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And “Now” for Something Completely Different!

Written by Jeff Drake
7 · 03 · 21
I have been busy continuing my studies on time and getting quite sidetracked down the various paths my research has been taking me. These constant rabbit holes I find myself falling into leave me feeling somewhat discombobulated, yet along the way I am discovering some rather fascinating theories that are being discussed by the professional physicists and philosophers within this booming field of study. But make no mistake, the bottom line to date is that no one really knows what time is, at least not yet. Thus, the different theories popping up like so many protostars in a vast nebula are worth looking at and analyzing. This, my friends, is downright time-consuming, no pun intended. Still, it must be done.

Recently I read a book that got me excited. It is by physicist Richard Mueller, professor emeritus at Berkeley. He wrote a book titled, Now: The Physics of Time. [i] I enjoy books that poke sharp sticks into prevailing theories about time, especially when they are theories I tend to think worthy of acceptance. “Poke away!” I say, because I often learn something valuable, even when the sharp stick fails to penetrate deeply.

Muller’s book made me think of several scientific concepts differently and in this I applaud him calling these theories out and challenging them. One of these concepts is discussed below.

I’m unqualified to judge the veracity of what Muller is claiming and will leave it to the physicist and cosmological community to determine whether he has been successful in shaking science up, so to speak, or just blathering. In such cases I tend to, rightly or wrongly, go with my gut. Does what the author is saying make sense? Can I feel a glimmer of truth in it? Purely subjective, of course, and nowhere near scientific, but as a layman, it’s all I’ve got. And Muller said a few things in this book that stuck in my brain.

You see, although a lot of physicists have been trying to figure out what time is all about, the one thing they could all agree is a problem, more, or less, is the infernal problem of “now.”

Dr. Mueller states the issue like this:

Here is a fact about you, one very few people know – maybe no one other than you yourself: you are reading this book right now. In fact, I can be more precise: you are reading the word “now” right now.

Moreover, I stated something that you knew was true, but that I personally didn’t know and still don’t know. You are reading the word “now” right now, yet I am completely oblivious of that fact – unless, of course, I am standing over your shoulder and you are pointing your finger at the words as you read.

“Now” is an extremely simple yet fascinating and mysterious concept. You know what it means, yet you’ll find it difficult to define without being circular. “Now is the moment in time that separates the past from the future”. Okay, but try defining past and future without using the word “now”. And what you mean by past and future is constantly changing. A short time ago, reading this paragraph was in the future. Now, most of it is already in the past.

Now that entire paragraph is in the past (unless you are skipping ahead). “Now” refers to a specific time. But the time it refers to is incessantly changing. That’s why we use clocks. They report the number associated with “now”; it’s called the present time. Clocks update constantly, typically every second. The advance of time is relentless…”[ii]

And aren’t we all painfully aware of the constant march of time ever forward? I know I am. But, is it really time that is flowing? Muller reminds us of the great San Francisco earthquake. It happened on April 18, 1906, at 5:12 a.m. It is a moment that is frozen in time, because it already happened and is therefore in the past. So maybe it isn’t time that flows, but rather what does flow is the meaning of now. Now is what is constantly pushing forward in time relentlessly.

This makes some sense to me and the concept plays well in theories of time that lend themselves to reveries about time flowing like a river. In such a daydream I can imagine myself on a raft floating on the river of time. In this sense, my raft represents my now, and time, like a river, is propelling my now towards the future.

Some might say that this idea is wrong. Now is not moving, rather It is time itself that is flowing past Now. Yet, all this talk about time flowing like a river really falls apart when you start digging into it. After all, to define flow you will have to answer the very logical question that must arise in response to such a statement: “Uh, okay, so how fast is time flowing?” The snarky answer of “1 second per second” is in fact, meaningless. In fact, the most accepted theory of time by scientists these days is the block universe theory of time, which I will get into while writing this series about the philosophy of time, and according to this theory, time doesn’t flow at all. Past, present, future, are all locked in place and all exist now. Weird, right? Counter-intuitive, right? Yet, this is what the current science all points to.

Muller, however, raises another way of thinking about time. It’s a simple idea, but raises a very interesting point that I had not thought about before. Prior to explaining his theory, I need to introduce discoveries made by two very important scientific figures.

Hermann Minkowski: I’m sure you have all heard the term “spacetime” before, right? You are also probably aware that space and time used to be considered separately, as entities unto themselves, separate and distinct. One of Einstein’s former math teachers, Hermann Minkowski, applied his skills in geometry to Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity and was able to demonstrate that 3-demensional space and 1-dimensional time are not sperate like we thought, but rather they are fused together into a single 4-demensional structure that became known as “Minkowski Space.” Minkowski is considered to be the one who then coined the term, spacetime, to describe his discovery. Perhaps he didn’t want the notoriety?

Edwin Hubble: We all know about the Hubble telescope that has been giving us such wonderful pictures of the universe around us for many years. It was named for Edwin Hubble, an astronomer who specialized in extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology. Hubble proved that all of the galaxies we see around our own are all moving away from us at an amazing rate. If you are wondering how every galaxy we see can be moving away from us all at once, think of a balloon. On this balloon are many dots, one of which represents our own galaxy. When you blow up the balloon, what happens? The balloon expands and as it does so all of the dots on the balloon move away from each other, all at once! He was able to not only figure out, but prove, that this is what is happening in the universe. I’m going to skip all the scientific and math theories that go into this discovery, because I can’t explain them or do them justice, but be aware that the reason the universe is expanding is because new space is being created every second! That’s right, from the moment of the Big Bang, space is continuing to be created and as a result our universe keeps expanding. The expansion of our universe isn’t just a theory, it’s a fact. Dark energy is the current culprit pointed to as the cause of the expansion of the universe.

What Muller then did is to take a look at our understanding of spacetime, the expansion of our universe, and the fact that more space is being created every second and question whether space is the only thing that is being created every second. What if time itself is also being created every second? Wait, say what? Think about it. We now know that space and time are fused into spacetime, right, so would it not seem to be a logical conclusion that if space is being created every second, time is too? I have never read about anyone previously making this point! Muller believes that the newly created time being created every second constitutes what we know as Now.

Muller thus raises a point that leaves me kicking myself as to why I didn’t think of it myself. It’s a feeling I get every day I read about this subject.

I have to admit that this theory – that time, literally moments of Now, are being continually created by the ongoing expansion of the universe, struck a chord with me. To me, it is not only a logical theory, it’s a beautiful theory, a poetic theory even. I love it! I want it to be true. Sadly, however, there isn’t any evidence to support it at all. But, there’s some hope. Muller, being a cosmologist, has come up with a test that can be conducted for this theory, which is very cool.

Muller is working with another Shaun Maquire, a Caltech theoretician, to develop this test and they don’t want to say too much about it, because they want to be first to prove the theory. What we do know is that the test will use LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) to make their case. LIGO is a powerful astronomical tool developed to detect gravitational waves that get created when black holes collide and merge. When two black holes merge, they create millions of cubic miles of new space. If Muller and Maguire are right, when two black holes merge they will not only create new space, they will create new time – about a millisecond of new time to be exact, which is measurable by LIGO. A real experiment with measurable results. The scientific method at work. You gotta love it!

Dark energy is suspected of being the force behind the expansion of space, thus Muller’s theory implies that dark energy is also the force behind the creation of new time itself. This theory is expected to be controversial. I’m actively searching for articles discussing what the problems are with Muller’s theory. I’d love to hear Sean Carroll or Brian Greene respond to it.

[i] Published by W. W. Norton, 2016. ISBN 978-0-393-28523-9.

[ii] “Now: The Physics of Time,” by Richard Muller, 2016, pg. 11.

Let us know what you think…


1 Comment

  1. Michael B Connolly



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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.