Ishmael illustrates time and visual imagination through physics and philosophy

Ishmael illustrates time and visual imagination through physics and philosophy

The Alexander Grass Institute for the Humanities (AGHI) hosted its first new faculty lecture on Thursday, November 2 with Jinan Ismail, William H. Miller III Professor of Philosophy at Hopkins. Ismail was previously a professor of philosophy at Columbia University and a member of the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University, and gave a lecture titled “Time and the Visual Imagination: From Physics to Philosophy.”

The lecture included an overview of the principles of physics as well as a proposal for an alternative interpretation of time. Ismail began to recognize the importance of illustrations as a means of helping people visualize the abstract laws of nature. It recognized the human ability to recognize patterns, which plays a crucial role in physics concepts extending from Newton’s laws of motion to waves and electromagnetism.

Ismail then presented a vision of time that differs from the classical vision of seeing the universe as a dynamic process.

“A new vision of time was formed with relativity, and (…) presented space and time together as part of the four-dimensional manifold,” she said.

Later theories of time came to terms with physics. One group mentioned are block universe enthusiasts, who describe the universe as a four-dimensional block.

In an interview with newsletter, Rahul Jakati, a third-year seminar writing major, expressed that discussing time was one of his main motivations for attending the event.
“I do a lot of research related to memory, and time is particularly relevant to memory. This event allowed me to expand on topics I’m interested in outside of my specialty,” he said.

On the topic of visual representation, Ismail pointed out the importance of graphs for describing high-level patterns that are not immediately visible to people. However, I show that philosophical controversy arises from the application of dimensions to time. In special relativity, time is treated explicitly as a dimension along the t-axis.

“In fact, there is no external dimension to create a point of view from which time can be seen, as there is only space-time itself,” Ismail said.

Jakati expressed in the interview that he finds the perception of time incredible.

Pictorial representations of time (fantastic). I’m now taking a class on photography in science and medicine and we’re talking about how photographs, images (and) diagrams can be arguments in and of themselves. “I think this resonates with what Professor Ismail mentioned.”

Instead, Ismail proposed studying time through our immediate individual perceptions, introducing the idea that one should not look at time, but rather live through it. She made this perception of time through an example in music.

“Let’s say you’re listening to music for the first time, as each note progresses, you’ll build up your memory and expectations, and recognize the sounds as a pattern of temporal music, or melody,” she said. “Without a listening mind, there will be no resonance.”

Ismail likened the experience of a piece of music unfolding to the experience of life as it unfolds. She suggested that time must be imagined from within in order to be recognizable. Because of this subjective nature of time, I have argued that time is a manufactured entity.

“The temporality of experience, the sense of passage, the flow that makes time seem so different (from) space, are not properties of time itself, but qualities that are evoked in the mind of the worker who lives through it,” she said.

In an interview with NewsletterRyan Lu, a freshman computer science major, talked about how listening to Ismail’s lecture changed his perception of time.

“Before this lecture, I had been thinking of time as a constant concept that physics could model perfectly,” he said. “Now I think it might be appropriate to put the ‘self’ into the equation and start from within to understand the world rather than assuming a top-down perspective.”

Jakati echoed similar sentiments and discussed what he took away from the lecture.

“After this talk, I got a deeper understanding of the meaning of time, its existence, its cognitive theory, and how one can track time from different perspectives,” he said.

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