December 27, 2004

The Future Is Now! (and so is the past...)

For the purpose of this post I'm going to presume that the hypothesis presented in my previous post is correct. So, to sum up:

All moments in time that are, have been, or will be experienced as "now" are all equally now.

Thomas Jefferson is sitting in room in Philidelphia in 1776 writing the Declaration of Independence; bombs are dropping on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941; and I am sitting here now writing this post. You will be reading this some time later, for me, which will also happen to be now.

If we take it as true that, in order for time to be a dimension, the past exists just as much as the present, then we also must hold that the future exists. Notice that I didn't say "the future already exists", just that it exists. The word "already" would make it an observation from a certain time, a specific now. That would just be wrong.

Obviously, this brings to the fore the age old debate about whether or not we have a free will to make decisions and take actions. If the future exists, doesn't that preclude us from having any say in how it turns out?
(I'm gonna leave aside the entire debate about our physical, bio-chemical and evironmental histories controlling our actions and just look at the subject at hand.)

Let's take an example of free will in action:

We're watching Game 6 of the 1986 World Series being broadcast on TV. It's the bottom of the 10th inning. After being two runs down with two out and nobody on, and three base hits later, Gary Carter and Kevin Mitchell have already scored to tie the game, Ray Knight is on 2nd base and Mookie Wilson is batting. The Red Sox pitcher is Mike Stanley (as I recall), the cather is Rich Gedman, and Bill Buckner is playing 1st base.

Gedman is deciding which pitches to call. Stanley is either shaking them off or accepting them, and then doing his best to strike out Wilson. Mookie is deciding, in split second intervals, whether to take a pitch or swing at it. He is fouling off tough pitch after tough pitch from Stanley. The Red Sox fielders have already decided what they're going to do if the ball is hit to them.
Gedman, Stanley and Wilson are locked in a battle, and there is no doubt that they are making decisions about what actions to take, and then taking those actions freely and deliberately.

Oh! Mookie hits a slow bouncer down the first base line and Bill Buckner positions himself to snag it. But wait! Buckner took his eye off the ball, either to look at Wilson's progress or to see if Stanley was running over to cover 1st base. The ball scoots under Buckner's glove and between his legs! Bill turns around and begins to chase it but realizes that he'll never catch up to it -- he decides to stop running. He looks at Ray Knight rounding third and heading home and knows that Darrell Evans in right field will never get that ball to Gedman in time.

Buckner's face says it all. Standing still as a sea of white uniforms pours out of the Mets dugout behind him, he is thinking "I blew it. I took my eye off the ball for a moment and lost it. Bad decision."

The celebration at home plate is for what was just accomplished by Carter, Mitchell, Knight and Wilson. Against staggering odds they won in a triumph of the will. We just saw it happen!

No, we didn't. That was a videotape of a game that happened over 18 years ago. [Holy crap, that was 18 years ago?!] But, even though we were watching the past and knew the outcome, we still witnessed Rich Gedman, Mike Stanley, Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner making decisions of their own free will. It was the past for us, but it was now for them. The outcome being certain (from the perspective of the future) doesn't change the fact that they were making their decisions and taking their actions freely from their perspective of the present.

In a world where the future doesn't exist yet it's easy to conclude that our actions control the future. But, if we accept that the future exists then we'd naturally tend to think that the future controls our actions. I submit that that's a fallacy.
The future didn't cause Bill Buckner to make that error. It's just that, in the future, he had already done it. All nows exist equally, and it's only our experience of nowness that hides that fact.

So, what of Causality? If all "nows" are equally now then how in the world can there be cause and effect? A chain of events?

A chain of events is certain from a perspective of the future, but uncertain from a perspective of the past. Any difference in whether or not a chain of events has occurred, is occurring or will occur, is only due to an observer's perspective. Causality exists -- and it exists over time -- but it doesn't exist outside of the passage of time. In other words, it is in the experience of the passing of time that causality plays out, but, in the larger wholeness of spacetime, it's a complete event. (Which is not to say: a completed event.)

Why on earth would I take this silly idea seriously? Is there any evidence in the universe of time and causality acting in weird, nearly contradictory, ways? Yes.

Let's take the Big Bang. For years and years I've been suspicious about whether or not the Big Bang ever happened. Why? Because it's backward!

If you've ever read, or seen a scholarly TV program, about the beginning moments of the universe then you may have noticed something: They always tell the story backward. They tell us that the heat and density of the energy could not allow various types of matter to exist yet. "At eighty-five seconds these particles are not formed yet; at twenty-two seconds these baryons were did not exist; at three-tenths of a second there was none of that going on..." They tell it like that for one reason: Telling the story forward makes no sense.

"At three seconds electrons were formed" Huh? The causality is not there. Running the opening seconds of the universe after the Big Bang would be like showing a film of shards of ceramic suddenly leaping up from the floor to assemble on a tabletop as a coffee mug. Rediculous.

So, if the beginning looks like an ending, why not surmise that, perspective aside, they are the same thing? Why not explore the idea that causality (seeing the cause before the effect) is as half-understood as time itself is half-seen (seeing the past but not the future)?

Think outside the clocks!

Okay, okay, it's a hard concept to accept, and even harder to explain. But I'm going to keep exploring it because (as I just wrote in a comment to the previous post) it just might lead to some breakthrough in expanding my theory of space-time/matter-energy's playground: gravity. It may just get curiouser and curiouser, or it may eventually make perfect sense. Time will tell! ;)

Posted by Tuning Spork at December 27, 2004 10:38 PM

Wow...the incredible expanding cerebroverse...

The issue of backwardness of explanation is not necessarily one of causality or "directionality" of occurrence...only of our requirement that things "make sense". Just because sense can ~only~ be made by looking from today back to the beginning/ending of the initiation of Big Bang doesn't mean that it inevitably occurred in that fashion. Just because we can't formalize the thoughts to explain it doesn't mean that it is a) not explainable, b) pure magic outside the realm of reason and must then be accepted by "faith" c) understandable given our limited comprehension of the "Laws" (immutable) of the universe. Right now, cosmologically, we are still applying leaches to exorcise the evil spirits.

In other words, one man's myth is another man's science (evolutionarily - if it's not a word, it damned well should be!).

Posted by: Tommy at December 28, 2004 03:52 PM

Yes. We tell the story of the Big Bang backward because it's the only way it makes sense to us now. It easy to describe the destruction of matter, but impossible (now) to describe it's formation.

Why is a proton what it is and not slightly more or slightly less? All universal Constants seem to be arbitrary. There is a reason for every single Constant's value being what it is, we just haven't figured it out (yet).

Alls I'm saying is that if the beginning looks an awful lot like an ending, why not entertain the idea, for a lark, that it is. Causality then seems less linear and more whole; the only difference being in perspective.

Crazy talk is fun! I'm still searching for some way, any way, of seeing this as testable. While it'll probably never be provable or disprovable, is there any way that this can shed light on some unsolved mysteries? Someone more versed in quantum (sub-atomic) theory than I am might have a clue about how to proceed. I've always been more of a Relativity guy... :)

btw, Tommy, I like the way you think. If yer into this stuff I'd like ya to take a look at my working theory of gravity and let me know what you think of it. HERE is a link to part 4, but all parts are on that page. (Just scroll down to read them in order!)

It gets a little speculative toward the very very end but it's a solid theory, I think, all 'round. I've been developing it over the past dozen years or so. Take a gander if ya like; I'd like to know what you think of it!

Posted by: Tuning Spork at December 28, 2004 11:32 PM

The main thing about the Big Bang is that almost nothing existing in our universe applied at the very beginning. It wasn't just an event, it was literally a creation.

I'm also beginning to accept that there are multiple correct answers depending on the science used. I remember an SF story once where a spaceship travelled by staying in place and moving the entire universe around it. According to their science, that's exactly how it worked.

I think Babylon 5 touched on that (in the few episodes I saw) where each culture had it's own methods of spaceship propulsion that were very different from each other.

Posted by: Ted at December 29, 2004 07:58 AM
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