2017/04/22

Raymond Tallis: A "philosopher" who is either ignorant or in bad faith.

I was listening to the BBC Start The Week podcast a few weeks ago. It was called "Dissecting Death", and was about approaches to death. Halfway through this bloke, introduced as a "philospher", Raymond Tallis came on. I've heard him waffle on other programs before. He just published a 700 page (yes seven hundred page) book about time and lamentation.



The other guests on the program were intelligent informative and interesting:
Mark O'Connell talked about transhumanists, Carla Valentine talked about life and death behind mortuary doors, and Laura Yunbridge spoke about late works of artists. But all Tallis could say was: "Physicists have shrunk time to little 't'. So it can be squared or used as a denominator in an equation. Well you'd never do that to an afternoon..."



Now why did a "philospher" say such stupid things? I can think of only answers:



Answer 1) He is ignorant of how time is still an important and large mystery to scientists. He is ignorant of any physics research/thought into time and space since he left school. At school he maybe he learned those few equations which deal with speed and acceleration. He thinks that since he left school (maybe because he left) all physics research into time stopped. He is a "philosopher". Hasn't heard of Wittgenstein's saying: "Whereof we know knothing thereof we must remain silent"?



Answer 2) He is in bad faith. He knows he is being flippant. He knows that the few equations he remembers from school (or has looked up) have nothing much to do with the real physics mystery of time. He is playing to an arts audience who have trouble adding 41 to 32 (and are proud of the difficulty). Maybe they'll buy his little 700 page book and feel they can grasp the the reality of time that way.



Whichever answer is true, he can't be listened to seriously. If he is ignorant and/or in bad faith, how can we believe whatever else he pronounces on? Shouldn't we expect a bit more rigor in the arguments of a philosopher?

One last, er, idiocy, he said was that it was impossible to live in the moment because the moment is infinitely small. So suddenly he has gone all calculus on us? So he has never experienced the sudden and fleeting pleasure of seeing something in nature which will not repeat itself? The swoop of a bird, or a cloud which transforms itself, second by slow second, into a different abstract shape?



If you want to know about the physics of relativity time and space I can recommend this book:


It shows you, step by step, how the equations come about. To be honest I had to write my own extra explanatory notes to myself to be able to completely understand it, but that was an education in itself. Microstep by microstep I saw the strangeness of time. Real strangeness. And remember your GPS would not work without Einstein's Theory Of Relativity. And there'd be no medical scanners without physicists.

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