I’ve been greatly enjoying reading physicist Carlo Rovelli’s book, “The Order of Time.”
One of the most pervasive assumptions about time is that there exists a “now” that all other observers experience similarly. Rovelli starts his book by carefully destroying our long-standing presumptions about time moving at an even pace through all space. He does this elegantly, by providing clear-cut examples, such as the fact that time passes more quickly in the mountains than at sea level.
What is Time?
Carlo Rovelli points out that our naive sense of time is based on an illusion. Rovelli’s approach to providing an interpretation of quantum physics is known as loop quantum gravity, in which spacetime itself is understood to be granular, a fine structure woven from loops.
Previous attempts to describe time have not truly managed to overcome its intrinsically illusory nature, including Isaac Newton’s idea of a universally ticking clock, nor Albert Einstein’s relativistic space-time. With regard to Newton’s view, we now understand that our experience of time must be fundamentally relativistic, based on where we are in relationship to others. Einstein presented a concept of time as is merely being a fourth dimension, alongside the three spatial dimensions of height, width, and depth–and Einstein also pointed out that there is nothing special about ‘now’; and ‘past’ and ‘future’ are not always well defined, so,for example, due to this malleability of spacetime, it’s entirely possible that two events might happen in different ‘before’ and ‘after’ sequence when viewed by different observers.
Rovelli postulates that there must exist such a thing as a minimum interval of time–a “quantum of time.” Rovelli also points out the importance of recognizing that our Cosmos runs on low entropy, rather than energy. We thus require food that is lower entropy, and plants require lower entropy food such as photons. Through awareness that there appears to exist a conservation of entropy, we thus gain a whole new sense of time.
One of my favorite parts of “The Order of Time” is where Rovelli writes:
“The intrinsic quantum indeterminancy of things produces a blurring, like Boltzmann’s blurring, which ensures–contrary to what classic physics seems to indicate–that the unpredictability of the world is maintained even if it were possible to measure everything that is measurable.”
I’ve written about this topic before, in my paper, Primacy of Quantum Logic in the Natural World, documenting evidence from the fields of cognitive science and quantum information theory suggesting quantum theory to be the dominant fundamental logic in the natural world, in direct challenge to the long-held assumption that quantum logic only need be considered ‘in the quantum realm.’ One of the key points being made in this regard is that systems featuring incomplete knowledge embody special qualities, and quantum logic has the edge when it comes to providing insights into learning the relationship between knowledge, space, and time. In my paper, I quote physicist Robert Spekkens, who states:
“This suggests that one would obtain a better analogy with quantum theory if states of complete knowledge were somehow impossible to achieve, that is, if somehow maximal knowledge was always incomplete knowledge… … In fact, the toy theory suggests that the restriction on knowledge should take a particular form, namely, that one’s knowledge be quantitatively equal to one’s ignorance in a state of maximal knowledge.”
The Value of Uncertainty
Despite our desire to one day know all there is to know, quantum theory now informs us that in a state of maximal knowledge, one’s knowledge is quantitatively equal to one’s ignorance. It is possible to find a sense of awe and reverence as we appreciate a side of Nature described in Lao Tzu’s observation:
“the more you know, the less you understand.”
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Rovelli, Carlo. The Order of Time. Riverhead Books. New York, NY, USA. 2018.
Spekkens, Robert W. “Evidence for the epistemic view of quantum states: A toy
theory.” Physical Review A 75.3 (2007): 032110.
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You can watch the companion video to this blog here: