Archive for November 8th, 2010


What’s the difference between a theoretical physicist and me?

For starters, in the last third of my life I’m writing a book about wild sex, but can only dream of getting a grip on mathematical formulas, while today’s premier theoretical physicist … also of a certain age … publishes volumes based on complicated math, and can only dream about wild sex.

Yes, I’m notoriously crap with numbers and Stephen Hawking has ALS.

I would never presume to have anything in my head that comes anywhere close to the vast stores of knowledge the professor carries around. The man is a genius whose dumbing-down for the masses even gives me a massive headache.

I have read “A Brief History of Time” … many times … yet still can’t even begin to wrap my head around a black hole, those massive light-gravity-time suckers that he not only understands, but can prove.

Nope. I’m a simple poet; a writer of fluff and nonsense and speeches and status updates, a mere mortal handicapped from birth with a math aversion.

So … there are some differences.

But, what’s the same? We both dream. And we both think. We both ponder.

And one of the things we ponder separately in our parallel universes … his being the rarified atmosphere of academia, while mine is this island … is time.

Over the past days I’ve been watching all the YouTube vids available on the Professor, the topic of time and his theories on traveling through it and have come up with another difference between us.

Professor Hawking sees time travel as an eventual possibility given the physics involved and future potential for building the sort of equipment necessary to take advantage of the laws of the universe and travel fast enough to hit the groove of time’s warping.

I see it as a sure thing for every one of us as soon as we manage to get rid of the sort of equipment that makes it impossible.

Although I have no doubt that he’s spot on with the numbers, it seems the Prof is missing the point … or, rather, making a point that will end up being rather pointless, which is, after all, what theoretical science is often about, adding to the wealth of knowledge humans can mull.

One thing science knows is that the law says nothing in the universe can travel faster than light; Hawking puts this well within even my grasp when he clearly signposts 186,000 miles per second as the universal speed limit. Interestingly, anything approaching that speed has funny things happening to time, and as Einstein so succinctly put it with his E = mc2 thingy — go that fast and you’re no longer you, but the energy of you, which is kind of the same, but different. Go just a bit slower and you’re still you, but what passes for a year in some places happens in a week.

The equation E = mc2 indicates that energy always exhibits mass in whatever form the energy takes. Mass–energy equivalence also means that mass conservation becomes a restatement, or requirement, of the law of energy conservation, which is the first law of thermodynamics. Mass–energy equivalence does not imply that mass may be “converted” to energy, and indeed implies the opposite. Modern theory holds that neither mass nor energy may be destroyed, but only moved from one location to another. In physics, mass must be differentiated from matter, a more poorly defined idea in the physical sciences. Matter, when seen as certain types of particles, can be created and destroyed, but the precursors and products of such reactions retain both the original mass and energy, both of which remain unchanged (conserved) throughout the process.

Yeah … headache stuff, but stick with me …

So … mass / energy. What are we? At the moment, both, and that’s where the time travel thing goes tricky. Check this:

“The brain is the ‘local’ creator of time, space and space-time as our special maps of reality we ‘observe’ and participate in” (Catalin et al., 2005). “Time is a fundamental dimension of life. It is crucial for decisions about quantity, speed of movement and rate of return, as well as for motor control in walking, speech, playing or appreciating music, and participating in sports. Traditionally, the way in which time is perceived, represented and estimated has been explained using a pacemaker–accumulator model that is not only straightforward, but also surprisingly powerful in explaining behavioral and biological data. However, recent advances have challenged this traditional view. It is now proposed that, the brain represents time in a distributed manner and tells the time by detecting the coincidental activation of different neural populations (Hitchcock, 2003).

Linear time “past-present-future” is psychological time. Physical time is run of clocks in a space. Motion that we experience through psychological time happens in space that is timeless; past, present and future do not exist in space. There is no physical time existing behind run of clocks.

Somethings to think on …

The brain creates time. Space is timeless. “Matter, when seen as certain types of particles, can be created and destroyed, but the precursors and products of such reactions retain both the original mass and energy, both of which remain unchanged (conserved) throughout the process.”

And the kicker: Time is a fundamental dimension of life.

Yep. There’s the key to time travel … kick the life habit.

The body of knowledge gathered from Near Death Experiences, a misnomer since the peeps reporting back were not near death but dead, suggest the limits imposed by our biology.

A recent study by Dr. Sam Parnia (despite his acknowledgment that he was initially a skeptic), shows that such patients are “effectively dead”, with their brains shut down and no thoughts or feelings possible for the complex brain activity required for dreaming or hallucinating; additionally, to rule out the possibility that near-death experiences resulted from hallucinations after the brain had collapsed through lack of oxygen, Parnia rigorously monitored the concentrations of the vital gas in the patients’ blood, and found that none of those who underwent the experiences had low levels of oxygen. He was also able to rule out claims that unusual combinations of drugs were to blame because the resuscitation procedure was the same in every case, regardless of whether they had a near-death experience or not. According to Parnia, “Arch sceptics will always attack our work. I’m content with that. That’s how science progresses. What is clear is that something profound is happening. The mind – the thing that is ‘you’ – your ‘soul’ if you will – carries on after conventional science says it should have drifted into nothingness.”

Although Richard Dawkins would disagree with my self-evaluation, I consider myself an atheist. Dawkins, you see, considers us nothing more than our biology, when I see our physical form the least of us but having more to do with science than anything god-given.

What the heck, heh? It’s a Jedi master that sums it up in my book:

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.

Okay, Yoda is very much not Stephen Hawking, and the limits of the imagination that created him still have that future depending on flying machines. (We’re hooked on gadgets, we are … and I’d blame it on being a boy thing, and could be right about that. Look back at visions of the future past and recognize that we’re not getting around in flying cars, but we ARE connected by the millions, and what comic book ever had Skype superheroes?)

Machines are still where the mind goes because we’ve yet to get a grip on the fact that when the mind goes we have no need of the bloody machines. We are no more our brains, nor our brains us, than our hearts are the repository of our love.

Given the brevity of the human lifespan, it’s no wonder that the idea of traveling through time during it captures the imagination. Truth is, though, I suspect, that it’s old hat to us as we bounce around in time and space, but beyond our capacity to recall … seeing the home movies we have of vacation from flesh and bone only run in our sleep.


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