STATIC DISCLAIMER: All the stuff in here is purely my opinions, and they tend to change depending on what mood I'm in. If you're going to get bitter if I say something about you that you don't like, then maybe don't read. I avoid using names as much as possible, and would request that people who know me do the same in their comments. Basically, I often vent my frustrations on here, so if you happen to be someone who frustrates me, expect to read a description of someone very much like you in here!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Time... and stuff.

I was watching TV last night, and there was this programme on SBS about the nature of time. It looked at three major scientists' findings about time, and was basically focused on looking at the possibility of time travel and how feasible it was that one day we'll travel through time. They also examined the three scientists (Newton, Einstein and Tippler (I think)) and talked about their discoveries, and those discovery's somewhat disturbing implications.

Just to explain: Newton theorised that time was static. It was experienced the same by everyone everywhere, even if perceived differently. However, this meant that our actions were all predestined - that every choice we make has already been made. Obviously Newton had read a lot of Calvin.

Einstein gave us the wonderful theory of relativity, which included that time was relative to the observer - and could be different for different observers in different states of motion. The closer you get to the speed of light, the slower time becomes. This would allow you to move forward in time, but not backward. Going backward would require you to travel beyond the speed of light, but there was another law stating that the speed of light was effectively a "hard ceiling" - it is impossible to travel beyond this speed.

There was another scientist - a colleague of Einstein's, who challenged this theory. I think his name was "Tippler" but that could have been one of the modern-day scientists who appeared on this program. Anyway, we'll call him Tippler for now. Tippler's theory was to do with the universe rotating, and thus allowing time travel back in time without traveling beyond the speed of light. I don't remember the details, but he was able to prove this mathematically as an absolute - if relativity is accurate, then so is Tippler's theory, and therefore time travel is 100% possible. However, Tipplers theory requires the universe to rotate - the problem is that it doesn't. So some modern day scientists have constructed various ways that the observer could travel at speeds close to the speed of light around an object such as a cylinder, and it would achieve the same effect. However, these devices are so colossal in size, and would require a galactic level of energy to operate - and therefore are impossible for us at this point in history. Not only that, but the theory states that you couldn't travel back in time beyond the point at which a working device was created. So no dinosaurs for us, unless an alien race have already made a time machine, and would be prepared to loan it to us. Pretty please?

So anyway, moving on. This whole doco raised a couple of issues for me, which I thought I'd put up for you all to read here. Check it.

First of all, I'm going to ignore Newton entirely, and move onto Einstein. The thing that makes me interested most of all is the idea that there is a limit to how fast it is possible to travel. The scientific model of the universe and it's creation doesn't really allow for hard rules. If there is a single hard rule, then it is impossible to make any assumptions based on infinites. The possible speed that anyone can travel is 299,792,458 meters per second, and as yet I haven't heard anyone suggest it is possible to exceed this figure. If this is true, then how can we suggest an infinite universe? If nature allows for a single hard rule, then the universe must also have a hard limit (If the universe is infinite, there are infinite possibilities for a hard limit, which implies there must be one). There are not infinite galaxies, not infinite possibilities for the existance of life, and we cannot be the product of an infinite coincidence assumption such as the big bang theory and the coincidental creation of life - as all of these are based on effective infinites, which cannot exist. Evolution also becomes far more improbable. A single natural specific limitation such as "nothing can travel faster then 299,792,458 meters per second" implies the non-existence of effective infinates at all. Actually, this programme on SBS documented how the study of time has come full circle from and back to the conclusion that a higher being controls time. Which leads me to my next thought...

Going back to the time machine ideas I mentioned before - modern scientists have come up with ways of traveling backward through time, but they are impractical due to the size and energy restraints we currently have. So the programme I was watching took an interesting tangent. It suggested that given the current developments in computing technology, it is likely in the future that simulations of our universe's past will be developed that are realistic down to the particle level. Actually, they suggested, it is likely that computers at some point in the future will be powerful enough to run multiple simulations of our universe and it's contents at the one time. So if we assume possible billions of simulated universes at some undefined point in the future, then that means that there are far more simulated people in existence then there have ever been real people. Therefore, it is most probable that right now - we're living in a simulated universe. Now I LOVE this idea, because I've wondered about it for a long, long time. I believe that ultimately, God is in control of everything. But given our human tendency to not give that fact any real thought when making ethical decisions, I think it is entirely possible that at some point in our (real) future, if the means were available, we'd quite happily build simulated universes with simulated people in them. Heck, "The Sims" is already an incredibly popular game and although no one would suggest that Sims characters are sentient, they do have a basic level of intelligence.
Now there's two directions you can go with this: If ultimately sentience is entirely a function of the physical (ie: your brain) then it is most probable that you an I are not real people. We're computer programs, and of no ongoing value. I don't think this is right - mostly because I believe that sentience is not something that can be simulated.
However, here's what I wonder about. If sentience can't be simulated, but the facility was available to simulate every other aspect of our existence, how long would it be before they attached humans to the computers so that they could run a simulated world in order to discover the nature of the past? If we had the facility to do the same now, would we? How interesting would it be to place real people into what we understood the stone age to be like, and see how they functioned over several generations? If it was in a computer, it may even be possible to deliver the environment into the human consciousness at faster then normal time, so that multiple generations could elapse within an observable time frame. If this was done with infants, they would have no prior memory of the outside world, or perhaps we could find some way of repressing memory in adults in the same way that we do during anethesia. The ethics of using infants would be appalling, but looking at where we are now, I don't think that would stand in the way of science. So logically, it's entirely possible - even probable. Conclusion? It is most probable that this world we're living in isn't real. Interesting, hey? It could be real, sure. But probability is stacked firmly against us.

So that's it. It's a long'n I know, but I thought it was worth writing. I've often considered the possibility that in between us and God there's another layer of us who think it's OK to play God themselves. It would fit in with how I see the current attitudes of the scientific community, which is: If it benefits our understanding, then ethics are secondary.
Alright - I've spent the last 2 hours at work writing this in between discussing the origins of the modern christian church with my boss. Truly it's been an enlightening morning... :)


Tam said...

I understand that at this point in time scientists are stating: "This is how fast an object can travel. This is the limit." But haven't grand narratives such as this been stated throughout history? Then when someone with a greater understanding comes along it's proven to be false?
Probably I'm questioning it as a result of being taught to deconstruct the grand narratives set out before me in order to become a properly functional academic in this (supposed) post modernist world?
Very well thought out post and possibly valid in the scale of reality. Raises many issues which people struggle with in this day and age. Though it does show that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.
I once read a letter in a newspaper which used a similar theory to question the big bang occurence. Since I have almost no scientific knowledge I can't vouch for its correctness, though it questioned how the universe could be created by an explosion as the matter would have to move faster than light, and nothing can go faster than light.
Maybe this issue is where humans have reached the limit of their own understandings and capabilities, though I suspect humans will carry on, testing their own limitations.
If it is proven will the big bang theory become verified? Possibly, though I would like to think that I shall remain an ingnorant creationist minded being ;)

Joel Baltaks said...

I'm in the Matrix(TM)???? OMG!!!!! This is cool!

This reminds me of Nathan's idea about "how do we know we're not just a brain floating in a vat and being fed stimulus"? All we can say is "I think therefore I am", and appeal to the spiritual world for meaning and identity.

Also, with the simulations of the past - they'll only ever be models that approximate the reality to a certain degree - it would never be quite right, because we weren't there and we don't truly know exactly how things were in the past. Even if we were there we still wouldn't know exactly where all the molecules were sitting...

I agree that when you start asking questions about the nature of time, the origins of the universe itself, and the absolutes of the physical world - well, it starts to point to God. (not saying we should close our eyes to scientific investigation and say "it's just the way it is, and God did it, and we don't need to understand it").

I vaguely remember a couple of years ago, some guys broke headlines because they were able to transmit data faster than the speed of light. Not sure how it worked... probably tweaked a flux capacitor or something. :)