(originally published on 18/04/2013)
One of the prevailing theories among scientists in this age is that when we get to the end of time the whole thing will just turn around and go back to where it came from.
Now I’ve done a few things wrong, so I’d like us to think more deeply about the concept of turning back time. Of course, I know nothing about this really and I want to say this right now – please don’t come and get me in my sleep Stephen Hawking. Disclaimers aside let’s do pseudo-science! You must now believe everything that Professor Askelad is about to tell you.
There are three basic “arrows of time” in quantum mechanics that define our perception of time. Let’s look at turning each one around. The first is the cosmological arrow. This shows us whether the universe is expanding or contracting. Moving in its normal direction it is always expanding. If we flip it, assuming that we’re in the same epoch that we are in now, which we have to be because it’s the only epoch in which we exist, we shouldn’t experience too much difference. The astronomers would be telling us that the universe is contracting, observable by a blue-shift in the galaxies that would be hurtling towards us. That’s all this reversal would do. No biggie. Turn it around if you want. Of course, the ultimate destiny of the universe would then be that everything would come to a stop at a single no-dimensional point.
The second arrow is the psychological arrow. That’s how we perceive time – i.e. we know our past (or some of it at least) but haven’t got a clue about the future. I’m going to posit, for the sake of argument, that if we turn this beauty around, again, it wouldn’t make much difference. Perhaps I haven’t thought enough about how it would affect thought processes, or if people would walk around backwards, but damn, you’re not reading Time Magazine. Let’s assume (perhaps wildy) that a cognizant human being, aware of his future and not his past would turn around to face his past and it would seem pretty much the same. He could even call the part he was aware of (future) “the past” and the unknown part (past) “the future.” Not so fun this arrow. Not when I’ve had my grubby pseudo-science hands on it.
Our final arrow is the thermodynamic arrow. How entropy increases over time defines this arrow. Now we’ve got to the fun one. Let’s turn it around. Everything around us would then be taking itself from a chaotic state and ordering itself. Imagine, for a moment, accidentally kicking some shards of porcelain on the floor only for them to suddenly fly up onto a table and form themselves perfectly into a cup. Everything would be conspiring to perfection around us. Think about how fantastic that would be. There wouldn’t be a care in the world, and our sole function would be to experience the beauty of everything coming together (of course, Stephen Hawking might tell you that this wouldn’t happen because our perception of it would be going backwards, therefore everything would seem normal, but who are you going to believe, him or me? You wouldn’t follow a nay-sayer, would you?).
When we ignore what I’ve just said in parenthesis and think about it, we’re really going the wrong way through time right now. Why wrong? Well solely because of what we are, and I speak on behalf of the entirety of living organisms when I say this:
life is a rebellion against high entropy.
This is how I figure that. According to the second law of thermodynamics, all objects must decay. The only difference between regular objects and living objects is that the living ones are constantly trying to delay, bend and circumnavigate this universal law. Think about animals. First of all we manage to go in the opposite direction to high entropy for a while – we grow and we learn; we find a way to perpetuate ourselves – respiration and consumption; and although we can’t defy high entropy forever we find a way of squeezing out little versions of ourselves to continue the defiance when we’re gone. Are these versions of ourselves the same or inferior? No, generally they are superior versions, when we factor in evolution, meaning that we are defying high entropy.
The law of gravity states that two bodies needs must be attracted to each other. Life grows legs and walks away.
Every day life gets better at defying nature. We live for longer, cure diseases, swap organs, We can fly and even leave the atmosphere. We can roam deep under the water where we’re supposed to suffocate and get squashed under the pressure. All of human endeavour seeks to place an order upon that which naturally wants to fall apart. No wonder so many of us have a hard time.
To move on from that idea, and link back to the notion of when time reaches its ultimate length and starts to go backwards, I’d like to ask this question: will they be the same events that we experience but in reverse, and does that mean that the great destructors of forward time are the heroes of backward time? Will the allies of World War II march to Berlin to initiate the existence of Hitler, who will build from the rubble an empire for the purpose of bringing 6 million Jews into existence in his magical anti-gas chambers, later improving their living conditions and liberating France, Austria and Poland? Is a message of race hate played backwards a speech of unity? It would be startling to discover that Hitler wasn’t a bad man, he had just been going through time in the opposite direction to us.
And conversely what of that wicked bitch Mother Teresa? In reverse time she would ensure that the ill and disabled were taken from their comfortable, cared-for living spaces and put out on the streets, dismantling the hospices and giving all the money to the already rich, and all out of spite that she was posthumously de-beatified by the Vatican.
Time defines perhaps more than any other property of the universe the way that we live, the way that we perceive things. Yet already we’re aware that it is not a constant and that it is subject to our own personal rhythms. At our evolutionary stage we can manipulate matter to a startling degree. Perhaps we will evolve to also manipulate space, and then time. When we have uncovered the mysteries of time it may change everything we know about, well, everything.