Mon 18 Dec 2006
Julian Barbour has written a clear and groundbreaking manifesto in The End of Time that states what may be the most profound insight since Aristotle. Time, according to Barbour, the reference by which all of Newtonian physics is measured is merely an illusion!
Newton proposed a universe of physics which contained a fixed reference coordinate system upon which physical existence plays out. The cartesian or polar playing field contains three fixed dimensions of space and one of time. In Newtonian physics, the world simply operates according to the rules of motion which he so clearly identified.
While most experiments conformed to Newton’s picture of physical reality, there were some experiments, like black body radiation, that did not work out according to plan. Just as Newton corrected and extended Aristotle’s views, Einstein, Bohr and the others corrected and extended Newton’s mechanics with quantum mechanics.
Just as Newton’s view ran into experimental problems, quantum theory runs into problems when trying to incorporate gravity into a grand theory. Barbour painstakingly develops his theory, and a method of visualizing the basic concepts that permit his theory to be understood. Not everyone agrees that the “problem of time” is an insurmountable obstacle to incorporating gravity within quantum mechanics. Stuart Kauffman and Lee Smolin, for example, have developed an alternative in A Possible Solution For The Problem Of Time In Quantum Cosmology.
Barbour’s take, however, is much more comprehensive than particle physics. (Although you could say all existence is particle physics) His timeless universe provides a plausible framework, very different from the Newtonian one, to understand God, causality, free will and reality.
To develop the concepts, it is necessary to introduce a notional universe, Platonia, in which all elements of the universe exist in “nows” that are time capsules essentially independent of each other. It is only the human mental “history” that links these “nows” into a timeline.
Barbour expands on Ernst Mach‘s principle that inertia (the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest and of a body in motion to continue in motion in the same direction) results from a relationship of that object with all the rest of the matter in the universe.
From this basic concept, Barbour develops a consistent theory that shows all reality can be represented as individual ‘nows’. Whether these ‘nows’ actually exist can only be probabilistically determined by the static (or time independent) Schrodinger Wave Equation. The Schrodinger Wave Equation produces only a probability function, not a fact. The equation can collapse at any point where the condition of the ‘now’ is known, but will remain only a probability until the condition is sampled, as when opening the cat box. (See Schrodinger’s Cat) (if the cat dies in the forest and no one checks, is the cat still alive?)
These probability functions are described in the book as “mists” which give a fair approximation for visualization of probability, where the density or thickness of the mist is proportional to the probability density function. The probability of a now actually existing is dependent on the probability density function of the Schrodinger wave equation. John Bell proposed that there may be records of histories (such as in cloud chambers) where no such histories actually exist. Barbour follows up on this, showing that this situation actually occurs.
Beside the obvious ramifications that this radical change in viewpoint has to physics, it is critical to visualization of human consciousness, the “many worlds” concept of reality, the creator, eternity and free will. If you seek the ability to understand existence, then this book will give you tools to see it from an entirely new viewpoint.
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