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Time And The Indivisible World

September 29, 2013

I’d like to take a bit to share some thoughts on time.  This isn’t a strong opinion, but I lean in favor of a view where time doesn’t exist as a thing in and of itself.  Instead, maybe “we” bring it into existence as our consciousness navigates this eternal unity, which is the universe.  In reality, there is just an eternal now.


I’d like to a take few quotations from Erwin Schrodinger.

It is not possible that this unity of knowledge, feeling and choice which you call your own should have sprung into being from nothingness at a given moment not so long ago; rather this knowledge, feeling, and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable and numerically one in all men, nay in all sensitive beings. But not in this sense — that you are a part, a piece, of an eternal, infinite being, an aspect or modification of it… For we should then have the same baffling question: which part, which aspect are you? what, objectively, differentiates it from the others?

No, but, inconceiveable as it seems to ordinary reason, you — and all other conscious beings as such — are all in all. Hence, this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of this entire existence, but in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance.  This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula… ‘Tat tvam asi’ — this is you. Or, again, in such words as ‘I am in the east and in the west, I am below and above, I am this whole world.’

Thus you can throw yourself flat on the ground, stretched out upon Mother Earth, with certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you … For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.

– Erwin Schrodinger, My View Of The World (1961)

Schrodinger strongly felt we are beings beyond space and time, a spirit if you will.

We do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us. We are not in it; we are outside. We are only spectators. The reason why we believe that we are in it, that we belong to the picture, is that our bodies are in the picture. Our bodies belong to it. Not only my own body, but those of my friends, also of my dog and cat and horse, and of all the other people and animals. And this is my only means of communicating with them.

– Erwin Schrodinger, Mind And Matter (1958)

Schrodinger was a very spiritual man, more akin to a mystic.

Vedanta teaches that consciousness is singular, all happenings are played out in one universal consciousness and there is no multiplicity of selves.

– Erwin Schrodinger, My View Of The World (1961)

Albert Einstein once wrote a letter to Schrodinger, referring to his famous cat in a box thought experiment.  Einstein said it “refuted most elegantly” the idea that there is an objective reality different from our own subjective experience of time.

You are the only contemporary physicist, besides Laue, who sees that one cannot get around the assumption of reality — if only one is honest. Most of them simply do not see what sort of risky game they are playing with reality — reality as something independent of what is experimentally established. Their interpretation is, however, refuted most elegantly by your system of radioactive atom + amplifier + charge of gun powder + cat in a box, in which the psi-function of the system contains both the cat alive and blown to bits. Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation.

– Albert Einstein, in a personal letter to Erwin Schrodinger

einstein past present

I’d like to quote again from David Bohm’s textbook Quantum Theory.

The Indivisible Unity Of The World

We now come to the third important modification in our fundamental concepts brought about by the quantum theory; namely, that the world cannot be analyzed correctly into distinct parts; instead, it must be regarded as an indivisible unit in which separate parts appear as valid approximations only in the classical limit.  This conclusion is based on the same ideas that lead to the principle of complementarity; namely, that the properties of matter are incompletely defined and opposing potentialities that can be fully realized only in interactions with other systems.  Thus at the quantum level of accuracy, an object does not have any “intrinsic” properties (for instance, wave or particle) belonging to itself alone; instead, it shares all its properties mutually and indivisibly with the systems with which it interacts.  Moreover, because a given object, such as an electron, interacts at different times with different systems that bring out different potentialities, it undergoes (as we have seen in Sec 14) continual transformation between the various forms (for instance, wave or particle form) in which it can manifest itself.

The Indivisible Unity of Quantum Systems

…it can be seen that as we try to improve the level of accuracy of description, the classical program of analysis into parts eventually becomes infeasible.  The program of synthesis according to causal laws also becomes infeasible, since there are no exact causal laws.  We are led, instead, to a new point of view, based on the idea that the quanta connecting object and environment constitute irreducible links that belong, at all times, as much to one part as to the other.  Since the behavior of each part depends as much on these quanta as on its “own” properties, it is clear that no part of the system can be thought of as separate.

If, in a classical experiment, we discovered the presence of irreducible “links” between objects, we should then postulate a third object, the link, and thus re-establish the old type of description, this time in terms of three parts to the system.  In quantum theory, however, these quanta do not constitute separate objects, but are only a way of talking about indivisible transitions of the objects already in existence.  The fact that quanta are unpredictable and uncontrollable would, in any case, prevent their introduction as a third object from being of any use, since we could not in any definite way ascribe observed effects to them.

The Need for a Nonmechanical Description

The fact that quantum systems cannot be regarded as made up of separate parts working together according to causal laws means that we are now led to a fundamental change in our general methods of description of nature.  Only in the classical limit, where the effects of individual quanta are negligible and where their combined effects can be approximated by a causal description, is it possible to separate the world into distinct parts.  Even in the classical limit, we recognize that the separation between object and environment is an abstraction.  But because each part interacts with the other according to causal laws, we can still give a correct description in this way. In a system whose behavior depends critically on the transfers of a few quanta, however, the separation of the world into parts is a non-permissible abstraction because the very nature of the parts (for instance, wave or particle) depends on factors that cannot be ascribed uniquely to either part, and are not even subject to complete control or prediction.

Thus, by investigating the applicability of the usual classical criteria for analyzing a system into distinct parts, we have been led to the same conclusion as that obtained directly in Chap. 6, Sec. 13: The entire universe must, on a very accurate level, be regarded as a single indivisible unit in which separate parts appear as idealizations permissible only on a classical level of accuracy of description.  This means that the view of the world as being analogous to a huge machine, the predominant view from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, is now shown to be only approximately correct.  The underlying structure of matter, however, is not mechanical.

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