supposition; just accept that.

The 1-dimensional object, being physical, carries some physical properties (or attributes), denoted as p_1, p_2, p_3, \cdots. For example, for the usual 3-dimensional universe, each object may have some extent (which we have already seen above), as well as some mass (and therefore density), color, transmissivity, velocity, spinning rate, etc. Also, position from a chosen origin.

Since we live in a 3-dimensional universe, we have to apply some appropriate limiting processes to make sense of this 1-dimensional universe. This task is actually demanding, but for the sake of the mathematical simplicity of the resulting model, we will continue with a 1-dimensional universe.

So, coming back to the object and its properties, each property it possesses exists in a certain finite amount.

Suppose that the strength of each property depends on the position of the object in the universe. Thus, when the object is at the origin (any arbitrary point on the line chosen as the reference point), the property p_1 exists with the strength s_1(0), the property p_2 exists with the strength s_2(0), etc. In short the ith property p_i exists with a strength s_i(x) where x is the position of the object in the universe (as measured from the arbitrarily selected origin.) Suppose the physicist knows (or chooses to consider) n number of such properties.

For each of these n number of properties, you could plot a graph of its strength at various positions in the universe.

To the physicist, what is important and interesting is not the fact that the object itself is only 1-dimensionally spread; it is: how the quantitative measures s_i(x)s of these properties p_is vary with the position x. In other words, whether or not there is any co-variation that a given ith property has with another kth property, or not, and if yes, what is the nature of this co-variation.

If the variation in the ith property has no relation (or functional dependence) to the kth property, then the physicist declares these two properties to be independent of each other. (If they are dependent on each other, the physicist simply retains only one of these two properties in his basic or fundamental model of the universe; he declares the other as the derived quantity.)

Assuming that a set of some n chosen properties such that they are independent of each other, his next quest is to find the nature of their functional dependence on position x.

To this end, he considers two arbitrarily selected points, x_1 and x_2. Suppose that his initial model has only three properties: p_1, p_2 and p_3. Suppose he experimentally measures their strengths at various positions x_1, x_2, x_3, x_4, \cdots.

While doing this experimentation, suppose he has the freedom to vary only one property at a time, keeping all others constant. Or, vary two properties simultaneously, while keeping all others constant. Etc. In short, he can vary combinations of properties.

By way of an analogy, you can think of a small box carrying a few on-off buttons and some readout boxes on it. Suppose that this box is mounted on a horizontal beam. You can freely move it in between two fixed points x = x_1 and x = x_2. The `on-off’ buttons can be switched on or off independent of each other.

Suppose you put the first button b_1 in the `on’ position and keep the the rest of the buttons in the `off’ position. Then, suppose you move the box from the point x_1 to the point x_2. The box is designed such that, if you do this particular trial, you will get a readout of how the property p_1 varied between the two points; its strength at various positions s_1(x) will be shown in a readout box b_1. (During this particular trial, the other buttons are kept switched off, and so, the other readout boxes register zero).

Similarly, you can put another button b_2 into the `on’ position and the rest in the `off’ position, and you get another readout in the readout box b_2.

Suppose you systematize your observations with the following notation: (i) when only the button b_1 is switched on (and all the other buttons are switched off), the property p_1 is seen to exist with s_1(x_1) units at the position x = x_1 and s_1(x_2) units at x = x_2; this readout is available in the box b_1. (ii) When only the button b_2 is switched on (and all the other buttons are switched off), the property p_2 exists with s_2(x_1) units at x = x_1 and s_2(x_2) units at x = x_2; this readout is available in the box b_2. So on and so forth.

Next, consider what happens when more than one switch is put in the `on’ position.

Suppose that the box carries only two switches, and both are put in the `on’ position. The reading for this combination is given in a third box: b_{(1+2)}; it refers to the variation that the box registers while moving on the horizontal beam. Let’s call the strengths registered in the third box, at x_1 and x_2 positions, as s_{(1+2)}(x_1) and s_{(1+2)}(x_2), respectively; these refer to the (1+2) combination (i.e. both the switches 1 and 2 put in the `on’ position simultaneously).

Next, suppose that after his experimentation, the physicist discovers that the following relation holds:

[s_{(1+2)}(x_2) - s_{(1+2)}(x_1)]^2 = [s_1(x_2) - s_1(x_1)]^2 + [s_2(x_2) - s_2(x_1)]^2

(Remember the Pythogorean theorem? It’s useful here!) Suppose he finds the above equation holds no matter what the specific values of x_1 and x_2 may be (i.e. whatever be the distances of the two arbitrarily selected points from the same origin).

In this case, the physicist declares that this universe is a 2-dimensional vector space, with respect to these p_1 and p_2 properties taken as the bases.

Why? Why does he call it a 2-dimensional universe? Why doesn’t he continue calling it a 1-dimensional universe?

Because, he can take a 2-dimensional graph paper by way of an abstract representation of how the quantities of the properties (or attributes) vary, plot these quantities s_1 and s_2 along the two Cartesian axes, and then use them to determine the third quantity s_{(1+2)} from them. (In fact, he can use any two of these strengths to find out the third one.)

In particular, he happily and blithely ignores the fact that the object of which p_i are mere properties (or attributes), actually is spread (or extended) over only a single dimension, viz., the x-axis.

He still insists on calling this universe a 2-dimensional universe.

That’s all there is to this n-dimensional nonsense. Really.


But what about the n-dimensional space, you ask?

Well, the physicist just regards the extension and the position themselves to form the set of the physical properties p_i under discussion! The physicist regards distance as a property, even if he is going to measure the strengths or magnitudes of the properties (i.e. distances, really speaking) only in reference to x (i.e. positions)!!

But doesn’t that involve at least one kind of a circularity, you ask?

The answer is embedded right in the question.

Understand this part, and the entire mystification of physics based on the “multi-dimensional” whatever vaporizes away.

But don’t rely on the popular science paperbacks to tell you this simple truth, though!


Hopefully, the description above is not too dumbed down, and further, hopefully, it doesn’t have too significant an error. (It would be easy for me (or for that matter any one else) to commit an error—even a conceptual error—on this topic. So, if you spot something, please do point it out to me, and I will correct the description accordingly. On my part, I will come back sometime next week, and read this post afresh, and then decide whether what I wrote makes sense or not.)


A Song I Like:

For this time round, I am going to list a song even if I don’t actually evaluate it to be a very great song.

In fact, in violation of the time-honored traditions of this blog, what I am going to do is to list the video of a song. It’s the video of a 25+ years old song that I found I liked, when I checked it out recently. As to the song, well, it has only a nostalgia value to me. In fact, even the video, for the most part, has only a nostalgia value to me. The song is this:

(Hindi) “may se naa minaa se na saaki se…”
Music: Rajesh Roshan
Singers: Sadhana Sargam and Mohammad Aziz
Lyrics: Farooq Qaisar

Well, those were the technical details (regarding this song). To really quickly locate the song (and the video), forget the lyrics mentioned above. Instead, just google “aap ke aa jaane se,” and hit the first video link that the search throws up. (Yes, it’s the same song.)

As I said, I like this video mainly for its nostalgic value (to me). It instantaneously takes me back to the 1987–88 times. The other reasons are: the utter natural ease with which both the actors perform the dance here (esp. Neelam!). They both in fact look like they are authentically enjoying their dancing. Watch Neelam’s steps, in particular. She was reputed to be a good dancer, and you might think that this song must have been a cake-walk for her. Well, check out her thin (canvas-like) shoes, and the kind of rough ground in the mountains and in the fields over which she seems so effortlessly to take those steps. Govinda, in comparison, must have had it a bit easier (with his thicker, leather shoes), but in any case, in actuality, it must have been some pretty good hard work for both of them—it’s just that the hard work doesn’t show in the song. … Further, I also like the relative simplicity of the picturization. And, the catchy rhythm. Also, the absence, here, of those gaudy gestures which by now are so routine in Hindi film songs (and in fact were there even in the times of this song, and in fact also for about a decade or more earlier). I mean: those pelvic thrusts, that passing off of a thousand of people doing their PT exercises on a new, sprawling suburban street in Mumbai/Gurgaon/Lutyens’ Delhi as an instance of dance, etc.

… I don’t know if you end up liking this song or not. To me, however, it unmistakably takes me to the times when I was a freshly minted MTech from IIT Madras, was doing some good (also satisfying) work in NDT, had just recently bought a bike (the Yamaha RX 100), and was looking forward to life in general with far more enthusiasm (and in retrospect, even naivete) than I can manage to even fake these days. So, there.

[As I said, drop a line if there are mistakes in the main post. Main mistake (or omission) corrected. As I said, drop a line if there are further mistakes in the main post. And, excuse me for some time, esp. the next week-end, esp. the next Saturday late night (IST). I may not find any time the next Sunday, because I would once again be in the middle of teaching a couple of new units over the next 2–3 weeks.]

[E&OE]