Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Super-extra-general relativity & the problem of other minds

This is probably only a rediscovery of something that occurred to me before, as well as to probably a dozen modern pseudoscientific gurus and five million people in 1917, but recently I had the pleasure of "realizing" what a wonderful metaphor relativisitic spacetime is for the intellectual reality that two or more people create by talking to one another. Einstein showed that there's no such thing as simultaneity for observers in uncoupled reference frames, and that what one person experiences (e.g. lengths and times) is not what the other sees from his or her opposing perspective. Well, what has Einstein proved but the philosophers' "other minds" problem?

You can take this metaphor down to the fundamentals: Einstein's bizarre conclusions about physical space follow from the limit on the speed with which information travels from one point in space to another--that limit being the speed of light. But information also moves between people at only finite speed: Tongues need to wag, neurons need to fire, mental modules need to compare and compute. So though we may feel irresistably drawn to the conclusion that the person we're talking to is living in another universe, general relativity comforts us by saying that actually he or she isn't. According to Einstein, this perception is just the nature of the universe we live in.

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