Hans Reichenbach


German-born American Philosopher of Science, Educator, Founded School of Logical Positivism in Berlin, Professor at the University of California

Author Quotes

Common to the two geometries is only the general property of one-to-one correspondence, and the rule that this correspondence determines straight lines as shortest lines as well as their relations of intersection.

The concept of congruence in Euclidean geometry is not exactly the same as that in non-Euclidean geometry... "Congruent" means in Euclidean geometry the same as "determining parallelism," a meaning which it does not have in non-Euclidean geometry.

We can... treat only the geometrical aspects of mathematics and shall be satisfied in having shown that there is no problem of the truth of geometrical axioms and that no special geometrical visualization exists in mathematics.

Euclidean geometry can be easily visualized; this is the argument adduced for the unique position of Euclidean geometry in mathematics. It has been argued that mathematics is not only a science of implications but that it has to establish preference for one particular axiomatic system. Whereas physics bases this choice on observation and experimentation, i.e., on applicability to reality, mathematics bases it on visualization, the analogue to perception in a theoretical science. Accordingly, mathematicians may work with the non-Euclidean geometries, but in contrast to Euclidean geometry, which is said to be "intuitively understood," these systems consist of nothing but "logical relations" or "artificial manifolds". They belong to the field of analytic geometry, the study of manifolds and equations between variables, but not to geometry in the real sense which has a visual significance.

The differential element of non-Euclidean spaces is Euclidean. This fact, however, is analogous to the relations between a straight line and a curve, and cannot lead to an epistemological priority of Euclidean geometry, in contrast to the views of certain authors.

We define: any two events which are indeterminate as to their time order may be called simultaneous... Simultaneity means the exclusion of causal connection... Yet we must not commit the mistake of attempting to derive from it the conclusion that this definition coordinates to any given event at a given different place. This would be the case only for a special form of causal structure, a form that does not conform to physical reality.

For the Lorentz transformation spatial measurements are also changed, because they are obtained relative to a moving system. In our example only time was transformed, while the distances between points at rest remained the same; the spatial coordinates, therefore, retain their identity.

The famous assertion by Einstein that the length of a rod depends on its velocity and on the chosen definition of simultaneity. ...is based on the fact that we do not measure the length of the rod, but its projection on a system at rest. How the length of the projection depends on the choice of simultaneity can be illustrated by reference to a photograph taken through a focal-plane shutter. Such a shutter... consists of a wide band with a horizontal slit, which slides down vertically. Different bands are photographed successively on the film. Moving objects are therefore strangely distorted; the wheels of a rapidly moving car for instance, appear to be slanted. The shape of the objects in the picture will evidently depend on the speed of the shutter. Similarly, the length of the moving segment depends on the definition of simultaneity. One definition of simultaneity differs from another because events that are simultaneous for one definition occur successively for another. What may be a simultaneity projection of a moving segment for one definition is a "focal-plane shutter photograph" for another.

We must... maintain that mathematical geometry is not a science of space insofar as we understand by space a visual structure that can be filled with objects - it is a pure theory of manifolds.

If E1 is the cause of E2, then a small variation (a mark) in E1 is associated with a small variation in E2, whereas small variations in E2 are not associated with variations in E1. If we wish to express even more clearly that this concept does not contain the concept of temporal order, we can express it in the following form, where events that show a slight variation are designated E*: E1E2, E1*E2*, E1E2* and never the combination E1*E2.

The main objection to the theory of pure visualization is our thesis that the non-Euclidean axioms can be visualized just as rigorously if we adjust the concept of congruence. This thesis is based on the discovery that the normative function of visualization is not of visual but of logical origin and that the intuitive acceptance of certain axioms is based on conditions from which they follow logically, and which have previously been smuggled into the images. The axiom that the straight line is the shortest distance is highly intuitive only because we have adapted the concept of straightness to the system of Eucidean concepts. It is therefore necessary merely to change these conditions to gain a correspondingly intuitive and clear insight into different sets of axioms; this recognition strikes at the root of the intuitive priority of Euclidean geometry. Our solution of the problem is a denial of pure visualization, inasmuch as it denies to visualization a special extralogical compulsion and points out the purely logical and non-intuitive origin of the normative function. Since it asserts, however, the possibility of a visual representation of all geometries, it could be understood as an extension of pure visualization to all geometries. In that case the predicate "pure" is but an empty addition, since it denotes only the difference between experienced and imagined pictures, and we shall therefore discard the term "pure visualization." Instead we shall speak of the normative function of the thinking process, which can guide the pictorial elements of thinking into any logically permissible structure.

Whereas the conception of space and time as a four-dimensional manifold has been very fruitful for mathematical physicists, its effect in the field of epistemology has been only to confuse the issue. Calling time the fourth dimension gives it an air of mystery. One might think that time can now be conceived as a kind of space and try in vain to add visually a fourth dimension to the three dimensions of space. It is essential to guard against such a misunderstanding of mathematical concepts. If we add time to space as a fourth dimension it does not lose any of its peculiar character as time... Musical tones can be ordered according to volume and pitch and are thus brought into a two dimensional manifold. Similarly colors can be determined by the three basic colors red, green and blue... Such an ordering does not change either tones or colors; it is merely a mathematical expression of something that we have known and visualized for a long time. Our schematization of time as a fourth dimension therefore does not imply any changes in the conception of time. ...the space of visualization is only one of many possible forms that add content to the conceptual frame. We would therefore not call the representation of the tone manifold by a plane the visual representation of the two dimensional tone manifold.

If heat were the affecting force, direct indications of its presence could be found which would not make use of geometry as an indirect method. ...direct evidence for the presence of heat is based on the fact that it affects different materials in different ways. ...The forces... which we have introduced... have two properties: (a) They affect all materials in the same way. (b) There are no insulating [or isolating] walls... the definition of the insulating wall may be added here: it is a covering made of any kind of material which does not act upon the enclosed object with forces having property a. Let us call the forces which have the properties a and b universal forces; all other forces are called differential forces. Then it can be said that differential forces, but not universal forces, are directly demonstrable.

The mathematician uses an indirect definition of congruence, making use of the fact that the axiom of parallels together with an additional condition can replace the definition of congruence.

Why is Einstein's theory better than Lorentz's theory? It would be a mistake to argue that Einstein's theory gives an explanation of Michelson's experiment, since it does not do so. Michelson's experiment is simply taken over as an axiom.

If the definition of simultaneity is given from a moving system, the spherical surface will result when Einstein's definition with ? = 1/2 is used, since it is this definition which makes the velocity of light equal in all directions.

The order of betweenness does not depend on mutual distances... betweenness is purely a relational order.

If we wish to express our ideas in terms of the concepts synthetic and analytic, we would have to point out that these concepts are applicable only to sentences that can be either true of false, and not to definitions. The mathematical axioms are therefore neither synthetic nor analytic, but definitions... Hence the question of whether axioms are a priori becomes pointless since they are arbitrary.

The philosopher of science is not much interested in the thought processes which lead to scientific discoveries; he looks for a logical analysis of the completed theory, including the establishing its validity. That is, he is not interested in the context of discovery, but in the context of justification.

Introduce the auxiliary concept of first-signal... defined as the fastest message carrier between any two points in space. We now send a first-signal from P, calling the event of departure E1... The event of its arrival at P' is called E'. Simultaneously with the arrival of this signal, another first signal is sent from P'. The arrival of this signal at P is the event E2... the time interval between E1 and E2 is coordinated to the event E', [E1 is earlier than E' and E2 is later than E'] and every event of this time interval except for the endpoints is indeterminate as to the time order relative to E'.

The principle of the limiting character of the velocity of light. This statement... is not an arbitrary assumption but a physical law based on experience. In making this statement, physics does not commit the fallacy of regarding absence of knowledge as evidence for knowledge to the contrary. It is not absence of knowledge of faster signals, but positive experience which has taught us that the velocity of light cannot be exceeded. For all physical processes the velocity of light has the property of an infinite velocity. In order to accelerate a body to the velocity of light, an infinite amount of energy would be required, and it is therefore physically impossible for any object to obtain this speed. This result was confirmed by measurements performed on electrons. The kinetic energy of a mass point grows more rapidly than the square of its velocity, and would become infinite for the speed of light.

It appears that the solution of the problem of time and space is reserved to philosophers who, like Leibniz, are mathematicians, or to mathematicians who, like Einstein, are philosophers.

The relation of betweenness on the torus is undetermined for curves that cannot be contracted to a point [e.g., circles around a doughnut hole], i.e., for three of such curves it is not uniquely determined which of them lies between the other two. ..This indeterminateness... has the consequence that such a curve [alone] does not divide the surface of the torus into two separate domains; between points to the "right" and to the "left" of the line.

It is remarkable that this generalization of plane geometry to surface geometry is identical with that generalization of geometry which originated from the analysis of the axiom of parallels. ...the construction of non-Euclidean geometries could have been equally well based upon the elimination of other axioms. It was perhaps due to an intuitive feeling for theoretical fruitfulness that the criticism always centered around the axiom of parallels. For in this way the axiomatic basis was created for that extension of geometry in which the metric appears as an independent variable. Once the significance of the metric as the characteristic feature of the plane has been recognized from the viewpoint of Gauss' plane theory, it is easy to point out, conversely, its connection with the axiom of parallels. The property of the straight line as being the shortest connection between two points can be transferred to curved surfaces, and leads to the concept of straightest line; on the surface of the sphere the great circles play the role of the shortest line of connection... analogous to that of the straight line on the plane. Yet while the great circles as "straight lines" share the most important property with those of the plane, they are distinct from the latter with respect to the axiom of the parallels: all great circles of the sphere intersect and therefore there are no parallels among these "straight lines"... If this idea is carried through, and all axioms are formulated on the understanding that by "straight lines" are meant the great circles of the sphere and by "plane" is meant the surface of the sphere, it turns out that this system of elements satisfies the system of axioms within two dimensions which is nearly identical in all of it statements with the axiomatic system of Euclidean geometry; the only exception is the formulation of the axiom of the parallels. The geometry of the spherical surface can be viewed as the realization of a two-dimensional non-Euclidean geometry: the denial of the axiom of the parallels singles out that generalization of geometry which occurs in the transition from the plane to the curve surface.

The statement that although the past can be recorded, the future cannot. It is translatable into the statistical statement: Isolated states of order are always post-interaction states, never pre-interaction states.

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German-born American Philosopher of Science, Educator, Founded School of Logical Positivism in Berlin, Professor at the University of California