Greetings to anyone who likes to float among great ideas and feel comfortable in the gray areas. Some love the absolute (good and bad, right and wrong), but others realize that most of our lives are on a spectrum. It turns out we’re experiencing one of the biggest battles of its kind: the Standard Model of Physics versus the Quantum Model of Physics. And depending on how you look at the dilemma, there may not be time at all.
Quantum mechanics is the field of study that studies how particles behave very closely, with qualities such as superposition, where a particle can be in two or even “all” possible places at the same time. Schrödinger’s famous cat experiment makes us think of superposition because the cat we can’t see is alive and dead at the same time. The road to progress is often bumpy, but scientists haven’t been prepared for how weird quantum mechanics can be.
Ideas such as quantum superposition clearly contradict general relativity, which has been included in the Standard Model of physics since Einstein first articulated it in the early 20th century. General relativity — which describes how everything behaves in response to gravity, such as how time passes differently depending on where and how you travel through space — is one of the fundamental laws of the universe according to the Standard Model.
In a blog post by ConversationPhilosopher Sam Barron, Associate Professor at Australian Catholic University, explains the case for how these two contradictory models of physics unite. String theorists—who believe that the universe is made up of infinitely vibrating strings, smaller than atoms, with effects in several dimensions—have been trying for decades, but without success.
New theories also keep emerging, one of which is called ‘cyclic quantum gravity’. Barron explains that this theory involves tiny bits of matter forming tiny rings. It sounds strange, but it’s not the biggest surprise. “One of the great aspects of ring quantum gravity is that it completely kills time,” Barron writes. “Suppose this theory is true. Does it follow that time does not exist?”
At this point, the question is a mathematical and ontological question, the philosophical consideration of what is and what is not, and what is meant by existence. (I’m just a joke, but you’ve probably heard of ontology regarding the famous idea of ”proofs” for the existence of God).
The math part is simple at least. If theories like toroidal quantum gravity do not take time into account, then time, as a variable, simply does not appear in action. Think of a set of 3D coordinates like (x, y, z) where you remove the ‘z’ part. Now you have to do a different number of arithmetic operations, with a different result, and it can be said that z no longer exists.
So time may not be a factor in these high-level physical theories, Barron explains, just as we don’t consider chairs or tables. Yes, these things do exist, but we don’t have to talk about them when trying to discover the biggest mysteries of the universe. Above all, physics remains deeply rooted in the idea of causation, that is, in following something from moment to moment and in investigating the consequences of certain actions on others.
If so, Barron concludes, “the agency can still survive.” “Because it is possible to completely reconstruct the meaning of agency from a causal perspective.”
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