The Other End of Time

by Jim Gerrish

In Julian Barbour’s book, The End of Time (http://www.platonia.com/index.html), Barbour concludes that Time does not exist and proposes that physicists will soon discard the notion of Time in future cosmological evolutions and theories. While I find his ideas brilliant, I look at the same Universe he sees and conclude that not only does Time exist, but that it is the Prime Mover of the Universe. I see that physics must not only take Time into account, but also must acquire a new view of Time as an active participant in physics with, perhaps, a new set of mathematical equations to cope with it. How can this be? How can we take the same original data and come to two seemingly opposing conclusions?

 

That will be the subject of this book, The Other End of Time. The word “end” can also mean a result or a goal, and I will attempt to convince you that there is indeed another “End” of Time to be considered.

 

I approached the subject of Time from essentially the same starting point as Barbour. We both began with Einstein’s notions of space-time. But where Barbour began by doubting that space and time are inextricably linked, I embraced the notion and insisted that it be taken even further. Since Barbour was born in 1937 and I in 1942, he has had a five year head start on experiencing and thinking about time. There are many things about his theory with which I agree, yet others which lead me to a different conclusion from the one he draws. Rather than make this book a debate with Barbour point by point over the details of his theory, which would be disrespectful of my elders and I hold both Barbour and his theory in the utmost respect, I will, instead, simply start from my own beginning and draw it out to my own conclusions. Then I must come back and concur with Barbour’s comment about his own theory “there is a sense in which even clear disproof of my theory would be exciting for me… Clear proof that I am wrong would certainly mark a significant advance in our understanding of time. In a way, I (we) cannot lose!”

 

1.

 

My journey began with contemplations over the equation E = MC2. From the first moment I encountered Einstein’s most famous equation as a boy in school, I had my doubts. It took me many years to voice those doubts, even to myself, but when I finally did, I realized that they had lain dormant within me from the beginning.

 

In my youth I was an amateur magician, and from practicing conjuring tricks on my friends and neighbors, I learned a great deal about what is real and what is make-believe. My hobby had the effect of making me always want to know the “secret” behind magic tricks. Whenever I saw another magician perform, I could not rest until I had figured out how he had managed to deceive me. Yet, as a magician myself, I knew that my greatest fear was performing before an audience of young children. Children between the ages of about three and five are the toughest ones to fool. Then they go to school and learn the conventional ways of seeing the world and afterwards are much more prone to being deceived by the magician. But those three year olds! They see right to the heart of the illusion and follow the flight of the coin from fingertips to sleeve with unerring vision.

 

My insight to the problems that I saw with E = MC2 could only be resolved by thinking like a magician, or viewing the problem like a three-year old. First, I had to realize that I had a problem with the equation and then later, exactly where that problem lay. It was in the letter “C” I concluded, after many years of thought. I didn’t like the speed of light being tied to energy and matter. What the dickens does light (or its speed) have to do with energy and matter?

 

Now, I didn’t spend years contemplating the letter “C.” The mind doesn’t work like that. What I tried to do was go back over Einstein’s thought experiments and see if I could somehow derive the equation on my own from there. I got stuck in space/time.

Space seemed easy to understand. My grandmother had a stereopticon (http://www.bitwise.net/~ken-bill/stereo.htm), a sort of antique Viewmaster (http://www.fisher-price.com/us/view-master/). I played with it for hours. From that, I progressed to 3-D comic books, wearing the familiar red and blue glasses to make two-dimensional images appear in three dimensions. I even learned to draw my own 3-D images using pink and blue colored pencils (red was too strong a color and they didn’t make magenta colored pencils in those days, although my blue was closer to cyan). But this whole experience made me very familiar with the x,y,z coordinates that make up space. When I finally grasped that Time should be considered another coordinate of space, I had a little trouble fitting it into my concept of the Universe, until I remembered that the three dimensions of an object had to exist Now! And Now! And Now! And Now! And so on.

From then on, I began to contemplate more and more the nature of Time, feeling that this was the great mystery in Einstein’s equation that eluded me. I was well into my fifties when I began to take this “work” seriously.

One of the things I lack is the credentials of Barbour. I’d like to be able to say I have a master’s degree or a doctorate in this and that, from Astrophysics to Mathematics… but I don’t. My credentials are more like Einstein’s. I was a mediocre student at best, who always felt that school was interrupting my education.

I raced home from school to work in the chemistry lab I had in my bedroom, and later expanded into my basement. I delved into photography (yes, one of my early projects was taping two cameras together so I could make my own stereopticon views). I painted the windows black and made myself a darkroom. I made my own films and light sensitive papers. From this “work”, I developed some strong notions about light, and from making my own cameras with ever-faster shutters, some sense about light’s speed and what it meant.

In later life, I went over to the enemy… I became a teacher. However, my experiences in avoiding school were very useful to me, because I learned to make education fun for my students. The most fun for me was teaching science. On the first day of a science class, I would tell all the students to get out their science books and write their names inside the cover. Then I told them to put the books back inside their desks and never take them out again unless they got truly interested in something and just had to read more about it. Even then, their textbooks were to be the last place they ought to search for information. Their first choice should be the science books contained in the school or public library.

Then I would open up my bag of “toys” and pass out wires, bulbs and batteries so we could learn about electricity, or rubber balls and strings so we could make pendulums and study time and motion, or magnifying glasses and prisms to study the nature of light.

I am proud to say that when I meet former students on the street today, they still have fond memories of those introductions to science and more than one went on to a career in the sciences, girls as well as boys, I’m happy to report.

As for me, I finally landed a job in a patent office… or one very much like it. It was just what I needed to begin my real “work.” Like Einstein, my job (really I’m a ‘Technical Assistant’ in a small inner-city community college) allows me a great deal of time to think. I am constantly involved in solving problems of a technical nature, most of which have extremely simple solutions (like my magic tricks of old).

It was only a matter of time before I began using my problem solving skills on the problem that had plagued me for years… the “C” in the equation E = MC2. My devious path to the solution presented itself about five years ago after a re-study of Hubble’s expanding universe work. Right away, I was confronted with more doubts and problems. According to Hubble, the entire universe was expanding away from us in all directions (and therefore away from all other points within the universe). Not only was it expanding, but also it seemed to be accelerating constantly. The mystery (for me) was that this accelerated expansion was only allowed to be applied to distant galaxies. Somehow, all my immediate surroundings and I were exempt from this “universal” expansion. It didn’t apply to us. It didn’t apply to the atoms inside us. Hmmm.

Study of this problem led me to Guth’s theory of inflation, in which the expansion did temporarily apply to every particle, but only within the first 10-30seconds of the “Big Bang,” while the early universe expanded from a singularity to about one meter in diameter. Then it just sort of stopped. Hmmm.

All these ideas that made me go “Hmmm” eventually made me go “Aha!” What if, I reasoned, the inflation didn’t stop? What if the expansion applied to the solar system, to the earth, to the moon, to me, and finally to the atoms inside of me? The biggest obstacle to this kind of thinking was apparently that if this expansion was truly universal, we would never be able to measure it, and if it can’t be measured, it’s not worth thinking about according to conventional physicist’s wisdom. At least, that’s what I was told, and I won’t tell you by whom.

Let me explain the objection a little more clearly, as it was explained to me (no doubt to make me shut up and go away). Let’s just suppose everything on earth is expanding, as I’ve suggested. How can we measure it? If I take a ruler and hold it up to various objects in the room, I won’t see any evidence that they are expanding. The ruler itself is expanding, you see, and there is no way for me to do any measurement with anything that is not likewise expanding. In the case of distant galaxies, we can measure their flight away from us by the amount of red shift in the light coming from them. We can further measure this same red shift in every distant galaxy we see, no matter in what direction we look. Therefore, we have reliable evidence of expansion of the universe in a way that can be measured. We have no such way to measure expansion in things right under our noses, so to speak.

 

So, my first problem to solve was to come up with an experiment that would give some evidence of expansion at the local level. The key to the solution lay in Time. If expansion is occurring at a local level, it takes place over time. I remembered Pierre Boulle’s book Planet of the Apes, in which astronauts travel at near light speeds and return to earth to discover that many hundreds of years have passed, while they have hardly aged at all. The novel was based on Einstein’s thought experiment about two twins, one of whom travels to a distant star and back at near-light speeds. On his return, the traveling twin discovers that for him, only twenty years have passed, while for the twin waiting on earth, nearly eighty years have passed (http://www.howstuffworks.com/relativity3.htm).

 

Einstein predicted that as one approached the speed of light, time would slow down relative to the traveler. This has, in fact, been confirmed by many experiments with orbiting spacecraft and the like, using atomic clocks as precise measuring devices: (http://aci.mta.ca/Courses/Physics/4701/EText/TimeDilation.html)

All of the time dilation experiments have focused on the passage of time. As far as I can tell, no one has done any measurements that would give clues to the expansion of space/time. I doubt that any differences would be easily detectible because the duration of the trips was so short. However, if I am correct in theorizing that the universe is expanding locally as well as on a galactic scale, then the astronauts in Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes would be much smaller in size than everything else on the planet. How much smaller? I don’t know, but noticeably smaller. If time slowed down relative to the astronauts, then the expansion of space/time also slowed down relative to them, while it continued at its “normal” rate relative to the planet Earth, which, as it turns out, is the planet of the apes in the story.

That suggests a way to experimentally determine if this expansion is local or not. It is not yet technologically feasible to send one of a pair of twins off on some near-light speed journey to a neighboring star and back to see if he returns smaller in size relative to his twin, but the same experiment might be possible using a particle accelerator, assuming that one can accurately measure the volume or size of the particles being flung around at near-light speeds to compare them to similar particles that have been at relative rest.

Since I don’t have access to a particle accelerator and the neighbors don’t want me digging up the neighborhood to make a home-made version (if I could, I would!), I’ll have to wait until the particle physicists at CERN stop playing around with their games of atomic billiards and figure out a way to measure the volume of the particles they are flinging around.

Another phenomenon that is already fairly well known could already have provided me with experimental evidence, except that other explanations exist that are commonly accepted for it. I’m referring to the passage of a beam of laser light through a thick glass medium.

Figure 1

As shown in Figure 1, the laser beam enters the thick glass on the left (in my example) and exits on the right. The laser beam is thin when it enters and thin when it exits, but while inside the glass, it is expanded. Common wisdom says that this is because it is diffused and scattered by the molecules of glass it encounters, but why would the beam not then continue out the other side and continue on in its expanded size? That is, in fact, what happens when ordinary non-coherent light passes through a medium (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Why should coherent laser light shrink back to its original thin size? My explanation, based on my theory of the accelerated expansion of space/time at the local level, is that when the laser light enters the glass medium, the coherent light is slowed down to less than its usual 186,000 mps. In this slowed state, the expansion of space/time is revealed as the individual photons are expanded. When the light leaves the glass, it goes back to traveling at 186,000 mps and space/time is once again slowed down, relative to the photons that make up the beam of light.

It is revealed in the coherent light and not in the non-coherent light, because the coherent photons are still traveling parallel to one another, rather than diverging apart from one another from the start.

Harvard physicist Lene Verstergaard Hau has been working on slowing light down using a Bose Einstein condensate (BEC) as a special nonlinear optical medium. In this way she has apparently succeeded in slowing light down to about one mile per hour! Now if I can get an exact measurement of the size of the photons as they slow down and speed up again on leaving the condensate, perhaps it will serve as evidence of the expansion of space/time at the local subatomic level.

In any case, work is currently being done right now that may provide experimental evidence for my theory.

Go on to Chapter 2 >>>