The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Time: Where?

Once the very essence of Time had been doubted, scientists began to doubt even its existence.

The British physicists Arthur Milne and Paul Dirac are two of the scientists who wondered if the shaky character of modern Physics may be due to the fact that there are two different types of time and that we tend to confuse them. Both maintained that atomic time and astronomical time may be out of sync. In other words, the speeds of planets slowly change all the time in terms of atomic time, although they remain the same in terms of astronomical time. A day on Earth is a day regardless of the speed of the Earth, but it may be lasting less and less according to an atomic clock. In particular, the age of the universe may have been vastly exaggerated because it is measured in astronomical time and astronomical processes were greatly speeded up in the early stages of the universe.

Not to leave anything untried, the US physicist Richard Feynman even argued in favor of matter traveling backwards in time: an electron that turns into a positron (its anti-particle) is simply an electron that turns back in time. His teacher John Wheeler even argued that maybe all electrons are just one electron, bouncing back and forth in time; and so all other particles. There is only one instance of each particle. That would also explain why all electrons are identical: they are all the same particle.

Einstein proved that Time is not absolute and said something about how we experience time in different ways depending on how we are moving. But he hardly explained what Time is. And nobody else ever has.

The British physicist Julian Barbour believes that Time does not exist, and that most of Physics' troubles arise from assuming that it does exist.  We have no evidence of the past other than our memory of it.  We have no evidence of the future other than our belief in it. Barbour believes that it is all an illusion: there is no motion and no change.  Instants and periods do not exist. What exists is only "time capsules", which are static containers of "records". Those records fool us into believing that things change and events happen. There exists a "configuration space" that contains all possible instants, all possible "nows".  This is "Platonia." We experience a set of these instants, i.e. a subset of Platonia. Barbour is inspired by Leibniz' theory that the universe is not a container of objects, but a collection of entities that are both space and matter.  The universe does not contain things, it "is" things.

Barbour does not answer the best part of the puzzle: who is deciding which "path" we follow in Platonia? Who is ordering the instants of Platonia? Barbour simply points to quantum mechanics, that prescribes we should always be in the "instant" that is most likely.  We experience an ordered flow of events because that is what we were designed for: to interpret the sequence of most likely instants as an ordered flow of events.

Barbour also offers a solution to integrating relativity and quantum mechanics: remove time from a quantum description of gravity.  Remove time from the equations. In his opinion, time is precisely the reason why it has proved so difficult to integrate relativity and quantum theories. 


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