By Dr. Michael Clarage
Time has different dimensions, just like space. Words like “now”, “eternity”, “possibilities” refer to dimensions of time, just as “length”, “area”, and “volume” refer to dimensions of space. With this essay I hope to show how on the topic of TIME, Physics can re-join its historical siblings after too many years of pretending superiority and aloofness.
We will begin the story by speaking about light. When light leaves a candle flame it goes everywhere in the room in an instant. About 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 rays of light leave the candle every second. We cannot really comprehend that number. The ray of light is born in the candle, lives out its life travelling to the wall or your eye, and dies, in 0.00000001 seconds. To us, the entire room is instantly filled with light.
With a candle in a room, you might imagine that an individual ray of light follows a particular trajectory: maybe leaving the candle, bouncing off the far wall, then going into your eye. In the latter half of the 1900s scientists learned how to work with individual quanta of light so they could study this question of the path taken by a single ray of light. The experimental results say that each ray of light follows all possible trajectories inside the room before it lands. Each piece of light fills the entire room, and also only falls on one spot.
I will use an analogy, which might anger some physicists because it is not exactly how the experiments are run, but I hope such people can see past that to agree with the gist of the story.
Imagine that your room has a red wall and a blue wall. We have a fancy physics candle whose intensity we can dial down to emit single quanta of light. We do not control what direction the light goes. Sometimes a ray of light will bounces off the red wall will make a red spot on your eye; light that bounces off the blue wall will make a blue spot on your eye. To your surprise you will also find that sometimes a magenta light hits your eye, meaning that the piece of light came from both walls and blended. How can that be? How can one piece of light come from both walls? You think, perhaps the light went first to the red wall, then bounced off the blue wall. So you try that experiment, and you find that a red piece of light does not bounce off the blue wall – because red light is absorbed by the blue wall. You can only get magenta when a red ray mixes with a blue ray on your eye. The one bit of light must have traveled to both walls and then to your eye. Each ray of light somehow knows that there is a red wall and a blue wall, and sometimes gives a result that could only happen if it bounced off both walls. When you run the experiment for a long time, repeating tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of times, we find that each piece light that lands on your eye must have simultaneously traveled all possible paths through the room before landing on your eye.
Physicists have gone round and round on this mystery for decades. As you might imagine, most of the “old” physicists fought against it. The old folks insisted that the quantum world of light and electrons must ultimately be like the classical world of planets and pool balls, and all this non-sense of possible paths must be either mathematical artifacts or we just had not yet found the correct theory. The old physicists died, the younger ones kept doing more and more experiments, trying to get to the bottom of this mystery: how could the rules of the quantum world be so different than the rules of our every-day life?
There are entire books written about the history of the many experiments done. Look up the “double slit experiment” if you want to find out more. All the experiments so far agree: when we look at light, we experience the light traveling multiple pathways at the same time. The relationship is key. Note we are explicitly saying that “When we experience light…” We are not saying anything about how the light experiences itself. We are not pretending to say anything about how the light experiences all this. The relationship is key to understanding what is actually being said: “A human experiencing rays of light.” Classical physics is not very big on relationship. To classical physics a rock is a rock is a rock, no matter where it is or who or what is interacting with it. Quantum tried this sort of “objective” approach, but none of the experiments agreed. You cannot run quantum experiments without including the the apparatus used to make the observation. The observer, whether human or mechanical instrument, is part of reality, and cannot be ignored. When we make measurements of light, we find that we cannot follow the single trajectory of a single bit of light. Any measurements we can make only show us light living out all of its possibilities before it lands somewhere. Between our human world and the world of light rays there is a gulf. The two worlds cannot be put on the same scale. This gulf has to do with passing through dimensions of time. We cannot experience the birth of a light ray. We cannot experience the whole life of a light ray. We can only experience light rays living out all possible lives.
Christian Teaching about Time
We now visit a 2,000 year old teaching that also mentions the world of all possible paths. Looking at the Pre-Vatican II catholic liturgy, this phrase is common:
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto
Sicut erat in Principio, et Nunc, et Semper, et in [omnia] Seacula Seaculorum
The second line could be translated as
As it is in Principle, as it is now in this moment, as it is in the perpetual existence of all Now-Moments, and as it is in the eon of all eons, (or the world of all worlds).
No one knows when this phrase was first used. It appears clearly in texts in the 4th century, but probably goes back to the time of Christ. These days, if you look for a “modern” translation of Seacula Seaculorum you will find “world without end“. This translation is inadequate.Seacula is an Age, an Eon. An Eon is something like “the 650 million years the dinosaurs lived on Earth”. And Eon is something like “all human civilizations”. An Eon is something like “the entire life of our Solar System”. An Eon is a completed span of time that has its own organic unity, and includes the birth, life, and death of everything within it. Then Seacula Seaculorum is the Eon of Eons, or the Eon that is made up of all possible Eons. This is dimensions of time built up of other dimensions of time. Sometimes the word omnia is inserted, to really drive home the idea that we are talking about all possible worlds: et in omnia Seacula Seaculorum.
Before the Catholic church amply earned its horrific reputation as the destroyer of Christ-like values, it was actually quite concerned with passing along the newly revealed ideas. Some new ideas were released upon humanity around 33 A.D. Students would travel long distances once a year, at Easter, to receive a week or two of instruction about these new ideas that came from Palestine. The phrase I quoted above was one course of study. All of Creation, and any created thing requires the presence of a Trinity of creative forces (Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto), and that this Trinity exists outside of all time (In Principio), exists in each moment of time (nunc), exists in the perpetual existence of all moments of time (Semper), and even exists in the Eon of all Eons, or the World of all possible worlds (omnia Seacula Seaculorum). My point being that the early church knew very well that Time had different dimensions.
For the early church, this cosmology of time was essential. We cannot begin to comprehend what Christ achieved unless we have some understanding of dimensions of time. To have “eternal life” did not mean to live a life of many years all laid out on a line; it meant life in a different dimension of time. You all know the phrase, “live in the present moment”. That could be described as “now life”. What if you experienced all the moments of your entire life all together, simultaneously, and felt that each moment was still alive? That might be “eternal life”.
I was lucky enough to learn some of these ideas before the quantum mechanics courses in graduate school. I remember vividly sitting in that classroom on the second floor, drab, rectilinear, deadening architectural fashion. I do not know why several generations of architects and governing boards felt it was a good idea to remove all beauty from rooms of science. Everyone hates grey boxes, whereas you will get into fights about subjectivity if you dare put in some color and curves? Anyway, we were sitting there. The professor was going through big-boy quantum, were we actually did the math. He finished by saying that the models only agree with experiments if you take the summation of all possible paths of the bit of the quantum world you are studying. I felt then, and still feel, that physics was forced to develop a model whose mysteries have barely been scratched.
“Amongst us, everyone knows how to calculate results using quantum mechanics, but no one is allowed to talk about what it all means.” That was said by John Stewart Bell, who in the 1960’s developed experiments to show that the quantum world is non-local, meaning that everything knows about everything else in the universe instantaneously. I do not have the time here to discuss that. I know from experience that the worldly gatekeepers of physics forbid using physics to discuss meaning. This is very destructive to the human soul, and also reduces Science to boring bookkeeping and repetition of stale dogmas. Clearly my little lecture is an attempt to bring meaning back into the discussion.
There is no “present moment” in Classical Physics
Now that we have discussed the fullness of time, let us see what physics has to say about the lower aspects of time, what we could call a point in time and a line of time.
Classical Physics agrees that there are “moments in time”, but knows nothing about a “present moment”. To the laws of classical Physics there is no preferred moment in time. Since Physics is quite successful at explaining the world, this leads to a conundrum. Is there any objective reality to what I call “now”? My experience says “obviously”. But the Physics says “sorry, we have nothing like that.”Our 5 senses usually only experience a “present moment”, and for some reason we all sufficiently share this present moment that we can agree when something is happening “now”. When we are particularly sense-bound we tend to believe that only the present moment exists, and that one instant later the entire universe we were looking at somehow disappears into nowhere, while as the next instant of time approaches the entire Universe somehow comes into existence out of nowhere. If you assume a very powerful Creator Being, then this constant destruction and recreation of the entire Universe might make some sense. But from a traditional science standpoint this universal destruction and re-creation is an absurdity. Put in another way: if you believe the past is gone, then where does it go?
While classical physics does not acknowledge a present moment, it does work with what could be called “lines of time”. When you throw a ball it follows that well-known parabolic trajectory. The entire trajectory is what classical physics describes. From the moment you release the ball, it can land in only one place, and no other; the ball can only go so high and not higher or lower, when it hits the ground it can only have one velocity and not some other. There is a simple certainty to classical physics that is very powerful, very compelling. This entire trajectory, taken as a whole, can be seen as a line in time – a line because it has extent in the direction of time. There is only one path, only one history, and certainly not multiple options – hence analogous to a line. There are not multiple possible paths as we discussed for light.
The “line” of your time is your entire life. The line of your neighbor’s time is the succession of all the moments of their entire life. This line of time exists as a whole. Your entire life is a line in time, and hence, using common geometry, your entire life is a 1-dimensional object (in Time). If you believe you can make choices, the different options would be like various branches the line of your time could go along. These different branches would exist in the “plane” of your time. I say a “plane” of time, because you need a plane to hold more than one line.
Why does time seem to flow? Since classical physics does not have the idea of a “present moment”, it cannot have anything to say about how fast such a moment should be moving.
Why do we all seem to share the same present moment? This is a mystery which classical physics says nothing about.
You know how most people pick and choose which parts of their religion they will follow? I find the same with physicists. The physics creed says quite clearly that there is no preferred moment of time, yet very few choose to wrestle with this and conform their life to it.
You probably noticed that we have not addressed “eternity”. The Latin “semper” or “eaternum”. In the Christian schools of the first 3 centuries, “eternity” most definitely did not mean “a very long time”. I do not know when or where this understanding went off, but at some point the idea of “eternity” came to mean a line of passing time extended infinitely into the distance. This would be like saying a surface is made up of a very long line. A surface is made up of an infinite number of lines. Line and surface are incommensurate. You cannot get one by extending the other. The bastardizations of this idea we have inherited have made such a muddle and befuddle of very deep and important topics. When you become sloppy in your thinking, and you hear things like “spending an eternity in hell”, and think that this means living many, many years in a terrible place, well, you stand no chance in hell understanding what were the original teachings.
So then, what is eternity? I realize now that this needs to be a whole separate lecture. But I must say something positive about it, and only say what it is not. We will find just one analogy to eternity in physics. Let us go back to the example of light from the single-photon candle in the room with red & blue walls. How did we actually make the measurements? We needed to take many, many measurements, all of the same thing. We setup the room, let out one ray of light, measured, let out another ray of light, measured, and kept this up for thousands of repetitions, or even millions of repetitions. Repeating the same test over and over is one aspect of this dimension of time called “semper”. In some ways our repeated days are an example of this. Sun comes up, we live our day, sun goes down, we go to sleep, we wake up and do it all over again. This repetition of our days is what it looks like when a higher world of time penetrates into our lower, day-to-day world. As Plato said, Time is a moving image of Eternity. As a scientist, the ability to repeat an experiment over and over is a blessing, and the only way we come to really know something. But I wish to stress, if your consciousness were to actually be in that plane of time, it does not mean you would experience things over and over. The over-and-over is what happens here, in the realm where we are aware only of a present moment. “semper” is sometimes described as “outside of time”, meaning outside of outside of moving time, outside of change.
All this is just one aspect of eternity. There are so many more. It is not just the five blind men examining the elephant, it is thousands of 2-dimensional paper-beings examining a 3-dimensional icosahedron that is spinning its way through their paper world.
To summarize: quantum mechanics, like older systems, describes different types of time, what I am calling different dimensions of time. A point in time is a moment in time. It has no length, depth, or breadth. The laws of classical physics do not recognize a present moment, but do work with entire lines of time. A line a time is the full history of any object, such as the line of time you have traveled so far in your life. A solid of time is all the possible paths actually traveled. This solid of time, or fullness of time, is very difficult for us to ponder, which is why the simple physics experiments with light can be very helpful, giving us a well-defined example to think on.
For homework, get a candle, late at night, and go into some room that is completely dark. Late at night is important. If possible, do this when you can be alone in the house, or where ever you are, feel that you are alone. Sit for long enough that you really feel the darkness. Then light the candle. Try to describe all the changes that took place inside you.
You can explore written material on this topic from various sources: The Hermetica, Flatland by Edward Abbott, The pre-Vatican II Catholic liturgy for the three days of Easter, to name a few.
Bio: Dr Michael Clarage received his PhD in physics from Brandeis University in 1992, studying the biological and statistical behavior of proteins. Prior to that, he spent several years studying binary pulsars at the Arecibo radio telescope. He has given traveling lectures in the areas of fractional calculus, fractals, and chaotic systems as well as presented public talks on such topics as relativity and dimensions, transformation in supernova and metamorphosis in biology. Dr. Clarage is currently a scientist with the SAFIRE Project. http://www.aureon.ca. He also maintains a personal blog where this article was originally published.
Feature image: Supper at Emmaus, c.1628 oil on panel painting by Rembrandt
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