Skip to content

The Hare and the Tortoise: The race is not to Speedy (VIII). Do you believe in a block universe?

“But for the fun of the thing, he (the Hare) agreed”

The hare and the tortoise, a fable by Aesop.
The Hare and the Tortoise by Aesop. Don`t lose sight, the race has not started yet. At the moment the Hare has agreed to race with the turtle.

Happy Mothers´ week!

Practically, in my last publication, we started to provide a tiny conceptual brush about the most relevant contemporary theories about time. There is archaeological evidence that time has been studied since the beginning of our civilizations when our brain sophistication was able to pump the word “astronomy” into our palate. This evidence is as old as it has been discovered in the Babylon remnants, and the rest of the civilizations in Europe and Asia.  Two thousand years later, we also find New World vestiges of the same time erudition in the Aztecs, Mayan, and Incas cultures. In summary, each of the past civilizations had a class of studious people who wanted to understand time, and what time did to us and our cycles of living. What we know here and now is based on our understanding of leftovers that archaeologists and historians have understood in our present.

However, it wasn`t until the early twentieth century that word “Time” took the clever protagonist figure in all the research topics of physics and philosophy.

When contemporary physicists took over the word “time”, they wanted to do it to update the old views from our ancestors, and understand our universe, by providing theories and laws of our existence. They wanted to discern what is the universe? And how it is made of? And that is how we landed into the Swiss lands, where Einstein coined, that “the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”. From there, is that the role of the physicists is to understand “time” in the universe. Some physicists believe the universe is made of objects than events. Others believe that the universe is more made of events than objects.

But what is an event? As everything in humans, definitions of something have different views. The view number one, in the manifest representation, defines an event as something that happens at a place for a certain amount of time. The view number two, the scientific vision, defines an event as a point located in time and space. Albert Einstein agrees with the second view for what he has defined as a four-dimensional continuum.

The relativity theory is an expression of the four-dimensional scale or an infinite number of legitimate space-time reference frames, in which a reference frame is defined as a coordinate system to spacetime to specify events with times and spatial locations.

This is a spacetime. To arrive to this concept 4 physicists did a contribution: Einstein, Lorenz, Minkowski and Poincare

Therefore, the only way we can understand Einstein is by first understanding the vision of scientists (philosophers and physicists) that have devoted their lives to understand “time”, and particularly the theories of time under physicists of time since the 20th century. Let’s proceed with the next 6 perspectives (we will continue utilizing the examples of the whales, so we can digest at least a bit of these topics, which are not easy to comprehend):

SEVEN. Three Dimensions and Four Dimensions of Time.
What is it? First, we need to land on the definition of the word “temporal” as it is understood by physicists.

The word “Temporal” explained: Let’s see the sequence of 5 shots below.

Five moments of time when a whale is traveling below a boat. Images captured by a video of @dolphindronedom

We can infer and analyze the temporal positions of the whale by observing the 5 different sequential positions of the shots. The whale sees the boat. She decides to continue her planned route by submerging herself below it. and 5 different sequential positions of her voyage. Each photo shot captured in each of these film strip frames represents a temporal part of the whale, in a specific position, at a particular location in space, at a single moment. The doctrine of temporal parts of an object (in this case is the whale) defines what the whale is (the fusion of these 5 temporal shots in time).

For Three dimensionalism (who are the A-theorists and presentists), whatever this whale was doing a day before she was filmed was her. The whale was filmed at a particular moment by a drone, and now she is not there anymore. So, three-dimensionalism is defined as “any physical object that is located at different times is wholly present at each moment at which it is located”. For Three dimensionalism theorists, the whale (as an object) is present in each moment of the 5 shots.

For Four Dimensionalism (who are B-Theorists ad eternalists), “any physical object that is located at different times has a different temporal part for each moment at which it is located”. The whale of the 5 frame shots is the fusion of all her many temporal spacetime positions. And that whale voyage “all together” in the ocean is a “space-time worm”.

Main Issues: Three dimensionalism versus Four dimensionalism is still a subject of disputes, still nowadays. Einstein privileged the Four dimensionalism, and that is why Einstein’s relativity theory, is included in the collection of the core fundamental theories of physics, as much as the quantum theory, the standard model of particle physics, and the big bang theory. But many physicists do not agree with this view, because they can’t accept that the cosmos could be a static block of spacetime, in which any flow of time must presumably be an illusion.

Example: For three dimensionalism, the whale of the 5 shots above, is only in time present in each of the 5-time positions of the travel. For Four dimensionalism, the whale has a different temporal part, a space worm. What the whale was doing before submerging below the boat, whatever she did after she passed the boat, whatever she did three months ago were earlier temporal parts of what the whale is now; and is connected with the thing that she is doing now, in the present temporal part of her. The relation between the whale from the shots, and the whale now is the temporal counterpart relation.

EIGHT. The Dynamic and the Static Theory.
What is it? The dispute above suggests that there are at least two distinct ways of thinking about the nature of time. And these two theories have been unfolded “petit a petit” for you since last Friday. The discussion is based on a sentence: “Time seems to flow or pass”. We conceive that time moves. However, are we correct with this assumption, or what if we simply stop and ask ourselves the following questions:

What is flowing? Time or us?
What does it mean for time to flow?
Does time flow?
If so, do we experience the flow directly?
What is the time rate of flow?
If time does not flow, why do so many people believe it does?
What are these theories?

When thinkers of time respond to all these questions, then we have two notions of time:

The Static Theory of Time (supported by Einstein, Minkowski, and B-theorists). “Time exists, things (objects including humans) change, but time doesn’t change”. When the whale moves below the boat, time is not changing, it is the whale that flows in motion that changes her position. But not the time. The whale experiences the flow under the water, meanwhile, the boat sailor also experiences to watch how the whales submerge to avoid him. The flow of the whale position shows the change, but time doesn’t change. As I mentioned to you above, for Static theorists, the universe is spread out in four similar dimensions, called spacetime. But there is not dynamic aspect to time, because time doesn’t pass. “Time flow is not objectively real; it is merely subjective”.

The Dynamic Theory of Time (supported by A-theorists). It is based on the notion that time is constantly in flux”, and “Time flow is objectively real”. The legacy of McTaggart´s dynamics of time is echoed in the following schemes:
– The flow or passage of time is a matter of events changing from being future, to being present, to being past.
– Time`s flow is the coming into existence of new facts, the actualization of new states of affairs.
– The time´s flow is a matter of events changing from being indeterminate to becoming determinate in the present.
– The progression of time can be understood by assuming that the continuous creation of new moments, new now’s, accompany the creation of a new space. The future is being constantly created.
– The flow of time is reflected in the change over time of truth-values of declarative sentences. For example, what was true yesterday, is not the truth today. That motion in between two truth values shows that there has been a change and this is the root of the time flow.
– Finally the Moving Spotlight theory, which will be explained later. 

Main issues: Each of these two views of time has problems. For the Static Theory, to define spacetime as a block universe may be a bit simple. How we perceive the world might be not a subject of reality that is independent of us.  Time perception raises numerous intriguing puzzles. For the Dynamic Theory, the main issues hang around the concept of perception of time. What if instead of going into the future, we are going backward? What if our lovely Earth with thousands of whales before these began to extinct was defined as our future… and we have damaged everything to our days. What if what we live now as the present is simply a step backward, meanwhile the future is passed?

Example. I wonder what do whales think of themselves when they perceive time. Are whales static theorists or dynamic theorists? To understand the life of a whale with the static theory chip, her time during 90 years of spacetime (fourth-dimensional concept) is merely an illusion. For those who believe in a dynamic theory of time, the possibilities for this whale and her time´s flow depends on how well we can help them to survive.

Sometimes I imagine that cetaceans are coming to our shores much more than in the past, to tell us that something is not good in our oceans (contamination, water quality reduced, or other endogenous factors placed or dumped by us in the ocean). All these factors are altering their ecosystem. Maybe cetaceans (who have a much more developed brain than us) are asking us for help because they know what is causing them harm. For some dynamic theorists, the present knowledge of the whales is the result of a matter of aggregated events that might be forcing them to look for us for help.

NINE. The Moving Spotlight Theory.
What is it? The Moving Spotlight Theory of time is a hybrid of the Static and Dynamic theories. This vision of time incorporates spacetime as a unified manifold (of various or multiple means), with objects spread out along the temporal dimension in virtue of having different temporal parts at different times; and with past, present, and future parts of the manifold all equally real.

Main Issues: To spotlight is “to focus with attention on”. A strong beam of light illuminates a small area in the middle of darkness. Can you see the existence of time as that? Can you see things that are within the spotlight as present time, even though things that are outside the spotlight still exist?. Just imagine the block universe (our planet earth, planet, and galaxies) as a traveling present or moving property of being now that spotlights a new slice of the block at every new moment.

Example: Right now, in May 2021 a spot-lighter theorist considers the whales’ endangered extinction situation as a present. In a year from now, this same situation in 2022 will continue to be the present. Let´s conceive for a minute that whales know that planet Earth is at risk of annihilation because they know they will also disappear in the future. How can we help them in a time defined as a spotlight? The present for these whales is their moving spotlight position in the ocean today (for example, at the moment I am writing, a group of North Atlantic Whales is traveling from the coast of Maine to Florida). This position is objectively distinguished as the present. And this distinction is only temporary because the facts about that spacetime today, will change over time.  

TEN. Time Travel.
What is it? Time travel serious examination in physics in the western world began only after the end of WWII (with Godel). Time travel means physical time travel, not psychological or dream time travel. Time travel is based on an eternalist view of time. To time travel to the future means basically that you arrive eventually at some future event having taken less time on your clock than those clocks from non-travelers. To zip through time means that you shorten your traveling time in less. To time travel to the past means to go back in time , and this is impossible.

Main Issues: there are plenty of arguments against time travel. One thing is gravitational time dilation, but another one is to travel in time to 1700 and talk to Isaac Newton to influence and change its discoveries. Or tomorrow we can travel to the year 2,756 ACE to alter the plans of going forward to search life to Planet X. According to the principles of Einstein’s theory of relativity, it is possible to do it by a traversable spacetime tunnel wormhole, but there are at least 10 arguments against travel to the past or the future. This theory has attracted many billionaires which are trying to invest in finding the truth of it. Their quest to preserve themselves living forever (or finding the sources of youth) has an appeal for them. But to this day, it is quite impossible to live with an excellent quality of life after 100 years old. Not even money can buy youth and health after a certain age.

Example: Let’s conceive that by the year 2756 we discover a planet X that has an ocean and oxygen. And it is located in another galaxy, a so distant place, that we can’t travel to, because there is no amount of energy that can help us to arrive safely there. This place is full of huge dinosaurs and animals that live in that ecosystem (it is like going back in time to a Jurassic past of 200 millions years ago).  How can we travel there with our whales to that planet X? Not even ourselves will be able to even arrive or save ourselves before arriving on that planet that has a different spacetime compared with ours. Can we conceive to have different spacetimes because Planet X belong to another galaxy, with another frame of reference of time than ours?

On my next publication we will cover the ELEVEN (Time and Physics) and TWELVE (Time and Rationality) perspectives of time, under the theme Einstein thoughts about time.

Bibliography utilized to get some ideas when writing today.

Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, the majority of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s