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Book Excerpt - The Blind Man's Elephant

I’d Like An Ottoman To Go With That!

I was sitting on my four-piece sectional the other day reading Stephen Hawking’s book, A Brief History Of Time, and I just couldn’t get completely comfortable. At first I wasn’t sure what it was. As I waited for the psychological arrow of time that pointed into the future, where my answer was moving towards me eventually making it to the present, I realized my four-piece sectional was missing the defining piece, an ottoman. I immediately rushed down to the local store where I had purchased the sectional and said, “I’d like an ottoman to go with that!” A few days later I was happily ensconced on my four-piece sectional with the missing fifth piece, my ottoman, comfortably in place under my feet with all ten toes free to wiggle as they please.

Now that I was comfortable, I was back to reading about Hawking’s arrows of time. Arrows of time, for those of you not familiar with them, are simply those things that point out to us the asymmetry of time in our daily lives. Simply stated, it’s how we can tell the past from the future. Of course, this seems very obvious almost to the point it doesn’t need mentioning.

However, in quantum physics time works differently. How can it be that in everyday life we can move toward the future, but not back into the past, while in quantum physics we know there is no such barrier? Time can move equally in both directions. Hawking calls this “imaginary” time to distinguish it from our observation of “real” time that we experience in our macroscopic existence. There are many different arrows of time labeled by scientists including: thermodynamic, cosmological, psychological, kaon, subjective, memory, electromagnetic, quantum, black hole, entropy, radiative, casual, weak, etc.. For our purposes, however, we’ll keep it relatively simple.

As we read in Chapter Four, it wasn’t but a hundred years ago that man thought of time as being absolute. A minute was a minute, an hour an hour and so on. We’ve discovered that time’s passage is in the eyes of the beholder according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity. That is a clock on Earth will tick, second by second as we see it, and it will appear normal to us in every way. Yet, it will move much faster relative to a person rocketing through space closer to the speed of light than the speed at which we are moving on Earth.

The clock in the spaceship will appear normal to the person riding along with it. A minute will be a minute and an hour an hour, a day a day. Time will appear to pass no differently for that person than it did before blasting off from Earth. We know that time here is recorded more quickly than in the spaceship traveling closer to the speed of light. Thus, we have the story of the twins, one in the spaceship, the other remaining on Earth. They will age at different rates relative to each other. The twin left on Earth after seventy years may greet his identical twin on his return from space to see him just half his age. Time passes at different rates in relation to each observer. The fountain of youth has more to do with Einstein’s relativity than Ponce de Leon’s fabled quest for the magic elixir in Florida.

Hawking discusses three arrows of time in his book. The first, the thermodynamic arrow involves the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Another is the cosmological arrow in which time is expanding in the direction the universe is expanding. The third, the psychological arrow of time says the universe is constructed in such a specific way that lets us only know the past.

This is not news as it is the way we experience time all our lives. What is news, however, is that in quantum physics there are no restrictions to moving either forward or backwards in time. The past, the present and the future are really all one. It’s just that we’re made a certain way in relation to our universe. We can only remember the past, not the future. Time stretches out in a linear manner for us rather than being a singularity. Remember our analogy of putting a dot on a balloon from Chapter Four? Stretch the balloon side to side and the dot will appear as a line with a beginning and an end. Return the balloon to its original shape and the line will appear as a dot once again. Thus, our day-to-day experience sees the “time dot” stretched out side to side. In quantum physics, it remains a dot, a singularity.

It’s probably a good thing we can’t remember the future. We’d probably be running around like crazy, at least at first, trying to avoid anything unpleasant. We couldn’t, of course. Just imagine that you want to get into a prestigious law school only to remember your LSAT scores will be too low. You would study and study, but nevertheless, your score doesn’t change. Life would be very frustrating indeed.

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There is an exception to this immutable law of quantum physics, however. I call it the theological arrow of time. In some very specific cases, we can know the future. In the Book of Daniel, written down in Aramaic, there is a prophecy that mentions successive world empires over a rather long period of time that history shows us to be valid. The future, according to our current understanding of quantum mechanics, is not deterministic, but is comprised of probabilities. If there is no way for us to know the specific location and momentum of a single particle, how would it be possible for us to know the explicit future of human history?

Thus, there is no way man can determine the future according to the laws of the universe discovered thus far by physicists. The theological arrow of time says we can know the future that the Creator has shown us. The laws of this universe and the laws that govern our carbon-based life in the flesh do not bind the Creator.

The above is excerpted from Chapter Five, I’d Like An Ottoman To Go With That! The Blind Man’s Elephant. To read the rest of this chapter, download the book at the bottom of the Home page.

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