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Musings on time and space

Firstly, I’d like to note that these are simply opinions and musings – not statements or declarations of ‘fact’. Some of the points may seem a bit negative but, if I actually think about it, they’re actually quite positive and reassuring.

Below is a list (with direct links) to the sections:

Time or, more specifically, time travel and the impossibility thereof:

I don’t think it is – or ever will be – possible. The reasoning behind this is quite simple: time does not exist.

What!? I hear you cry … I said that time, as most people comprehend it, does not exist. Sure, we experience something that we call the passage of time, and this is a fundamental part of the way we understand what we consider to be our reality.

Some people talk of time as a dimension, as though it’s something we move through and possibly leave trails in. With this view, you can make a simple analogy as a two dimensional graph. Up and down (the Y axis) are space and left to right (X axis) is time. Moving to the right is moving through time. The line that is an object will be constantly drawing a line along the X axis (time). If it’s stationary the line will be straight and horizontal. If it moves up and down, the line will be wavy.

Using this analogy of time, history is recorded on the graph. Going to the left is going back in time. Of course, being a graph, the past still exists on that graph. It’s been recorded and it stays there; the past exists as a ‘trail’. The past takes up physical space on the graph in a sense and if you could go back in time (going left on the graph), you could re-experience events. The problem is, that if we move through time, we aren’t leaving ‘snail trails’ and being extruded or stretched out through it. We’re moving through it, which still means we don’t exist in the past.

Now, if you ask a sensible physicist why we can’t go back in time they will tell say “because you can’t put things back together.” Why do they say that? Because time isn’t a ‘thing’ that exists as a dimension that you can travel through. Time is simply the perception of the change of state of ‘now’.

All matter naturally decays in a process in physics known as entropy. The process of entropic decay is unstoppable and (as far as we know) irreversible. It is the process of energy in a system dropping to its lowest level, often as the emission of heat. This is why sensible physicists will say we can’t put things back together; because the passage of time is decay – things falling apart and losing energy. If nothing changed state at all, ever, there would be no apparent passage of time because there’s nothing to compare the state now to what it was.

The above point you may think sounds similar to “if a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound?” but actually, it isn’t the same point. I’m saying if nothing moves in the universe then there is no time, because time is, by definition, the measurement/perception of the change of state of the universe. The difference being that if nothing moves there is no time, whereas if a tree falls in a forest the air still moves and there is still sound, regardless of whether somebody hears it.

Even if time doesn’t exist as a dimension or a thing that passes, that doesn’t preclude the effect that gravity and speed have on it, especially if you think of time as being a function of the motion of things in space (think, subatomic motion). Time can’t actually be measured. All the instruments we use actually measure vibration (again, motion) or something that changes at a fixed rate given a fixed input. Gravity affects that. If you’re closer to a source of gravity, time slows down for you relative to those that are not, likewise if you travel at a higher speed than someone else, time slows down. You can slow time (the perception of what we think of as time) and compress it, but not drive it backwards. The logic of formulae that work with time as a component can be misconstrued, with people thinking that the formulas work if you wind them backwards – yes, the numbers do, but that doesn’t mean you can extrapolate into a negative axis for time (see my ideas on the big bang below).

Sidebar: A system with a high entropy state will look pretty much the same regardless of how you change its structure on a small scale (think sand dunes), whereas something like a person has a much lower entropy state. If you changed our molecules/atoms too much we’d fall apart or be unrecognisable, although our bodies are constantly replenishing their constituent parts, but this is done in an ordered fashion.

Conclusion:

Living in this one instant of time, this eternal now, means that all of our ancestors experienced this same moment. Time as we percieve it is an artefact of memory. The past doesn’t exist somewhere else, intact – it exists only in our memories and under our feet. You might think that’s depressing, but isn’t it more comforting to think that the past is so much closer to us?

Parallel universes:

Another thing that I don’t believe in is the parallel universe theory of quantum physics. A brief explanation of this in laymans terms comes in the form of the schrodinger’s cat thought experiment.

In this experiment a cat is placed in a box along with a poison that will be released if a radioactive source emits a particle. Whether the particle is released or not is ‘random’. Some quantum physics theories say that because the particle emission is random it is both released and not released at the same time, and therefore the cat is both alive and dead simultaneously. What state is the cat in when you open the box? Apparently, according to some, the observer ‘forces’ the cat to be in one state or another – this is called the observer effect, and is where the act of the observer perceiving the state forces it to be one or the other.

Another theory is that the cat is in one state in this universe, but there’s another universe created for the alternative possibility, in which the cat is in the other state. So, in this universe the cat would be alive, and in the other universe the radiation source will have released its particle, killing the cat (by releasing poison) and the cat there will be dead.

As far as I recall, the need for the above idea (of something being in two states at the same time) comes about from the ‘slit experiment‘ – an experiment in which a photon (light particle) is fired at a thin pair of slits. Ordinarily, you’d expect a particle to go through one slit or the other, creating a shadow on the wall opposite in the pattern of two lines, but in reality we get an interference fringe. You’ll need to read those pages to understand the principle.

The idea of the particle going through both slits simultaneously brings about questions that lead to the scenario above, in which something can be in multiple states. I personally think it makes more sense that in the schrodinger experiment the cat is actually only ever going to be in one state, with no requirement for multiple universes. The radioactive source will fire not due to some magical ‘randomness’ but because of a trigger; we live in a deterministic system, after all. A system with cause and effect. It’s likely that some catalytic event such as the passage of a neutrino or cosmic ray through the radioactive source disturbs its relatively stable state and allows the particle to be released.

Of course, this doesn’t explain how the slit experiment can have the outcome that it does. Personally, I think that if a particle goes through the left slit in this universe and then also goes through the right in an alternate universe, it doesn’t explain how that alternate universe’s particle affects the wave in this universe. It’s more likely that light photons are discrete particles, but they carry an associated wave with them that determines the amplitude of their energy at the point of collision (this requires space to be a medium of transmission for the light wave). The light wave goes through both slits, while the particle only goes through one. The particle hits the wall with the brightness of the wave.

Try imaginging a surfer going through a barricade – the wave passes through the both gaps, while the surfer passes through only one. The waves interfere and hit the wall ahead at a specific height; the surfer is simply riding the wave and hits the wall at that height. (Why a surfer is going towards a wall is anyone’s guess, but it’s a good enough analogy).

I personally think it’s unrealistic to assume there’s a new universe created for every possible outcome of every potential state of every particle in the universe. It’s also equally unreasonable to assume that simply observing something that can have one of two states creates a universe – at what point does being an observer start or stop? Does every bacterium have this god-like ability? It’s beyond fantasy (in my opinion, remember!)

I have no qualms with the possibility of there being other universes in existence, just not ones based on potential outcomes of random events in this one.

Sidebar: Quantum computers – scientific fantasy. Read up on them. It’s a little foolish to think that the ‘us’ in another alternate reality would be happy with leaving their quantum computer running in order to answer questions from ‘our’ quantum computer’s processor. It’s important to note that I am not ruling out the existence of higher dimensions (string theory postulates nine required dimensions), simply that of alternate realities based on what might have been.

Conclusion:

What if I did this? What if I did that? Is there another me with a better life? Stop asking that. You’re in charge of your life and all its possibilities, here and now. Take control of that. When something random happens, it’s not down to some force wanting you to have a bad day – it’s down to billions of variables leading to that point. You still feel like you have free will so use it!

The big bang, or rather, why the universe is eternal:

Calculations relating to the big bang and the expansion of the universe are often run backwards to prove a point, that everything came from a single point in space (a singularity) and expanded outwards. The assumption is that if everything started at a point, there must have been nothing before it. The other inference is that because space is expanding, it’s actually the space expanding and getting bigger, and that there is nothing outside of it. We can’t actually prove that there isn’t anything outside the space taken up by universe, because we can’t see beyond the fading light that is reaching us from its beginning. Personally, I don’t think it’s something we have to worry about. The universe is eternal and, even though there was a big bang, the big bang wasn’t the absolute start.

Ok, now you think I’m nuts, so think of it logically. Matter is made from energy, right? Energy cannot be created or destroyed, therefore all of the energy/matter in the universe must always have existed.

It is my belief that we live in a cyclical universe. Energy condenses and explodes as matter (the big bang) and expands outwards into an infinite void. Eventually, gravity draws all matter back together again in a big crunch, at which point all matter will become that initial singularity once more and, being unable to be contained, explodes out again in another big bang. Repeat ad infinitum.

We humans are trapped by our own life cycles. We believe everything has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Because we’re born, live, and die we assume there must also be a before and an after for the universe, just because there’s a before and after for us. Many people can’t comprehend an infinite, eternal universe. It’s too much of an alien concept for them to hold on to. I have difficulty sometimes, but I accept it. We can only see as far as the visible evidence allows and no farther.

I used to think the universe was a kind of wraparound hyper-torus, and that if we travelled fast and far enough we’d come back to where we started. Now, however, I think the space our universe is contained in is infinite and that the energy propelling the universe outward from itself will eventually run out – we’re just not yet old enough to see the evidence for it.

Conclusion:

I don’t think we’ll ever be able to categorically prove what happened before the big bang because, by its nature, all evidence in the physical three-dimensional universe will have been destroyed. It may be that there are higher dimensions that exist, free of the force of gravity, that do not get crushed by the weight of the universe eating itself. Maybe there’s a component of matter that escapes at some point into the higher dimensions and survives, who knows? If you can’t comprehend the notion of an eternal, infinite universe, that’s fine – you haven’t failed as a human being. It’s not a test.

 

Final words

All of the above are simply musings, opinions, and unproven beliefs based on what I’ve read and seen over the years. Some of the ideas are used in the backstory for Synthesis:Weave.

I’d like to think that the notion of an eternal now and singular universe (rather than an infinite splitting based on possiblities or observation) is quite reassuring, in that what we do here and now matters, and doesn’t count for nothing in the grand scheme of things.