Monday, November 30, 2015

Just About Everything

Marathon, FL

Hang on to your hats. Even if you're not much interested in science, I propose to fascinate you and captivate you with a great story. This is not something you can read elsewhere, as far as I know. It has to do with time, space, energy and matter. In other words, everything. It is not hard science but close to it (I'll explain). It is not religion, but close to it (I'll explain). It is the kind of thing that pop science really loves; that's the kind of science you might see on a TV documentary. I'll refer to a couple of equations, but I won't show them. I promise, you do not need much science or math to follow this story.

I'll begin with time. What is time? I like the way Wikipedia defines time.
Time is a measure in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future, and also the measure of durations of events and the intervals between them.

That is a two-step definition. First we have ordered events, and then we have duration.  We won't need the duration part here.

What is an event? In the simplest sense, something changes. A particle collides with another particle. A photon of light is emitted or absorbed. At the lowest level, all events are made up of these simple interactions. An interaction, by the way, is also an event. In quantum mechanics, the words observation, event, and interaction are synonyms.

There are many kinds of events, but they all share something in common. There is a when and a where associated with every event. Each event pinpoints a point in time and in 3D space. Conversely without events, there would be no meaningful way to define what space and time even mean.

Next, in quantum mechanics we have the famous Schrödinger equation. (Yes the Schrödinger's Cat man). That equation says the rate of change of anything is proportional to the total energy. The stress is on anything. The Schrödinger equation does not just apply to just some things. It applies to everything. That means that there can be no event without energy.

So now follow my logic. With no energy there can be no event. With no events there is nothing to define points in space and time. Does that mean that space and time don't exist without energy? Almost, but I wouldn't phrase it that way. I think it is fair to say that without energy the concepts of space and time are simply meaningless. That's very profound.

But energy doesn't exist by itself. Energy is a property of stuff. What stuff? All stuff. That includes subatomic particles from which all atoms and things with mass are made. It also includes massless particles, especially the packets of light that we call photons. So we can go one further step. Without things we have no energy, and without energy we have no events, and without events, time and space are meaningless. Now that is the kind of thing that TV science documentaries thrive on because it makes us all sit back and say wow.

But which came first? We humans have an insatiable urge to resolve all possible chicken and egg questions about what came first. That is because we believe in something called causality (i.e. cause before effect), even more than we believe in all the laws of physics. So, did the universe start with stuff, that created energy, that allowed events, that define space and time? That would be cool to say, but at the very bottom there is a circular relation between particles and energy fields. Each depends on the other so there is no way to resolve which came first.

So if we can't put Time/Space/Energy/Stuff in strict cause-effect order, what can we say?  We can say that those four things go together.  In this universe, we can't have one without having the other three.  Other universes may have different rules, but that seems the be the rule in the one universe we know something about.

Scientists will say that what I wrote here is not science. Why? Because science is concerned with evidence and observations. Even theories must make predictions that can be confirmed by experiment or observation. But in this universe, all our observations of things past, see only a universe which had all the elements; time and space and energy and stuff. Ditto for observations of the future. There is no prospect of ever seeing a universe that doesn't have all those things, so speculation about which came first can never be science.

What about religion? I'm not religious myself, but I can't help noticing that Genesis takes a position on this topic saying that the heavens and the earth preceded light. That's pretty remarkable that my pseudo scientific logic has led me to the opening phrases of The Bible. Wow-dee-wow-wow.

So that leaves pop science. People like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson could have lots of fun with this topic. They could depict an origin that starts with just energy, and from which all time and space, and stuff evolve. That hypothesis is breathtaking, and I do not believe that it can be proved or disproved.

So, dear readers. I hope that I haven't left you behind. Today's blog is not specific to cruising, but rather it is about everything. Everything in a sense of the word that is perhaps broader than we ever imagined.

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