Tag Archives: time

Heraclitus and Parmenides time joke

From Existential Commics

From Existential Comics; Parmenides believed that nothing changed, nor could it.

For those who don’t remember, Heraclitus believed that change was the essence of life, while  Parmenides believed that nothing ever changes. It’s a debate that exists to this day in physics, and also in religion (there is nothing new under the sun, etc.). In science, the view that no real change is possible is founded in Schrödinger’s wave view of quantum mechanics.

Schrödinger's wave equation, time dependent.

Schrödinger’s wave equation, time dependent.

In Schrödinger’s wave description of reality, every object or particle is considered a wave of probability. What appears to us as motion is nothing more than the wave oscillating back and forth in its potential field. Nothing has a position or velocity, quite, only random interactions with other waves, and all of these are reversible. Because of the time reversibility of the equation, long-term, the system is conservative. The wave returns to where it was, and no entropy is created, long-term. Anything that happens will happen again, in reverse. See here for more on Schrödinger waves.

Thermodynamics is in stark contradiction to this quantum view. To thermodynamics, and to common observation, entropy goes ever upward, and nothing is reversible without outside intervention. Things break but don’t fix themselves. It’s this entropy increase that tells you that you are going forward in time. You know that time is going forward if you can, at will, drop an ice-cube into hot tea to produce lukewarm, diluted tea. If you can do the reverse, time is going backward. It’s a problem that besets Dr. Who, but few others.

One way that I’ve seen to get out of the general problem of quantum time is to assume the observed universe is a black hole or some other closed system, and take it as an issue of reference frame. As seen from the outside of a black hole (or a closed system without observation) time stops and nothing changes. Within a black hole or closed system, there is constant observation, and there is time and change. It’s not a great way out of the contradiction, but it’s the best I know of.

Predestination makes a certain physics and religious sense, it just doesn't match personal experience very well.

Predestination makes a certain physics and religious sense, it just doesn’t match personal experience very well.

The religion version of this problem is as follows: God, in most religions, has fore-knowledge. That is, He knows what will happen, and that presumes we have no free will. The problem with that is, without free-will, there can be no fair judgment, no right or wrong. There are a few ways out of this, and these lie behind many of the religious splits of the 1700s. A lot of the humor of Calvin and Hobbes comics comes because Calvin is a Calvinist, convinced of fatalistic predestination; Hobbes believes in free will. Most religions take a position somewhere in-between, but all have their problems.

Applying the black-hole model to God gives the following, alternative answer, one that isn’t very satisfying IMHO, but at least it matches physics. One might assume predestination for a God that is outside the universe — He sees only an unchanging system, while we, inside see time and change and free will. One of the problems with this is it posits a distant creator who cares little for us and sees none of the details. A more positive view of time appears in Dr. Who. For Dr. Who time is fluid, with some fixed points. Here’s my view of Dr. Who’s physics.  Unfortunately, Dr. Who is fiction: attractive, but without basis. Time, as it were, is an issue for the ages.

Robert Buxbaum, Philosophical musings, Friday afternoon, June 30, 2017.

Boy-Girl physics humor

Girl breaking up with her boyfriend: I just need two things, more space, and time.

Atoms try to understand themselves.

Atoms build physicists in an attempt to understand themselves. That’s also why physicists build physics societies and clubs.

Boyfriend: So, what’s the other thing?


Robert Buxbaum. And that, dear friend, is why science majors so rarely have normal boyfriends / girlfriends.

A female engineer friend of mine commented on the plight of dating in the department: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

By the way, the solution to Einstein’s twin paradox resides in understanding that time is space. Both twins see the space ship moving at the same pace, but space shrinks for the moving twin in the space ship, not for the standing one. Thus, the moving twin finishes his (or her) journey in less time than the standing one observes.

Our expanding, black hole universe

In a previous post I showed a classical derivation of the mass-to-size relationship for black -holes and gave evidence to suggest that our universe (all the galaxies together) constitute a single, large black hole. Everything is inside the black hole and nothing outside but empty space — We can tell this because you can see outside from inside a black hole — it’s only others, outside who can not see in (Finkelstein, Phys Rev. 1958). Not that there appear to be others outside the universe, but if they were, they would not be able to see us.

In several ways having a private, black hole universe is a gratifying thought. It provides privacy and a nice answer to an easily proved conundrum: that the universe is not infinitely big. The black hole universe that ends as the math requires, but not with a brick wall, as i the Hitchhiker’s guide (one of badly-laid brick). There are one or two problems with this nice tidy solution. One is that the universe appears to be expanding, and black holes are not supposed to expand. Further, the universe appears to be bigger than it should be, suggesting that it expanded faster than the speed of light at some point. its radius now appears to be 40-46 billion light years despite the universe appearing to have started as a point some 14 billion years ago. That these are deeply disturbing questions does not stop NASA and Nova from publishing the picture below for use by teachers. This picture makes little sense, but it’s found in Wikipedia and most, newer books.

Standard picture of the big bang theory. Expansions, but no contractions.

Standard picture of the big bang theory: A period of faster than light expansion (inflation) then light-speed, accelerating expansion. NASA, and Wikipedia.

We think the creation event occurred some 14 billion years ago because we observe that the majority of galaxies are expanding from us at a rate proportional to their distance from us. From this proportionality between the rate of motion and the distance from us, we conclude that we were all in one spot some 14 billion years ago. Unfortunately, some of the most distant galaxies are really dim — dimmer than they would be if they were only 14 billion light years away. The model “explains this” by a period of inflation, where the universe expanded faster than the speed of light. The current expansion then slowed, but is accelerating again; not slowing as would be expected if it were held back by gravity of the galaxies. Why hasn’t the speed of the galaxies slowed, and how does the faster-than-light part work? No one knows. Like Dr. Who’s Tardis, our universe is bigger on the inside than seems possible.

Einstein's preferred view of the black-hole universe is one that expands and contracts at some (large) frequency. It could explain why the universe is near-uniform.

Einstein’s oscillating universe: it expands and contracts at some (large) frequency. Oscillations would explain why the universe is near-uniform, but not why it’s so big or moving outward so fast.

Einstein’s preferred view was of an infinite space universe where the mass within expands and contracts. He joked that two things were infinite, the universe and stupidity… see my explanation... In theory, gravity could drive the regular contractions to an extent that would turn entropy backward. Einstein’s oscillating model would explain how the universe is reasonably stable and near-uniform in temperature, but it’s not clear how his universe could be bigger than 14 billion light years across, or how it could continue to expand as fast as it does. A new view, published this month suggests that there are two universes, one going forward in time the other backward. The backward in time part of the universe could be antimatter, or regular matter going anti entropy (that’s how I understand it — If it’s antimatter, we’d run into the it all the time). Random other ideas float through the physics literature: that we’re connected to other space through a black hole/worm hole, perhaps to many other universes by many worm holes in fractal chaos, see for example, Physics Reports, 1992.

The forward-in-time expansion part of the two universes model.

The forward-in-time expansion part of the two universes model. This drawing, like the first, is from NASA.

For all I know, there are these many black hole  tunnels to parallel universes. Perhaps the universal constant and all these black-hole tunnels are windows on quantum mechanics. At some point the logic of the universe seems as perverse as in the Hitchhiker guide.

Something I didn’t mention yet is the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle. As in the joke, it’s supposed to be responsible for mass. The idea is that all particles have mass only by interaction with these near-invisible Higgs particles. Strong interactions with the Higgs are what make these particles heavier, while weaker – interacting particles are perceived to have less gravity and inertia. But this seems to me to be the theory that Einstein’s relativity and the 1919 eclipse put to rest. There is no easy way for a particle model like this to explain relativistic warping of space-time. Without mass being able to warp space-time you’d see various degrees of light bending around the sun, and preferential gravity in the direction of our planet’s motion: things we do not see. We’re back in 1900, looking for some plausible explanation for the uniform speed of light and Lawrence contraction of space.As likely an explanation as any the_hitchhikers_guide_to_the_galaxy

Dr. r µ ßuxbaum. December 20, 2014. The  meaning of the universe could be 42 for all I know, or just pickles down the worm hole. No religion seems to accept the 14 billion year old universe, and for all I know the God of creation has a wicked sense of humor. Carry a towel and don’t think too much.

Dr. Who’s Quantum reality viewed as diffusion

It’s very hard to get the meaning of life from science because reality is very strange, Further, science is mathematical, and the math relations for reality can be re-arranged. One arrangement of the terms will suggest a version of causality, while another will suggest a different causality. As Dr. Who points out, in non-linear, non-objective terms, there’s no causality, but rather a wibbly-wobbely ball of timey-wimey stuff.

Time as a ball of wibblely wobbly timey wimey stuff.

Reality is a ball of  timey wimpy stuff, Dr. Who.

To this end, I’ll provide my favorite way of looking at the timey-wimey way of the world by rearranging the equations of quantum mechanics into a sort of diffusion. It’s not the diffusion of something you’re quite familiar with, but rather a timey-wimey wave-stuff referred to as Ψ. It’s part real and part imaginary, and the only relationship between ψ and life is that the chance of finding something somewhere is proportional Ψ*|Ψ. The diffusion of this half-imaginary stuff is the underpinning of reality — if viewed in a certain way.

First let’s consider the steady diffusion of a normal (un-quantum) material. If there is a lot of it, like when there’s perfume off of a prima donna, you can say that N = -D dc/dx where N is the flux of perfume (molecules per minute per area), dc/dx is a concentration gradient (there’s more perfume near her than near you), and D is a diffusivity, a number related to the mobility of those perfume molecules. 

We can further generalize the diffusion of an ordinary material for a case where concentration varies with time because of reaction or a difference between the in-rate and the out rate, with reaction added as a secondary accumulator, we can write: dc/dt = reaction + dN/dx = reaction + D d2c/dx2. For a first order reaction, for example radioactive decay, reaction = -ßc, and 

dc/dt = -ßc + D d2c/dx2               (1)

where ß is the radioactive decay constant of the material whose concentration is c.

Viewed in a certain way, the most relevant equation for reality, the time-dependent Schrödinger wave equation (semi-derived here), fits into the same diffusion-reaction form:

dΨ/dt = – 2iπV/h Ψ + hi/4πm d2Ψ/dx               (2)

Instead of reality involving the motion of a real material (perfume, radioactive radon, etc.) with a real concentration, c, in this relation, the material can not be sensed directly, and the concentration, Ψ, is semi -imaginary. Here, h is plank’s constant, i is the imaginary number, √-1, m is the mass of the real material, and V is potential energy. When dealing with reactions or charged materials, it’s relevant that V will vary with position (e.g. electrons’ energy is lower when they are near protons). The diffusivity term here is imaginary, hi/4πm, but that’s OK, Ψ is part imaginary, and we’d expect that potential energy is something of a destroyer of Ψ: the likelihood of finding something at a spot goes down where the energy is high.

The form of this diffusion is linear, a mathematical term that refers to equations where solution that works for Ψ will also work for 2Ψ. Generally speaking linear solutions have exp() terms in them, and that’s especially likely here as the only place where you see a time term is on the left. For most cases we can say that

Ψ = ψ exp(-2iπE/h)t               (3)

where ψ is not a function of anything but x (space) and E is the energy of the thing whose behavior is described by Ψ. If you take the derivative of equation 3 this with respect to time, t, you get

dΨ/dt = ψ (-2iπE/h) exp(-2iπE/h)t = (-2iπE/h)Ψ.               (4)

If you insert this into equation 2, you’ll notice that the form of the first term is now identical to the second, with energy appearing identically in both terms. Divide now by exp(-2iπE/h)t, and you get the following equation:

(E-V) ψ =  -h2/8π2m d2ψ/dx2                      (5)

where ψ can be thought of as the physical concentration in space of the timey-wimey stuff. ψ is still wibbly-wobbley, but no longer timey-wimey. Now ψ- squared is the likelihood of finding the stuff somewhere at any time, and E, the energy of the thing. For most things in normal conditions, E is quantized and equals approximately kT. That is E of the thing equals, typically, a quantized energy state that’s nearly Boltzmann’s constant times temperature.

You now want to check that the approximation in equation 3-5 was legitimate. You do this by checking if the length-scale implicit in exp(-2iπE/h)t is small relative to the length-scales of the action. If it is (and it usually is), You are free to solve for ψ at any E and V using normal mathematics, by analytic or digital means, for example this way. ψ will be wibbely-wobbely but won’t be timey-wimey. That is, the space behavior of the thing will be peculiar with the item in forbidden locations, but there won’t be time reversal. For time reversal, you need small space features (like here) or entanglement.

Equation 5 can be considered a simple steady state diffusion equation. The stuff whose concentration is ψ is created wherever E is greater than V, and is destroyed wherever V is greater than E. The stuff then continuously diffuses from the former area to the latter establishing a time-independent concentration profile. E is quantized (can only be some specific values) since matter can never be created of destroyed, and it is only at specific values of E that this happens in Equation 5. For a particle in a flat box, E and ψ are found, typically, by realizing that the format of ψ must be a sin function (and ignoring an infinity). For more complex potential energy surfaces, it’s best to use a matrix solution for ψ along with non-continuous calculous. This avoids the infinity, and is a lot more flexible besides.

When you detect a material in some spot, you can imagine that the space- function ψ collapses, but even that isn’t clear as you can never know the position and velocity of a thing simultaneously, so doesn’t collapse all that much. And as for what the stuff is that diffuses and has concentration ψ, no-one knows, but it behaves like a stuff. And as to why it diffuses, perhaps it’s jiggled by unseen photons. I don’t know if this is what happens, but it’s a way I often choose to imagine reality — a moving, unseen material with real and imaginary (spiritual ?) parts, whose concentration, ψ, is related to experience, but not directly experienced.

This is not the only way the equations can be rearranged. Another way of thinking of things is as the sum of path integrals — an approach that appears to me as a many-world version, with fixed-points in time (another Dr Who feature). In this view, every object takes every path possible between these points, and reality as the sum of all the versions, including some that have time reversals. Richard Feynman explains this path integral approach here. If it doesn’t make more sense than my version, that’s OK. There is no version of the quantum equations that will make total, rational sense. All the true ones are mathematically equivalent — totally equal, but differ in the “meaning”. That is, if you were to impose meaning on the math terms, the meaning would be totally different. That’s not to say that all explanations are equally valid — most versions are totally wrong, but there are many, equally valid math version to fit many, equally valid religious or philosophic world views. The various religions, I think, are uncomfortable with having so many completely different views being totally equal because (as I understand it) each wants exclusive ownership of truth. Since this is never so for math, I claim religion is the opposite of science. Religion is trying to find The Meaning of life, and science is trying to match experiential truth — and ideally useful truth; knowing the meaning of life isn’t that useful in a knife fight.

Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum, July 9, 2014. If nothing else, you now perhaps understand Dr. Who more than you did previously. If you liked this, see here for a view of political happiness in terms of the thermodynamics of free-energy minimization.

Entropy, the most important pattern in life

One evening at the Princeton grad college a younger fellow (an 18-year-old genius) asked the most simple, elegant question I had ever heard, one I’ve borrowed and used ever since: “tell me”, he asked, “something that’s important and true.” My answer that evening was that the entropy of the universe is always increasing. It’s a fundamentally important pattern in life; one I didn’t discover, but discovered to have a lot of applications and meaning. Let me explain why it’s true here, and then why I find it’s meaningful.

Famous entropy cartoon, Harris

Famous entropy cartoon, Harris

The entropy of the universe is not something you can measure directly, but rather indirectly, from the availability of work in any corner of it. It’s related to randomness and the arrow of time. First off, here’s how you can tell if time is moving forward: put an ice-cube into hot water, if the cube dissolves and the water becomes cooler, time is moving forward — or, at least it’s moving in the same direction as you are. If you can reach into a cup of warm water and pull out an ice-cube while making the water hot, time is moving backwards. — or rather, you are living backwards. Within any closed system, one where you don’t add things or energy (sunlight say), you can tell that time is moving forward because the forward progress of time always leads to the lack of availability of work. In the case above, you could have generated some electricity from the ice-cube and the hot water, but not from the glass of warm water.

You can not extract work from a heat source alone; to extract work some heat must be deposited in a cold sink. At best the entropy of the universe remains unchanged. More typically, it increases.

You can not extract work from a heat source alone; to extract work some heat must be deposited in a cold sink. At best the entropy of the universe remains unchanged.

This observation is about as fundamental as any to understanding the world; it is the basis of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics: you can never extract useful work from a uniform temperature body of water, say, just by making that water cooler. To get useful work, you always need something some other transfer into or out of the system; you always need to make something else hotter, colder, or provide some chemical or altitude changes that can not be reversed without adding more energy back. Thus, so long as time moves forward everything runs down in terms of work availability.

There is also a first law; it states that energy is conserved. That is, if you want to heat some substance, that change requires that you put in a set amount of work plus heat. Similarly, if you want to cool something, a set amount of heat + work must be taken out. In equation form, we say that, for any change, q +w is constant, where q is heat, and w is work. It’s the sum that’s constant, not the individual values so long as you count every 4.174 Joules of work as if it were 1 calorie of heat. If you input more heat, you have to add less work, and visa versa, but there is always the same sum. When adding heat or work, we say that q or w is positive; when extracting heat or work, we say that q or w are negative quantities. Still, each 4.174 joules counts as if it were 1 calorie.

Now, since for every path between two states, q +w is the same, we say that q + w represents a path-independent quantity for the system, one we call internal energy, U where ∆U = q + w. This is a mathematical form of the first law of thermodynamics: you can’t take q + w out of nothing, or add it to something without making a change in the properties of the thing. The only way to leave things the same is if q + w = 0. We notice also that for any pure thing or mixture, the sum q +w for the change is proportional to the mass of the stuff; we can thus say that internal energy is an intensive quality. q + w = n ∆u where n is the grams of material, and ∆u is the change in internal energy per gram.

We are now ready to put the first and second laws together. We find we can extract work from a system if we take heat from a hot body of water and deliver some of it to something at a lower temperature (the ice-cube say). This can be done with a thermopile, or with a steam engine (Rankine cycle, above), or a stirling engine. That an engine can only extract work when there is a difference of temperatures is similar to the operation of a water wheel. Sadie Carnot noted that a water wheel is able to extract work only when there is a flow of water from a high level to low; similarly in a heat engine, you only get work by taking in heat energy from a hot heat-source and exhausting some of it to a colder heat-sink. The remainder leaves as work. That is, q1 -q2 = w, and energy is conserved. The second law isn’t violated so long as there is no way you could run the engine without the cold sink. Accepting this as reasonable, we can now derive some very interesting, non-obvious truths.

We begin with the famous Carnot cycle. The Carnot cycle is an idealized heat engine with the interesting feature that it can be made to operate reversibly. That is, you can make it run forwards, taking a certain amount of work from a hot source, producing a certain amount of work and delivering a certain amount of heat to the cold sink; and you can run the same process backwards, as a refrigerator, taking in the same about of work and the same amount of heat from the cold sink and delivering the same amount to the hot source. Carnot showed by the following proof that all other reversible engines would have the same efficiency as his cycle and no engine, reversible or not, could be more efficient. The proof: if an engine could be designed that will extract a greater percentage of the heat as work when operating between a given hot source and cold sink it could be used to drive his Carnot cycle backwards. If the pair of engines were now combined so that the less efficient engine removed exactly as much heat from the sink as the more efficient engine deposited, the excess work produced by the more efficient engine would leave with no effect besides cooling the source. This combination would be in violation of the second law, something that we’d said was impossible.

Now let us try to understand the relationship that drives useful energy production. The ratio of heat in to heat out has got to be a function of the in and out temperatures alone. That is, q1/q2 = f(T1, T2). Similarly, q2/q1 = f(T2,T1) Now lets consider what happens when two Carnot cycles are placed in series between T1 and T2, with the middle temperature at Tm. For the first engine, q1/qm = f(T1, Tm), and similarly for the second engine qm/q2 = f(Tm, T2). Combining these we see that q1/q2 = (q1/qm)x(qm/q2) and therefore f(T1, T2) must always equal f(T1, Tm)x f(Tm/T2) =f(T1,Tm)/f(T2, Tm). In this relationship we see that the second term Tm is irrelevant; it is true for any Tm. We thus say that q1/q2 = T1/T2, and this is the limit of what you get at maximum (reversible) efficiency. You can now rearrange this to read q1/T1 = q2/T2 or to say that work, W = q1 – q2 = q2 (T1 – T2)/T2.

A strange result from this is that, since every process can be modeled as either a sum of Carnot engines, or of engines that are less-efficient, and since the Carnot engine will produce this same amount of reversible work when filled with any substance or combination of substances, we can say that this outcome: q1/T1 = q2/T2 is independent of path, and independent of substance so long as the process is reversible. We can thus say that for all substances there is a property of state, S such that the change in this property is ∆S = ∑q/T for all the heat in or out. In a more general sense, we can say, ∆S = ∫dq/T, where this state property, S is called the entropy. Since as before, the amount of heat needed is proportional to mass, we can say that S is an intensive property; S= n s where n is the mass of stuff, and s is the entropy change per mass. 

Another strange result comes from the efficiency equation. Since, for any engine or process that is less efficient than the reversible one, we get less work out for the same amount of q1, we must have more heat rejected than q2. Thus, for an irreversible engine or process, q1-q2 < q2(T1-T2)/T2, and q2/T2 is greater than -q1/T1. As a result, the total change in entropy, S = q1/T1 + q2/T2 >0: the entropy of the universe always goes up or stays constant. It never goes down. Another final observation is that there must be a zero temperature that nothing can go below or both q1 and q2 could be positive and energy would not be conserved. Our observations of time and energy conservation leaves us to expect to find that there must be a minimum temperature, T = 0 that nothing can be colder than. We find this temperature at -273.15 °C. It is called absolute zero; nothing has ever been cooled to be colder than this, and now we see that, so long as time moves forward and energy is conserved, nothing will ever will be found colder.

Typically we either say that S is zero at absolute zero, or at room temperature.

We’re nearly there. We can define the entropy of the universe as the sum of the entropies of everything in it. From the above treatment of work cycles, we see that this total of entropy always goes up, never down. A fundamental fact of nature, and (in my world view) a fundamental view into how God views us and the universe. First, that the entropy of the universe goes up only, and not down (in our time-forward framework) suggests there is a creator for our universe — a source of negative entropy at the start of all things, or a reverser of time (it’s the same thing in our framework). Another observation, God likes entropy a lot, and that means randomness. It’s his working principle, it seems.

But before you take me now for a total libertine and say that since science shows that everything runs down the only moral take-home is to teach: “Let us eat and drink,”… “for tomorrow we die!” (Isaiah 22:13), I should note that his randomness only applies to the universe as a whole. The individual parts (planets, laboratories, beakers of coffee) does not maximize entropy, but leads to a minimization of available work, and this is different. You can show that the maximization of S, the entropy of the universe, does not lead to the maximization of s, the entropy per gram of your particular closed space but rather to the minimization of a related quantity µ, the free energy, or usable work per gram of your stuff. You can show that, for any closed system at constant temperature, µ = h -Ts where s is entropy per gram as before, and h is called enthalpy. h is basically the potential energy of the molecules; it is lowest at low temperature and high order. For a closed system we find there is a balance between s, something that increases with increased randomness, and h, something that decreases with increased randomness. Put water and air in a bottle, and you find that the water is mostly on the bottom of the bottle, the air is mostly on the top, and the amount of mixing in each phase is not the maximum disorder, but rather the one you’d calculate will minimize µ.

As the protein folds its randomness and entropy decrease, but its enthalpy decreases too; the net effect is one precise fold that minimizes µ.

As a protein folds its randomness and entropy decrease, but its enthalpy decreases too; the net effect is one precise fold that minimizes µ.

This is the principle that God applies to everything, including us, I’d guess: a balance. Take protein folding; some patterns have big disorder, and high h; some have low disorder and very low h. The result is a temperature-dependent  balance. If I were to take a moral imperative from this balance, I’d say it matches better with the sayings of Solomon the wise: “there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat, drink and be merry. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 8:15). There is toil here as well as pleasure; directed activity balanced against personal pleasures. This is the µ = h -Ts minimization where, perhaps, T is economic wealth. Thus, the richer a society, the less toil is ideal and the more freedom. Of necessity, poor societies are repressive. 

Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum, Mar 18, 2014. My previous thermodynamic post concerned the thermodynamics of hydrogen production. It’s not clear that all matter goes forward in time, by the way; antimatter may go backwards, so it’s possible that anti matter apples may fall up. On microscopic scale, time becomes flexible so it seems you can make a time machine. Religious leaders tend to be anti-science, I’ve noticed, perhaps because scientific miracles can be done by anyone, available even those who think “wrong,” or say the wrong words. And that’s that, all being heard, do what’s right and enjoy life too: as important a pattern in life as you’ll find, I think. The relationship between free-energy and societal organization is from my thesis advisor, Dr. Ernest F. Johnson.

How to make a simple time machine

I’d been in science fairs from the time I was in elementary school until 9th grade, and  usually did quite well. One trick: I always like to do cool, unexpected things. I didn’t have money, but tried for the gee-whiz factor. Sorry to say, the winning ideas of my youth are probably old hat, but here’s a project that I never got to do, but is simple and cheap and good enough to win today. It’s a basic time machine, or rather a quantum eraser — it lets you go back in time and erase something.

The first thing you should know is that the whole aspect of time rests on rather shaky footing in modern science. It is possible therefore that antimatter, positrons say, are just regular matter moving backwards in time.

The trick behind this machine is the creation of entangled states, an idea that Einstein and Rosen proposed in the 1930s (they thought it could not work and thus disproved quantum mechanics, turned out the trick works). The original version of the trick was this: start with a particle that splits in half at a given, known energy. If you measure the energy of either of the halves of the particle they are always the same, assuming the source particle starts at rest. The thing is, if you start with the original particle at absolute zero and were to measure the position of one half, and the velocity of the other, you’d certainly know the position and velocity of the original particle. Actually, you should not need to measure the velocity, since that’s fixed by they energy of the split, but we’re doing it just to be sure. Thing is quantum mechanics is based on the idea that you can not know both the velocity and position, even just before the split. What happens? If you measure the position of one half the velocity of the other changes, but if you measure the velocity of both halves it is the same, and this even works backward in time. QM seems to know if you intend to measure the position, and you measure an odd velocity even before you do so. Weird. There is another trick to making time machines, one found in Einstein’s own relativity by Gödel. It involves black holes, and we’re not sure if it works since we’ve never had a black hole to work with. With the QM time machine you’re never able to go back in time before the creation of the time machine.

To make the mini-version of this time machine, we’re going to split a few photons and play with the halves. This is not as cool as splitting an elephant, or even a proton, but money don’t grow on trees, and costs go up fast as the mass of the thing being split increases. You’re not going back in time more than 10 attoseconds (that’s a hundredth of a femtosecond), but that’s good enough for the science fair judges (you’re a kid, and that’s your lunch money at work). You’ll need a piece of thick aluminum foil, a sharp knife or a pin, a bright lamp, superglue (or, in a pinch, Elmer’s), a polarizing sunglass lens, some colored Saran wrap or colored glass, a shoe-box worth of cardboard, and wood + nails  to build some sort of wooden frame to hold everything together. Make your fixture steady and hard to break; judges are clumsy. Use decent wood (judges don’t like splinters). Keep spares for the moving parts in case someone breaks them (not uncommon). Ideally you’ll want to attach some focussing lenses a few inches from the lamp (a small magnifier or reading glass lens will do). You’ll want to lay the colored plastic smoothly over this lens, away from the lamp heat.

First make a point light source: take the 4″ square of shoe-box cardboard and put a quarter-inch hole in it near the center. Attach it in front of your strong electric light at 6″ if there is no lens, or at the focus if there is a lens. If you have no lens, you’ll want to put the Saran over this cardboard.

Take two strips of aluminum foil about 6″ square and in the center of each, cut two slits perhaps 4 mm long by .1 mm wide, 1 mm apart from each other near the middle of both strips. Back both strips with some cardboard with a 1″ hole in the middle (use glue to hold it there). Now take the sunglass lens; cut two strips 2 mm x 10 mm on opposite 45° diagonals to the vertical of the lens. Confirm that this is a polarized lens by rotating one against the other; at some rotation the pieces of sunglass, the pair should be opaque, at 90° it should be fairly clear. If this is not so, get a different sunglass.

Paste these two strips over the two slits on one of the aluminum foil sheets with a drop of super-glue. The polarization of the sunglasses is normally up and down, so when these strips are glued next to one another, the polarization of the strips will be opposing 45° angles. Look at the point light source through both of your aluminum foils (the one with the polarized filter and the one without); they should look different. One should look like two pin-points (or strips) of light. The other should look like a fog of dots or lines.

The reason for the difference is that, generally speaking a photon passes through two nearby slits as two entangled halves, or its quantum equivalent. When you use the foil without the polarizers, the halves recombine to give an interference pattern. The result with the polarization is different though since polarization means you can (in theory at least) tell the photons apart. The photons know this and thus behave like they were not two entangled halves, but rather like they passed either through one slit or the other. Your device will go back in time after the light has gone through the holes and will erase this knowledge.

Now cut another 3″ x 3″ cardboard square and cut a 1/4″ hole in the center. Cut a bit of sunglass lens, 1/2″ square and attach it over the hole of this 3×3″ cardboard square. If you view the aluminum square through this cardboard, you should be able to make one hole or the other go black by rotating this polarized piece appropriately. If it does not, there is a problem.

Set up the lamp (with the lens) on one side so that a bright light shines on the slits. Look at the light from the other side of the aluminum foil. You will notice that the light that comes through the foil with the polarized film looks like two dots, while the one that comes through the other one shows a complex interference pattern; putting the other polarizing lens in front of the foil or behind it does not change the behavior of the foil without the polarizing filters, but if done right it will change things if put behind the other foil, the one with the filters.

Robert Buxbaum, of the future.

Do antimatter apples fall up?

by Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum,

The normal view of antimatter is that it’s just regular matter moving backwards in time. This view helps explain why antimatter has the same mass as regular matter, but has the opposite charge, spin, etc. An antiproton has the same mass as a proton because it is a proton. In our (forward) time-frame the anti-proton appears to be attracted by a positive plate and repelled by a negative one because, when you are going backward in time, attraction looks like repulsion.

In this view, the reason that antimatter particles annihilate when they come into contact with matter –sometimes– is that the annihilation is nothing more than the matter particle (or antimatter) switching direction in time. In our (forward) time-frame it looks like two particles met and both disappeared leaving nothing but photons (light). But in the time reversal view, shown in the figure below, there is only one normal matter particle. In the figure, this particle (solid line) comes from the left, and meets a photon, a wiggly line who’s arrow shows it traveling backwards in time. The normal proton then reverses in time, giving off a photon, another wiggly line. I’d alluded to this in my recent joke about an antimatter person at a bar, but there is also a famous poem.


This time reverse approach is best tested using entropy, the classical “arrow of time.” The best way to tell you can tell you are going forward in time is to drop an ice-cube into a hot cup of coffee and produce a warm cup of diluted coffee. This really only shows that you and the cup are moving in the same direction — both forward or both backward, something we’ll call forward. If you were moving in the opposite direction in time, e.g. you had a cup of anti-coffee that was moving backward in time relative to you, you could pull an anti -ice cube out of it, and produce a steaming cup of stronger anti-coffee.

We can not do the entropy test of time direction yet because it requires too much anti matter, but we can use another approach to test the time-reverse idea: gravity. You can make a very small drop of antimatter using only a few hundred atoms. If the antimatter drop is really going backwards in time, it should not fall on the floor and splatter, but should fly upward off the floor and coalesce. The Laboratory at CERN has just recently started producing enough atoms of anti-hydrogen to allow this test. So far the atoms are too hot but sometime in 2014 they expect to cool the atoms, some 300 atoms of anti hydrogen, into a drop or two. They will then see if the drop falls down or up in gravity. The temperature necessary for this study is about 1/100,000 of a degree K.

The anti-time view of antimatter is still somewhat controversial. For it to work, light must reside outside of time, or must move forward and backward in time with some ease. This makes some sense since light travels “at the speed of light,” and is thus outside of time. In the figure, the backwards moving photon would look like a forward on moving in the other direction (left). In a future post I hope to give instructions for building a simple, quantum time machine that uses the fact that light can move backwards in time to produce an event eraser — a device that erases light events in the present. It’s a somewhat useful device, if only for a science fair demonstration. Making one to work on matter would be much harder, and may be impossible if the CERN experiments don’t work out.

It becomes a little confusing how to deal with entropy in a completely anti-time world, and it’s somewhat hard to see why, in this view of time, there should be so little antimatter in the universe and so much matter: you’d expect equal amounts of both. As I have strong feelings for entropy, I’d posted a thought explanation for this some months ago imagining anti matter as normal forward-time matter, and posits the existence of an undiscovered particle that interacts with its magnetism to make matter more stable than antimatter. To see how it works, recall the brainteaser about a tribe that always speaks lies and another that always speaks truth. (I’m not the first to think of this explanation).

If the anti hydrogen drop at CERN is seen to fall upwards, but entropy still works in the positive direction as in my post (i.e. drops still splatter, and anti coffee cools like normal coffee), it will support a simple explanation for dark energy — the force that prevents the universe from collapsing. Dark energy could be seen to result from the antigravity of antimatter. There would have to be large collections of antimatter somewhere, perhaps anti-galaxies isolated from normal galaxies, that would push away the positive matter galaxies while moving forward in time and entropy. If the antigalaxies were close to normal galaxies they would annihilate at the edges, and we’d see lots of photons, like in the poem. Whatever they find at CERN, the future will be interesting. And if time travel turns out to be the norm, the past will be more interesting than it was.

Joke about antimatter and time travel

I’m sorry we don’t serve antimatter men here.

Antimatter man walks into a bar.

Is funny because … in quantum-physics there is no directionality in time. Thus an electron can change directions in time and then appears to the observer as a positron, an anti electron that has the same mass as a normal electron but the opposite charge and an opposite spin, etc. In physics, the reason electrons and positrons appear to annihilate is that it’s there was only one electron to begin with. That electron started going backwards in time so it disappeared in our forward-in-time time-frame.

The thing is, time is quite apparent on a macroscopic scales. It’s one of the most apparent aspects of macroscopic existence. Perhaps the clearest proof that time is flowing in one direction only is entropy. In normal life, you can drop a glass and watch it break whenever you like, but you can not drop shards and expect to get a complete glass. Similarly, you know you are moving forward in time if you can drop an ice cube into a hot cup of coffee and make it luke-warm. If you can reach into a cup of luke-warm coffee and extract an ice cube to make it hot, you’re moving backwards in time.

It’s also possible that gravity proves that time is moving forward. If an anti apple is just a normal apple that is moving backwards in time, then I should expect that, when I drop an anti-apple, I will find it floats upward. On the other hand, if mass is inherently a warpage of space-time, it should fall down. Perhaps when we understand gravity we will also understand how quantum physics meets the real world of entropy.