The Arrow of Time

I watched an episode of The Fabric of the Cosmos last night on PBS. It is a series on NOVA hosted by Brian Greene from his book of the same title. This was part 2 on “Time and Experience” which deals with something we all think about (perhaps too much) and yet don’t really understand.

I have read a lot on the topic of time, particularly time travel which has long fascinated me. I have read many versions of the “time as a river” flowing past us (the observer) with the past downstream and the future upstream.

In this program, Greene talks about the “Frozen River” and questions whether time really does “flow.” What is interesting in this approach is that it touches on some ideas that we might once have read as fringe science or new age non-science.

Greene deals with Einstein and special relativity and is a bigtime legit scientist, so those claims won’t come up. But I think that the first times I read about the idea that time does not flow and that all things simultaneously exist at the same time, was more likely to have been in reading Carlos Castaneda rather than Einstein *.

No past, no present, no future. Just now.

As Einstein discussed, we “observers” moving relative to each other have different conceptions of what exists at a given moment, and hence they have different conceptions of reality.

There is also discussion of whether time has an “arrow.”  The arrow of time, or time’s arrow, is a term coined in 1927 by the British astronomer Arthur Eddington to describe the “one-way direction” or “asymmetry” of time.  The arrow appears to move forward from chaos to organization. Or does it? Was the Big Bang origin the most coherent and organized version of the universe, and we have since moved to greater chaos?

The laws of physics apply both moving forward in time and backwards in time – time-reversal symmetry.

Which brings us to entropy. Greene gives many examples (the series is full of animations and green-screen simulations) including broken glasses reassembling and such.  Entropy can be defined as a lack of order or predictability;  a gradual decline into disorder. The beginning of the universe must be the state of minimum entropy.

What always amazes me when I listen to Brian Green explain these unbelievably complicated concepts is that I completely understand them – until he stops taking, at which point my understanding vanishes.

Today I did some searching online to find out more about this arrow. Turns out there are different arrows.

There is a  causal arrow of time.  A cause precedes its effect.  Birth, for example, follows a successful conception and not vice versa.  Dropping the wine glass is a cause and the glass subsequently shattering and spilling is the effect. It’s never that simple. Add in the thermodynamic arrow of time (see Second law of thermodynamics) and controlling the future, or causing something to happen, creates correlations between the doer and the effect.

How would we explain the pieces of the glass in reverse assembling precisely into the shape of a glass and flying up into the my hand (since the floor cannot throw and my hand can’t move objects without contact) and why would the liquid collect itself entirely within the cup?

Get into the particle physics (weak) arrow of time or the  quantum arrow of time and I am completely lost.

Perhaps, most of us would be comfortable with the psychological/perceptual arrow of time. That at least concerns things we understand – like our cataloging of items of memory from our perception. Things we remember make up the past. The future consists of those events that cannot be remembered.

Our sense of time comes from the perception is that continuous movement from the known (Past) to the unknown (Future).

In that psychological future, there are things (dreams, hopes) that are already a part of memory, but see to be ahead of the observer.

We (Westerners) associate behind with the past and ahead with the future but that is cultural. According to what I have read, Chinese and the Aymara people both associate “ahead = past” and “behind = future”. In Chinese, the term “the day after tomorrow” literally means “behind day” while “the day before yesterday” is referred to as “front day” and in Hindi (an Indian language), the term used for “tomorrow” and “yesterday” is the same.

So where am I right now?

My brief period of Buddhist training told me to be in this moment. No past or future, both of which lead to suffering.  We seem to only be able to live moving forward. We only understand the present by looking back. That doesn’t give us much “time” to spend in the present. And that seems to be a sad reality.

Now I will go for a walk in the woods…


* Footnote
Born in 1925 in Peru, anthropologist Carlos Castaneda wrote a total of 15 books, which sold 8 million copies worldwide and were published in 17 different languages. In his writing, Castaneda describes the teaching of Don Juan, a Yaqui sorcerer and shaman. His works helped define the 1960’s and usher in the New Age movement. Even after his mysterious death in California in 1998, his books continue to inspire and influence his many devoted fans.

Read the first chapter of The Fabric of the Cosmos via Amazon


Have You Seen A Time Traveler?

Regular readers of my blogs will know that I am fascinated by time travel.  I would like to believe it’s possible, but so far, no proof.

It has long been asked: If at some point in the future time travel is possible, why haven’t some travelers come back to THIS time to tell us?  Fear of creating a paradox?  Unable to go back, only forward?

I saw on the news that an Irish filmmaker, George Clarke,  says he thinks that he discovered footage from a 1928 Charlie Chaplin promotional film that shows a woman talking on a cell phone.  He – and others – have concluded that the woman is a time traveler from the future.

I’m not sure that the only explanation is that the woman at the promotion for  “The Circus” has a cell phone and is therefore from the future (maybe our “present”).

traveler 1

After seeing the video (see link bottom of this post) and watching the slow-motion replays, it’s unclear to me. Some people say she is using an early hearing aid – but she does seem to be talking, not just listening.

Who is she talking to?  Herself? Does she have a cell phone that can actually call the future? What 1928 cell tower is she using? Could a cell signal travel back to the future?  Is she calling another time traveler also in 1928 using some type of other technology? Why does she look right at the camera?  Is she a she?

It’s not the first report of a time traveler I  have found.

An earlier one was a still image. I’m less trusting of still images which are much easier to fake than video. (Especially video from 1928 that is pretty well documented.) But I found the image on a site that says the image was made available by the official website for Canada’s museums as part of an exhibit “Their Past Lives Here.”

The photo is labeled “Reopening of the South Fork Bridge after flood in Nov. 1940. 1941 (?)”

traveler 2

See that guy on the right? Those look like pretty modern sunglasses for 1940. What’s with his silk-screened “M” t-shirt? Is that some kind of compact camera he is holding? What was a  time traveler doing at a bridge reopening in 1940? Was he stupid enough not to wear 1940s clothing for his trip?

So many unanswered questions. I want to believe.

Seen any time travelers? Are YOU a time traveler? If so, please post a comment and let us know what’s coming.

Video by George Clarke showing the 1928 time traveler.

The Quest For The God Particle

The Higgs boson particle is sometimes referred to as “the God particle.”  That comes from Leon Lederman’s book, The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? (Though other books that have picked up on the idea – both in non-fiction and fiction)

The term gets people’s attention (you did read this post, after all) and has generated some media attention to physics and the Large Hadron Collider, but most scientists would not use the term because they feel it is an exaggeration of the particle’s importance.

The Higgs boson is the one and only scalar elementary particle predicted to exist in nature by the Standard Model in particle physics. At present there are no other known fundamental scalar particles in nature.

It is also the only Standard Model particle that has not been observed.

If one was detected through experimentation, it would help explain the origin of mass in the universe. (It would explain the difference between the massless photon, which mediates electromagnetism, and the massive W and Z bosons, which mediate the weak force.)

If the Higgs boson exists, it is an integral and pervasive component of the material world.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, which became operational on November 20, 2009, is expected to provide experimental evidence of the existence or non-existence of the Higgs boson

The most interesting thing I have read recently about this says that “…one could even almost say that we have a model for God […] that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.”

So says physicist Dr Holger Bech Nielsen (Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen) who “blames” God for the problems finding the Higgs boson. It is a jinxed quest.

Why? Because this particle has the ability to travel back in time.

Nielsen and some others conjecture that the creation of a Higgs particle (at the Large Hadron Collider) will cause a chain of events that will ripple back in time, stopping its creation in the future.

This idea does make real physicists sound like Doc Brown in Back to the Future

“…the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one.”  (NY Times)

It’s the good ol’  “Grandfather Paradox” which has fascinated me since I was a kid reading time-travel stories.  If you could travel back in time and kill his grandfather, would you cease to exist?