Category: Theories of Time

The Physics of Paradox — Followup

Gave the Physics of Paradox talk at the Library of Congress Thursday (10/21/2010) & then again at Capclave Saturday (10/23/2010).   Good audiences both times, lots of good questions.  At Capclave talk was standing room only & Brent Warner, from the Goddard Space Center has asked if I would be interested in doing it there this spring.

I made some changes to the talk over the weekend, in response to audience feedback & further reflection.  The latest version is now up as Keynote (for Mac users), PowerPoint (for PC users), PDF in slides-only and also annotated forms.

I’d like to thank Dick Ladson, Walt Mankowski, Bruce Bloom, Shelley Handen, Ed & Marguerite Rutkowski, & of course Ferne Welch for their feedback at the dry run, which improved it immensely.  And I would like to thank Nathan Evans of the Library of Congress & Colleen Cahill of Capclave (& as it happens the Library of Congress) for having me.  Lots of fun!

Physics of Paradox

This talk — scheduled for the Library of Congress & for Capclave next week — is now up.

It was a lot of fun to put together:  I discuss time in relativity & quantum mechanics, kinds of time, some possible time machines, the three kinds of paradox (grandfather, bootstrap, & freewill), the Hawking & Novikov consistency conditions for avoiding paradox, some ways to implement those conditions, paradox noise, what the world might look like if paradox avoiding time travel were possible, and of course why this is likely.

I’ve got the talk on line as Keynote (for Mac users), PowerPoint (for PC users), PDF in slides-only and also annotated forms.

I’m doing a practice run on the talk in two days at the Radnor Memorial Library in the Winsor room from 6pm to 8pm (when we have to be out).  I start the actual talk about 6:30pm.  This is a dry run (well more of a wet run really) for the talks next week.

If you are not too far from Wayne, PA & have an interest in time & paradox (but then if not why are you reading these words?) please feel free to come!

Time and quantum mechanics at the Chestnut Hill Book Festival

Spoke at noon yesterday (July 10th, 2010) at the Chestnut Hill Book Festival; in spite of heavy rain a nice crowd.
This was my Balticon Time & Quantum Mechanics talk, adjusted for a general (rather than a science fictional) audience.  I covered over a hundred years of physics in less than an hour — a lot — but the audience survived & even seemed to prosper, asking some good questions!
I’ve uploaded the power point and keynote versions of the talk so you can see the animations of the double slit experiment, if you have power point and/or keynote.  You may have to tell your browser how to handle .ppt and/or .key files, for all parts to work with maximum smoothness. I’ve also uploaded the pdf and html versions.
The references — several asked after them — are on slide 36.  Enjoy!
I’d like to thank Oz Fontecchio for organizing this, Ferne Welch for moral & practical support, Bob Rossberg (sp?) for critical help on the AV, & the Chestnut Hill Book Festival for providing the venue!

A Very Short Introduction to Nothing

Was there a creation or was there always something? Could there even be nothing if there were no one to know there was nothing? The more I tried to understand these enigmas, the more I felt that I was at the edge of either true enlightenment or madness. — Frank Close

I’ve just finished the concise & entertaining “Nothing: A Very Short Introduction” by Frank Close. It’s part of the “Very Short Introduction” series from Oxford University Press. They are generally reliable. The obvious trap is for the author to talk more about his own views/work than his subject in general, but of the 20 I’ve read, only two have made this mistake (Hume & Ancient Warfare, if you must know).

Frank Close, who is a big name in nothing, in the physics of nothing that is, does a nice, very short job of introducing it to us, starting with the Rigveda’s Creation Hymn:

There was neither non-existence nor existence then.

There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.

What stirred? Where?

up through the Higgs vacuum, the idea that the vacuum is not empty but is pervaded by the Higgs fields, which is responsible for giving particles mass. CERN was built partly to check this out & the cernistas are now hot on the trail of the Higgs.

I’m suspicious of the Higgs particle myself; it has a slightly kludgy feel to it, at least to my taste. I think particles have had a good run for their money over the last century & and now it is time for emergent phenomena to have a go. For instance, only a few percent of the mass of the protons & neutrons comes from the masses of their constituent quarks; most of their mass is really from the energy (via the familiar mass = E/c-squared) of the quantum dance of those quarks. If most mass comes from the energy stored in quantum interactions, could all mass be the result of such? Certainly an interesting question & and would leave us with one less variable to explain, with a slightly less massive problem.

In fact, I’d go further myself: space and time are difficult to understand, what if they are merely averages over the quantum wave function of the rest of the universe? and all of our universe is merely the friction of one part of the quantum wave function of the universe against another part. No mass, no space, no time, no vacuum, nothing but interactions.

Time & quantum mechanics talk done

Did the talk Saturday evening as planned.  Very sophisticated audience: almost everyone there had heard of the double slit experiment!

The talk went over well:  audience enthusiastic; lots of good questions.  Post talk I was asked if I would do similar presentations for Capclave & for the Library of Congress.  Leaning in favor.

I think that to really get across quantum mechanics, especially in a short time, nothing beats animations; the animations of the single & double slit were probably the most effective bits.  In future talks I shall be more animated.

The animations were courtesy of Bernd Thaller’s Advanced Visual Quantum Mechanics. He provides a useful kit of Mathematica functions for building such; looks a good starting point.

I’ve uploaded the power point & keynote versions of the talk so you can see the animations of the double slit experiment, if you have power point and/or keynote.  You may have to tell your browser how to handle .ppt and/or .key files, for all parts to work with maximum smoothness.

The pdf & html versions are still present, of course.  These are the talk as delivered, slightly different from the version previously posted (I added several more slides on the quantum eraser).

On the nature of time & quantum mechanics

… there are known knowns: there are things we know we know.  We also know there are known unknowns: that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.  But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” — Donald Rumsfeld.

I’m doing a popular talk on “The Nature of Time & Quantum Mechanics” tomorrow at Balticon. I’m deliberately not including anything from my paper “Quantum Time“.

Instead I look at a couple of areas at the intersection of time & quantum mechanics.  There are too many such areas for one talk. In accordance with my father’s rule of three (you can only get three points across in any one talk) I selected three of them, one from each of Donald Rumsfeld’s categories.

  1. The delayed choice quantum eraser.  I find this amazing:  if you try to see which slit the particle went thru in the double slit experiment, it becomes a single slit experiment.  But if you do something that should tell you which slit it went thru — and then deliberately erase your knowledge — the single slit experiment turns back to a double slit experiment & we recover the interference pattern.  And this is the case even if we do the probe/erase after the particle has gone thru the two slits!  Weird  but well understood & tested.
  2. The time symmetric formalism of Aharonov, Bergmann, & Lebowitz.  They formulated quantum mechanics in a time symmetric way, demonstrating that it is not essentially asymmetric in time.  It’s just usually drawn that way, as Jessica Qubit might put it.  There has been some speculation that their formalism could imply retro causation.  I doubt it myself but this would be a known unknown.
  3. The competition between the inflationary universe model & the ekpyrotic (cyclic) model of the universe.  The inflationary model now has a bit of competition in the ekpyrotic model of Steinhardt & Turok (see their book Endless Universe for a popular treatment).  Colliding branes, bouncing universes, & decaying dark energy oh my!  We have no idea what about the start, expansion, & finish of the universe we don’t know.  We don’t even know if the terms start & finish make sense, universe-wise.

I’ve put the slides for the talk up as a pdf & as html.

Dissertation complete

I’ve finished re-checking the dissertation:  629 equations, 188 references, 110 pages, 83 input files, 48 lists, 36 footnotes, 28 quotes, 17 figures, 6 chapters (counting the appendix), 5 requirements, 1 idea.  It should be up on the physics archive in a day or two.

Why quantum time?

Why quantum time?

A few years ago I was looking for an interpretation/formalism for quantum mechanics which would be manifestly symmetric between time and space. The first question I had was:

Is time already quantized?

Is time treated using the same quantum rules as space is? can quantum mechanics be written in a way which is manifestly covariant?
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The Block Universe

fmany of

‘Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real

Filby became pensive. ‘Clearly,’ the Time Traveller proceeded, ‘any
real body must have extension in _four_ directions: it must have
Length, Breadth, Thickness, and–Duration. But through a natural
infirmity of the flesh, which I will explain to you in a moment, we
incline to overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions,
three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time.
There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between
the former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens that
our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the
latter from the beginning to the end of our lives.’Clearest.

‘Clearly,’ the Time Traveller proceeded, ‘any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and–Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the flesh, which I will explain to you in a moment, we incline to overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time. There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens that our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives.’

– H. G. Well’s The Time Machine

This is still the best single explanation of the idea of the  “block universe”, though Well’s Time Traveller does not use that term. As Julian Barbour puts it his The End of Time: “The objective world simply is, it does not happen. Only to the gaze of my consciousness, crawling upward along the life line of my body, does a section of this world come to life as a fleeting image in space which continuously changes in time.”
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References on Time & Time Travel

Updated 12/2/2009

Recommended popular books on time. All of the authors know their physics; none are mortal enemies of the English language.  Enjoy:
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