Archive for January, 2012

What really is time?

Time is a strange effect in the universe. What exactly is time, and how does it arise?

One way of looking at time is to consider to be the fourth dimension: after the usual three of length, width and depth. Hence we have the concept of spacetime. This is most famously put forward by Einstein in special relativity, though the roots of that predated even him.

At our personal level of perception, time is a physical reality. Everything else around us also seems to exist in the same time-frame as ourselves. For example, we stretch out our arm to shake the hand of someone else, and there really is a someone else there with whom we can interact.

But relativity says that is an illusion, that  time progresses differently in various places. This is called time-dilation, and the effect is real: time passes slower where gravity is stronger or acceleration is greater.

In our recent paper we explore time, using the cordus conjecture. What emerges is a novel and useful way of thinking about time. Cordus suggests that at its most basic level time originates with the frequency cycles of the particules of matter and photons. Thus time is locally generated, and cordus rejects the idea of an absolute clock. The forward arrow is only applied to the ticks of time when irreversibility arises.

The paper explains how the irreversibility arises, in terms of the interaction between two volumes of matter and the statistically impossibility of returning all particules in the system to their original positions and states. Thus decoherence, irreversibility, entropy, cause-and-effect, and the arrow of time all arise at the same discontinuity in physics. The interconnectedness of matter, via its fields, creates a patchwork of temporal cause-and-effect.

Thus human perceptions of time are a construct, with all the potential for illusion that implies, founded on a real physical principle of temporal causality.

However that is really only a convenience, becuase the first three are spatial (geometric) dimensions, whereas time does not have the same units.

About time: What is it? New Scientist

About time: Why does time’s arrow fly only one way?  New Scientist

About time: Is time travel possible?  New Scientist

What is Time? Lee Smolin

Limits of Coherence (

About time: Why does time’s arrow fly only one way?


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Limits of Coherence

Surprisingly, quantum mechanics (QM) does not apply to reality at our macroscopic level of existence, nor to the universe at large. Strangely, it does apply so well to the particle level.

More specifically, quantum behaviour such as superposition of location, is only evident in particles and some microscopic objects of pure composition, cooled to close to absolute zero temperature. Or in warmer objects (e.g. pure diamonds) but only for a tiny fraction of a second. QM suggests should it should be attainable in larger and warmer objects, but this has proved difficult to achieve. It is not clear where the boundary is between the quantum world of particles and the macroscopic world, and quantum mechanics itself cannot identify why there should be a boundary, nor where it would be. Hence one of the great mysteries of physics: why a theory that works so well at the tiny scale does not scale up to the large.

What causes quantum discoherence?  Where are the limits of coherence? What is coherence?

Clearly there is a discontinuity in the physics between the small and large scales of nature. Enter the cordus conjecture, which we have been using to determine where in the scale of things the transition occurs between coherence and discoherence, and why the limits are where they are.

The  results of our thinking are shown in the paper we’ve published here

Briefly, the reasons for discoherence are proposed to be internal shear velocity of the body, temperature phonons, and complexity of assembly (particularly purity of composition). The upper limit for coherence is expected to be at currently achieved levels of material complexity, or slightly beyond. However cordus rules out coherence for warm macroscopic objects and living creatures. 

If this is correct, and of course the cordus conjecture is only a conjecture, then there are some implications for physics. And also for philosophy.

For physics: The theory of QM has created an expectation that coherence is the norm and therefore should be found in macroscopic bodies. Cordus suggests that we should instead view discoherence as the normal state, and coherence as a special state of extended application of the strong force into bonding.

For philosophy:  There has been much philosophical speculation about the role of measurement, including human observation, on the future of behaviour of particles and coherent bodies.  See ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’. Cordus refutes those ideas, and instead suggests that in those rare cases where coherence of macroscopic objects is attainable, this does not mean that the object has two futures, only that it can have two locations. So cordus refutes the Many-Worlds interpretation and Parallel Universe theory.

It seems we only have one universe and only one of each of us in existence. No doppelgangers. Make the most of the time you have been given!

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