| What is Time?
There are few things that surround us every instant of our lives that
remain so much a mystery as time. Is it a dimension? An immutable
attribute of our existence? Or just an illusion? Can it run backwards?
Can it proceed at different speeds?
A year or so ago, I was pondering the issue of the quantum uncertainty
that surrounds photons and the mind-boggling issue of how the position
of a physical particle can be best described by a probability wave,
rather than being known with absolute certainty.
The concept of
a wave of probabilities describing the position of an object seems so
incongruous with the macro world in which we live. Or is it? We
describe the location of a photon in terms of probabilities - it MIGHT
be at location [x,y,z], but there is a probability it might also be at
[x1,y1,z1], or might even be lurking on an outer star in the Andromeda
galaxy, although the probability of that is....well, awfully small!
We are used to thinking of an object in just one place. Or are we?
Suppose I ask you where you will be at 10am tomorrow morning? You might
describe that in terms of probabilities - most likely you will be at
your office sitting at your desk (most likely), but you might have
overslept and still be in bed at home (a lesser probability), or you
might have unexpectedly hopped a plane for a brief vacation in Bermuda
(much less likely), or you might even be half your way to the moon,
having stowed away on a shuttle mission (ok, VERY unlikely). Well.... hello, this is
sounding an awful lot like the way we describe the position of that
photon! We have a set of probabilities of its location, but
we won't know for sure until we observe that photon, thereby collapsing
the quantum probability wave, and we won't know where YOU are until
10am tomorrow morning, at which point we will know for SURE where you
are at that time. We could easily describe your expected location
tomorrow at 10am in terms of a probability wave.
There seems to be an unusually coordinate relationship between time and
the process of collapse of a quantum probability wave.
At that point a thought suddenly struck me: Perhaps time is the way in which we
experience the progressive collapse of the quantum probability wave for
the entire universe?
All objects have a quantum probability wave associated with them. For
all practical purposes, we assume that the uncertainty does not exist
on the macro level - I can see you sitting at your desk - I don't see a
fuzzy probability wave associated with your presence that also includes
your being at home. But when I take time into account, I suddenly
realize that I DO see a fuzzy wave associated with your location over
the extent of your existence.
How fast does a quantum probability wave collapse? It might be that the
time it takes to collapse is the time it takes light to travel from one
boundary to the other of the object in question. For a photon, that
collapse appears to occur almost instantaneously due to the small size
of the object, but for the entire universe which has been around for
some 13-14 billion years, perhaps it takes 13 billion years for the
quantum probability wave to collapse and we are sitting RIGHT within it
as it is collapsing and continues to collapse. And because the universe
is constantly expanding, the rate of collapse relative to the scale of
the universe might even be constant so the wave will continue to
collapse without any boundary in time.
And time itself may not be uniform across all geometries and scales -
Maybe the quantum probability wave collapses at a uniform rate
independent of geometry and scales and the only difference is that time
is stretched or compressed, but because our methods of measuring time
are inherently linear, we assume that there are different time scales
associated with these events. Quantum entanglement suggests that time
may be compressed to extraordinary degrees in some cases, so it appears
that there may be shortcuts through other dimensions which allow the
wave to collapse virtually instantaneously from our 3-dimensional
Can we travel backwards? No. And why not? Because the quantum
probability wave is always collapsing - and that results in the
universe moving toward a state of higher entropy as the measure of
disorder is increasing as the wave collapses and new and different
states become frozen into the historical fabric of the universe.
Moments after the Big Bang, any given particle had only a short history
of known states and positions behind it and a single, huge
probabilistic future ahead. As the wave collapses, the history becomes
larger and the future diminishes and so the number of frozen states at
any instant of time is increasing - hence the increase in entropy.
systems always move towards states of higher entropy, not lower, and
since the universe is the ultimate isolated entity, time does have an
arrow associated with it.
note, I think the Greeks were right - there IS an indivisible object -
too small to divide any further, only it wasn't the atom, it was the
Planck Length - that's one of the reasons I prefer Loop Quantum Gravity
over String Theory...
Think I'm nuts? No, don't bother telling me, I know it already,
ok? Email me at cesdewar@PimlicoSoftware.com
C. E. Steuart Dewar
Morganton, GA 30560 USA
December 26, 2005