January 22, 2007 | Graham

Move over Einstein for Augustinian physics

Augustine is the most influential of the early church fathers. He solidified early Christian belief just prior to it becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. He was also a strong influence on the Reformation, with much of Luther’s theology being based on Augustine. Now it seems his ideas could be influential in quantum mechanical understandings of the world.
Scientists are trying to see whether they can make causality run backwards. That is, they are trying to see whether they can decide something now that will effect a change in the past. If you’re confused you need to read this article from the San Francisco Chronicle, and then check to see whether I’ve got my explanation right.
The background is that we know from quantum physics that the observer actually determines what happens in the nature of some sub-atomic particles. For example whether a photon behaves like a particle or a wave. Furthermore, we know that some particles are entangled with each other and by determining the nature of one particle we can determine the nature of an entangledone. For example, one photon which is entangled with another will exhibit wave or particle behaviour depending on what the observer imposes on its fellow.
Since Einstein we see existence as having four dimensions – height, depth, length and time – so-called Space-Time. Existence can be seen as a block which is delivered entire, including time, like a piece of furniture, except that unlike the piece of furniture we humans can’t experience it in its totality because we live time sequentially. If we didn’t have to live time sequentially we could potentially see it sitting there in all its four-dimensional glory.
The scientific speculation reported by the SFC is that sub-atomic causality doesn’t have to deal with time sequentially and that it could be possible that it flows backwards as easily as it flows forwards. So, if the observer determines the nature of a particle which is entangled with a particle that is in the past, it is possible that the determination will determine the nature of that particle in the past. An experiment has been devised to see whether this can be true.
What does Augustine have to do with this? Well faced with the apparent theological contradiction between humans having free-will and everything being predetermined by God he came up with a concept of creation where God sat outside space and time. This caused the problem to disappear. Because God could see what would happen as what had and was happening, because all of the time-line was available to him, humans were free to act freely, but God was able to know what they would do as though they weren’t free.
But in the quantum world there is a twist on this. Some physicists speculate that backward causation may explain why the universe is so friendly to living organisms. The San Francisco Chronicle phrases it thus:
“…the presence of conscious observers later in history could exert an influence on those first moments, shaping the laws of physics to be favorable for life. This may seem circular: Life exists to make the universe suitable for life. If causality works both forward and backward, however, consistency between the past and the future is all that matters.” A humanist version of Augustinian cosmology where mankind takes the place of God.

Posted by Graham at 10:57 pm | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Science


  1. It’s a mystery why this article, which appeared in “New Scientist” last September, and appears to draw on a paper that Cramer presented in Sydney in July 2005, should have suddenly appeared in SFGate the other day. Google Scholar finds no subsequent papers by Cramer on the subject.
    It is true that quantum mechanics and relativity make no distinction between forward and backward time, but thermodynamics does, specifically the second law, which defines a forward direction for time.
    The possibility discussed by Cramer is that of an event seeming to determine the outcome of another event occurring six microseconds earlier. But retrocausality is not the only possible explanation if that is in fact what happens.
    It’s a far cry from this though to Paul Davies’s conjecture that there might be a retrocausal link between the existence of life and the conditions existing at the moment the universe was created.

    Comment by MikeM — January 23, 2007 @ 7:32 pm

  2. Sub-atomic particles arise and decay at 10 to the power of 22 times a second. Each arising and passing is a cause for the following arising and passing. It’s a one-way street. You’re being unusually credulous here, Graham.

    Comment by Faustino — January 24, 2007 @ 12:13 am

  3. I would say that the philosophical world view of this blog/forum and its associated sponsors such as Henry Thornton, the IPA etc is entirely within the materialist clockwork mechanical “universe” of Newtonian physics. And that its associated understanding of human beings and culture is also entirely within this dismal reductionist paradigm. Webers deadly iron cage. Scientific materialism rules!
    And that the “religion” it generally promotes is also entirely within this dismal reductionist framework–being entirely exoteric with no esoteric content whatsoever—meat body philosophy–when you are dead you are dead.
    How odd (and perhaps refreshing)then that we have a post which seems to promote what is in effect a multi-dimensional quantum worldview which is full of space-time paradoxes and multiple points of view.
    That having been said these related essays provide an Illuminated understanding of “matter”, space-time, and Real God.The first one specifically discusses the cultural implications of Einsteins famous equation.
    1. http://www.dabase.net/christmc2.htm
    2. http://www.dabase.net/spacetim.htm
    3. http://www.dabase.net/dht6.htm
    4. http://www.dabase.net/dht7.htm
    This essay discusses how Big Science eclipsed Big Religion as the official arbiter of what is true and real.
    5. http://www.dabase.net/ilchurst.htm

    Comment by John — January 25, 2007 @ 9:28 am

  4. We have no evidence for TIME itself. We have no evidence that time is anything more then what you would get when you divide a distance by a steady velocity.
    Its a necessary concept but a derivative one.
    So its really pushing it for physicists to play make-believe and pretend that there is some unicorn called space-time.
    This is why they’ve gotten themselves bogged down and stuck. Because they have let all sorts of arbitrary assumptions creep up into their work.
    I like Augustine (Lord give me chastity but not yet) but we ought to be sweeping out as much crud from the models as possible.
    Not adding more.

    Comment by Graeme Bird — January 28, 2007 @ 10:47 am

  5. Following on from Graeme, perhaps time iz best defined az change:
    Time equals distance traveled divided by velocity. Assuming constant velocity, time iz dependent on the change in distance traveled, which is the change in an objects position in the three spatial dimensions relative to another body. So time iz dependent on change and can be defined in terms of change. What would be a neat and accurate sentence to sum this up?

    Comment by Benno — January 30, 2007 @ 7:41 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.