Thursday, July 22, 2004

What time is it?

With Stephen Hawking changing some of his views on what happens when a black hole swallows us, I guess I want to think out loud about some of my more recent crazier notions. First of all, as prologue, I'm not sure that what Hawking means is that a human body would come out of a black hole, even in unrecognizable form. What I gather he is saying is that the energy that makes up the mass of our bodies that would return but in a form not as we were, more like Slim (credit to Wally McRae's "Reincarnation"). It would not be matter, but energy, like the hologram form most of us can be thought of if you look deeply into matter. But it is physicists' uses of time that I like to look at. It started with reading in Scientific American some months ago an essay on time that discussed, among other things, the question of why we can only go forward in time. I think that to explain that we have to look at what time is. Despite the fact that it can be used in mathematics as a special dimension of the universe, I suggest time is actually our definition of the process of change. One reason why physicists often say that time began with the Big Bang (under current theories which I understand may be in the process of being modified) is that time cannot occur unless there is change. In an unchanging universe there can be no time. The dial of a clock would not turn, the electrons in an atom would not go around the nucleus. Nothing would ever change. Humans who existed (which would not be possible in such a universe) would be like statues without wind, rain or pigeons. If time is a fourth dimension outside the process of change, we could potentially return to some point in the past; but if time, as I suggest, is only a way to look at change, like a yardstick is a way to look at distance, then it is too integral to the process of change to reverse. Thus, the only way to go is forward.

Secondly, I think that we also have to realize when dealing with time that none of us can be aware of existing in the present. We existed in the past but we exist not in the present but the future. Even as we think that this is the present, the heart beats again and the blood flows to a new point and where we were is the past and we are in that point's future. Some people have suggested that time exists in packets, like photons of light, and if that is true then I suppose time would have a tick-tock present. But I believe that time is seamless, as a measurement of change which is ongoing, and that we then cannot ever be in what we define as the present. Now, I'm not sure if this is really crazy thinking or if there is some significance here. But I think the concept that time is a measurement can be used to explain why people at different speeds, such as one at the speed of light in space and one on earth, will record a difference in time. If you go faster, change occurs at a more rapid rate. You go faster into the future so it arrives sooner than it does for someone going significantly slower. I would suggest in addition, that the future consists of light. In other words, one cannot be aware of change except in the presence of the energy of light. One additional thought about time being a measurement of change is that one day by the clock does not always fit into the actual rotation of the earth. Airplanes and space ships and radio and television stations sometimes have to adjust to compensate for a few seconds longer in a day to prevent being off course or offering dead air. (This surprised me when I read it in an article, I think in Time.) And I wish I had the math to work this out.


Blogger BurningKrome said...

Hey Chuck :-) (Smirking smile for those in the know)!

Some great thoughts on time and Hawking’s latest “defeat” regarding black holes! One of the things I find so fascinating about Hawking’s work, is the fact that we are discussing things about which it is impossible to wrap our brains around. I reminded of a computer program I saw early in the 80’s…where a team of scientists attempted to visualize 4 dimensions (technically 5 dimensions…as will be explained below.)

In their attempt to “visualize” the next physical dimension (fourth physical, or fifth total) they proceeded along the following lines…

When we, as three dimensional beings, walk in the sun…we cast a shadow. The shadow cast is, of course, two dimensional; having only width and breadth (or, technically, three dimensional having width[W], breadth[B] and movement…or time[T].) We, understanding four dimensions (W x B x height[H] and time[T]) can use this three dimensional shadow (W x B x T) to interpolate what the true shape of the object is.

SO…based on this theory, they wrote a program to simulate the 4 dimensional shadow (W x B x H x T) of a 5 dimensional object. It ended up looking, of course, like a wonderfully artistic bunch of squiggly nonsense...thus, exemplifying my understanding of Steven Hawking :-)

With this in mind, my thoughts on subject one…black holes. My understanding of the recent statement by Hawking that “…information CAN escape a black hole…” (see is that INFORMATION about objects in a black hole can escape…but not the items themselves. Previously, Hawking stipulated that not only could the objects sucked into a black hole never be retrieved…but information about the objects also could not be retrieved.

This was controversial as there is a premise in Physics that the past can always be reconstructed from observing the present…as well as the information we receive as the present moves into the future. The analogy offered is as follows …

We are standing in a field, and turn just in time to see a baseball flying at high speed towards our head. Using our in depth understanding of gravity, wind resistance, mass and energy we can…in that split second…determine both where the object was in the immediate past (above us and away about 50 feet) and where it will be in the next second (our face.) We have, based on the available information, made “predictions” about the past and the future of the object. We then hit the grass with a peaceful concussion likely to remove our deeply ingrained understanding of the laws of physics.

My understanding of Steven Hawking’s initial statement was, since light and no other externally observable data about the contents of the black hole, including its own event horizon, could escape the hole…all information about the objects within is lost as well. This analogy would be a hot piece of lead (God I love analogies).

A molten piece of lead is “untouchable” (like items in a black hole.) However, external observations about the piece of lead allow us to make determinations and predictions. I.E. It is red hot…this infers a temperature, as well as a state of solidity. The external heat we feel on our face confirms this. Based, again, on our understanding of physics, we can accurately predict…what color it will be in 60 seconds…what shape it will be, its temperature, is solidity, ETC.

However, lets say that the piece of molten lead is still sitting right in front of us, but for some reason we could not see it, feel it, smell it, or hear it (say because unimaginable gravitational forces were sucking the light, heat and air right back to the object with such incredible force that there appeared to be nothing but a “black” spot in the furnace.) We could determine nothing about the object. We would not know if it is lead, hot, cold, small, big, dense or whatever. The object is still there, but no information can be retrieved about it.

Apparently, Mr. Hawking no longer believes this…however, I will have to buy his next book, and lose endless hours of sleep in frustration, in my attempt to understand why…

Next…time. Mr. Hawking believes time to be a physical presence, like light, heat, ETC. even unto the possibility that time itself could be “trapped” in a black hole. Much of this is based on the observable data that the faster an object moves through space, the slower its local timeline will go. I.E. You leave on a light-speed spacecraft for a three-hour-tour…only to return to your young wife, now 85 years old. Chuck’s observations of clocks needing to be re-set is an accurate one. In fact, the atomic clock in Boulder, Co. loses a small fraction of a nano-second each year, theoretically due to the movement of the earth through space (Wired Magazine, August 2003…I think.)

The mathematical precision of this prediction, when correlated to the observed data (see also infers that physical space and “physical” time are inexorably linked. Perhaps a better example of this is the Barn-Pole paradox (also the Bug-Rivet paradox…see ) which states that not only is the speed of an object directly affecting the timeline of the object, but the physical shape and properties of the object...including its mass. It also throws in the wrench of stating that the distortion of time and space due to speed is directly influenced by the perspective of the observer…whether the object is moving at the speed of light in relation to the observer, or vice versa.

So, the question remains…is time a process, a physical presence, or an observable concept? When our mythical space traveler is nearing the speed of light, is he moving forward into time…or have his internal mechanisms simply slowed down such that 50 years worth of travel appears to him as 30 minutes (I.E. Sudden Animated Suspension Syndrome?) All this is moot, of course, because his mass has squashed him into the size of a pea. I guess the tootsie-pop commercial was right after all…

“The world may never know…”

Now, my brain hurts…

3:02 PM  
Blogger Chuck Rightmire said...

Thanks Burning Krome, I like what you said and I think that's the finest explication of black hole theory that I've seen. Stephen Hawking didn't say it better. Now, the only thing we have to determine is how does the twisted information of the lead. Maybe it runs out the back door? I saw a photo accompanying someone trying to explain it with just that image. But where does it go then? And I think you are confirming, from perhaps better sources, where I am coming from (and maybe more solid information).

7:02 PM  

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