something I've noticed about our perception of time

We tend to see the future as being an uncertain cloud of possibilities made concrete as they become the present, then etched in stone as the past that cannot be changed.

I’ve realized that there is a “champagne glass pyramid” metaphore that seems to work for the universe. There are many glasses at the bottom to start from, but they all wind up in the same place when working upwards. If you’re working back however, there’s a fork of two possible champagne glasses each step.

Because the universe is deterministic in nature, each state leads to the same result when the variables are constant. One moment gives one result. However, that result can be arrived at from more than one route. If you deal with deterministic universe of 2 dimensions, each moment can be arrived at from 2 previous instances. This is seen in a basic 2 dimensional iterative chaotic function which works as a quadratic, with 2 possible roots for each possible result.

that means that it is the future that is set in stone, but it’s the past that branches off into the uncertainty of possibilities. The route we followed is documented, but it’s one of many.

I just thought it was interesting that the idea of a forking tree of possibilities applies more to the past, than the future, and I’d welcome any additional input :slight_smile:

I lost you when you reversed the champagne glass pyramid.

On top of that, I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about.

I prefer to think of it as the ‘trousers of time’ (TM Terry Pratchett).

Interesting, but it is not known that the future is predetermined (check out some past Great Debates about Freewill). Unless you’re talking about the cosmological fate of the universe…in which case perhaps the universe could be viewed as first nothingness, then an expanding realm of possibility*, finally leading to ‘heat death’. More of a diamond shape than a pyramid.

  • through one time line

I’m not really talking about anything too mysterious here. In our day to day lives, things move when they are pushed, and in the direction they are pushed in, every time. When I throw a ball in the air to a certain height, it’s going to fall back at the same rate as it did last time I threw it to that height (give or take small discrepencies due to additional factors like wind etc). When we tip the first domino in a line, we don’t have to wait around to know what’s going to happen. The dominos do not choose whether or not to fall when tipped. We live our lives in a universe of cause and effect.

It’s pretty much impossible for us to just comprehend the universe as a whole, so we create simulations, extracting only the variables we’re interested in. If you have a system of only 1 dimension, there is only one way to get to each point as you move through time, because the system takes the form of a straight line. In a deterministic system of 2 dimensions, there are 2 ways to get to each result, and so on.

Through our simulations, and all our experiences, the universe is deterministic. If it is indeed a 3 dimensional system moving through time, it would stand to reason that there would be 3 ways to get to each moment. However, each given moment only leads to one result.

You must not be terribly familiar with quantum physics, G, or I doubt you’d be so certain that the universe is deterministic. Our best scientific evidence shows that the smallest parts of the universe do not appear to follow the rules of cause and effect. For example, at any given time, there is a .00000000002% (pulling this number completely out of my ass, here) that a electron and anti-electron pair will jump out of nowhere and near-instantly annihilate themselves. It happens; we’ve recorded it. But the kicker is, these things appear to happen with absolutely no cause whatsover; it appears to be completely random. Despite all our looking, we cannot find a cause for these events. (There are some scientists who insist there must be a hidden cause we have yet to discover for these events, but that belief, so far as I can tell, is rarely held, and has no evidence to back it up besides our intuitive but unsupported insistence that all things “must” have a cause.) At its base, the universe appears to be based on probabilities, not pure determinism. Run a search on “Quantum physics” and determinism to learn more about this.

I am familiar with quantum physics and I had a feeling this was going to come up. I thought saying “In our day to day lives” was illustrating that I’m talking about systems that we do know about - even mathematical models for these systems. No quantum fluctuation is going to stop my coffee mug from falling if I drop it.

You’re talking about the weirdness of what goes on at the very base of our universe, the area we know least about. Quantum physics does not make Newton wrong, and my aim was to keep this conversation away from discussing things that even people on the frontiers of science do not know.

I’m talking straight forward deterministic mechanics here which does still exist.

Oh, and please try and be a little less condecending. Discuss the topic at hand and share your brilliant wisdom, but please don’t make assumptions on what I do or do not know.

thankyou :slight_smile:

I apologize for any apparent condenscending on my part, but I genuinely did not think that a person familiar with quantum physics would say that the universe was deterministic. Each state does NOT always lead to the same state if the variables are constant; this has been clearly demonstrated. If the universe was purely deterministic, we would be able to set the universe up, run it, see where it is five billion years from now, and if we set the universe up the exact same way and ran it the exact same time, everything would be exactly the same. Due to quantum fluxuations, this is not the case. Your coffee cup not falling to the floor when dropped is highly highly highly unlikely, but not impossible (according to all I have read). ::shrug:: Since I do not accept that the universe is purely deterministic, I have little to say about your OP.

I state again:

deterministic mechanical systems exist, as well as the weirdness of quantum mechanics. I’m talking about the former. To say that there is an actual possibility that rogue quantum fluctuations might rupture the mechanics of the universe when I drop my coffee mug, seems to be a strangely metaphysical argument to something far more straight forward.

But, G, deterministic mechanical systems don’t exist! Only reasonable approximations when viewed on short enough time scales. Just because the errors are negligible doesn’t mean that they are not there. Newton was in fact wrong, although his formulas are still useful approximations when one doesn’t feel like taking three weeks to solve a simple problem.

Set up some billiard balls. Introduce some momentum and you can calculate exactly where those balls will go. But only for a while. Sooner or later the quantum effects build up and throw a wrench in your system: your calculations no longer have any predictive value on reality. And every time you run the experiment, you’ll get different results.

Sure, every time you push your coffee mug of the table it falls to the floor and shatters. That is because the probability that all the particles will simultaneously randomly move up instead is so fiendishly, ridiculously small that the universe could cruise on happily for hundreds of billions of years without this ever happening. But when it hits the floor, can you predict HOW it will shatter? Can you predict the trajectory of each individual coffee droplet? Do you propose that it will crack the same and the drolets will fly the same every time? Hardly.



First I must accept your premise: the reverse of what we thought it true. The future is etched in stone and the past is a variable. Other than your simplistic champagne glass analogy, do you have any proof, or further explanation, that what you claim is true?

But it’s not true, and I can prove it. You use the example of a coffee mug falling. Let’s assume that the coffee mug shatters and coffee spills across the kitchen floor. Now, before that mug has left my hands, according to you, the future has already been determined. I will drop it, it will fall, it will shatter, and coffee will spill in a predetermined pattern. But here’s the problem: the future isn’t just the end result. The future is every point from the present onward. Every millionth of a milisecond from the point it leaves my hand until it stops moving on the floor is all part of the future.
If the future is truly predetermined, then there is no chance of any variation in what it can happen. There is only one way: the way it will happen. Given then, that there’s only one future, there can only be one past as well. After all, from any point in the past, only one possible way would take us into the future (our present).

Perhaps I’m not explaining myself properly. But the end result is: if the future is already predetermined, the past must therefore be as well.

the champagne glass thing is an analogy, but you’re right; it’s pretty weak by itself.

The thing that actually inspired this was looking at a simple chaotic system:

y = sx(1 - x)

where y is the next iteration (ie: you plug it back into x and start again), and x begins at a value between 0 and 1. s is the gradient, and once it gets as high as about 3.6, the system starts to get chaotic. s has a limit of 4. Any higher and you’ll eventually wind up racing off towards +/- infinity.

This is analogous because it demonstrates determinism, the butterfly effect, and the uncertainty of tracing the system back in time. Because it is a 2 dimensional system, each possible out put can be reached via 2 possible input values, just like any other quadratic.

I realize this is just a mathematical abstract and I’m not claiming to answer all the mysteries of the universe in this thread. Mechanical systems still exist in life, despite our greater learning of the inner subtlties. Mathematical models are a great way to try to better understand those systems. That’s all I’m trying to do here, along with provoking some ideas from others :slight_smile:

I disagree. An experiment cannot be duplicated.

The mathematics and physical principles involved in QM tell us that the results of any particular experiment is not predictable. That doesn’t mean it isn’t deterministic.

Remember that using QM the big bang was more of a quantum fluctuation. In this way, there is a parallel anti-universe of ours. Particle/antiparticle pairs are action-at-a-distance-ly (omg I can’t believe I said that) linked to each other. When something affects a particle, its antiparticle pair gets affected in an analogous manner to maintain zero-sum.

The question isn’t “Can we predict the future based on given input” but “Is it conceivable that the future is set?” The answer to the first is a resounding no, but the answer to the latter is, as of yet, undetermined.

Quantum Physics has a LOT of unknowns, even though the Standard Model is, as of yet, the best predictor of qualities.

That is, how do you reconcile belief in non-determinism in light of the mathematical reality of Quantum Mechanics? Either we know the universe or we don’t…

Not sure if this is related, but here’s something interesting.

You have a X number of choices to take, so you pick choice A. In retrospect you realise that if the past is set in stone ( and that’s how we usually see it ) and you picked A not B then A is the only choice you could have picked. There’s no chance of you having picked B because you didn’t.

Yeah, I’m schizofrenic.

Can you believe this stuff can make me feel depressed? And I have no freewil! I’m just destiny’s pawn.

And I don’t know how to use bold.

our whole system of knowledge is derived through noticing patterns and repetitions in the world around us. For something to become an accepted fact, it has to be shown to happen repeatedly.

Timely that you should mention the standard model, because it’s being seriously rethought right now after Brookhaven recently proved a discrepency in our understanding of the muon.

I understand what you’re getting at with the particle / anti-particle bond, and it’s one of the most tempting phenomena of the known universe in my opinion. However, that brings me to my final point; I’m not talking about the wonderful world of quantum mechanics, and barely understood physical phenomena. I’ve even laid out the mathematical function that inspired the thread - that certainly isn’t subject to quantum mechanics! It’s a function that has analogies to life but no, it isn’t the theory of everything.

I find it interesting how it models (not exactly!) the chaotic nature of life. I originally used it for a one way encryption program. I always just assumed it was unbreakable because I rounded off the decimal on each iteration, and therefore threw away crucial information. One day I decided not to round off the numbers, thereby giving myself infinite knowledge of each state. As soon as I tried to use this to work the system backwards, I immediately realized that each step back in time was a fork of 2 possible routes. I was just pondering the possibilty of the analogy to life continuing into this aspect.

I completely agree with that point MusicJunkie. very concise!


As far as the Standard Model goes, I’m interested in the whole superstring bit, which seems to be the super-modern equivalent of the corpuscular theory of light/wave theoy of light dichotomy.

I’m so very embaressed, I promise **it’ll never happen again.

In an effort to help qualify my point, I would like to expound on this point.

Consider, as a macro effect of quantum mechanics, a transistor. Electronic circuits are very deterministic. At what point are you willing to accept determinism? Clearly, due to the logical tendencies I’ve seen in your other comments, logic’s “if…then” statements are in some way acceptable as a form of determinism.

G, you might like this thread. One of my favorites.

Ermmmm…yes, I also agree with this.

thanks for the link aynrandlover.

I’ve been trying to seperate this topic from the “free will” argument (as opposed to the “free willy” argument which Disney has the rights to), although it’s hard because they’re very similar. I can’t possibly hope to make a single logical argument when we’re dealing with the totality of the universe, because I’d have to always allow for the zillion to one chance my coffee cup is going to fly upwards when I let go, or spontaneously combust, or the universe may just collapse because there’s a chance of that happening too. I’ve stated the function that I’m looking at as being analogous to the chaos of life. Thanks to the fact that I’m using a using a mathematical analogy that doesn’t claim to be the recipe of life, I’m excused from explaining what hasn’t been fully understood by the most educated and experienced people on the planet, let alone by my puny self :slight_smile: