“End of Time” Redux

Scott Virden Anderson Blog


In recent weeks, I’ve found myself contemplating again a key point I came to in the discussion section of “The Subjectoscope” – how reality could consist of a vast assembly of Planckian Instants.  There I referred to theoretical physicist Julian Barbour’s 2001 Oxford Press volume, The End of Time.

Comes in this week’s New Scientist magazine a lovely article by Amanda Gefter — “Time’s Up” — about the work of French physicist Carlo Rovelli and his colleagues along similar lines. (I hope it is not “cheating” to give here a link to a recent posting of the article at scribd.com).


Rovelli first described a “relational” interpretation of Quantum Mechanics – RQM – in 1994 (a nice picture of which is outlined in the wikipedia entry.)  The basic approach is “observer dependent,” meaning the presumption that the quantum system includes the observer – in stark contrast to standard QM interpretations in which the observer, presumed to be “outside the quantum system”, enters into the picture from the “classical world” via the “act of measurement.”

The term “relational” here refers to there being a quantum state, to be described by the theory, consisting of the relationship between the observing subject and the observed object. Rovelli thus dispenses with the notion of “classical world” and assumes that all states are quantum states.

Gefter’s article begins by outlining the ferment in contemporary physics regarding the difficulties that have come to light in efforts to reconcile General Relativity at the largest cosmic scales with Quantum Mechanics at the smallest scales – the search for a theory of “quantum gravity.”  Evidently, the notion that time itself may not be fundamental, hinted at by Einstein’s notion of space-time, is increasingly being taken seriously.

Rovelli and his colleagues have worked on a way to do QM without time.  They are trying to retain the theoretical strength of QM – proven experimentally so extraordinarily robust as to convince virtually all physicists of its validity – while at the same time, re-interpreting it in a way that might allow a deeper reconciliation with General Relativity.

What happens then to time as we know it?  It becomes a statistical property of large ensembles of timeless “relations.” Drawing the analogy to temperature, this is referred to as the “thermal time hypothesis.”  Temperature is undefined on the smallest scales – there all we have are particles in motion.  Likewise, time is undefined on the smallest scales – and here all we have are quantum systems of relations between observers and their “objects.”

The theoretical work on this has progressed to the point where RQM is being called “a very beautiful idea,” “conceptually elegant, and ontologically parsimonious.” Considerable detail and discussion of all this can be found on the web.

This is an important development for the Yoga Science.  It strikes me as an increasingly robust “Physics of the Tao” – to reverse Capra’s classic title.  It seems to fit beautifully with the speculations offered here:

The SummaTime Scale describes a sort of Planckian snapshot of the entire universe and of our most fundamental existence.  In that snapshot is captured an instantaneous configuration of everything that we are and experience.  The entire universe is “present,” in some fundamental sense, to us, and as us, in every such snap.

Consider: in the “time” it takes a photon to cross the diameter of a proton, there are roughly some Avogadro’s number (~6.02 x 10exp23) of such Planckian Instants. “Thermal time” thus would seem to have plenty of statistics to work with even on what we ordinarily consider as “quantum” scales.

Consider too the countless references in the contemplative, spiritual, and esotericist traditions to “the timeless present” – described as the very content of the Summum Bonum, “Nondual Realization,” The State of Enlightenment.

Meanwhile, Rovelli’s work also points a possible way toward the development a fundamental theoretical understanding of the “diachronic” processes that occur “over time” via a robust theory of time itself.  This could blossom in the future into a robust theoretical foundation for all our “developmental” and “evolutionary” sciences.

Things seen through the “Subjectoscope” seem to be getting a bit sharper.