“If you try to get your hands on time, it’s always slipping through your fingers,” says Barbour. “People are sure time is there, but they can’t get hold of it. My feeling is that they can’t get hold of it because it isn’t there at all.”
Barbour speaks with a disarming English charm that belies an iron resolve and confidence in his science.
His extreme perspective comes from years of looking into the heart of both classical and quantum physics. Isaac Newton thought of time as a river flowing at the same rate everywhere.
Einstein changed this picture by unifying space and time into a single 4-D entity.perspective comes from years of looking into the heart of both classical and quantum physics. Isaac Newton thought of time as a river flowing at the same rate everywhere. Einstein changed this picture by unifying space and time into a single 4-D entity.
“As we live, we seem to move through a succession of Nows,” says Barbour, “and the question is, what are they?”
For Barbour each Now is an arrangement of everything in the universe. “We have the strong impression that things have definite positions relative to each other.
But even Einstein failed to challenge the concept of time as a measure of change. In Barbour’s view, the question must be turned on its head. It is change that provides the illusion of time.
Channeling the ghost of Parmenides, Barbour sees each individual moment as a whole, complete and existing in its own right. He calls these moments “Nows.”
I aim to abstract away everything we cannot see (directly or indirectly) and simply keep this idea of many different things coexisting at once. There are simply the Nows, nothing more, nothing less.”
Barbour’s Nows can be imagined as pages of a novel ripped from the book’s spine and tossed randomly onto the floor. Each page is a separate entity existing without time, existing outside of time.
Arranging the pages in some special order and moving through them in a step-by-step fashion makes a story unfold. Still, no matter how we arrange the sheets, each page is complete and independent.
As Barbour says, “The cat that jumps is not the same cat that lands.” The physics of reality for Barbour is the physics of these Nows taken together as a whole. There is no past moment that flows into a future moment.
Instead all the different possible configurations of the universe, every possible location of every atom throughout all of creation, exist simultaneously. Barbour’s Nows all exist at once in a vast Platonic realm that stands completely and absolutely without time.
Our illusion of the past arises because each Now contains objects that appear as “records” in Barbour’s language. “The only evidence you have of last week is your memory. But memory comes from a stable structure of neurons in your brain now. The only evidence we have of the Earth’s past is rocks and fossils.
But these are just stable structures in the form of an arrangement of minerals we examine in the present. The point is, all we have are these records and you only have them in this Now.”
Time, in this view, is not something that exists apart from the universe. There is no clock ticking outside the cosmos. Most of us tend to think of time the way Newton did: “Absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably, without regard to anything external.”
But as Einstein proved, time is part of the fabric of the universe. Contrary to what Newton believed, our ordinary clocks don’t measure something that’s independent of the universe.
The word “Mechanics” used in the term “Quantum Mechanics” indicates a machine like predictable, buildable, knowable thing. The Quantum Universe in which we live, whether we want to accept it or not, may seem on the surface to be mechanical and linear but it is not.
It is probably better described as an infinite multitude of possible linear actions. If we must give this still mystical process a name lets call it “Quantum Ecology” rather than “Quantum Mechanics” because it is built from within it’s self. Everything comes out of the invisible in the same way as any living organism does.
In quantum mechanics all particles of matter and energy can also be described as waves. And waves have an unusual property: An infinite number of them can exist in the same location. If time and space are one day shown to consist of quanta, the quanta could all exist piled together in a single dimensionless point.
The current predominant world paradigm is that if a thing can not be explained, detailed, analyzed and documented by linear scientific thought processes then it’s mumbo jumbo.
If you have a spiritual explanation for human existence then your crazy, you’re in dream land. The scientific mindset says everything in the universe must be capable of explanation either now or at some point in the future by scientific analytic methods alone.
Science says “In the absence of scientific proof it’s not worth the time discussing. If it can not be put in a box with a label then forget it. Go figure out what box you can put it in, label it, then come back to us and we’ll see if we agree”.
Can you see the limitations that this puts on human development?
Quantum particle behavior can not be explained in terms of science alone, that is to say, it can not be explained in terms of the mind because the mind by it’s nature functions on the basis that reality consists of things, things that can be broken down into individual bits of information and explained in a linear mechanical fashion.
To realize how flawed this mindset is you must first accept that this is a relative world in which we live and on the conscious level we interact with other human beings and the rest of the universe in a linear fashion.
This is the nature of the mind. We must go beyond the mind to access the answers.
According to physics, your life is described by a series of slices of your worm; you as a baby, you as you ate breakfast this morning, you as you started reading this sentence and so on, with each slice existing motionless in its respective time.
We generate time’s flow by thinking that the same self that ate breakfast this morning also started reading this sentence.
So do we really need to mourn time’s passing? Einstein, for one, drew solace from the view of the timeless universe he had helped to create, consoling the family of a recently deceased friend: “Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me.
That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”