Referring To Things We Can't Experience

I was reading a friend’s blog, where he mentions “speculating about what exists outside of the bubble of spacetime”. This phrase seems odd to me. “Outside” is a word which usually has a spacial meaing: where is outside? it’s over there. To talk about an “outside” of space itself seems almost internally contradictory.

Although, we can also think of outside as having a relational meaning, like “orthogonal”. If spacetime were a plane instead of a volume, we could talk about a line orthogonal to the plane and meaningfully refer to a direction which we could not experience. We might call anything situated along a line orthogonal to the spacetime plane “outside spacetime”, even though we would generally use “outside” to refer to a relation within the plane.

My question is whether this kind of referrence is legitimate, or whether it is incoherent because our words can’t be capable of referring to things we can’t experience even in principle. I mentioned a similar issue a while back in relation to Putnam’s idea’s regarding being a brain in a vat, but here I am doubting my earlier proposal.

If these kinds of reference are appropriate, questions about ‘before time’ and ‘outside space’ become appropriate. If they aren’t, though, much of science that relies on math (which is almost entirely relational abstractions) is put into question. How do we draw the line?

with an infinitesimally narrow pencil…


What do you believe that you cannot possibly prove, or have never experienced/observed yourself?

Choose your “religion”.

I think we can only take “outside” in a metaphorical or abstract sense when it is applied to space. Usually, it means outside the set defined as all those things which find themselves within space - in other words, it means “not a member of the set”.

This too could work, though “outside” would still be a purely spatial term. “Outside space” in this case would mean outside three-dimensional space (the three we are familiar with).

It’s legitimate insofar as we are merely constructing a model in our minds. We can define a set consisting of all things within the bounds of space, and this would be one element of the model, and then we would add to it other things not within the set, and this would be another element. Together, presumably, they would constitute a mental model of the universe.

But insofar as we wish to use this model as a reference to something outside ourselves, we’re doomed to fail, for if it refers to something we can’t even experience, not only would there be no way to comfirm it, but there is a good chance it’s not the sort of thing that can even be captured by human thought.

Why would this bear on science in any way? It’s true that science relies on math, but math doesn’t depend on the ability to refer to anything outside ourselves or space. 2 + 2 = 4 regardless of what actually exists or even if there is existence. It’s a self-sufficient closed system.