A weird rumination over space


I like this image because its individual constituents such as the keyboard, dice, my copy of Einstein’s book, a candle, a pair of glasses and a vajra are so disparate and yet make some sense together.

The main reason why I like to frequently read Albert Einstein’s slim volume ‘Relativity—The Special and General Theory’ is because it reminds me of my constricted intellectual horizon.

I have read this book several times for the past many years without moving anywhere close to comprehending the full measure of its fundamental concepts. One does understand it in bits and pieces and parts and portions but as a whole it remains outside my grasp. Of course, there are moments when everything stands utterly illuminated as if fully explained. However, they have invariably turned out to be false positives.

For instance, in the appendices to the book Einstein talks about ‘Relativity and the Problem of Space.’ He writes, “It is characteristic of Newtonian physics that it has to ascribe independent and real existence to space and time as well as to matter, for in Newton’s law of motion the idea of acceleration appears. But in this theory, acceleration can only denote “acceleration with respect to space.” Newton’s space must be thought of as “at rest,” or at least as “unaccelerated,” in order that one can consider the acceleration, which appears in the law of motion, as being a magnitude with any meaning.” I understand everything that is written here and yet not quite.

Then Einstein talks about how it is exacting to “ascribe physical reality to space in general, and especially to empty space.” “Time and against since remotest times philosophers have resisted this presumption. Descartes argued somewhat on these lines: space is identical with extension, but extension is connected with bodies; thus there is no space without bodies and hence no empty space.”

One of the questions I have grappled with every time I read this book is what is space and whether it exists independent of solid bodies. Also, whether I have even understood my own question. I am not even sure whether it is being proposed in the book whether space can be ascribed reality and it is capable of being “directly experienced.” All the various objects on my desk, of the kind you see in the image above, variously define space. Take every single one of them away and imagine that there is absolutely nothing, do we still have space? Am I even asking the right question?

I am invariably left with such unsettled questions and unsatisfied mind after reading the book; like I said acutely conscious of my constricted intellectual horizon.

It was René Descartes who famously said, “I think, therefore I am.”  I do think but I am not sure if I am all there. And what about those who do not think? I see that they are still there.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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