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Are Galaxies and Elementary Particles Real?

Objects, Reality, Space and Time. An ISST Forum

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What is an object? What conditions declare it to be “real”? When can a concept, that has been proposed in a physical theory to describe our observations, be declared “physical” or, in other words, to be an element of reality? These questions pertain to the old debate between idealism and realism. In the last decades, the discussion was principally fuelled by the development of Quantum Mechanics, and particularly by the study of the process of measurement and the development of the concept of complementarity by Niels Bohr and the School of Copenhagen. In a few pages taken from The View from the Center of the Universe, Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams propose to limit the use of the concept of existence not only toward the microscopic world but also toward the very large structures of the Universe. This moves us to reopen the Pandora's Box, in a way in which the consideration of Time may play a fundamental role, as Whitehead, for example, insisted on. However, the interrogation seems to drift necessarily towards a reflection onto the concept of emergence and its relation with time.

The present article is the end product of a three month's long Forum opened in February 2008 by the initiator among members of the International Society for the Study of Time, onto the “Gnomon” zone of the web site of the Association. Contributions from Nancy Abrams, Mark Aultman, Troy Camplin, Julius T. Fraser, Paul Harris, Marcel Le Bel, Jean Lette, Carlos Montemayor, Giovanni Vicario and Amrit Srecko Sorli were particularly beneficial to the discussion.

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