Social Scientist. v 17, no. 190-91 (March 1989) p. 76.

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The Abstract And The Concrete in the Definition of Space and Time

One of the most important aspects of the dialectical method is what Marx described as the method of ascending from the abstract to the concrete. The movement of thought in cognition from the concrete to the abstract and the ascending from the abstract to the concrete is a fundamental principle of the Marxist theory of knowledge.

The problems relating to the concepts of space and time in relativity physics afford a good example of how contradictions and confusion arise if we jettison this cardinal principle. We consider in this paper a few questions raised by Charles Misner in his presentation [4] to the third International Colloquium on Cosmology and Theology held at the University of Denver some time ago. Misner is a big name in relativity and is one of the authors of an authoritative text book on the subject. His views therefore merit some special attention.

Cosmology deals with the whole universe, that is, with everything that exists. Hence this is a subject which raises fundamental questions regarding the origins, not only of the stars, galaxies and so on, but of the entire world. The religious question of the creation of the world also has its echo in cosmology. Hence this discipline is a favourite hunting ground for the modem theologian who tries to establish the existence of God by pointing to the Big Bang of cosmology.

Misner relies on the big bang model and argues from certain theorems proved by Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose and others that there must have been in the past an event called the creation of the universe. Misner deals with examples from the theory of space-time in relativity. We shall therefore mention some of the main ideas in this area.


Einstein propounded the special theory of relativity in 1905 to reconcile the contradictions that nineteenth century technology had revealed in the theory ofelectromagnetism. One of the ideas introduced by STR(spe-cial theory of relativity) is that the measurements of time intervals and spatial distances between a given pair of events will not be the same for all observers, but would depend essentially on the observer's mode of motion. The so called Lorentz transformations give the relation between the space and time coordinates for different inertial observers in relative uniform motion.

* Wilson College. Bombay.

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