Today’s Top Science Headline –“There is No Past or Future” (WATCH Video)

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The smooth “flow” of time is an illusion, that “The events of the world do not form an orderly queue like the English, they crowd around chaotically like the Italians,” says Carlo Rovelli, an Italian theoretical physicist who wants to make the uninitiated grasp the excitement of his field. The concept of time, he says, “has lost layers one after another, piece by piece”. We are left with “an empty windswept landscape almost devoid of all trace of temporality … a world stripped to its essence, glittering with an arid and troubling beauty”.

Time, Einstein long ago showed, continues Charlotte Higgins in her interview with Rovelli in The Guardian, is relative – time passes more slowly for an object moving faster than another object, for example. In this relative world, an absolute “now” is more or less meaningless. Time, then, is not some separate quality that impassively flows around us. Time is, in Rovelli’s words, “part of a complicated geometry woven together with the geometry of space”.



For Rovelli, there is more: according to his theorizing, time itself disappears at the most fundamental level. His theories ask us to accept the notion that time is merely a function of our “blurred” human perception. We see the world only through a glass, darkly; we are watching Plato’s shadow-play in the cave. According to Rovelli, our undeniable experience of time is inextricably linked to the way heat behaves. In The Order of Time, he asks why can we know only the past, and not the future? The key, he suggests, is the one-directional flow of heat from warmer objects to colder ones. An ice cube dropped into a hot cup of coffee cools the coffee. But the process is not reversible: it is a one-way street, as demonstrated by the second law of thermodynamics.

Time is also, as we experience it, a one-way street. He explains it in relation to the concept of entropy – the measure of the disordering of things. Entropy was lower in the past. Entropy is higher in the future – there is more disorder, there are more possibilities. The pack of cards of the future is shuffled and uncertain, unlike the ordered and neatly arranged pack of cards of the past. But entropy, heat, past and future are qualities that belong not to the fundamental grammar of the world but to our superficial observation of it.

“If I observe the microscopic state of things,” writes Rovelli, “then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between ‘cause’ and ‘effect’.”

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