Time and Beauty

Here is an article that I just read that I love. It describes time as an emergent property of the universe; that is, it’s not a fundamental thing—instead, it arises from other, more basic things. I’m not sure what those basic things are, but I have a feeling that the arrangement is important:


My favorite part of the article:

“It’s quite mysterious why we have such an obvious arrow of time,” says Seth Lloyd, a quantum mechanical engineer at MIT. (When I ask him what time it is, he answers, “Beats me. Are we done?”) “The usual explanation of this is that in order to specify what happens to a system, you not only have to specify the physical laws, but you have to specify some initial or final condition.”

The mother of all initial conditions, Lloyd says, was the Big Bang. Physicists believe that the universe started as a very simple, extremely compact ball of energy. Although the laws of physics themselves don’t provide for an arrow of time, the ongoing expansion of the universe does. As the universe expands, it becomes ever more complex and disorderly. The growing disorder—physicists call it an increase in entropy—is driven by the expansion of the universe, which may be the origin of what we think of as the ceaseless forward march of time.

Although the article seems to raise more questions (and good ones) than it provides answers, here’s another part that I think is very elucidatory:

“Time may be an approximate concept that emerges at large scales—a bit like the concept of ‘surface of the water,’ which makes sense macroscopically but which loses a precise sense at the level of the atoms.”

I am interested in Time especially because it enables consequences, results of actions, and learning, which is, according to Baha’u’llah, central to physical existence:

Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things.

— Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words

I also find this kind of reductionist thinking and experimentation appealing artistically because it breaks things down to such a fundamental level that I feel, when I’m reading it, like “this universe is actually pretty simple and mechanical”, which can also be a pretty depressing thought.

But then I contrast that with the whorling beauty that surrounds and permeates us, and wafts from every direction, and in the contrast between that and the reductionist explanations, the beauty itself takes on new meaning.

It’s like listening to music before and after studying music theory—the structures you subconsciously appreciated before are now open to you for deeper exploration.

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3 Responses to Time and Beauty

  1. Katie says:

    I don’t have anything scientific or profound to add. I just wanted to say I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately. Ever since Elsa was born, I’ve lost all sense of time. I cannot tell you how long it took to do something, or how long ago something happened. There was even one point where I couldn’t read the clock for a while. It’s such a strange sensation!

  2. Susan Engle says:

    Have you read provisional translation of the Tablet of the Universe of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá? William Hatcher talked about it at Louhelen one summer. He introduced it to his fellow mathematicians in Russia, and they were astounded at its ramifications for the creation of the universe. I’ll copy it and mail it to you if you haven’t read it.

  3. Leon says:

    Interesting. Consider the Standard Model, which absolutely demands space / time. Then, remove time as a fundamental constituent of our (?)universe(?) or subset thereof. This would really add to the problems of the Standard Model.
    It is becoming better understood that Quantum Physics (or whatever follows it) is MUCH closer to philosophy and religion than was ever thought.
    Hmmm. First, no gravity. Next, no time. Hmmm.

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