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Author Topic: Would time travel undermine science?  (Read 3413 times)

another_someone

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Would time travel undermine science?
« on: 04/09/2007 16:45:33 »
I am not sure how much this is really a question about science, and how much is a general philosophical discussion, so if one of the other mods decides to move this elsewhere, be my guest.

The question is not asking whether time travel (in particular, to be able to send information back in time, and to be able to unambiguously see into the future) would contravene the present laws of science, but whether society would actually have a need for science if these time travel tools were available.

The purpose of science is essentially to predict an otherwise unpredictable future (typically by designing experiments which are to show whether a hypothesis you have formed is correct or not).  But the very nature of this must be that the future remains otherwise unpredictable, and so the science can prove itself against that unpredictability.  If all is predictable, then how can you design an experiment where you can prove a new theory?

More directly, the purpose of science is, as I mentioned above, to predict the future by analysing patterns about what in known about the present and the past, and projecting those patterns into the future.  If the future can otherwise be unambiguously predicted, then what value would those patterns hold for predicting the future - you have no need to use pattern prediction when you can just look into the future directly to see what is there.


 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Would time travel undermine science?
« Reply #1 on: 04/09/2007 17:26:21 »
Surely, though, science is also about the whys and not just the whats.
 

another_someone

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Would time travel undermine science?
« Reply #2 on: 04/09/2007 17:36:34 »
Surely, though, science is also about the whys and not just the whats.

It depend on what you mean by "whys"?

I think it is probably more accurate to talk about science being about hows rather than whys, and religion is more about whys.

But even the "hows" merely describe a model that is validated by the what - i.e. one can conjecture lots of possible hows (or even whys), but it is not science unless it is confirmed by observation (i.e. unless that how predicts a what that can be confirmed by experimental observation).

The how (not the why) is really just what the model created by observing the pattern of past and present whats is.
« Last Edit: 04/09/2007 17:38:23 by another_someone »
 

Offline neilep

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Would time travel undermine science?
« Reply #3 on: 04/09/2007 18:21:07 »
I thought the nature of science was to learn how the world around us works  !....and why !......because we're curious beasties..!
 

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Would time travel undermine science?
« Reply #4 on: 04/09/2007 18:22:13 »
I think that's semantics. It's just as valid to ask "Why does this happen?" as "How does this happen?".

If we know that event A will cause result B, science can legitimately ask why it happens. It's not sufficient just to be able to predict that B will happen. However, if B has never been observed, but is predicted by theory, then it is equally legitimate to search for evidence of B.
 

another_someone

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Would time travel undermine science?
« Reply #5 on: 04/09/2007 18:38:26 »
I think that's semantics. It's just as valid to ask "Why does this happen?" as "How does this happen?".

I agree it is semantics, but I would still regard why to imply a purpose, and how to imply a means - thus the two questions are not the same (why have two questions if both mean the same thing?).

If we know that event A will cause result B, science can legitimately ask why it happens. It's not sufficient just to be able to predict that B will happen. However, if B has never been observed, but is predicted by theory, then it is equally legitimate to search for evidence of B.

Most of science tells us little more than A will result in B, but it simply tries to do so with some structure that allows a generalisation of the observation of A and B.

Newtons laws of gravity does not tell us why gravity exists, or how it works, it merely tells us that all things have gravity, and that in a gravitational field objects will behave in a certain way (i.e. if A has a velocity and position in relation to B, Newtons rules will tell predict what path B will take, but not why it takes that path).

Einstein merely changed the predictive maths because there were shown to be certain situations where Newton's maths did not predict the right answer.

Yes, both Einstein and Newton gave various names to things, and some vague metaphysical explanation (the existence of forces, the warping of space, etc.), but at the end of the day, these terms don't really mean anything more than simply telling a story; it is the maths that counts, because it is the maths that creates the predictions, and it is the validation of those predictions that makes the rest of the theory acceptable.
 

Offline neilep

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Would time travel undermine science?
« Reply #6 on: 04/09/2007 19:06:20 »
I think 'how' and 'why' are entirely different things too....

...and I not only want to know why A leads to B but also what 'A' and 'B' are in the first place !.....which probably leads to C ! :)
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Would time travel undermine science?
« Reply #7 on: 04/09/2007 22:44:44 »
I think that's semantics. It's just as valid to ask "Why does this happen?" as "How does this happen?".

Newtons laws of gravity does not tell us why gravity exists, or how it works, it merely tells us that all things have gravity, and that in a gravitational field objects will behave in a certain way (i.e. if A has a velocity and position in relation to B, Newtons rules will tell predict what path B will take, but not why it takes that path).


HA! You used "why" twice in that bit of your reply!  [^]
 

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Would time travel undermine science?
« Reply #8 on: 04/09/2007 22:54:05 »
...and it is the validation of those predictions that makes the rest of the theory acceptable.

I totally agree; although I would add "it is the validation of those predictions insofar as our current level of knowledge can tell that makes the rest of the theory acceptable."

I read a lot of sci-fi & I remember in 1 of the later parts of the Foundation & Empire series by Isaac Asimov the inhabitants of a certain part of the galaxy had stopped questioning previous research; everything that had previously been theorised was taken for granted. Science had therefore stagnated. I think this is something we need to be careful of.

(I know that was off-subject but I think it pertinent to the discussion between George & myself)
 

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Would time travel undermine science?
« Reply #8 on: 04/09/2007 22:54:05 »

 

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