Thursday 6 January 2011

Time and the symmetries of Universe and Mind

I've been reading John Duffield's Relativity+ over the last few days. It's got me thinking (which I think is Duffield's intention, rather than providing a perfectly worked-out theory, which it clearly isn't). I notice how horrible the physics community have been to him, which is a bit sad. Not dissimilar to the treatment that Elinor Ostrom got from the economics community when she won the Nobel prize last year. Duffield's probably no Nobel prize winner, but he's a very enthusiastic communicator who is asking the sort of fundamental questions that professional scientists are taught not to ask.

Duffield's thesis is basically that mass/particles are basically knots in space, which is stressed and tensed in different places. Light, distance and time therefore present problems. Our concept of time depends on our concept of distance, and that depends on light. A photon as a particle can also be seen as a patch of tensed space, and the metaphor of the elasticity of space also helps us appreciate how light can be seen to have particle-like and wave-like characteristics. As a particle, light is subject to gravity, but Duffield argues that gravitational effects work a bit like electrical resistance, and that the more stressed a patch of space is, the more slowly light moves around it. Time is an emergent effect of this. It's what we construct from the motion of light.

It strikes me that Duffield is mapping out is a different sort of symmetry for the universe than the one we are used to. He does it by analogy: by alluding to symmetries within ourselves. Would it be at all surprising if the symmetry we detect in the Universe has some correlation with the symmetries of our understanding? "As above, so below" says the Emerald Tablet. What does 'being in tune with the Universe' mean? To what extent is it political?

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