Monday, 6 December 2010

The End of Time

Julian Barbour

I read this book after a discussion about ‘Continuous Creation’ at work -not the Fred Hoyle version, but the older one by (Locke or Hume?). This says that there is no cause and effect, god creates each instant anew and all memories are illusions.

Barbour’s position is similar, except that by getting rid of time he also gets rid of god. If I understand it correctly he proposes that all possible arrangements of everything just are, all at once, in a place he calls Platonia.  There’s a lot of descriptive (no maths), and interesting physics to justify this, which I think I managed to follow pretty well through special relativity until I got lost in Minkowski space. After that I was like a frog looking at a light from a great distance, the occasional photon would hit providing illumination, but it was a flicker or a flash now and then. Did you know that a frog can see individual photons, nor me.

It’s an interesting idea, formulated partly to get around the problem of specifying an initial state that bedevils mainstream physics. If things never start, or evolve then there is no initial state, just a set of configurations and what looks like time, as we experience it, is just a path through some of these configurations.

I think that the book is well worth reading, I like the concepts, the style and the explanations and it has inspired me to read more -and even to start relearning maths at Khan Academy. I’m not wholly convinced by the central idea, I can’t see how consciousness would exist in Platonia -but then I’m still nostalgically attached to cosmic aether.

More at Julian Barbour’s website :

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