by Robert DePaolo
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, despite depicting an orderly, quantifiable and predictable universe actually led to some rather odd predictions regarding the relationships among matter,space and time.
The inter-dependency between space and time is particularly fascinating, not just because it leads to a topsy-turvy alteration of human experience but because some of its premises must be considered impossible if one accepts that there is such a thing as existence.
Relativity Theory is considered fact in the field of modern physics and experimentation has consistently supported its premises. In some instances however, misinterpretations of what Einstein said have become just as entrenched in the field as the valid components of the theory. One of these is the oft-repeated theme that matter and energy are interchangeable; that each derives from the other. Certainly matter at rest contains latent energy which can be converted to kinetic energy. But energy does not equate with matter so the relationship is not reciprocal or isomorphic.
For example, Einstein said that the mass of an object increases as it approaches light speed, that its mass is enhanced but not created. An example that brings home this distinction is the Higgs field, which is made up of force conveying particles (bosons). These particles are not material, rather interact with (in a sense “bathe”) other particles that then attain mass to create matter (fermions). Still another example can be found in the photon, which has no mass, does have energy but never converts to matter unless it interacts with electrons or other particles. In that sense, the relationship between mass and energy actually plays out as a material/ergonomic duality rather than as two sides of a singe coin.
Einstein’s concept of time is even more mysterious and to an extent has also been embellished over the years. He viewed light speed as an anchor point in the universe – a governing entity that regulated space, time and existence. To understand why Einstein brought space and time together into a single dimension, consider the following example.
Say you are about to toss a baseball against a wall as a kind of experiment. The wall is exactly 60 feet across. You make sure the force of your toss is exactly the same each time (the ball travels to the wall at the same speed with each toss). The ball reaches the wall in half a second. Now, say the wall is moved forward to 50 feet across. Once again, you toss the ball with the same force and speed. Of course the ball takes less time to reach the wall. Nothing unusual about that. Now, say the wall is pushed back to 60 feet but as you begin to toss the ball the entire room starts moving forward. The ball will arrive at the wall in less than half a second, even though you tossed it at the same exact force and speed and even though the wall was still 60 feet away.
That illustrates how acceleration can alter time. The logical endpoint of this process is that if something travels fast enough the amount of time from one site to another would be so compressed that no time will lapse at all. That time-dilation barrier is the speed of light or ”c”.
Einstein refused to take this to the levels espoused by some modern physicists, who presume it is possible to travel back in time by exceeding light speed. That makes perfect sense if time and space are so intertwined. On the other hand such extrapolations haunted Einstein. He had no taste for the insertion of quasi-mystical ideas into what he considered the forward moving, measurable hardware of the universe.
In the Beginning…?
One of the most far reaching extrapolations from the time dilation idea has to do with the time line for the origin of the universe. Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose and others have addressed this question, which is a profoundly difficult one. In doing so they have refuted the need not only for a creative deity but for the necessity of a beginning at all. Theirs is a non-temporal theory, holding that there was no chronological beginning. At face value this might seem absurd – doesn’t everything have a beginning? Yet the way in which Hawking and others conceptualize the problem is roughly as follows.
1. After billions of years the force from the big bang will undergo entropy and its expansion will slow down.
2. When this occurs gravity will take over and compress all cosmic matter into a tiny spec of unimaginable mass and energy.
3. At this point there will be nothing outside the “cosmic egg” – no space or surround phenomena at all. Because there is no space there can be no time or movement, only intense heat and energy. The entire proto-cosmos would be analogous to the ultimate singularity.
4. Therefore, since time could not exist without space, there can be no temporal “before.” or beginning.
Hawking’s brilliant career and courage are well documented but one wonders if this model holds true because while it agrees with relativity it stands in stark contrast with core elements of information theory. Essentially, Hawking and others have described the proto-universe as existing in what could be called a simultaneous epoch. Simultaneity means everything happens at once,which precludes any sort of sequential/cause-effect process. Most theoretical physicists believe the universe had to cool (i.e. its symmetry broken) before matter, forces, space and time evolved into their present forms. Yet for cooling to occur particles had to separate to reduce friction-induced heat. To go from compression to separation required a force, which involved inexorably a sequence of events. That is because one element had to interact with another to enact or produce the force (even quantum theory would require that). That entails an exchange of information, which by definition and orchestration requires a sender and receiver. That is an unavoidable mandate of Information theory. Simultaneity precludes that possibility and while it is interesting to consider that time did not exist prior to the Big Bang, such a scenario would also remove both information content and transmission from the process. In that case no event could have occurred because there cannot be information without time.
Beyond that, in the pre-expansion cosmic egg heat could only be generated via the rapid bombardment of particles; ostensibly in a plasma containing mostly hydrogen and helium. Heat is a form of information requiring senders and receivers since it is created by, for instance, particle A crashing into particle B. If all matter in the cosmic egg was a singularity, with no distinctions, just an entity of infinite noise (the opposite of information) no event could have led to cooling, expansion or any other event. In other words a simultaneous epoch could have prevented any universe, multi-verse, “brane” or string from coming into existence.
Other features of a non-temporal cosmic egg also run contrary to information dynamics. Perhaps the most obvious is seen in the law of conservation, which holds that energy will always be conserved – never run out, though it can change form. Burn a log of wood and ash will replace the solidity of the log. Yet the chemicals and energy of either form will always remain the same. That poses a problem for the idea of simultaneity. The universe of now must have exactly the same amount of energy it had in the beginning. Without time it could have had no energy then, consequently no energy now. By the same token, energy and the components and forces that drive and reshape it are a form of information. That means if there was no information in the cosmic egg there cannot be any information in our present day universe. That would preclude any semblance of cause-effect, time, force, matter, distinctions or symmetry breaking. To put it crudely, there would be nothing – we would have ourselves a negative universe.
Without invoking a deity the idea of an non-temporal cosmic egg seems unlikely. While modern theoretical physics has drifted into at times Byzantine descriptions of mass, time, space, energy and causation it could be that there was a beginning – that time never originated but was (necessarily) there from the outset. Perhaps there were infinitely narrow time passages at work, for example an unsurpassed Planck time that would not be measurable or even comprehensible to us now. That aside, it seems the notion of a pre-expansion, simultaneous epoch can be called into question.
Hawking, S. Mlodinow, L. (2012) The Grand Design Bantam Books,
Hawking, S. Penrose (2015) The Nature of Space and Time, Princeton University Press
Hawking, S. Penrose, (2005) A Brief History of Time. Bantam Books.
On Information Theory and Cosmology: Kamani, M. Paakkonen, K. Annila, A. (2009) The Physical Character of Information, Proc. R. Soc. A 465 (2107) pp. 2155-75
Reference to bosons (force particles) and fermions (mass particles) Lederman, L. Hill, C. (2013) Beyond the God Particle, Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY.