A Question of Time
Life is somewhat a question of time. That is, between birth and death all you have is time. It’s such a mysterious and elusive thing that no one seems to know exactly what to make of it.
Nevertheless, almost everyone seems to have weighed in on the subject. In the eighteenth century, the philosopher Immanuel Kant described space and time as a priori notions that allow us to experience the world around us. Then, Einstein came along with his theory of relativity and said that space and time (space-time) were mathematical constructs. So, does time really exist? That’s the $64,000 question. Apparently, physicists aren’t sure. Simon Saunders, a philosopher of physics at the University of Oxford, had this to say about the subject, “The meaning of time has become terribly problematic in contemporary physics. The situation is so uncomfortable that by far the best thing to do is declare oneself an agnostic.”
In the field of cosmology, there is another factor apparently in play. In an article in Nature, two prominent researchers called out the scientific community for breaking away from science’s mandate of experimental confirmation in the development of new theories. This comes directly on the heels of exotic theories such as String Theory, the Multiverse and supersymmetry. The two researchers who wrote the article, George Ellis, professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and Joe Silk, professor of physics at the Paris Institute of Astrophysics and at Johns Hopkins University, stated that “a theory must be falsifiable to be scientific.”
Yes, falsifiable, just as science philosopher Sir Karl Popper stated in his groundbreaking work Conjectures and Refutations. Accordingly with respect to the Multiverse theory (for example), the additional universes of the multiverse would lie beyond man’s powers of observation, as they would be beyond space and time and, therefore, could never be directly investigated. So, a theory like the Multiverse Theory could only ever be, at best, an approximation of reality. At worst…well, let’s just say that it might make good science fiction.
As John Horgan discussed in his book, The End of Science, the conundrum for theoretical scientists is whether or not they can remain relevant. After all, there is a limit to knowledge as science attempts to push beyond what’s observable (beyond space and time). Theoretical science is almost by definition limited in that regard regardless of what scientists like Stephen Hawking might say. Quoting Stephen Hawking might make good press but it doesn’t necessarily make good science. For example, Hawking, in his book The Grand Design, said that, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing.” This is not a fact, but rather an unproven theory and, I would argue, tantamount to a declaration of faith (in an ideology). After all, Hawking has gone on record as saying that science makes God unnecessary.
So, from my perspective, scientific theory is a moving target and it’s only a matter of time before many of the current scientific theories get replaced with new ones. That’s why we have previously moved on from theories like the earth is flat and the sun revolves around the earth. Since some current scientific theories are incompatible with each other (e.g. the rules of general relativity seem incompatible with those of quantum physics), it’s only a matter of time before the next shoe falls, or as Adam Frank said in his book About Time, “In an era in which the search for quantum gravity has multiplied dimensions and the discovery of dark energy has sent cosmologists back to their blackboards, all the fundamentals seem up for grabs.”
Despite all of the research, time is still an enigma and that may not be changing any time soon. Great minds like Einstein and Planck concur that the fundamental laws of nature are beyond man’s ability to comprehend them. Despite that, scientists claim to understand the cosmos – that things called dark matter and dark energy make up most of the known universe. However, they have yet to find either. Perhaps, it has something to do with what Confucius once said, “The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat.”
“What a life in science really teaches you is the vastness of our ignorance.”
– David Eagleman, neuroscientist