Machian Madness

In mentally separating a body from the changeable environment in which it moves, what we really do is to extricate a group of sensations on which our thoughts are fastened and which is of relatively greater stability than the others, from the stream of all our sensations.

These are the words of Ernst Mach (1838-1916). Amongst physicists, Mach is known as the last anti-atomist, persisting in his view well after the 1905 papers of Einstein. But Mach’s views were not philosophically trivial, based on a line of reasoning going back to the Monadology of Leibniz. In his point of view Relationalism was being neglected in favour of the classical reductionism long in vogue.

From The Analysis of Sensations, published in 1897: The popular notion of an antithesis between appearance and reality has exercised a very powerful influence on scientific and philosophical thought. We see this, for example, in Plato’s pregnant and poetical fiction of the Cave, in which, with our backs turned towards the fire, we observe merely the shadows of what passes (Republic, vii 1). But this conception was not thought out to its final consequences, with the result that it has had an unfortunate influence on our ideas about the universe. The universe, of which nevertheless we are a part, became completely separated from us, and was removed an infinite distance away.

Mach greatly influenced Einstein’s thinking about Relativity. Ironically, the unfinished task of understanding Mach’s principle for inertia must bring together both Atomism (in a more monadic guise) and Relativity.

3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    L. Riofrio said,

    I first heard of him via Mach numbers, later through cosmology, so he has influenced both ends of my life. I wonder if a Machian cosmology would be considered background-independent?

  2. 2

    mrigmaiden said,

    12 19 06

    Well Kea, a true theory of everything should include consciousness. How utterly intriguing!

  3. 3

    John said,

    Hi, Im from Melbourne. Please check out these related essays on quantum consciousness.
    1. http://www.dabase.net/spacetim.htm
    2. http://www.dabase.net/christmc2.htm
    3. http://www.dabase.net/dht6.htm
    4. http://www.daplastique.com


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