16 June 2005

Denying The Existence Of Time

By Rusty Rockets

Perhaps humans invented the concept of time out of mortal fear; reasoning that if time were tangible then its degenerative march could be controlled, just as mankind has tried to subdue other aspects of the natural world. Immortality would be within our grasp! But while time may be a convenient metronome that delivers neatly portioned slivers of existence to conscious beings, the idea of a 'universal time' is looking increasingly fanciful, at least to some physicists.

One individual, Peter Lynds, has put his reputation on the line to try and prove that thinking of time and motion in measured segments, like frames in a film, is wrong-headed. Funnily enough, that's what his critics think of his theory. Lynds goes as far as saying that if instants, rather than intervals, of time were a cosmological truth, then none of us would be here today. In fact no physical object, no mass or energy down to the smallest of particles would ever be in motion. This is probably not the sort of immortality that our ancestors had in mind.

The most amazing thing about this whole story is that Lynds is not a trained scientist. But he does have a passionate interest in physics and he is also a huge fan of Einstein's work. Lynds' theory, Time and Classical and Quantum Mechanics: Indeterminacy vs. Continuity, has caused quite a commotion amongst academics, some even saying that his theory is a hoax and that Lynds doesn't actually exist. Skepticism and scorn of Lynds' work has continued but this barrage of criticism doesn't look like it will shut him up anytime soon.

Much of the opposition to Lynds' ideas can be attributed to his questioning of scientific orthodoxy. He doesn't mind suggesting that Einstein, Hawking and other respected figures are just plain wrong. He claims some theories are redundant, such as 'imaginary' time, and others just need modification, such as further developing Einstein's theories so as to iron out some of the contradictions. Most of these would take up too much space in trying to explain; so concentrating on Lynds' main theme will be the goal here.

In the beginning there was darkness… and there was no time. Time becomes immaterial in empty space, and demonstrates clearly that without objects-in-motion - mass and energy - there is nothing to measure the relative passing of time. So how God knew what day it was in the beginning is anyone's guess. But we digress. Time is relative to mass and energy, there is no ideal universal clock. As a concept, time cannot precede mass and energy, simply because the idea of time is reliant on the relative motions of celestial bodies. As Lynds says: "if there is no mass-energy, there is no space-time;" both are fixed and enmeshed. Because of this, time also has no direction or flow, as we conceive it subjectively; "it is the relative order of events that is important." This is what led Lynds to claim that there is "no precise static instant in time underlying a dynamical physical process."

The Greek mathematician Zeno conjured up a famous paradox that involved halving the distance between starting and end-points in time and space. The paradox involves a person trying to move from point A to point B. In order to move from point A, say, your doorway, to point B, say the pub, you must first reach half the distance between A and B, but before that, you must first reach half of that distance. And before that, you must first reach half of that distance and so on ad infinitum. You'll never reach the pub! Zeno's paradox seems to make a mockery out of divvying up time to conveniently suit scientific purposes but we know that this doesn't happen in the real world.

For example, when you are driving in your car, your speed is relative to the road beneath you. There is no point on your journey that could be called one instant in time. It can only be an interval of time. Even if you took a photograph of the car travelling along the road, the photograph would be an interval related to the speed of the camera, perhaps a thirtieth of a second. It doesn't matter how much you reduce the time interval, it will always still be an interval, rather than an instant.

If there are no measured instants then there is no infinity paradox, which demonstrates that there is no actual time measurement. In short, there is only relative motion between objects, and the order in which they occur. To make it even more confusing, Lynds proposes that this theory demonstrates that a body in motion has no distinct position or coordinate.

This basic account of Lynds' theory brings us back to human perceptions of time and why the brain needs to have a concept of time. We are finite beings in an infinite universe (as far as we know) and understanding the universe requires that we are able to measure the events and objects that make up the universe. Being able to control our physical environment by allocating and referring to time in 'instants' is a handy way of dealing with the problem. But it seems increasingly likely that we need to change the way in which we approach, observe and evaluate the universe's dimensions before we have any hope of understanding any of the universe's mysteries. Perhaps Lynds' theory is just what we need to get started.

References