Friday, April 1, 2011

Florensky on space-time

Toward the end of his life in a Soviet prison camp, Florensky had one last burst of creative insight:

"On 3 April [1936], Florensky directed a letter through Kirill [his son] to his teacher, Academician Vernadsky, in which he overcomes his anger at 'human stupidity' and tries to reformulate the cornerstone of his philosophy: the reality of time and space. Thought of by rationalists as an abstract way of organising our perceptions and by the sensualists as subjective delusion, for Florensky space and time are the key to understanding and
the most weighty proof of the reality of space-time is the fact of the existence of asymmetry in nature and of irreversibility in the temporal ... Asymmetry in time is irreversibility. To be is to be in time, to be in time is to be irreversible, that is 'historical'.
We cannot, as the cinema can, turn time around and have the splash before the dive. ... 'Physical space-time cannot be thought of other than as potentially immense in compass yet endowed with distinct content. And that leads to the assertion of the curvature of space-time'. Different sections of the curve have different surfaces: a rough surface wears more slowly, a jutting corner weathers faster. We cannot conceive of the border between the inner and outer body as flat. Thus time itself can be measured differently in different spatial conditions.

These hypotheses, Florensky tells his son and through him his son's teacher, still out there and able to study and publish in the world of science, may be proved wrong tomorrow but will surely be proved right the day after and he needs to record them. So the free mind, struggling in the weary body amid the white mice, winter flies and billowing steam, still fought to communicate, to leave some trace..." (Pyman, p. 178)

If the Soviets had allowed Florensky to live, and if before his death he had been allowed to continue his own research, they might very well have had the philosophical counterpart to Einstein's general relativity.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear feedback!