Wednesday, January 14, 2009
This offers an insight into a little problem I have with living in heaven. What about walking aside someone who harmed you or harmed a loved one? Would a parent really be capable of fully loving someone who raped and murdered her child? There are multiple religious philosophies regarding this issue. It could be, though, that once a person dies, all the experiences from his or her lifetime become divorced from the soul and those experiences become the property of God. All souls would basically be the same at that point, innocent as babes, living together in harmony.
What do you think?
Sunday, June 8, 2008
We take for granted that the world we absorb through our senses is rock-solid and immutable. We have words for everything. If it exists, it is a noun. If it is some sort of process, it is a verb. We have a slew of adjectives and other parts of speech to spice it up some. The world comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. It is the entire basis for existence.
But this world, and the language that sustains it, is simply the world we can all agree upon. (Believe me, I am not talking about the opinions regarding society-- they are as varied as they come.) It is something that looks more or less the same to everyone and fulfills practical purposes.
A fish swims in the water. A fish is comprised mostly of water. It has no idea what water is, because water is everywhere and there is nothing to contrast it with. We look at fish swimming and see an agent moving freely and independently of its environment. We do this because we perceive the fish's shape and color. Without these perceptions, the fish (which is comprised mostly of water) is more or less like a lump in gravy-- a relatively small variation in the aquatic environment. Yes, it moves, but doesn't a lump in gravy move around when you take a spoon to it?
I had a discussion with someone about the expansion of the universe. The question was asked: what is beyond the edge of the universe? We can come up with plenty of guesses. Every one of those guesses will likely be a flight of fancy. It is about as far removed from our world of understanding as one can get. It was at this point that I developed three classifications in the realm of knowledge:
1. Knowledge that we possess. This is the entire body of scholastic work and/or scientific research accumulated throughout history. Ideally, this would be available to everyone, all of the time.
2. Knowledge we do not possess. This is information about the universe that exists but has not yet been discovered.
3. That which is unknowable. Structures and functions in all of reality need not necessarily have some sort of counterpart in the world of information. The unknowable isn't necessarily hidden-- it simply has no analog that relates to perceived classifications and meaningful language. An example of this is the concept of infinity. We can think long and hard about infinity, but we have no means at all of grasping it. We cannot think in dimensions beyond the four that make up the observable universe. And since all of space and time is a part of our ever-expanding universe, we cannot conceive of what might be beyond its edge. Some things are just totally outside the domain of knowledge and understanding altogether.
For most people, none of this is really a big deal, because they give little attention to knowledge, perception and understanding. With an entire cosmos to explore, they are still concerned with bling, sneakers and iPods!
Saturday, June 7, 2008
I do not embrace this idea as fact in any way. Whether or not the space-time continuum is actually affected by events in history is a question that leads to much speculation, and I don't have any answers here. But it is an idea with its own merits, its own beauty, one to be savored and kept in the mind until it can mingle with other interesting thoughts to possibly give birth to another beautiful idea.
We live in a polarized society that demands immediate results (that we usually won't fight for ourselves) and has become complacent in its thinking. Say you are a pro-choice individual and a pro-lifer speaks up on his beliefs on the matter. Do you automatically blow those beliefs out of the sky, deeming them completely wrong and without weight because they conflict with your own? If you are a creationist, do you shake your fists at the cosmologists who have developed the Big Bang theory, regarding them as stinking blasphemers?
One of the big hurdles we as a race must overcome is the desire to cast as wrong any idea that comes into conflict with our own. Don't get me wrong... we must take a stand against a great number of things like pedophilia, rampant crime and rising oil prices. But outside of the things that directly harm people, there is a great deal of room for movement. Let our arguments be friendly and our words well-considered. An idea should be enjoyed like a fine wine is, whether you embrace it or not.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Many people I work and socialize with are familiar with my study of the sciences. Sometimes, conversations turn to the issue of science and religion. Inevitably, the following statement is made: "I don't believe in any of the Big Bang stuff. God made humans; they didn't come from apes." Now, the argument regarding evolution and natural selection is one I will save for another time. The point I want to make here is...
The Big Bang is NOT the same thing as evolution!!
I have explained this to multiple people who come back a week later with the same understanding of the Big Bang that they had before my conversation with them. This is frustrating.
Look at it this way. Creation in the Bible is spread out among six days. Take days one and two and you are essentially looking at the creation and development of the universe, the stars, and the planet Earth. Days three through six deal life on Earth, with day six being the day of birth of animals and Man. The first two days are what we are talking about in the case of the Big Bang. It is the birth of the universe: all of space and time, and the conditions leading up to the formation of matter. Following the Big Bang is the formation of stars which group into galaxies. Later, planets form. The time scales involved here are arguable, and believe me, they do get argued.
The domain of life falls within days three to six. The conditions for intelligent life are forged on Earth on days three and four, with simpler life forms emerging on day five, and more complex ones (including humans) on day six. Now, if you believe that evolution did take place, it is somewhere in there. If not, then you don't. But there was no more Big Bang taking place during that time period, and that is that.
The very first thing to be created in the world was light (Gen. 2:3). This is entirely consistent with the theory of the Big Bang. We know that all matter began as energy (consistent with E=mc^2) in the form of photons, which are particles of light. There is enormous evidence of the Big Bang taking place. (One person mentioned to me that since this is man's physics and not God's physics, our observation must be flawed. I say that the laws of physics are God's very first creation, and therefore must be sacred!) I must add that I do believe that there is a God and that He created everything. People argue that a creation needs a creator. I will not argue this. But, after all, do builders not use tools to build things? The mechanism of creation is never mentioned in the Bible, yet we have found it with science. Fundamentalists decry this discovery as blasphemous and the work of the devil. Why? The dichotomy between science and religion is artificial. Shouldn't looking upon God's creation yield only truth? And beauty? There is nothing out there that defiles the Bible.
Question: Why should I care about all this?
Answer: Read post #5.
When I hear such a statement being made, I cringe. People who say things like this also make statements like "Why in the world would I ever need to multiply by letters?" I think it is a sign of the times: the masses are so engrossed in their own lives and their own profits that they are stuck in them. There is no expansion of one's horizons or appreciation for the finer things in the world. Ever see the commercial with the dog who brings a stick to a boy, tail a-wagging, and the boy simply throws the stick in the trash? That is what I'm talking about. So long as people can stuff themselves with McDonald's food, play with their X-boxes and show off their bling-bling, they are satisfied... and they are going willingly into a condition of consumer slavery.
The typical answer to my opening question is "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." That much is certainly true. After all, if you stub your toe on the same loose board every morning, clearly you are not learning from the past. But I believe that this pragmatic answer just doesn't cut it. History goes far beyond a tool of wisdom. Our past tells us who we are and where we have been. It is wholly and entirely our identity.
Can you imagine waking up one morning with total amnesia? Would you want to forget your name, your loved ones, and your entire past? Doesn't sound good, does it? Now imagine this happening to everyone in the world. In general we have a blase attitude toward history, and it is leading to collapse.
I feel that history is second only to the individual soul in terms of societal value. Come on, people... before too long, non-caring will become non-thinking, and hasn't that process already started?
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
A time machine without motion is doomed to collide with itself once it begins its transit back in time. This is easy enough to understand: once the stationary time machine begins the time-travel process, it will occupy space and time already occupied by an earlier incarnation of the time machine itself. Of course, this seems to be a self-abortive process.
It also seems that this may offer a clue as to why time travel (into the past, that is) has not yet been accomplished (that we know of). A corollary to this idea may be that it prevents faster-than-light (FTL) travel as well. As a rocket approaches the speed of light, there are relativistic effects, from the vantage point of a stationary observer, that prevent it from ever reaching the speed of light. The rocket’s length along the direction of travel decreases and approaches zero. The rocket’s mass approaches infinity. Time aboard the rocket, according to the stationary observer, becomes eternity.
Could this threshold, the speed of light in a vacuum, be rooted in the same property of space-time that inhibits the stationary time machine from its journey into the past? Could it be that the would-be FTL rocket simply starts to run into itself?
Scientists define inertia as the property of matter that causes it to resist acceleration. It is represented in the textbooks as mass. This mass is one of the primary studies in physics; it has rules, structure, and function, and its behavior can be observed. Where is the inertia hidden in matter? Is it a property of space-time? Bernard Haisch, in his book The God Theory, discusses his work with the zero-point field, describing it as “a sea of quantum light,” the very energy that is everywhere in the vacuum of the cosmos. He and a collaborator have developed a theory that it is this zero-point field that causes mass to resist acceleration. While not being fully embraced by most of the physics community, it has become a subject of serious discussion among physicists.
With all this being said, there are some questions that arise:
- What thresholds does the zero-point field introduce?
- Does the zero-point field behave differently for bodies approaching the speed of light?
- Could the zero-point field prevent time travel?
- Does the zero-point field act as some sort of guardian to prevent bodies from transitioning from one reference frame to another?
A more basic question is: is inertia simply the universe’s way of keeping us from running into ourselves?
Sunday, May 4, 2008
When I was a child in a rural part of southern New Jersey, I dreamed of two rustic fishermen walking through the nearby woods. They would come upon a great toaster, pop the lever, and out of the toaster would rise the Sun into the sky.
It is an odd dream, but the Sun has historically been the center of our gauge of something called time. So what is time? Is it a marker for stages of our lives? Is it an identification for levels of world history? Or is it more? We think of time sort of as a river, moving in a straight line, flowing from past to future. We ride in a small boat called the present. Some people believe the future is as unpredictable as the number of fish under the boat. Others believe that the future is fixed, just like the course of the river. We may find, in time, that time is not so easily defined or categorized as either fixed or uncertain. Time may turn out to be something different than we thought all along
In physical terms, time is an interval between cause and effect. Recent scientific developments show that there is more to time than this. Einstein’s theory of relativity shows that the properties of an event are inextricably linked to the size of the time interval in which the event occurs. Take, for example, a rocket flying through space. At velocities well below the speed of light, we need not calculate its flight time with any other than classical equations. However, as its velocity approaches appreciable fractions of the speed of light, we must use Lorentz transformations (equations of motion that are used for near-light speed bodies) to find the rocket’s relative velocity and relative time interval: at those high velocities, the passage of time decreases, that is, time slows for the rocket. We should also consider the presence of dense matter in space. It causes folds in the fabric of space-time; this causes gravity to exist. Where there is gravity, time dilates; that is, it runs slower within the gravity well than it does outside.
A science called quantum mechanics dictates the behavior of matter on the microscopic level. Quantum mechanics hints that time is not so linear as we perceive. Heisenberg proposed that on a small enough level, there is an uncertainty in the position and motion of anything physical. This phenomenon is known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Take, for example, an electron (the moving, negatively charged particles usually bound within atoms). An electron emitted from a cathode tube can be controlled by electromagnetic forces to follow any particular trajectory. Yet there is a fundamental uncertainty as to when and where it will finish its journey, possibly being absorbed by an ion as a valence electron.
This uncertainty has been has been illustrated by the paradox of Schrodinger’s Cat. Suppose we have a sealed metal box, its interior completely opaque to observation. A mechanical apparatus is within, containing a vial of poisonous gas. A photon (the particulate unit of light, whose properties are similar to those of an electron) emitter is positioned across from a sensor, which, when tripped, will signal the actuator to open the vial. We place a cat inside the box, seal it, and press a button that will trigger the photon emitter.
What happens inside? Well, because of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, we don’t know if the photon will actually enter the sensor. Therefore, we won’t know if the cat will be dead or alive once we open the box. If the cat turns up dead, we won’t know exactly when he expired. It turns out that we can only really know the starting point and ending point of the motion of the photon; we can’t be certain of its path. So, while the box is sealed, the cat is in a temporal “limbo” from our perspective. It is neither dead nor alive. In the interval of time between the sealing of the box and its subsequent re-opening, time is discontinuous for the cat (in the perspective of us, the observers). We shall return to Schrodinger’s cat momentarily.
If the motion of matter behaves this way on the quantum level, what about matter on the macroscopic level? For any object in motion, its Heisenberg uncertainty is
(change in energy) X (change in time) = ½ Planck’s constant,
(change in position) X (change in momentum) = ½ Planck’s constant,
where Planck’s constant (a fundamental quantity related to particulate bodies) is equal to 1.06 X 10^-34 Joule-seconds. Do not be intimidated by these equations; I illustrate them only to show that only either energy or time or either position or momentum can be known to a good degree of precision. Now, these uncertainties are far from negligible on the quantum level, but for a baseball they are of little consequence in conventional terms. Nevertheless, this uncertainty exists during every single time interval that the ball is in motion. From the time the ball is thrown, there is a standard deviation (albeit small) in the position of the ball at every time interval. This deviation is cumulative, that is, this uncertainty adds up from the time the ball is thrown to the time it is caught. On a long enough trajectory, the uncertainty in the motion of the ball becomes something of consequence: There is an entire range of times, velocities, and positions the ball could have stopped at.
One might ask, why does this matter? We know that we will actually only see the ball take one amount of time to get to its destination, traveling at a single speed, landing in a single position. This question ignores one thing: there is no time interval within the standard deviation for the position and velocity of the ball. Time intervals have their own deviation. Thus, the ball can be seen as being in more than one place at once. Since we can only view a single four-dimensional trajectory of the ball, one must assume there are additional causal paths for the ball that we cannot see. I will refer to these causal paths as potential time, or alternate time. By inference, we can also say that possibly an infinite number of these timelines exist concurrently and in parallel.
If a baseball has multiple timelines, what about planets? Or rocks? Or humans? Even if we ignore the uncertainty effect on living things, we cannot ignore the fact that the baseball is observed and has a causal effect on our lives. If the author watches the ball land here, another version of the author must see the ball land there. Therefore, people also have multiple timelines.
Let us return to Schrodinger’s cat. Within the box, he waits for the photon emitter to fire. Here he will face either his liberation or his doom, depending on the trajectory of the photon. Since the photon has multiple trajectories at once, the cat simultaneously suffers death and enjoys continued existence. Within the box, the cat is causally isolated from the rest of the world. He cannot have an impact on the observers until they are able to see the outcome and know his fate. Hence the limbo of the cat’s existence; the uncertainty in the trajectory of the photon prevents any guesswork on the life or death of the cat until the box is opened.
Remember that the deviations (in velocity, position, and time) add up. Two variations of your birth may be identical, but the timelines will diverge due to different nuances in each one. I ask you to think carefully about this for a moment. Basically, all choices, all circumstances that can happen, do happen.
What does this mean for free will? Consider, for a moment, the solar system. Certainly there will be random occurrences in the system: for example, free objects can pass through, or the Sun may have random (small) fluctuations in its luminosity. However, we know the Sun will still shine, and the orbits will remain fixed (although there are minute changes over time.) Likewise, there are things in our lives that will remain certain. As long as we are alive, we will breathe air. When we trip, we will fall. We know we will all eventually die. We follow a path of certainty until a choice comes, either on our part or on the part of something acting upon us. The path of certainty is of arbitrary duration.
Here, I propose a model that reconciles free will and fate. In the course of time, a “subject” (person, baseball, etc.) follows its own courses of action and experiences the resulting consequences. From the point of origin, the subject is on a fixed path (straight road) until it comes to a crossroads: a decision, or the decision or random act by another subject. In the frame of the subject and all mortal observers, the subject can only go straight or pick one of the turns. The straight road is fate, and the crossroads is free will. Of course, only living things have free will, so in the case of the baseball, the free will must occur on the part of someone who throws it.
You may ask, how can this model include fate if I say fate constantly changes? There is another element to the universe to consider; it is called entropy. Entropy has been referred to by physicists as the arrow of time. Entropy is the degree of disorder in any system. In the case of the universe, entropy always increases, no matter what. Relating entropy to fate, we can say that no matter what small paths the universe takes, the overall path always leads to increased entropy. Due to conservation laws, we may also say that no matter what path the universe takes, the final entropy of the universe is certain.
I will give a simple illustration of why entropy tends toward increase. Imagine a jar one-quarter full of blue marbles. Now add an equal volume of red marbles. Shake vigorously. The more you shake, the more mixed the red and blue marbles become. The “mixedness” of the system is a degree of disorder; it is called entropy. Shaking the jar even more will never return the system to its original state, with the red and blue marbles being separate. The marbles will always become more mixed until the system reaches maximum homogeneity.
Entropy is studied in a science called thermodynamics. We study thermodynamics to understand the energy properties (temperature, pressure, volume, etc.) of physical systems. Thermodynamics also describes a phenomenon called equilibrium. Equilibrium is a balance of all things in the environment, bringing it to either stasis or steady state. In time, things become balanced; in a sense, nirvana is achieved. This is the ultimate fate of the universe and all things in it. It is not just science that tells us this. Anyone who keeps any sort of faith does so with the knowledge that a certain balance of all things is to come.
It may seem that I have diverged from the topic at hand, but these things I have discussed are inextricable pieces of that enigma we call time. Time passes, and this passage is affected by the properties of the motion in which time is a gauge. Time began with the Big Bang, and it may have an ending. We do know where time will lead. It will lead to maximized entropy and nearly total equilibrium. These are notions of fate. The uncertainty in time allows for all choices and happenings to exist in parallel.
I personally believe that time, fate, and God are all one. There are mysterious workings to the universe, and somehow the chaos that runs rampant leads to order than reigns. We see this in our everyday lives, in history, and in faith. The way things work out tells me that there is an omnipresent and omniscient guide to reality. Our only window to this guide is our collective memory and a clock. The clock ticks away, and time, for me, is still the ultimate concept to aspire to. As for time for the cat: let us hope that his time is dictated by his own whim, rather than by the elusive photon.