Saturday, July 24, 2010

Do we really know Nothing?

In our quest to understand time I introduced you to a cosmological model that may not feel at all obvious or natural to you. In fact you may think it is absolutely absurd. I asked you to consider that instead of things moving about in spacetime our consciousnesses are hopping from space configuration to space configuration creating our experience of physical change and consequently our experience of time and spatial volume. I used the metaphor of reading a book to illustrate the two types or dimensions of time. What I called linear time or primary time can be likened to the progression of pages while reading the book. This progression causes us to experience the content of each page, the evolving time of the story, the physical change. This time I called lateral or secondary time and is in effect what we experience as clock time. Furthermore, I introduced the notion that, for us, to experience our reality as a continuum it is required that the pages (space configurations) are organized in such a way that from one page to the other there can not be more than a certain maximum amount of change. Finally I observed that we can start anywhere in the book (multiverse) and still the events and characters all evolve as if the unknown past actually happened. The characters remember things that were, although you have not read them, because the pages are written with the past coded into them. In fact, even the future is coded into all the pages as the book will always end the same way. The final point actually being that the book (multiverse/set of all possible spaces) itself exists timelessly.

This model (and certainly this particular metaphor) may sound absurd indeed but, please, give it a chance. It is after all just a model (as are all other cosmological models). For me it did much more than only help me to create a better understanding of time. Progressing space configurations along a conciousness-unique path provided me with new insights on quantum mechanical phenomena. It also illuminated aspects of general relativity and the reason for a universal maximum speed (the speed of light) and even why cosmological expansion is accelerating. Most astonishing of all, I intuitively feel that in this model all those aspects of reality are inherently related and unified by the progression of spaces!

The key aspect of this model is to acknowledge that the full set of all possible space configurations can nothing but exist timelessly. There are no possibilities outside of this set and contemplating the non-existence, creation and destruction of this set is utterly futile and non-logical. Paradoxically humanity has spent (and maybe wasted) a lot of time doing just that. Somehow we have the need to address the issue of where we came from. We all have existential questions and they are surely a direct consequence of our mortality. We recognize that we get born and die. Our intelligence demands a reason and a meaning. Very few people can accept nihilistic views on existence but what can be more grand than timeless existence even if it is because there is no alternative to it.

The question often posed is: “How can something come from nothing?” We all know pretty good what we mean with “something” but do we really know what we mean by “nothing”? The normal or linguistic meaning of nothing is empty or of no consequence. We say that there is nothing in the room if the room is empty. We say there is nothing on the TV if there are no programs that we want to see. Strangely we also say that there was nothing before the Big Bang, That sentence has a completely different meaning. We want to say that there was a state of non-existence before the Big Bang. But what actually do we want to say there. What is nothing in the context of non-existence and what is a state of non-existence?

The on-line Webster dictionary defines nothing as something that does not exists. That is a bit odd I think. How can you refer to some thing that does not exist? A thing that is not a thing? How can we even create a word that refers to something that does not exists. No language can define a concept that has no reality or meaning. We can not refer to a state of non-existence when there is no such state. Any attempt to describe it is not describing it. Any word representing it is not representing it. So the only valid definition of non-existence seems to be something that can not be represented with a word and that can not be referred to. Obviously we have a problem here. Any attempt to define non-existence by any meaningful idea or thought, using linguistic meaning that otherwise defines all language and our reality, is bound to fail.

Non-existence cannot be. It cannot exist. It can not be referred to. It can not even be meant. It is the ultimate paradox. It is very different from the real nothing the nothing that can be talked about the nothing in the room nothing or the nothing on TV nothing. Because we confuse these two concepts we do not fully understand why we exist and how we came to be. We fail to see that we simply exist because there is no alternative to existence. It is a fundamental and inherent property of reality that it exists. It has done so in the past and will do so in the future. In fact, it exists even without time. It can never be created and it can never be destroyed. Existence in all its spatial and temporal states is timeless.

Interestingly, the correct nothing (room, TV etc.) has some interesting properties. We quite often use it to define something that is empty or unified. We can say that there is nothing in space or nothing on a CD but physically we mean that the content is uniform. Nothing is a singularity. Singularities can have content but in a unified or singular form. What we call nothing may contain everything. As we will see later on, some cosmological singularities such as the Big Bang singularity contain quite a lot. And no, I did not mean “contained”!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

And now for Now

We set out to understand time but what did we learn? I concluded time was a direction in four dimensional space. But I can never really say it is so as a matter of fact. I used a model to describe certain traits of what I understand time (and space) to be. If it did anything at all it was probably to confuse matters even more. I stated that if there is no spatial change an observer will not experience time and without time the observer will not be able to experience spatial volume. At the same time I logically concluded that even if time has stopped and consequently spatial volume has collapsed that does not mean that the physical properties of that spacetime have seized to exist. The time of existence is clearly an other aspect of time.

So what about the moment of now? We seem unable to define what now is or to quantify it in any way. I know I write this sentence now but right now I started the sentence some seconds ago. The writing of that whole sentence is in the past now. I know for certain that I wrote the sentence because I can read it back but although I intend to write the next sentence I can not be sure that I actually will, as anything can happen right now or now or in the very near future that will prohibit me from actually writing it. Luckily nothing happened! It seems that we can only experience time passing but not a static moment of timelessness. That is maybe not all that weird. As our experience of time is completely based on spatial change. Even if we could identify an interval of time in the near future in which absolutely nothing would change we would not be able to experience that interval just because nothing changed. Our brains need change to work. So even if there is a period of two hundred years in which nothing at all changes spatially right now, now that it is over we can only conclude we did not notice it. I just kept writing on and never noticed the two hundred year moment of complete and utter nothingness. We experience time and space as a continuum even though in actual fact it might not be a continuum at all. And again human nature intuitively hints to something weird about time: I described a period of no spatial change to last two hundred years. But that period is characterized by there not being any time at all! So once again I assumed another type of time.

If we ever needed a metaphor it is now:

Imagine a book. When you read a book the story evolves and the characters come alive. The descriptions of the surroundings create, in your mind, a reality in which the story takes place. Each page is a discrete object, a snapshot, but when they are read one after the other they produce a dynamic and flowing reality. If you stop reading, the characters in the book will not notice it. Yet the book continues to exist. When you start reading again but accidentally start a few pages too early the characters happily relive the story and unaware of the future you already know. If you have a new book and start reading right from the middle the events and characters all evolve as if the unknown past actually happened. The characters remember things that were, although you have not read them, because the pages are written with the past coded into them. Problems first arise when you rip out all of the pages and shuffle them. Reading the pages in a random order will create a discontinuity. The story will never make sense. The order of the pages is of vital importance. The parts of the book that safeguard the structure of the story are the binding that holds the pages and dictates the order of the pages and the pages themselves that define the content of the story.

Now that was not hard to imagine but what is it a metaphor for? This is going to be wild but please try. Lets try to imagine that instead of stuff moving about in spacetime our consciousnesses hop from space to space like reading the book page by page. Instead of something moving about we hop from space to space and in each space all exists in a slightly modified configuration in such a way that we experience the thing to move about. You may need to take a short break now.

If this model has somehow taken form in your mind you will understand that the changes in each space configuration are responsible for the time we experience, the actual clock time. This clock time is responsible for our notion of spatial volume. We can now also see that there is another element of time namely the actual progression of the “pages” or the spacetime configurations that causes our perception of spatial change or clock time. It is this process that is responsible for us experiencing anything at all, both past and future. As long as the order is OK we experience a continuum. I will call this element of time primary time or linear time. The clock time we experience is at right angles to and caused by the primary time and I will call it lateral time or secondary time. With this we have changed our idea of time quite drastically as our model of reality now is a progression of three dimensional spaces constructing our experience of four dimensional spacetime. We have also noticed that, in this model, there seems to be a maximum allowable amount of change between space configurations in order to preserve our experience of a continuum. This last observation is a very important and fundamental aspect of the model as we will see later on!

And just as with the book, if there is no space progression, meaning no movement in the direction of linear time (turning the pages attached to the binding), all experience of time and spatial volume stops as the progression causes our experience of spatial change. What remains in that case is the construct itself (the book), the set of all possible spaces linked together in the right order. The order that dictates both our future and past and forms a unique and continuous reality for each and every consciousness. If you could behold that sum total of all things possible (which is logically impossible) you would finally see the real moment of now, the timeless set of everything that is, the one and only real Now, just existing, right now (and now).

If this metaphor is not working for you at all you do not need to worry. In the next and many other essays I will use different metaphors and also cast light on some of the things that may not be obvious or explained at all such as the role of consciousness or interaction, the apparent limit on spatial change and what I mean by "existing".

Epilogue and prologue to the rest

Some of you may, by now, have noticed that some elements of my tale on time are comparable to the ideas presented by Gevin Giorbran in his book Everything Forever: Learning To See Timelessness. This is no coincidence. Many years ago I had some very interesting correspondence with Gevin or Devin as I knew him then. His ideas about multi spatiality and the model of space progression were uncannily similar to my own. We certainly had different ideas on many things and, at the time, focused on different aspects of cosmology but on the whole our ideas were very compatible. He must have thought the same as he asked me to proof read the draft for his book. There still is a quote of mine on his web site In 2008 I learned that Gevin had passed away. A great loss. I can only hope that my writings inspire others in the same way as his inspired me. I also hope that the sum of our ideas may cause more people to think about and refine the models we both understood to be so obvious and natural.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Two-timing time

The previous essay identifies time as a direction in four dimensional space. This comes most natural to us as we experience our existence as evolving over time and moving through a three dimensional space. All our lives we are imprinted with the idea that we and all other things move about under the influence of a set of forces. We assume that the past does no longer exists and the future only becomes real when time flows into it. We never even contemplate the fact that this is just a model describing our experience of reality and not an unquestionable truth. But why should we? It seems to work.

Well, I like to question it anyway because it is fun. I have questions and they are not always easily answered. Real scientists probably have the same problem as they, on numerous occasions, caused some notable shifts in how we look at our reality. The simple universe described above does not correspond with the fact that the GPS system in my car needs to take relativity into account in order not to produce significant errors, a single particle evidently can experience interference with itself, where ever I would be in the universe I would always observe myself to be at the center of cosmological expansion and the most fascinating fact of all: that cosmological expansion is accelerating.

In the following essays I will revisit time and consequently space many times. I am not saying that the conclusion I previously reached was wrong but I intuitively feel something is missing. It is still not explained what a moment of now is. Also, even though I described that without events or spatial change an observer would not experience time and space, we still can quite easily imagine a space with objects in it that is completely frozen. A space with no change and consequently no observable time and spatial volume. But that does not mean the space and the objects it contains do not exist! There seems to be a time of existence, another aspect of time that we did not yet consider but certainly is not the same as clock time.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thinking about time

We all know what time means in our every day lives. Time is money and time is what we always have too little of doing stuff. We also know that we only have a finite amount of time to live. In that context time is precious, especially when for some reason our mortality is made more evident. Yet, mostly time is taken for granted. Young people complain everything takes too long while old people complain that everything goes too fast. We all know the past has been and can not be revisited and that the future has not happened yet. So, where are we? How long is the moment of now? When does it become the past and how big is the chunk of future that becomes now instead?

What actually is time? Is it an illusion or the only real thing in the universe? On wikipedia the following text opens the “Time” entry:

“Time is a component of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify the motions of objects. Time has been a major subject of religion, philosophy and science but defining it in a non-controversial manner applicable to all fields of study has consistently eluded the greatest scholars.“

OK, so that does not help us a lot. It does however, describe some of the elements we will need to understand time. It is mentioned that we use time to describe certain properties of events. An event can be defined as a phenomenon or object in time. An event occurs but to tell when it occurred you need to use a reference system. This reference system introduces other events in such a way that we can say that an event happened simultaneously with a certain event in the reference system. We assume that the events in the reference system are sequential. Right, that still is not helpful as the reference events are separated by the very thing we try to understand. As it were, time got created by the situation.

Let us continue on that line of thought. Time seems to be the property that separates events. Imagine an empty universe. If suddenly an event occurs there is no way to identify the moment it occurred. In essence there is no time. If a second event occurs one would think that at least it could be said that the second event happened after the first. But I say that there still is no time because there must be something that observed the first and the second event occurring. So what do we have so far? Time is a property that separates events observed by an observer. (ignoring for now how the observer observes the events)

There is another property that separates events and that property determines where an event occurs. It too needs a reference system for comparison that also is constructed of the very property we want to describe and again, without an observer that property has no meaning. We call it space.

It is fair to assume that without space there are no events. No events means no time. If there are no events, space and time have no meaning. Let that sink in for a while. Try to imagine yourself in a space with objects distributed in it. Now try to imagine there being no events. This means there are no interactions of any kind and you can not observe the objects in the space. You will not experience time. In fact you will not even notice the volume of the space. If time stops, spatial volume collapses. It does seem that time and space are closely related and together form four dimensional spacetime.

Conclusion: time is a special direction in four dimensional space and the property that separates events is four dimensional space. Travel in three dimensional space and time is movement through four dimensional space. What separates one event from a later event is that the latter event existed in a different place in space time.

Way too short a summary of "Traditional" Cosmology

In fact there is nothing traditional about current cosmology. The fact that the universe is more than only our own Milky Way Galaxy was only discovered in the 1920ties by Edwin Hubble. The same Edwin Hubble discovered in 1929 that the distance to far away galaxies was proportional to their red shifts (increase in wavelength of electromagnetic radiation such as radio, light, x-rays etc. due to the Doppler effect) indicating that all very distant galaxies and clusters have an apparent velocity directly away from our vantage point. The farther away, the higher the apparent velocity. From this observation it could be logically assumed that earlier in time those galaxies and clusters were closer together. Fred Hoyle is credited with coining the phrase Big Bang in a radio broadcast back in 1949. When in 1964 the cosmic microwave background radiation was discovered and analyzed , most scientists were fairly convinced by the evidence that some Big Bang scenario must have occurred.

Black holes (objects so massive even light can not escape its gravity) were thought about as far back as 1783. In 1915, with the help of Einstein's freshly developed theory of general relativity, it was shown that black holes could exist in theory. It was not until the 1960ties that the term “black hole” emerged. A defining feature of a black hole is its event horizon. This is a boundary in spacetime beyond which events can not affect an outside observer. At the center of a black hole lies a singularity. This is a point in spacetime where matter is crushed to infinite density, the pull of gravity is infinitely strong, and spacetime has infinite curvature. This means that a black hole's mass becomes entirely compressed into a region with zero volume called a gravitational singularity. In such singularities our current laws of physics break down. It is expected that there will emerge a theory of quantum gravity that will unite general relativity with quantum mechanics.

It is speculated that there is a singularity at the beginning of cosmic time (Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems) but as the Big Bang model is likely to be refined in the future, solutions that do not require a singularity may win favor.

Several models exist regarding the future of the universe. The discovery that cosmological expansion is accelerating instead of decelerating, has somewhat caused a stir. What causes the acceleration? It was already theorized that dark matter must exists to account for unexplained gravitational effects and that the matter we can observe is only a tiny part of all the matter in the universe. Still gravity looses the tug it seems. So dark energy was conceived. Dark energy, it is thought, is an hypothetical energy that tends to increase the rate of cosmological expansion. Ironically, dark energy has renewed interest in the cosmological constant, a modification of Einstein's original theory of general relativity to achieve a stationary universe. He later abandoned the idea calling it his greatest mistake. Now it seems convenient to introduce it again.

So, mankind has found the time to contemplate the beginning and ending of time and space in an effort to try and understand how we got here and where we are going.

Lately, with the ever increasing popularity of popular science on tv (Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, History Channel etc.), “normal” people are getting acquainted with and interested in these matters. The grandness of the subject naturally fascinates us. Quite often though it seems to me that such programs focus a bit too much on the cataclysmic doom scenarios in order to create a spectacular program and provoke fear rather than thought.