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Is “time” a mystery !!

March 20, 2009

Mohan, mdashf


What does a good Physicist really think?? It may not sound like something which can be pondered over. It leads to vague answers if you are thinking through your posterior. Alas!, whatever be the meaning of that metaphor it’s a good analogy. It means lack of mind or simply a mind process.

Mind processes are immensely complex. Sometimes you discover “you have found an answer to that lingering piece of teaser your mind has been occupied with, well into a year altogether”. You have been into other activities while your mind has been into multitude of thoughts, solving paradoxes one by one.

Once I was in a well packed auditorium where a leading Physicist was giving a semi-popular talk, by that I mean it was still a very technical talk. I had heard the speaker talk about his work in a exclusively technical fashion a day before to an audience of few and necessarily those who “understand” the content.

But the environment in the popular version was heterogeneous. I had formed a will to attend the talk as the speaker was a renowned expert in his field. He was going to talk about recent advances in our understanding about the structure of space and time etc.

Despite of my interest I reached a bit late and sneaked into the back of the hall where a cop was deployed to keep a watch. He understood in a while that I am a very interested listener, I might just have given him a few weird movements.

I focused and found the ongoing talk very interesting although a bit too technical for my taste. After the talk was over there were plenty of questions and the speaker gave the questions a very good treatment answering as promptly as the questions were hurled.

As I understood at one point the speaker had talked about a problem he was encountering in his study about space-time. He was facing a problem of singularity due to some kind of non-linearity.

Somehow it occurred to me that the approach can be changed a little to see what’s happening. Just out of curiosity I asked if he had tried to change the definition of time a little bit, from our regular perception of linear time to a cleverly thought-out non-linear form of time.

[so that it still makes sense as a “good” definition of time, but by a principle of correspondence works well in the scale of any geodesic of interest and is consistent with a few equations of Physics as a good cross check measure]

It was a sinful pleasure to see the expressions of the speaker because that was a very good evidence for me that this problem hasn’t really been attacked in a effectively non-traditional way. The speaker wasn’t ready for such a question and literally couldn’t speak out a word. Tried a few times and then asked me to explain the question.

I explained further:

[honestly speaking I hadn’t said anything about correspondence principle or scale of geodesic but leaved it to the judgment of a good Physicist]

I tried to recollect a basic definition of time. I said “…that time has been defined based on a monochromatic atomic process. There is no reason as far as I can see why this can not be changed. There may or may not be a process that we know of that is non-monochromatic in nature, that is, a mix of many wavelengths.

After-all, time has been defined based on such a process and at the scale at which the structure of space-time is studied such a process can not be ruled out. We may gain further insight.

After the talk was over I had a chance to meet the speaker among a few more graduate student who inspired me to try such new ideas for serious investigation.

I asked the speaker if my question does make sense to him. He asked me to explain the question again. This time we were close enough and my explanations were convincing if not acceptable. After-all such a concept of time is what every serious student in college is aware of and I just happened to remember its relevance.

To my mind it was a big idea worth some study. The speaker tried to think more and answered me something which didn’t make much of an enthusiastic answer. He said “Well all we can say is time is a mystery” and rushed out.

That answer stuck in my mind for ever, I thought to myself I would never say something is a mystery when we know so much about it. And as Physicists that’s all our motivation is all about. Not only to find answers to mysteries but also to keep an enthusiasm for every crazy idea that hits us.

To me time is not a mystery. To me a force is a mystery. No matter how many forces we find Nature is so complex we are going to find yet another form of force. We know more about time than about force.

To me a theory of everything should be named a “Theories for everything” because there is no reason why there should be only one piece of theory that will explain everything.

To me, a string theory is like a bad dream. I believe there are many such loose thinking held with respect than good thinking that are oblivious. That’s where I differ with “the Physicists”.

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