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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2012
This isn't "philosophy of physics for dummies" by any stretch, but for someone who last took physics in 1975 and who only has taken an intro to philosophy course, this was an excellent overview of historical and modern philosophy of the physics of space and time. The author uses next to no math (thank goodness) and his prose expositions are clear and to the point. I imagine the book would also appeal to those with more knowledge of both subjects, as the author suggests that some of his positions are controversial. I'm looking forward to part 2 on matter based upon his exposition of space and time in this volume. Highly recommended.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2012
A concise, accessible, enjoyable, responsible and rewarding survey of the historical development of the physicist's conception of space and time.

I say it's concise because this volume weighs in at about 200 pages and covers spatial/temporal geometries from Aristotle, Newton, Galileo and Einstein.

There's certainly a bit of math in the book, but not so much as to exclude the layperson. The descriptions and diagrams provided are about as clear as they can be, given the subject.

I say it's responsible because the author makes use of clear arguments, makes assumptions and missing pieces clear and follows up with recommended readings.

The text is rewarding because it clears up many misconceptions about the theories it covers and gives a fresh, clean take on the subject. I can certainly say this book helped sharpen my understanding of special & general relativity.

There's more physics than philosophy in this text. It serves as an excellent description of space and time for a philosopher. I don't see that it would give the physics student a strong philosophical hook, though it's certainly more philosophical than the average physics text. (The exception would be a relatively sizable discussion of the correspondence between Leibniz and Clarke on Newtonian absolute space, which I enjoyed having studied that debate previously.)

Overall a worthwhile read for anyone looking for an introduction to philosophy of physics, or anyone who could stand to improve their understanding of the theories presented.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2012
First, it should be understood that this is not so much a philosophy of physics as it is physics for philosophers. This volume does not so much cover the many philosophical issues that have arisen from millennia of trying to know the rules governing the material world. Instead, it introduces the scientific issues that underlie these questioning traditions.

That said, this is a brilliant introduction to the enigmatic field of physics, tilted toward the philosopher's perspective. Most of the writers here are physicists not philosophers. But the tone is not overly mathematical. It is refreshingly buoyant, dwelling more in the realm of meaning and presence than in the cold interplay of systems.

Somehow I am reminded of Parlett's THE Book of Word Games -- perhaps it is the pleasure that this kind of inquiry creates, rather than any topical connection.

Highly recommended for philosophers, the philosophically inclined, or those simply wishing to understand what physics may MEAN -- not simply SAYS. For those who wish to be filled with the brilliant lines, spaces, and internal structures that physics and its philosophical implications can create in the soul.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2013
Back in my student days, one of my housemates was a philosophy student. When we'd talk physics I'd invariably start writing equations, and he'd always pepper me with questions about what was *really* happening behind all that math. His questioning on the fundamentals really helped sharpen my thinking about physics.

Tim Maudlin's "Philosophy of Physics" will similarly hone your thinking, at least for the narrow part of physics it covers (space, time, relativity, and kinematics). The issues of inertial versus non-inertial frames, the postulates of relativity, time dilation, and Lorentz contraction are "simple" in the sense that any good physics undergraduate can do calculations with them competently, but the careful definition and interpretation of these concepts has sometimes stumped even first-rate physicists. Maudlin does a nice job of clearing up some of the misconceptions about these topics found in popular physics texts.

Very little math is used. Certainly any physics, math, or engineering student will find this book "easy" in the sense of not needing any mathematical heavy lifting. Don't let that simplicity fool you into thinking it's a mindless read, or worse, not worth reading at all: this is a book about clear thinking about subtle concepts, not about struggling through mathematical complexities.

It's a well-written book with clear explanations. I highly recommend it to every scientist who wants to understand relativity and mechanics at a deeper level.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2015
This book is an interesting mind trip. Maudlin starts us at the base problem - the problem of absolute space and absolute motion, Newton's affirmative position on this absoluteness - his spinning bucket proof, his two globes linked by a cable - his argument with Leibniz, Leibniz versus Clarke, Galilean relativity. Soon we are introduced to the general schema in which Maudlin's view is framed throughout (to be modified in its special relativistic version) - this is the stack of time slices of space-time. A point in the same position (same space coordinates), slice after slice, is a motionless point over time - it traces a straight line through the stack of slices. A point in linear motion (one space coordinate changing) traces a straight line at an angle relative to the former. A point accelerating (a force must be applied for this) traces a curve through the stack. Transforms take us from one time-slice to another - a topological transform preserves the continuity of the lines, an affine transform preserves the straight lines - though now the line of a static point might be angled (moving) and vice versa. There are no absolute motions, no absolute points in space. And thus we come to special relativity (STR), where we realize the ride is about to become rather strange, for Maudlin announces that all standard explanations are wrong, in fact, even Einstein misstated things, having presented the theory in terms of the equivalence of inertial frames and the constancy of the speed of light, leading to the Lorentz transformations which relate one set of coordinates to another - an approach Maudlin argues, that "has already run off the rails." This includes talk of "time slowing down" or "travelling near the speed of light," for (given the affine transform effect noted above), "..we must expunge all ideas of things having speeds, including light." We are going to be studying, perhaps better, Maudlin Relativity, where we will find a new partition of, 1) things STR explains and, 2) things that Maudlin's view of the geometry of space/time explains.

The traditional approaches, I will note here (for Maudlin, in his disdain for the standard accounts, does not give them much space), have largely been stuck on the twin paradox, and integrally associated with this, the very physical and real "time-effects" that it is believed STR explains - the longer living mesons (or muons) when travelling at high velocity, the Hafele-Keating experiment where the clock carried on the jet is retarded when arriving back at the airport when compared to another left sitting at the airport. These effects are taken to be ontological, that is, physically real - no one denies the retardation of the jet carried clock. The twin effect (first declared an implication of STR by Langevin in 1911), should one twin have a long beard and grey air, the other look like a young Brad Pitt, would indeed be physically real - ontological. The difficulty is that in STR, the Lorentz transformations are embedded in a system, namely within the reciprocal motions of two observers, where one can claim to be stationary, the other in motion, or vice versa (that little statement of 1905, after Einstein notes the foreshortened ellipse in the moving system: "It is clear that the same results hold good of bodies at rest in the `stationary' system, viewed from a system in uniform motion.") In these equations, space changes compensate for time changes and vice versa, and thus, since they are compensatory, both changes (space, time) must be of the same order - either non-ontological (i.e., measurement effects only) or ontological (real, physical). As the "stationary" observer claims these effects for the moving system - and vice versa - STR won its acceptance in physics precisely on the fact that its effects are measurement effects, i.e., non-ontological. Thus the Michelson-Morley result was not considered the effect of an actual, physical contraction of the apparatus arm that lay parallel to its motion in the ether. Lorentz, trying to save the Maxwell-Lorentz equations for electromagnetism and their requirement for an absolute motion in the ether, had a bit earlier offered a physical model of the arm-contraction (or of any body in motion, to include a reduction of frequency) based on electro-dynamic forces. It was a rejection of the relativity inherent in Newton's first law. Physics rejected Lorentz's offer; Einstein's new version of relativity, with its measurement effects-only solution, was accepted. But this (correct, consistent interpretation) destroys STR's ability to explain any of the very ontological time-related effects it is currently and mistakenly given credit for - to include the jet-carried clock, the long living meson, or the twin-effect (should it actually happen). To be consistent with its structure, all effects, whether of time or space, must indeed be taken as measurement effects, that is, non-ontological. What has happened is that roughly ever since Langevin, two incompatible solutions - that of Lorentz, that of Einstein - have been fused into an unholy mess.

Maudlin's effort is in steering through this (at best by him implicitly explained) thicket; what he presents is truly new (at least I, for one, have not encountered these arguments). What one finds, as one works through it (and it must be worked through), is that he posits two levels of time-related change, and two levels of space-related change. Thus, for time, he insists that the slower aging twin-effect is very real, physical (ontological), but the "slowing clocks" is simply a "coordinate effect" (in my terms, a measurement effect only). (He never explicitly discusses, or locates within his scheme, Hafele-Keating or the muons.) Equally, there is a real, physical Lorentz contraction, but there is also another Lorentz contraction that is only a measurement effect. Given this symmetry, he has saved the standard STR explanation of Michelson-Morley - the contraction of the apparatus arm involved/required is indeed only a measurement effect (i.e., it is not the actual, physical contraction Maudlin holds can also exist) - and he believes he can explain the twin effect as real, physical, i.e., ontological. But, unfortunately, he leaves so many questions abegging.

The twin effect is explained by Maudlin simply by means of geometry, by a Minkowski diagram (of sorts). The stationary twin is simply one of those straight lines through the time slices (such as time slices are (or are not) in the Minkowski version of space-time). The rocket-twin moves away at an angle, and then moves back again at an angle, meeting back up with the stationary earth-twin. By Minkowski's math, the stationary line of the earth-bound twin is 100 years long while the total of the two angled lines is 60 years. The rocket-twin has aged less (only 60 years). The geometry (the shortened space-time path) explains it all - it is a "real, physical, ontological effect" - and "explained" by the geometry alone! End of story.

But this cannot be the end of the story. There is that reciprocity of systems that cannot be erased from Einstein's approach, despite Maudlin's disdain. Minkowski's geometric generalization simply extends the space-time interval invariance, already intrinsic in the Lorentz transformations, to all possible coordinate axes. It does not remove Einstein's embedding of Lorentz's equations within his (Einstein's) reciprocity. The rocket-twin has equal right to claim HE is stationary. We now need a new Minkowski diagram with a new origin for the coordinates. When we create a Minkowski diagram, we necessarily fix on one observer - all the rest are set (depicted) in motion with respect to him. There is but one real, actual observer in Minkowski space-time - the rest, moving at various speeds, are virtual - imaginary - with their proportions of space and "time" now adjusting ("time" being now a purely mathematical treatment of the 4th coordinate) relative to the one real, stationary observer. With the new diagram, with the rocket-twin stationary, the situation is reversed. Now the rocket-twin ages more. This was a point of Bergson (Duration and Simultaneity, 1922), and so too by M.I.T. physicist A.P. French (Special Relativity, 1968), who stated categorically that STR cannot be used to explain the longer living meson (or muon) speeding towards earth - that in fact, we would need two Minkowski space-time diagrams, one for each case - the observer on earth, a hypothetical observer on the meson. Each can claim he is stationary, the other in motion. In other words, he argued, in STR the meson's "extended life" can only be treated (just as the "length change" of M-M's apparatus arm) as a measurement effect, and STR is used illegitimately (i.e., a different theory is needed, like, er, Lorentz) in explaining the phenomenon as a real, ontological effect - though ontological the effect most certainly is.

The reciprocity problem, Maudlin dismisses with both a strawman and questionable reasoning, totally ignoring even Einstein, even his own affine transformations (which take a stationary object to a moving object - and vice versa) as "Confusion 1" re STR. Yet "1" is precisely why there exists his "Confusion 2," where folks are desperately trying to escape the reciprocity implications by appealing to accelerations (as did French) to explain the twins, the clocks, the mesons. Hence Maudlin becomes very murky. Is not the longer living meson a real effect? Would Maudlin explain this too like the rocket-twin - by ignoring reciprocity? And the Hafele-Keating clock? Obviously a real effect. Explained similarly? The explanation of these effects is obscure in Maudlin. Note, we could we give the earth-twin a clock with markers for 100 years, and put a similar 100-year clock on the rocket. The rocket-clock, on return, would necessarily point to 60, while the earth-twin's clock points to 100. Is this not one of those "clock slowings?" Yet clock slowings are only a "coordinate effect" (not real) per Maudlin. Slower aging of the rocket-twin real, his clock-slowing not real? Hafele-Keating - not real? Murky. In truth, there is even a physical contradiction lurking. Maudlin's treatment is abstract, with no real velocity numbers given. In his purely geometric analysis of the rocket-twin's path, 40 years were knocked off. Let us suppose the rocket is moving at 99.8% the speed of light. At least 40 years will again be knocked off. The earth-twin, sitting in his kitchen, can send out a light ray at the same time the rocket leaves, bouncing it off a mirror placed where the rocket turns back and it returns. The light velocity is invariant, it is unaffected by the Minkowski (Lorentz) math applied to the rocket twin, it has nothing lopped off its path. Travelling always just barely faster than the rocket, it returns (much, 40+ years) later?

In general, Maudlin is well aware that geometry alone is insufficient. For real, physical effects we must have explanations involving real forces. His twin-effect model however rests solely on geometry. This reliance on geometry alone is echoed elsewhere - the line between geometrical explanation and actual physics is throughout very vague. The speed of light is explained simply by the "light-cone" in Minkowski space-time. Yet, for Newton, the maximum velocity in a medium is given as v = sqrt(L/D), where L is the elasticity, D the density of the medium. Flick a chunk of jello - the wave velocity passing through the jello is determined by this ratio. Were we to assume that Lorentz's "ether" is still lurking around, perhaps now disguised as the "quantum vacuum," this medium should have an L and a D, therefore determining a maximum velocity within it. This would be a physical explanation. Just saying - as an example. Or the flow of time itself - in his Galilean exposition, time is simply the topological/affine transforms taking us from one time-slice of space to the next. What does this abstraction have to do with the dynamic evolution of the physical, universal field over time, i.e., the actual, physical transition from one time-slice of space to the next? Would there not have to be some real, phsyical,continuous process “generating” each time-slice of (all of) space? The "forces" creating curved lines - what are they other than ghostly creatures inhabiting this geometric space? And of course, in the Minkowski version, there is that famous space-time block where supposedly there is no flow of time - with all the attendant problems this generates (e.g., how do we account for the "illusion" of the flow of events) - unexplored by Maudlin.

The book is indeed a good mind trip, if only as a meditation on the struggles our current, very mathematical physics faces re what is actual "explanation." It is also an interesting demonstration of how far STR (or better, the Lorentz-STR fusion) actually is from being "settled" (many seem to think the shooting is all over). There are many interesting things however in the book. I have picked on a few salient things here - out of some possible areas of critique. How, to note one more, can Maudlin say that "we cannot compare speeds"? He has just done so in the twin paradox, while the light cone itself inherently compares speeds relative to everything moving slower than light. Yes, I know he is thinking of that affine transformation that takes straight-through lines (stationary object) to angled (i.e., moving object) lines. But he has just fixed the earth-twin as stock still in space, and set the rocket twin moving (prohibiting the latter from any say as to whether he happens to consider himself stationary), and then, yes, compared. Yet we cannot compare. A little too Zen koan-like for me. Just things that make the book less then satisfying as a treatment of the issues. For escape from this swamp, for a deeper, more coherent view, imo, we have to return to Bergson (1922) and his "Duration and Simultaneity," though for the equation-hating reviewers here, I must warn that Bergson breaks Einstein and the Lorentz equations down in detail to view the concrete meaning of Einstein's system.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2015
I bought this book seeking a better understanding of Special Relativity (SR), finding the conventional expositions confusing.
Readers of this book should read a conventional exposition emphasizing Minkowski's spacetime geometric approach first, else they won't appreciate Maudlin's criticisms and improvements.

Maudlin's first three chapters provide the historical background of Newton and Galileo's understanding of space and time. He explains why they are inadequate - particularly Newton's concepts of absolute space and absolute time - and then launches into his version of SR in chapters 4 & 5. He builds Minkowski spacetime as a real affine 4-dimensional space of events endowed with a real-valued function of pairs of events called the Interval [a quadratic pseudo-metric]. He emphasizes the intrinsic geometry and its applications to physics. Instead of talking about the "constant speed" of light, which tacitly is a Newtonian notion, he says that "the trajectory of light in a vacuum is independent of the physical state of its source," an experimental fact. Hence "the geometry of spacetime alone determines the trajectory of light rays" (in a vacuum). This endows each event with the structure of future and past light cones.

He dispenses with the two principles upon which Einstein based his theory of SR, asserting instead his three principles:

LAW OF LIGHT: The trajectory of a light ray emitted from any event (in a vacuum) is a straight line-ray on the future light cone of that event.
The trajectory of any physical entity that goes through an event never goes outside the light cone of that event.

RELATIVISTIC LAW OF INERTIA: The trajectory of any physical entity subject to no external influences is a straight line in spacetime.

CLOCK HYPOTHESIS: [Ideal] Clocks measure the Interval along their trajectories.

He admits that the latter hypothesis is peculiar and elaborates on its precise meaning in chapter 5, which is all about Lorentz coordinates and measurement. This chapter becomes quite technical and is mainly suitable for physicists. In it he provides an experimental set-up that shows in what sense his SR predicts and explains the constancy of the speed of light.

There is much, much more in Maudlin's treatise that is original and provocative. I look forward to reading his projected volume 2 about Matter.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2012
well written,not difficult. nice summation of the underlying principles for physical systems that you thought you understood. very happy with it
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2014
I appreciate Maudlin's books because he cuts to the heart of confusing issues in physics and draws clear distinctions that improve understanding greatly. I've been a fan since I found Quantum Non-Locality and Relativity a couple of years ago. I eagerly await volume 2.

Others have commented that this is physics for philosophers, not philosophy for physicists. Coming at it from the physics side, I gained a lot as well. I've long felt that doing physics properly requires a certain amount of explicit philosophy. The challenge is getting the important insights without getting bogged down. This book manages pretty well.

One problem for me as a reader, coming at it from the physics side, was his use of language. I must have read each page six times and marked up my copy extensively to make it more comprehensible to me (that this book is worth the effort shows how highly I think of it.) But I had to add the word "absolute" in pencil before nearly every instance where he used "speed" or "velocity" because without that his statements all seemed wildly incorrect and brought my train of thought to a screeching halt.

The tone is very challenging in places, almost harsh. He is correcting common misconceptions about relativity even among physicists, and makes his points forcefully. I definitely felt that there was something of a language barrier as viewed from the physics side. You really have to trust that he knows what he's talking about (he does) despite the way his statements first appear. It reminds me why I don't care for straight philosophy, but it is a gem of philosophy of physics. I learned important things from it.
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on March 19, 2015
This is an excellent introduction to the philosophy of space and time. It carefully goes through the ideas from Aristotle, to Galileo to Newton and finally from Minkowski spacetime to general relativity. The work is very clearly written and explains things in a detailed manner showing where the disagreements are. What's valuable about this work is that it shows geometrically what most textbooks try to explain in algebraic terms. But the ideas, as Maudlin documents, were first understood in the geometrical way by the great physicists. Maudlin also takes (rightfully so) many physicists to task (even some of the greats such as Feynman) for getting the basic physics wrong in many of their explanations. This is presumably because they hadn't understood the things in such a geometrical way.

For example in explaining why one twin ages more than another in the classic "Twins Paradox" thought experiment, Maudlin shows that the geometry of spacetime can explain everything and that the effect has absolutely nothing to do with acceleration as some textbooks and physicists have claimed. Also it has nothing to do with the "rate" of clocks ticking. It is simply a matter of the length of the world lines in spacetime and Maudlin shows this effect geometrically with insight and clarity.

There are also nice talks about the Hole Argument (a puzzle in General Relativity) and the nature of time travel and the direction of time that are valuable and interesting. Another interesting topic discussed is on the distinction between two different kinds of Lorentz contractions: coordinate based and physical. I wish Maudlin had given a more detailed elaboration of the later, however. I can't wait to get started on Maudlin's Quantum Non-locality and Relativity.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2014
As a progressive rock band, Gentle Giant was always a bit different. Avoiding the virtuoso-hero ideals and overblown symphonic textures of their contemporaries, GG blended Elizabethan themes with 20th century music (Stravinsky and Bartok being obvious influences) and out-and-out RAWWK. The result was a sort of rock and roll chamber music, and whatever lyrical weaknesses they had were rendered inconsequential by their incredible sense of adventure and unbelievable contrapuntal jams. They were simply one of the very best instrumental ensembles rock has ever seen. And though they put out a number of amazing albums, "In a Glass House" is in my opinion their greatest. The diverse elements that GG showcased on their other seminal albums are all here, but in this album they are synthesized most successfully into a coherent whole that makes philosophical and artistic sense--a true progressive rock model that would make coherent sense even today, at least more so than the mellotron-driven bombast of most of their peers. Some of this stuff sounds downright Alternative--especially the dissonant, polyrhythmic prog-punk of "Way of Life." The production is intimate, driving, and crystal-clear, with John Weathers driving drums (the John Bonham of progrock) right in your face whenever he is playing. The album is emotionally and intellectually gripping throughout. In short, it is a progrock masterpiece. Buy it. P.S. The last bonus live track is rough sledding, but the first one is incredible.
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