Dialectical Materialism (A. Spirkin)
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Space and Time

The concept of space and time. All material bodies have a certain extension: length, breadth, height. They are variously placed in relation to each other and constitute parts of one or another system. Space is a form of coordination of coexisting objects and states of matter. It consists in the fact that objects are extraposed to one another (alongside, beside, beneath, above, within, behind, in front, etc.) and have certain quantitative relationships. The order of coexistence of these objects and their states forms the structure of space.

Material phenomena are characterised by their duration, the sequence of the stages of their motion, their development. Processes may take place either simultaneously, or precede or succeed one another. Such, for example, is the interrelation between day and night. The dimension of time can be measured only with the help of certain standards (in seconds. minutes, hours, days, years, centuries, etc.), that is to say, motions that are accepted as being even. The perception of time also allows us to assess the sequence and duration of events. Depending on our subjective sensations such as merriment or grief, pleasure or boredom, time seems either short or long. Time is a form of coordination of objects and states of matter in their succession. It consists in the fact that every state is a consecutive link in a process and has certain quantitative relations with other states. The order of succession of these objects and states forms the structure of time.

Space and time are universal forms of the existence of matter, the coordination of objects. The universality of these forms lies in the fact that they are forms of existence of all the objects and processes that have ever existed or will exist in the infinite universe. Not only the events of the external world, but also all feelings and thoughts take place in space and time. In the material world everything has extension and duration. Space and time have their peculiarities. Space has three dimensions: length, breadth and height, but time has only one—from the past through the present to the future. It is inevitable, unrepeatable and irreversible.

Correct understanding of the essence of space and time is closely connected with the scientific picture of the world. Everything is differentiated, broken down into relatively stable extraposed material formations. The processes that occur in them and condition their conservation (reproduction) and at the same time their transformation, are also differentiated: they constitute the consecutive change of the states of an object.

Space and time exist objectively. Although we may feel how time in its inexorable passage is carrying us away, we can neither halt nor prolong it. We cannot recover a single moment of existence. The flow of time is beyond our control. We are as helpless in it as a chip of wood in a river.

Dialectics proceeds from acknowledgement of the unity of motion, space, time and matter, which is expressed in the principle that various forms of the structural organisation of matter and the levels of this organisation are characterised by their specific motion, space and time. Thus the spatial organisation of a crystal differs from that of a blossoming rose. The time of historical events occurs, is experienced by their participants and is preserved in the memory of mankind and this kind of time differs from the purely physical time of, say, the motion of the celestial bodies. However, metaphysical thought separates matter from motion, and both of them, from space and time. Newton, for example, assumed that space was the empty container of things, that it was incorporeal, absolutely penetrable, never influenced anything and was never affected by any influence.

Universal space was considered to be filled with absolutely motionless ether, and moving bodies were thought to encounter an "ethereal wind" like the wind that resists a running person. Space was allegedly immutable and motionless, its attributes did not depend on anything, even time; nor did they depend on material bodies or their motion. One could remove all bodies from space and space would still exist and retain its attributes. Newton held the same views about time. He believed that time flowed by in the same way throughout the universe and this flow did not depend on anything; time was therefore absolute. Like a river, it flowed on of its own accord, heedless of the existence of material processes.

The idea of absolute space and time corresponded to the physical picture of the world, namely the system of views of matter as a set of atoms separated from each other, possessing immutable volume and inertia (mass), and influencing each other instantaneously either at a distance or through contact. Revision of the physical picture of the world changed the view of space and time. The discovery of the electromagnetic field and the realisation that field could not be reduced to a state of mechanical environment revealed the flaws in the classical picture of the world. It turned out that matter could not be represented as a set of separate, strictly dissociated elements. The particles of matter are indeed connected with one another in integral systems by fields whose action is transmitted at a finite speed that is equal for any closed system (the speed of light in a vacuum).

It was held previously that if all matter disappeared from the universe, space and time would remain. The theory of relativity, however, maintains that with the disappearance of matter space and time would also disappear.

To sum up, everything in the world is spatial and temporal. Space and time are absolute. But since these are forms of matter in motion, they are not indifferent to their content. When it moves, an object does not leave an empty form behind it, space is not an apartment that can be let out to such a tenant as matter, and time cannot be compared to some monster that gnaws at things and leaves its tooth marks on them. Space and time are conditioned by matter, as a form is conditioned by its content, and every level of the motion of matter possesses its space-time structure. Thus living cells and organisms, in which geometry becomes more complex and the rhythm of time changes, possess special space-time properties. This is biological time. There is also historical time, whose unit may be the replacement of one generation by another, which corresponds to a century. Depending on our practical needs, historical time is counted in centuries and millennia. The reference point may be certain cultural-historical events or even legends.

The finite and the infinite. Whose imagination has not been stirred by a mysterious sense of the vastness of the universe? What man has looked up at the dark sky glittering with its myriads of stars and not been awed by the glamour of outer space? Whose heart has not been moved by the majestic splendour of the nocturnal heavens?

In our everyday lives, our dealings with everything around us, we encounter finite objects, processes. The finite means something that has an end, that is limited in space. In everyday practice we may mean by infinity anything very big or very small, depending on the circumstances. For example, one billion raised to the power of one hundred is in practice an infinite quantity. Our experience is too limited for us to be able to define infinity. Scientists like to joke that they begin to understand infinity only when they think of human folly. One may throw a spear from a certain point in space and from the place where it lands one may repeat the throw. And one may go on doing this again and again, never reaching any boundary. No matter how distant a star may be from us we may still go further than that star. The universe is never "boarded up". Infinity cannot be traversed to its end. Such infinity would be a "false" infinity. True infinity means constant going beyond the limits of the finite. The universe is not given in any cut-and-dried form, it is constantly reproducing itself; it is a reality that is constantly recreated. The infinite manifests itself in the finite and through the finite. Through the finite we come to an understanding, a knowledge of the infinite. The finite is a constantly appearing and disappearing moment of an infinite process of change. Change in general is associated with an object's going beyond its spatial, temporal, quantitative and qualitative limits. The very fact of the interaction of things is constant going beyond the limits of finite, individual existence. In this constant "going beyond oneself" into outer being, lies the infinite nature of the finite. An object has innumerable relations with other objects. Thereby it acquires an infinite number of properties. And in this sense infinity implies qualitative diversity, realised in space and time.

We have advanced from the scale of the Earth to the expanses of outer space, to time that has no beginning and no end. This is extensive infinity. We ourselves appear to be standing midway between the infinite expanses of the universe with its worlds that are known or unknown to us and the equally infinite depths of the world of the smallest particles of matter, which is intensive infinity. We are the junction, as it were, of roads that lead away into the infinitely large and the infinitely small. We are mere specks of dust in comparison with the stars and at the same time we are giants compared to the tiny microorganisms that swarm in every drop of water.

Thought has penetrated from regions describable only in terms of millions of light years to regions that may be measured in trillionths of a centimetre! And there, too, we find the properties of the finite and the infinite. Thus, many physicists assume the existence of a certain basic length—the spatial quantum. It would, they say, be as pointless to consider any smaller length as it would be to consider, for example, a quantity of gold less than one atom, because such a quantity would not even constitute the given chemical element. So scientists assume the existence of "atoms" of space. From this follows the recognition of minimal time, beyond whose limits the concept of phase, that is to say, changes of state in time, loses all meaning.

At attempt to refute the theory of the infinity of the universe is to be found in the concept of the "expanding" universe. James Jeans, for example, assumed that not only was the quantity of matter in the universe diminishing, but also that any matter that remained was constantly receding into space at colossal and ominously increasing speed. And yet there are no valid grounds for such conclusions. The metagalaxy in which we observe this centrifugal movement of the galaxies, despite its enormous size as it appears to us, is only a tiny particle in the infinite universe, so it cannot be assumed that the whole universe is "expanding".

To sum up, all objects and processes in the world are finite. But the totality of finite things and processes is infinite. The universe had no beginning, has no end and is inexhaustible. Beyond the most distant stellar systems that modern science and technology have permitted us to observe there are still other gigantic celestial bodies. And so on ad infinitum. There are no limits beyond which there might be something that cannot be embraced by the concept of objective reality and there is nothing above it or outside it. Objective reality is in everything. It is everything. The concept of limit has meaning only when applied to the finite. Neither our distance-bound imagination nor the spacemen of the future can ever encounter some supernatural obstacle such as non-existence. They will never run into something that differs from matter. No matter how much time passes prior to some event, time will go on after it. No matter how long ago a certain event took place, it was preceded by countless other events. The chain of events has never been broken. Its links are numberless. In the universe as a whole there is no initial or culminating point; the universe is equally open at both ends. If time were finite, the world must have had a beginning. To acknowledge the beginning of the world's existence in time would be to acknowledge creation and, consequently, a creator.

The concept of beginning is meaningful when applied not to the universe as a whole but only to separate, specific things and processes, that is to say, to the finite. We can set no limits to the universe as a whole. It categorically forbids us to do so. It is ageless. It is infinitely old and eternally young. Someone once wittily remarked that he could not imagine the universe having lived its life and sadly vegetating for the rest of eternity.

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