Saturday, October 11, 2014

Is the Origin of the Universe as We Know It But the Birth of Time?

That’s what I asked myself sometime within the last 10 or 15 minutes. As I’m not even a physicist, nor anything close to it, I’m not in a position to hazard an answer to that question, nor even to have a serious opinion on the subject. But I’m certainly entitled to a non-serious opinion – we all are – and so, in my non-serious but nonetheless carefully considered, opinion, the answer to that question is YES.

I’ve been thinking about that sort of thing a lot these days, mostly because I’ve been thinking about cultural evolution and, in particular, about the apparent directional evolution of 19th-century literary culture. That observation came out of the remarkable work Matthew Jockers reported in Macroanalysis: Digital Methods & Literary History. As I briefly explain in this recent post (which points to a more detailed account in 3 Quarks Daily) Jockers decided to examine the degree of similarity among the 3300+ books in his corpus. When he had his software visualize the result he found the books laid out more or less in chronological order from left to right.

How’d that happen? “Influence” is Jocker’s answer; the earlier authors influenced the later. “Evolution” is my answer. The difference is subtle, but secondary at the moment.

What makes that result so interesting is that there wasn’t any temporal information in the database. The database only contained information about some 600 descriptive features for each text. But when Jockers arranged the texts according to a high degree of similarity, time emerged as the left-to-right order.

Now, when we think about things like the 19th Century, we think of time as a framework which “contains” events and in terms of which can track their order. But, relative to the size of atoms, those 19th-century events are pretty large, and they last a pretty long time. But physicists had to shed the notion of time-as-framework early in the 20th Century. But, as Tim Morton points out in Hyperobjects, “time emanates from objects, rather than being a continuum in which they float ” (p. 33).

And that’s what I’ve been thinking about. What Jockers showed, more or less, was time emanating from the millions upon millions of literary encounters (people reading texts, chatting about them, and so forth) that constitute 19th-century literary culture.

And so I “cascaded” Jockers’ observation “down” to a state of the universe where there’s nothing but really really small-scale objects and interactions among them. And that’s when it hit me that what we can think of as time is simply something that emerged from those objects and their interactions.

That’s the birth of time. But also, it’s the birth of the universe as we know it. That’s the so-called Big Bang.

That is, the universe has always already been there. Even at the moment of its birth. There never was and never has been a time before time when there was nothing. There's always been something; the universe didn’t come out of nothing. Rather, time came out of chaos, if you well, and that’s the beginning of what we call the universe. But really, it's when chaos gave way to cosmos.

So, I googled “birth of time” and came up with a bunch of stuff, naturally. This among them: The birth of time: Quantum loops describe the evolution of the Universe. Here’s a passage from the article, which appeared in Science Daily in 2010:
In the model developed by physicists from Warsaw, time emerges as the relation between the gravitational field (space) and the scalar field -- a moment in time is given by the value of the scalar field. "We pose the question about the shape of space at a given value of the scalar field and Einstein's quantum equations provide the answer," explains Prof. Lewandowski. Thus, the phenomenon of the passage of time emerges as the property of the state of the gravitational and scalar fields and the appearance of such a state corresponds to the birth of the well-known space-time. "It is worthy of note that time is nonexistent at the beginning of the model. Nothing happens. Action and dynamics appear as the interrelation between the fields when we begin to pose questions about how one object relates to another," explains Prof. Lewandowski.
Interesting, no?

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