Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Tapestry of Life

After all that philosophy of sailing lark, can we work out what is the meaning of life?

I'm not sure we can fully know "the answer" which surely isn't as simple as 42. For one thing Godel's Incompleteness Theorems puts limits on what finite beings like us can be absolutely sure of being true. And we clearly only know about only a minutely tiny part of this huge universe, both in time and space.

My take on it starts with the idea in physics that space-time is one, a four (or more) dimensional structure. We only experience "the present" because that is what we are designed to do: in practice our past and future exist within the same space-time, with different temporal coordinates. Quantum mechanics does complicate the picture, but again the standard Copenhagen interpretation is that there is an "observation" within which potential alternatives collapse into a single reality, which then has a space-time locality.

So if the whole of space time is a single construct then even when we are gone our actions are still "there", fixed events that continue to exist even though they become the past for some observers.

It's a bit like walking along, looking at the Bayeux Tapestry (above). Once we have walked beyond the scene above it is still "there" even though we can't see it. Our "present" has moved on to another part of the story making this scene "the past".

Similarly our actions remain in space-time for ever, even though our part might have finished. We are like the threads of a giant tapestry which have a definite start and end, components of a bigger picture.

But if these threads are in a way eternal, in that space-time once woven is fixed for ever, we had better make sure our parts of the big picture are good, are right.

As to what is right and good, well that is for you to decide.

Image from: Wikipedia. Don't you just love the detail, such as the way the anchor man has tied up his tunic to stop it getting wet


O Docker said...

My own take on the scene you've selected from the tapestry is that the anchor woman is taking out the kedge after the genius men in the boat have neglected to read the chart and have run themselves aground. Note that the afterguard seem to be quarrelling amongst themselves, the man in the bow is giving orders, and the woman is the only one doing anything useful, with a sad resolve that suggests this has happened before.

But that's the problem with trying to figure out the meaning of life. Everyone looks at the same evidence and has a different interpretation of what the truth is.

Whenever I try thinking about the idea of infinite space and time, my head starts hurting in a way that only beer can soothe, so I'm pretty sure that any explanation of life's meaning must at least in a small way involve beer.

JP said...

So you are not going to volunteer for this trip to Mars then?

Lots of time to ponder the meaning of life but I'm guessing no beer.

Kat said...

(enjoying this post immensely...lots to mull over!)