Thursday, June 18, 2009

Time Dilation and the Theory of Everything: The Science of Over the Edge

The clock face is a familiar sight, but it actually doesn't tell us much about time--it only measures the passage of time on planet earth--well, sort of, since time measurement on planet earth is inextricably linked to the earth's rotation around its axis and around the sun...

You'd think that defining exactly what is a day would be pretty easy, but there are several ways to describe a "day:"

The sidereal day is about 4 minutes shorter than the solar day (sidereal measurement is the time it takes the earth to make one complete rotation on its axis). Solar days are measured midnight to midnight. The problem with the solar day is that the earth speeds up in its path around the sun through January and slows down through July so daylight hours get shorter and then longer. To compensate for this fact, "mean solar time" was invented. The idea of mean solar time relies on the position of a fictitious sun at midnight in order to measure a day. The difference between the position of the real sun in relation to the earth and the fictitious sun in relation to the earth is called the equation of time.

Astronomer, Joesph Scalinger, created the "Julian" day (named after his father) which measures a day from noon to noon. He decided to measure days this way because astronomers work at night. If they were to use the civil definition of "day" which is measured midnight to midnight, right in the middle of their work "day" they'd have to start a new "day." Kind of awkward.

Scalinger also suggested just counting days and ignoring the whole leap year problem. Imagine time passing with no years...

If clocks were all set by local mean solar time, clocks every few miles would be on different times. "A clock on Long Island,correctly showing mean solar time for its location (this would be local civil time), would be slightly ahead of a clock in Newark, N.J. The Newark clock would be slightly ahead of a clock in Trenton, N.J., which, in turn, would be ahead of a clock in Philadelphia," see: Time Zones, Time Measurement & International Date Line . Most people didn't spend a lot of time worrying about being "on time," close enough was good enough. But railroads with passenger service issues and not liking trains to collide with one another developed time zones and went anal about being "on time" and defining exactly what that meant. If a person used the train for anything, pretty soon, he went anal about it too.

Finally, in 1884 the International Meridian Conference developed time zones. Time zones begin at Greenwich, England, and stretch around the globe to the International Date Line. At the Date Line a person going east enters the previous calendar day from the day he left on the western side. Does that mean a person can lose a day? The map below shows exactly how arbitrary time zones are. Look at China--the whole country is in the same "time zone!" Alaska covers what should be three time zones...

Leap years are necessary because our calendar is 1/4 of a day off from the solar year which is how long it takes the earth to make a complete rotation of the sun. After a hundred years of no adjustments, our calendar would be off 25 days. Leap years are great, but don't solve the whole problem. The solar year is still 11 minutes and 14 seconds shorter than the calendar year. The solution, proposed in 1582, was to not have a leap year every 400 years.

Different definitions for a "day;" different times for every location; a line where a person can jump back and forth between yesterday and today...this whole measuring time--which, is by the way, a thing that we can't define--is purely dependent on the earth's movement around the sun and that doesn't even come off "like clockwork," that is to say, exactly the same all the time.

On Venus the sun rises in the west and a day, that is midnight to midnight, lasts the same amount of "time" as 243 "days" on earth while the "year" only lasts 225 days, we'd have a vastly different perception of time and reality. On Jupiter a "day" only lasts about 10 earth "hours," but a "year" lasts 12 earth "years."

We don't know what time is, but it's clear, we think we've got measuring time figured out.

Atomic clocks are the closest we can get to measuring time accurately, though they don't tell us what time is either.

St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote:
"What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know. If I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not."
Sometimes we think that because we can describe something or measure it that we know what it is, but the fact is neither of those abilities can tell us what something is. Scientists (and we ordinary mortals), being human, often forget this.

What is time anyway? We don't know. All we know is coffee doesn't unspill and people don't undie. There is no "undo" button in real life, no "save" point where we can return to a reality where the car wreck hasn't happened.

Speaking of describing something, Einstein described a thing called "time dilation." Time dilation is what happens when a person goes really fast, the faster a person goes, the more time slows down for the traveler. This happens to astronauts orbiting planet earth. To start with, when GPS was new, it took a little tweaking to figure out how to adjust for the difference in time between the satellite and the person on the ground trying to locate his position because GPS uses an element of time to figure location.

The concept of time dilation is mind-boggling. Paul Davies in his book, About Time: Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, tries to explain this phenomenon. I read his explanation, I accept it, but some of the finer points I don't understand. Sometimes we have to accept things as truth even if we don't fully understand them, this is what is called "faith." It's impossible to get through this life without faith.

In Over the Edge characters travel at what is described as "near" light speed. That's a vague description because I don't want to do the math and because vague is better when you don't want to be nailed down. Philip K. Dick admits in his essay, "How to Build a Universe that Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later," science fiction writers don't know all that much about science. I don't know all that much about science either. I try to read Scientific American every month, but sometimes I admit, I just get bogged down and quit.

But a good fiction author, whether writing science fiction or any other type of fiction, isn't really writing about science or history or whale hunting or whatever the text ostensibly seems to be about--he's really writing about people. But if the story is science fiction, the author needs a few scientific facts to give the science part of the fiction some meat, same with an historical fiction piece or a whale hunting piece.

So, here's a meaty fact to give Over the Edge some traction:

Paul Davies includes the formula for figuring how much time slows for travelers going really fast on page 58:
"You take the speed, divide by the speed of light, square the result, subtract it from one and finally take the square root. For example, suppose the speed is 240,000 kilometers per second. Dividing this by the speed of light gives 0.8, squaring gives 0.64, subtracting from 1 gives 0.36 and taking the square root produces the answer of 0.6. So at a speed of 240,000 kilometers per second, or 80% of the speed of light, clocks are slowed by a factor of 0.6, which means they go at 60% of their normal rate, or 36 minutes to the hour..."
Of course, what Davies is referring to as "normal" is time as we measure it here on planet earth. If you lived on a different planet, time for you would be "normal," but different from here. Time on Venus or Jupiter is different from here. If you lived your life in a space ship traveling 240,000 kilometers per second, "normal" would be different from here. Time is relative. The idea that things are relative is a whole 'nother headache.

Still, regardless of how fast or slow time is passing for you, wherever you are, you will feel it passing normally. There are exceptions to this of course, those rare moments like in the middle of a bad car wreck when time seems to slow down; when you're standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and the sun is setting and you're transported into some kind of spiritual ecstasy; when you finally manage to touch the hem of Jesus' garment during prayer or worship; or you first realize the person holding your hand is the love of your life--times like those are when time seems different, moments feel like hours, hours feel like moments, we've all been there and felt that.
Scientific American image

However we experience time, it's our brains' doing. It regulates how we feel time passing. Scientists say that when time seems to slow down, what's actually happening is our brains are laying down extra memories so we feel as if time has slowed down, see: The Slow Down of Time in Crisis.

Still, the idea of time and experiencing time is boggling. (Yes, I'm using that word a lot.) I don't understand time. I don't know what it is. Nobody knows what it is. Some have suggested that time doesn't actually exist. Others have said that all nows are still going on, even those that seem to be the past; they're still running their now wherever in the universe they are now.

Time travel has the great problem of where. If you were to travel back in time, where would you go? The earth is not in the same place it was in yesterday, it definitely isn't in the same place it was in a hundred years ago. I ask again, if you were to go back in time, where would you go? There's no fixed point anywhere that would allow you to figure where the earth has been.

Nobody knows what gravity is either for that matter, yet according to Einstein, gravity and time are inextricably linked. We can describe gravity, we can measure gravity, we can write formulas for how much gravity is affecting whatever wherever... we can describe time, we "measure" time, we can write formulas describing how fast or slow time is somewhere else compared to time on planet earth, but we don't know what time is.

Time, time dilation, how we feel time passing and exactly, "what is time anyway?" are themes of Over the Edge. One of the characters, Candan Rubeek, speaks of God, the Great I AM, as being in NOW, all nows everywhere and in such a vast now that the past and future are almost one with the present. He names the Great I AM as the one thing in the universe which is the underlying fixed Thing, the only unchanging Being from which other others things must measure and be related. Candan argues that if we are to retain our sanity in a universe in flux, God must be our center, then all will be well with us and we will make the most of now, which is really the only time we have.

Philip K. Dick quotes the Greek Pre-Socratic philosopher, Xenophanes of Colophon:
"One god there is, in no way like mortal creatures either in bodily form or in the thoughts of his mind. The whole of him sees, the whole of him thinks, the whole of him hears. He stays always motionless in the same place, it is not fitting that he should move about now this way, now that."
Dick continues this line of thought discussing Edward Hussey's book, The Pre-Socratics, and their pre-Christian ideas about God. Hussey writes:
"The arguments of Parmenides seemed to show that all reality must indeed be a mind, or an object of thought in a mind."

"In Heraclitus it is difficult to tell how far the designs in God's mind are distinguished from the execution in the world, or indeed how far God's mind is distinguished from the world."

"Anaxagoras had been driven to a theory of the microstructure of matter which made it, to some extent, mysterious to human reason."
Dick elaborates that Anaxagoras, this is the Pre-Socratic philosopher, Anaxagoras of Clazomenae who lived from 500 - 428 B.C. , "believed that everything was determined by Mind"--or as Moses put it in Genesis 1 and John put it in John 1, God the Father--He's the Master Mind who speaks everything into existence.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life..."
John 1:1, 3, 4.

"And God said, "Light BE," and light was," (my paraphrase) Genesis 1:3
The kosmos, Greek for "order or world," or as English understands it, cosmos, the entire orderly universe, is not as it appears. There is an underlying something, a Being in Now, that orders, maintains and sustains all things at an invisible level by His Word.

God spoke material light into existence. The simplicity of Genesis 1:3 should not be interpreted as lacking in scientific precision, it should not be assumed to actually be a simple thing, a kind of blathering of nonsensical words like abracadabra, no, these words are right on, describing in terms even a child can understand something a physicist can spend his entire life studying: everything comes from light.

According to I John 1:5, "God is Light." The poetic beauty of Spiritual Light creating material light from which all material things come is the kind of beauty that Einstein believed in: elegance which masquerades as simplicity. Or perhaps what should be said is that simplicity is often erroneously defined as "simple." The truth is, the most elegant things are simple and in their simplicity is infinite complexity.

Seven times the phrase, "And God said," appears in Genesis 1. Besides the fact that seven is the number of spiritual perfection, anything the Bible repeats is probably important--the author is emphasizing the role of Logos, the Word, in creation.
"The Son (the Logos, the Word) is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His Being, sustaining all things by His powerful Word," Hebrews 1:3, NIV.

"He is the Sole Expression of the Glory of God--the Light Being, the Out-Raying of the Divine--and He is the Perfect Imprint and very Image of [God's] nature, upholding and maintaining and guiding and propelling the universe by His mighty Word of Power," Hebrews 1:3, Amplified Bible.
This underlying something that quantum physics says is in all places at the atomic level, sustaining things, running things like photosynthesis, the sense of smell and green tea's awesome health benefits are all quantum physics in action, the Logos, the Word in NOW, upholding, maintaining, guiding, propelling everything.

The character, Candan Rubeek, of Over the Edge says (in Over the Edge marsupial characters simultaneously sign and speak, so I use parenthesis to indicate sign language):

"The Eternal is the Great I AM. Only in the now can I Am be. He lives in a vast Now encompassing nows, everywhere, every time. Only He can be in your now and in mine, more aware of your now and my now than we are ourselves. (The Omniscient Omnipresent is fully attentive to every now in every atom of the universe in a way we cannot comprehend. Even in our most intimate moments we are not so attentive.)"

Candan sees the Logos, the I AM, interfacing with the material, macro world at the quantum level in NOW. The quantum physicist sees quantum processes happening everywhere in every now and calls this "entanglement." Entanglement is the concept that an atom here can affect an atom on the opposite side of the universe. This is the concept Candan is speaking of, the Logos in NOW.

When God spoke the universe into existence the words Moses recorded, those deceptively simple words, enumerate the DNA, the quantum physics, the mechanisms that are the Laws, the codes, the operations that run the entire universe--and all by His Word, the Logos, the One through Whom All Things Were Made.

Paul tells us in Romans 1:20:

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--His eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
Wherever a human being cares to look, if he digs deep enough to understand, when he scratches through the layers of what seem to be, the preconceptions, the unrealities of our fantasies about reality which Dick speaks of in his essay, when we scratch through those to the bottom of what is real, we find God looking back at us...unless we don't care to see. There is no cure for willful blindness.

See Discover, February 2009, "Entangled Life," page 59 - 63.
For more discussion on time check out: In Search of Time