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Hans Reichenbach

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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.

 
Hans Reichenbach

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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.

 
Hans Reichenbach
 

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.

 
Hans Reichenbach
 

...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.

 
Hans Reichenbach
 

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 nonintuitive 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.

 
Hans Reichenbach
 

The classical theorists resemble Euclidean geometers in a non-Euclidean world who, discovering that in experience straight lines apparently parallel often meet, rebuke the lines for not keeping straight—as the only remedy for the unfortunate collisions which are occurring. Yet, in truth, there is no remedy except to thro over the axiom of parallels and to work out a non-Euclidean geometry.

 
John Maynard Keynes
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