Friday, February 7, 2014

Of Space-Time and Clock Towers

by Len Hart

Brian Greene is an American theoretical physicist and string theorist. A professor at Columbia University since 1996, Greene has worked on mirror symmetry.

As a result, he believes that in “infinite” universes, the number of ways in which matter can arrange itself is infinite. Eventually, a “universe” is repeated. Such a parallel universe would look very much like the one we live in. Therefore, Greene says: if the universe is infinitely large, it is also home to infinite parallel universes.

As a string theorist, he believes that apparent conflicts between current cosmology (Relativity theory) and quantum mechanics is resolved with string theory –his 'specialty' for the past 25 years. Greene believes that the entire universe is explained with small strings vibrating in as many as 11 dimensions.

Moreover, within our single universe time is relative to where you are and how fast you are going at any given instant. Therefore, time is always local even within the single universe we live in. For example, time is slower for anyone who is moving. As Einstein demonstrated, time stops for anyone traveling at light speed.

Einstein imagined a street car leaving the clock tower in Bern. As long as his speed was less than that of light, the clock viewed from the street car would appear to be moving forward, marking the 'forward' progress of time. But –should the street car exceed the speed of light, the hands of the clock would appear to go backward as the street car –velocities faster than that of light –actually catches up with and passes light beams.

This effect can be simulated with an oscillator or an old 33 and a third RPM album turntable with a disc of concentric hash marks calibrated to appear stationary under florescent (pulsing) light. If the turntable is too slow, the hash marks will appear to rotate in one direction. If the rotation is too fast, the marks will appear to move in the opposite direction. At the desired turntable speed, the hashmarks will appear absolutely motionless. By the same token, time STOPS for one traveling at the speed of light.

The downside is that many other unfortunate things will happen to you at that speed. So –don't try this at home or without the supervision of experts. You are safe if you confine your experiments to an old 33 1/3 RPM turntable and some old Rolling Stone LPs.

A few years ago, Julian Barbour “shook up” readers of “Discover” magazine when he denied the existence of “time”. He may be correct. Interestingly, he is consistent with Einstein. Einstein posits that time is merely one's local' movement relative to the speed of light. Young Einstein lived in Bern (Switzerland) where he worked at the patent office. He often took the tram home in a direction away from the famous Bern clock tower. He imagined how the clock might appear should his tram exceed light speed. He immediately concluded that the hands on the clock tower would appear to move backward relative to the forward movement perceived by pedestrians on either side of the street. The explanation is simple: at faster than light travel, the tram overtakes that light that had previously left the tower. One looking back at the tower would see the hands run backward.

That, of course, is a dramatic example that drives home the point for anyone daring to imagine faster-than-light trams. The conclusion is simpler: time is different for every person occupying a different space from every other person. For that matter, time differs from every point to every other point in the universe.

Barbour believes the past, present and future all exist in what may be called a timeless 'super-verse'. Barbour posits a series of “NOWS” like individual frames on a motion picture film strip. 'Nows' exist for actual events but, interestingly, many 'nows' are alternate possibilities, i.e, virtual universes.

This view is consistent with Einstein's analogy re: the Bern clock tower. To use Barbour's film strip analogy, NOW is a single frame, the universe –the entire film strip. Parallel universes may be compared to alternate "film strips", thus Barbour's views are consistent with Greene's idea of "parallel" universes.

If Barbour's timeless universe is a film-strip, then Greene's parallel universes are a shelf full of film-strip canisters –each containing a feature-length film. In this case the feature-length movie is the universe as it unfolds.

Man, Myth and Magic

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

Forbidden Planet is a classic Sci-Fi tour de force staring Leslie Nielson, Walter Pidgeon, and Anne Francis. Released in 1956, it holds up surprisingly well against Star Wars, the Star Trek series and even the most recent digital entries into the genre.

The story of Dr. Morbius, re-discovering the technological marvels of a lost race of Krell on the distant planet Altair, is updated Shakespeare: The Tempest. Forbidden Planet excels in special effects, but it's enduring fascination is to be found in it story --a parable of technology vs its inventor, the monster vs Dr. Frankenstein, the enemy of our own making.

Forbidden Planet shows us the dark side of human kind, a forbidding gestalt of uncontrollable urges that lies within all of us --a monster from the ID! Even intelligence —seemingly papered over the more powerful id —cannot negate our darkest, deepest reservoirs. Just as Lord of the Rings depicts the absolute corruption of absolute power,

Forbidden Planet confronts us with a question we would rather not answer: what are we to do with the physical manifestations of our inmost monsters?

Far fetched? Consider this: what are nuclear weapons if not the "physical manifestations" of our darkest, unconscious impulses?

Is "Terrorism" a Monster From the ID?

It was stated on the internet that the U.S. is hated by 100% of terrorists. Aside from being an amusing tautology, it misses the point. FBI statistics, for example, published by the Brookings Institution, utterly repudiate the political exploitation of terror.

The FBI's own numbers are conclusive: while Ronald Reagan waged his famous "War on Terrorism", terrorist attacks against the United States increased. Terrorist attacks were many times greater under Reagan than Clinton. Yet Clinton is criticized for not having waged such a war, if war it is. It raises the question: is it preferable to wage a war and fail than not wage a war and succeed?

Like Morbius of Forbidden Planet, we may be too late to recognize that the only demons that howl are of our own making. Shakespeare's The Tempest deals with the same question: what does it mean to be human? The traditions of the enlightenment, and more recently, of Existentialism, come down heavily on the side of the fully realized individual --free to be human within the context of a free society.

How oddly quaint and surrealistically naive that seems after a mere two years of debacle and the unleashed madness of the monsters from the Id.