“is time an illusion?” (The grand design part 7)

I’m feeling very much out of my depth now as I start chapter 7 of professor Hawking’s new book. He has promised much and I  don’t want to miss it. I take a deep breath and start reading. The chapter begins by talking about various creation myths. After looking at what the people of Boshongo believe the Christian young earth view comes under fire:

“According to the Old Testament” God created Adam and Eve only 6 days into the creation. Bishop Ussher…placed the origin of the world even more precisely, at nine in the morning on October 27, 4004 BC. We take a different view: that humans are a recent creation but that the universe itself began much earlier, about 13.7 billion years ago.”

I would have preferred him to say “according to some interpretations of the Old testament” but it’s true a literal six (24 hour) day creation is an obvious immediate interpretation of what the opening chapters say.

“Creation myths all attempt to answer the questions we address in this book: why is there a universe, and why is the universe the way it is?”

Ok here is the “why”. Where has this jump been made from how to why? The “myths” make that jump by looking to a mind or minds. A God or gods decided something, planned something, or did something for a purpose. But anyway, what’s next:

Edwin Hubble

Fred Hoyle

Hubble “saw” that the universe was expanding (although the forces keep objects in it the same size). In 1949 the term “big bang” was coined by Fred Hoyle to describe the theoretical singularity at the start. But models like Einstein’s theory of relativity break down there and so may not provide “a true picture of the origin of the universe”.

Interestingly enough the expansion of the universe is not limited by the speed of light. It can expand much much faster and there is evidence that in fact it did. Anyway, now we get to the heart of the matter. He says when you combine quantum theory with general relativity (has that been done?) time acts as the other three dimensions of space. Just like water does not fall off the edges of the earth because the earth is spherical, and just like there is no point south of the south pole, there is no beginning of time and no need for God to start the ball rolling or to “light the blue touch paper”.

I’m reading the paragraphs many times now and not getting it. Either there is not enough information here to process this or my brain can’t get round it. How did he just magic time away? Where does the directional aspect of time come from? Is it just subjective? Are we sure enough of this to dismiss our moment by moment experience that time is in fact real and uni-directional?

He gives an analogy of bubbles being formed in a liquid, each bubble representing a different universe with its own constants, numbers of large dimensions (the others get curled up) and lifetime before disappearing. We have observed that ours has three large dimensions, so those universes with more or less need no longer be considered when doing the Feynman sum. (You have to think back to the single particle going through either of the two slits and impacting on a screen the other side. The interference pattern produced is explained by considering all the paths that the particle might have taken. Observe which slit the particle actually goes through and you can ignore the effect of the other slit. Observe something in our universe and we no longer need to consider all the other possibilities. Observation changes past and future reality in that sense….I think!)

As I finish this chapter I feel frustrated. I have not understood it. There was one paragraph that claimed to say why we don’t need God to start things off but I have too many questions to engage with it in a meaningful way.

There are two chapters to go. Maybe I’ll just read on and see if things get clearer. If not I’ll come back and read this all again!

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