Food For Thought

A long time ago, I read a science fiction story in which a method was discovered to make matter ‘out of phase’ to the electromagnetic force. Altered matter reacted to other altered matter normally, but passed straight through normal matter, as EM is what gives matter its most familiar properties.

In the story, the method facilitated global travel, as a ship could be brought out of phase and permitted to fall through the planet under the influence of gravity. But that’s incidental.

The story got me thinking. I couldn’t see any logical reason to presume that a kind of substance that didn’t interact with electromagnetism was impossible, although future developments in physics might change that. But it’s at least logically coherent to postulate. It didn’t have to be EM, either – we can imagine types of matter that didn’t react to gravity, or the strong force, or the color red, or red-headed bicycle mechanics on Feb. 29th. Or even forces or properties that we don’t yet know anything about.

What would happen if something were rendered ‘out of phase’ in every way, though?

While thinking about that, I read for the first time Carl Sagan’s anecdote about someone claiming there was a dragon in their garage, but offering one rationalization after another when others suggested ways of measuring its existence. Something clicked.

Things are distinguished only by the differences in their logical implications. What was the difference between taking something and making it unresponsive to all forces, and destroying it completely? Trivially, I could say that the thing continued to exist in the first case and not in the second, but what would this statement about existence mean? What did I actually mean by ‘existence’?

It was then that I realized that when I was talking about something existing, I was talking about it interacting, one way or another. Something that didn’t interact in any way simply didn’t exist. There was no difference between severing all interactions and utter destruction – those phrases were different ways of describing the same thing.

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4 Responses to “Food For Thought”

  1. So I bet you’ve thought about how this should relate to the observable universe, cosmological horizons, etc. – no?

    By your reasoning, what would it mean to say that only some fraction of the universe is observable in principle? That would imply that some fraction exists which cannot affect this part. But then it “simply doesn’t exist”. Ergo, the “observable universe” is really the entire universe, because the rest doesn’t exist.

    Care to object?

  2. Yes.

    “By your reasoning, what would it mean to say that only some fraction of the universe is observable in principle?”

    Your reasoning is correct, and echoes my own. A ‘universe’ is a set of things that interact – that are ‘observable in principle’ – and that contain the entity communicating.

    Existence is therefore a relative concept. We can postulate other systems that interact within themselves but do not interact with us – genuine other universes – but those things cannot be said to exist relative to us, and we do not exist relative to them.

    Interestingly, this means that our own universe does not exist, because there’s no context in which it can. Only parts of it can exist relative to others things – ‘existence’ cannot be applied to the whole.

  3. “What was the difference between taking something and making it unresponsive to all forces, and destroying it completely?”

    Energy.

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