Does time exist? Metaphysics in a nutshell.
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Article by Kanawas Sriprab (Khun), on 4 August 2023 at 01:23 am PDT
We've all heard of physics and its subsidiaries like astrophysics, geophysics, theoretical physics, physical chemistry, or biophysics. A lesser-known part of physics, and the sciences in general, is metaphysics. So what is metaphysics?
Metaphysics is not necessarily the same as typical physics, therefore not much in relation to calculating velocity, momentum, etc. It is rather a combination between physics (with other sciences) and philosophy. It explores the fundamentals of nature, asking questions such as "Does time exist?" and attempts to explain the world in regards to space and time, existence and identity, cause and effect, or other abstract concepts.
"Metaphysics, for Aristotle, was the study of nature and ourselves." - Oklahoma State University Library
How does it relate to science?
Fundamentally, one could argue that philosophy and science are in the same field of study. In fact, historically, the "science" we know today was called philosophy, and only by the 1800s were the two fields separated and have since been deemed "different".
The general explanation of how science and metaphysics are related is quite simple. Science at its core is producing a question, pondering the question and developing a hypothesis, attempting to test the hypothesis via fair experimentation, before reaching a conclusion. Philosophy and metaphysics are the same, generating a question, discussing the question, and reaching a conclusion. While science aims for the "realistic" approach to experimentation, philosophy may aim for a more "emotional or pure" conclusion from thought.
A Wikipedia page explains well the relationship between metaphysics and science. "Science utilizes assumptions in order to reach its conclusions" and that is where it is left off. Metaphysics picks up the areas where science leaves off and adds humanistic touches to it. For example, a scientific paper might explain that if you pour acid onto a Group 1 metal, a violent reaction occurs, and the reactants produce a product. What metaphysics would try to explain is whether the reactions and products are the same "object", and whether their identity is the same.
"The common picture of Descartes is as one who proposed that all science become demonstrative in the way Euclid made geometry demonstrative, namely as a series of valid deductions from self-evident truths, rather than as something rooted in observation and experiment." - IEP
Why is it important?"
Metaphysics is becoming ever more important to the sciences because it provides us with new perspectives. As we delve deeper into the fundamentals of science, such as where life emerges, having perspectives from the humanities and the sciences is of utmost importance.
An example of this is in our key question: "Does time exist?",
On one end, we could say it exists, we use it in our calculations, we record time all the time, and we have a past a present, and a future; yet on the other end, how come it is unobservable in quantum mechanics?
I myself believe that philosophy allows us to ask questions. We can then find the answer using science.
Is it of any use?
To conclude, the question of whether metaphysics is useful could be a metaphysical question.
Alas, most nowadays argue that the subject is always helpful, and just like the fundamental sciences like mathematics, will always be a part of human thought and reasoning whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.