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”!

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