Notes: Musings on Time and the Other

I will probably be adding some follow up notes on the previous post, Musings on Time and the Other, for some time because I think I crammed a lot into that post. I think more needs to be developed for clarity and for my musing desires.

In the previous post, I discussed the Block Universe. The Block Universe is an accepted concept in some of the main traditions of Einstein’s revolutionary paradigm. It is a static, deterministic acceptance of Einstein’s referential frames of reference. It also may seem to counter some of the heterogenous pluralities in temporality and the other which I likened to music. This deserves to get fleshed out a little more.

The idea of space-time is a radical and non-intuitive concept of reality. It continually requires an effort against ‘common sense’ which prefers a more historic narrative of absolute time and space in which time is one dimensional and space is three dimensional and each are radically different. This could not be further from the truth. Time and space are the SAME thing. ‘Thing’ is a rich historic concept which extends all the way back to the Latinization of the Greek notion of phusis (physics). The Romans translated ousia as substance but the ancient Greeks notion of ousia was much closer to our notion of ‘being’. For the ancient Greeks, time and space had not been separated into distinct notions of substance which ‘common sense’ thinks presently. However, the seeds of this transformation were certainly in various schools of the ancient Greek world. Time and space belonged to what we think today as being. This is why Aristotle could write of phusis and what the Latin world called meta- phusis (metaphysics) without thinking about them as radically separate in the notation as “meta” but simply as further investigations of first causes into ‘isness’ or reality as we deem it.

In the notion of space-time, we are beginning to return again to a unity of time and space. Contemporaneously in this radical physics which began in the 19th century and culminated in the early 20th century with Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, philosophy also systematically dismantled a lot of the absolute subject/object dichotomy as abstract and artifacts of Newton’s paradigm of absolute time and space. Actually, this began with Kant and Hegel in the mid-18th century. In effect, philosophy has once again rejoined phusis and ousia into Aristotle’s notion of being. Presently, philosophy has even taken steps further which are not in the scope of my current concern. So how can a Block Universe have anything in common with the dynamic universe I wrote about in the previous post?

One of the concerns of post-modern philosophy is narrative and what gets marginalized in the narrative but remains essential to the dominate narrative which Derrida calls logocentrism. Like it or not we have narratives which aid us in taking on the task of illuminative the difficult notion of space-time. The Block Universe is a way of highlighting the spatial aspects of time. First, there is no referential frame in the sense of an absolute standard frame. All spatial-temporal frames of space-time are relative to each other – period. The Block Universe prefers spatial adjectives over temporal adjectives. In each of these frames, physics has made extraordinary achievements in accuracy, prediction, and repeatability. This is why we can send satellites to Pluto and beyond using much of its thrust in the form of gravity. We understand the physics of these referential frames exceedingly well.

There are a few physical constants which physics has high confidence in; that they do not change in what we understand of the universe currently. These constants are:

The speed of light c, which defines the unit of space given the unit of time.

Planck’s constant, , which defines the unit of mass-energy in terms of the unit of inverse time.

Newton’s constant, which defines the unit of mass-energy in terms of the unit of space (and in conjunction with the other two, fixes a unique unit of mass, length, and time, the Planck units)

Boltzmann’s constant, which defines the Kelvin in terms of the Joule.

electromagnetic constants, which define the unit of charge

Since these purely numeric constants emerged shortly after the Big Bang, they seem to have been the same since. However, nothing can be said about whether there really was a Big Bang and not a Big Bounce for instance and how they emerged as evolving or eternally present in some pseudo philosophical-religious fashion which physics want nothing to do with. Physics also thinks that the Planck constant (6.62607015 × 10-34) is the ratio of the energy of a photon to the frequency of a photon. Nothing smaller than this is conceivable in Physics.

String theory which plays once again on my music analogy in the previous post is physics on the Planck level. It is currently inconceivable how it could ever be proven but remains as a mathematical explanation of reality on the smallest possible level. Getting back to the Block Universe and referential space-time frames, these constants have been proven to establish physics as we currently understand it. They have pragmatic use but cannot give us any information about reality other than that. Quantum gravity is an undertaking which may revolutionize these constants and physics and unite the quantum world with the macro-space-time world but that remains to be determined. The Block Universe are referential frames where the constants are highly reliable.

The Block Universe has referential realities which are dynamic and mind-boggling, but time is not a ‘thing’ which connects these spatially frames as if to harken back to the absolute difference of space and time. When we say it is static and deterministic, we are referring to the known laws of physics and these physical constants which determine their behavior. So, space-time is static and deterministic in this sense. However, the notions of static and deterministic are reflections of currently known behavior and not statements of absolute fact. When we bring in the quantum world and its absolutely inherent, precise unpredictability we are left with an as of yet indeterminate distance between the predictable certainty of the macro universe and the uncertainty of the quantum universe. Additionally, dark energy is thought to comprise 73% of all mass and energy in the universe and dark matter is thought to comprise another 23% of the universe leaving only 4% to comprise everything else where our high confidence in physics resides. There is also speculation that parallel universes would have no obligation whatsoever to our known physics. There may be endless radically different varieties of physics.

When it comes to the Big Bang and Black Holes, the magnitudes of energy and mangling of conceivability is so extreme, we have likely come to the edge of our presently knowable physics. Singularities are deemed by most physicists as mathematical hyphens which hold the place for something yet to be determined.

My musings are aimed at how narrative to some extent fashions and determines the boundary conditions of our paradigms. I understand why we think of referential frames as having a high amount of certainty in macro-physics. However, I wonder if we have made ‘discretes’ or quanta out of referential frames which may be a bit artificial and abstract. We know, as I mention in my musings, that each of us is wrapped in a physical and measurable space-time bubble which is a result of our mass and certainly shapes our lived time and space AND conditions our historic and linguistic narratives. While I see the usefulness of referential frames in macro-physics, I see no reason why these frames cannot be further divided into quanta and minutia of ‘frames’ which at some point show the macro-frame boundaries as artificial and pragmatically imposed AND may further obfuscate a foundationless footing of other possibilities which are not essentially discrete. It may be that their usefulness has more to do with a pragmatic narrative than a physical reality.

While physics has had a much longer tradition of thinking energy in terms of macro-observations, we are now faced with its radical alterity on the micro-quantum reality. If we stick with the narrative, we are faced with two absolutely dichotomous realities – the large and the small. Some might even suggest phallic but let’s not go there. One avenue of investigation has not so much to do with energy as it has to do with space and time and how energy alone can account for it. With the Higgs Bosom we have completed our current idea of the Standard Model (quantum mechanics). Somehow the Higgs is thought to give mass to what otherwise would travel at the speed of light and be changeless and eternal in the ancient idea of phusis and ousia – the unmoved mover. It seems in physics what we are left with are pragmatic but artificially imposed narratives on referential frames which somehow can be transformed into quantum uncertainties and massless particles OR we must simply admit reality is schizophrenic.

Whatever space-time is seemingly has some inherent distance to ‘stuff’, ‘things’ and, really, anything we commonly think of as solid. Actually, ‘solid’ is a panacea we use from historic narrative to make us think we know something fundamental about the sea of reality we live and breathe and have our being in. It may be that in various levels of transformation we can no longer ascribe reality to the subject of an object but have to think of it as much more interactive and even question the fundamental distinction of idea and reality. This is not to suggest reality is whatever we think it is since what we commonly think seems to have a lot more to do with historic narrative and language than some ‘real’ X which we assume cannot be questioned with any seriousness. Space is not just an abstract notion of physics but may also be the place where we find an end to place as represented by the possibility of the impossibility of death as our ownmost in Heideggerian terms or homelessness, inability to be able, radical alterity in Levinas’ thinking.

What we are left with is what Hesiod tells us to start with, the void, the yawning gap. Rather than a ‘reality’ home, we are left with a question which can find no answer except in how we gracefully and ethically live in its shadow OR impose our feigned sense of power on illusions of grandeur which fade as mists in eternity. When we welcome the stranger, the unknown, we welcome ourselves, our plight with beauty which remains as questions of wonder and obligation. Our place-lessness coincides with a space and time which we cannot own, dominate, or have power over but invites us to decide indebtedness and desire for unfathomable other.


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