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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 21st year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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It's all about time

29 August 2012

Okay, today's column is a bit of pondering and will likely require you to free-up a bit of headspace.

I mentioned some time ago that I had considered a new model for our understanding of matter at a meta and nano level which might help blend Newtonian and quantum observations.

Well here's what I was thinking...

Firstly, let's try to get a grip on the concept of time.

Our sole experience of time is the gradual drift we're currently experiencing from past to future. Right now, at this instant, we're in "the present" -- oops, no -- missed it, that's now the past.

We are, for all intents and purposes, passengers on a raft that is drifting down this river of time -- powerless to change our heading or speed.

Well actually, if we could accelerate ourselves to very near the speed of light then we could actually change the speed at which *our* raft was drifting but, as we all know, that's not going to happen any time soon.

Secondly, we all know about Newtonian physics -- where objects behave in very predictable ways when subjected to carefully measured forces.

Indeed, the predictability of Newtonian physics is such that just a week or two ago, we were able to land another rover on the face of mars -- an incredible feat of marksmanship.

If you have known mass in a known position and apply a specified force for a pre-determined time then you can predict, with absolute accuracy, exactly where that mass will be at some time in the future. Easy peasy -- even high-school students can do this with little more than a pen and paper.

However, once we get down to a quantum level, all bets are off. At a sub-atomic level, certainty flies out the window and we have to deal with "probability".

Now there are plenty of quite reasonable theories to explain much of the observations we've made in the quantum world - but some things remain a mystery -- the relationship between quantum and Newtonian physics being particularly fertile ground for speculation rather than concrete proofs.

Well here's my "speculation"...

In most of the current theories, we tend to look at time as a constant. When you're drifting down the river of time, you seem to forget that perhaps that there might be alternatives.

To explain, I want you to take a very close look at the monitor on which you are reading this.

Note that the white of this page is actually made up of microscopic dots of colour - red, green and blue.

From normal reading distance, you can't see the individual colours so, although they are quite distinct entities, they blend (integrate) into a smooth shade. At a nano-level, your screen looks much different to the way it does at a macro level.

Another example of this is a sheet of glass. Run your hand over the surface and it feels] very smooth. However, examine it under a powerful enough microscope and you'll see that it is actually quite rough. At a nano level it appears dramatically different to the way it presents at a macro level.

Let's go back to the issue of time again...

We view time at a macro-level. Everything about us is attached to our raft and drifting down the river of time with us. It all feels very smooth (like that glass) and one second is just as long as the next.

But what if we descend to a sub-atomic level?

I wonder if time, instead of being the smooth flow we experience at this macro level might also be composed of a massive number of much smaller (sub-atomic) time domains?

Now imagine that these time domains are not all drifting at exactly the same speed along the river of time -- but moving at *different* speeds. Because we only view time at a macro level, this "roughness" or "buzz" in time is invisible to us -- just like those little dots on your monitor disappear at normal viewing distance. All the different time domains are integrated at a macro level -- so all we see is a smooth flow that represents the average of those movements.

So could it be that things behave very differently at quantum level because now we have particles so small that they are directly subjected to the individual, highly variable time domains that make up the stream we see as "time"?

Might objects in the quantum world appear to disappear and reappear (as if by magic) simply because they are shifting between time domains? These subatomic particles not only move in space but also in time -- at a rate that is not at the same as our integrated real-time.

Just as a river may have micro-eddies and vortices's that won't affect our raft but *will* affect a leaf or other suspended particles, so the river of time may well be composed of tiny vortices's and regions where the movement of time is different to the overall flow.

This might also explain things such as quantum entanglement -- perhaps it's not a matter entanglement but simply a case of the very same particle being in two places at the same time -- at least from the perspective of those sitting on the raft.

So long as we think of time as an immutable, smooth, constant, the rift between the quantum and macro worlds becomes hard to resolve. If we instead, consider time to be a seething mass of microdomains oscillating at random but *all* drifting in the same general direction -- then perhaps a different insight may be possible.

Of course this theory also raises some interesting prospects --

Imagine if you could filter or cluster similar or identical time domains together in one place -- might that allow for true time-travel?

Yes, wild stuff -- most improbable -- but perhaps interesting to ponder.

I now cast this ill-formed "possibility" to the Aardvark audience for critique, destruction and general booting around ;-)

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