What If…?

I wanted to be a cosmologist when I grew up.

In third grade, I wrote an essay about it for class. I went through my whole childhood assuming that would be the path I followed, right up until I started high school and discovered theater. I don’t regret turning away from cosmology to follow the theater path, just as I don’t regret leaving theater to become a librarian, but some days I find myself melancholy over the loss of what could have been.

I’m still as fascinated by the universe as I ever was, that part of me didn’t disappear when I changed paths. I still love to ponder the big cosmological questions, to try to unravel the mysteries of time and space and the nature of existence.

Every now and then, I get an idea that sings in my head—I’m certain there’s something to it, a possible answer. But I don’t have the training or the tools to explore my ideas properly, to test their merits, to trace their implications. I can’t do the work that’s required. I have ideas but I don’t have the math.

Perhaps it’s presumptuous of me to think I have any ideas that haven’t already been thought of, considered, and most likely discarded by people who do have the expertise and training and who do the work for a living.

Years ago, I wrote a fan letter to Dr. Martin Rees—I had just read his latest popular science book and some of the theories he discussed in it reminded me of ideas I’d been mulling over the years. I told him so and shared some of my other amateur theories with him. He responded to my letter and stated that some of the ideas I had shared were already in serious discussion amongst professional cosmologists.

So I know I’m capable of having ideas on the subject that are substantive and worthy. My brain is capable of thinking about these issues in a productive way. I was also very good at math in school (especially as it becomes more theoretical and less applied) and would have remained so, had I continued studying it. I’m confident I would have made a competent cosmologist if I had taken that route.

But I didn’t.

I still have ideas that I know are good and interesting and worthy of exploration. But I can’t do anything with them now. These are the days I’m most aware of what I gave up to follow a different path.

I don’t regret it. I love the life I’ve made for myself. The work I’m doing now is important and rewarding and I’m very good at it. I also grew up wanting to live in a library someday, so I managed to achieve at least one of my childhood dreams.

But some days I find myself wondering, “What if…?”

*        *        *

I have an idea about time.

Time seems to be the most problematic factor in quantum mechanics and our attempts to match up quantum mechanics with mass body physics. It poses such a problem that some physicists have begun to experiment with dropping time from their equations entirely—eliminate time as a factor in the math.

Turns out, the math works better when you leave time out of it. The math is beginning to suggest that time doesn’t actually exist.

More accurately, time doesn’t exist as a fundamental property of the universe. What if we consider time as an emergent property? Time isn’t something the universe is built on but something the universe creates.

The question then becomes: what generates time? What does time emerge from?

My answer: motion. Motion is defined as distance over time. Classical physics holds that without time, motion would be impossible. I wonder what happens if we reverse that relationship: motion creates time.

It makes intuitive sense to me—motion establishes sequence, time emerges from sequence. The entire universe is in motion—all mass bodies are moving through space, all matter is in constant motion on the atomic and sub-atomic levels, energy is whizzing around everywhere.

Time exists because the Big Bang threw everything into motion. Motion creates sequence—sequence generates time.

Or, perhaps, time is a result of the interplay of motion and distance. Just as the Big Bang threw everything into motion, it also created the space for everything to move through. This would explain why time starts to break down as we approach Planck distances and why it disappears when we cross the threshold into Planck space—once distance becomes so small it ceases to have any meaning as distance, motion becomes impossible. Without motion, there’s no sequence, time can’t emerge.

Perhaps distance is also an emergent property of motion. Maybe space-time exists because everything moves.

My gut tells me there’s something to this idea. Time as an emergent property of the universe. But I can’t do anything with it beyond what I’ve written here.

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