Log24

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Geometry and Experience

Filed under: G-Notes,General,Geometry — m759 @ 9:18 AM

Einstein, "Geometry and Experience," lecture before the
Prussian Academy of Sciences, January 27, 1921–

This view of axioms, advocated by modern axiomatics, purges mathematics of all extraneous elements, and thus dispels the mystic obscurity, which formerly surrounded the basis of mathematics. But such an expurgated exposition of mathematics makes it also evident that mathematics as such cannot predicate anything about objects of our intuition or real objects. In axiomatic geometry the words "point," "straight line," etc., stand only for empty conceptual schemata. That which gives them content is not relevant to mathematics.

Yet on the other hand it is certain that mathematics generally, and particularly geometry, owes its existence to the need which was felt of learning something about the behavior of real objects. The very word geometry, which, of course, means earth-measuring, proves this. For earth-measuring has to do with the possibilities of the disposition of certain natural objects with respect to one another, namely, with parts of the earth, measuring-lines, measuring-wands, etc. It is clear that the system of concepts of axiomatic geometry alone cannot make any assertions as to the behavior of real objects of this kind, which we will call practically-rigid bodies. To be able to make such assertions, geometry must be stripped of its merely logical-formal character by the coordination of real objects of experience with the empty conceptual schemata of axiomatic geometry. To accomplish this, we need only add the proposition: solid bodies are related, with respect to their possible dispositions, as are bodies in Euclidean geometry of three dimensions. Then the propositions of Euclid contain affirmations as to the behavior of practically-rigid bodies.

Geometry thus completed is evidently a natural science; we may in fact regard it as the most ancient branch of physics. Its affirmations rest essentially on induction from experience, but not on logical inferences only. We will call this completed geometry "practical geometry," and shall distinguish it in what follows from "purely axiomatic geometry." The question whether the practical geometry of the universe is Euclidean or not has a clear meaning, and its answer can only be furnished by experience.  ….

Later in the same lecture, Einstein discusses "the theory of a finite
universe." Of course he is not using "finite" in the sense of the field
of mathematics known as "finite geometry " — geometry with only finitely
many points.

Nevertheless, his remarks seem relevant to the Fano plane , an
axiomatically defined entity from finite geometry, and the eightfold cube ,
a physical object embodying the properties of the Fano plane.

 I want to show that without any extraordinary difficulty we can illustrate the theory of a finite universe by means of a mental picture to which, with some practice, we shall soon grow accustomed.

First of all, an observation of epistemological nature. A geometrical-physical theory as such is incapable of being directly pictured, being merely a system of concepts. But these concepts serve the purpose of bringing a multiplicity of real or imaginary sensory experiences into connection in the mind. To "visualize" a theory therefore means to bring to mind that abundance of sensible experiences for which the theory supplies the schematic arrangement. In the present case we have to ask ourselves how we can represent that behavior of solid bodies with respect to their mutual disposition (contact) that corresponds to the theory of a finite universe. 

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress