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Brave New Universe: Illuminating the Darkest Secrets of the Cosmos
In his science fiction novel, October the First Is Too Late, Hoyle offered a fictional account of some of his serious perspectives on the illusory nature of time. “There’s one thing quite certain in this business,” he wrote. “The idea of time as a steady progression from past to future is wrong. I know very well we feel this way about it subjectively. But we’re all victims of a confidence trick. If there’s one thing we can be sure about in physics, it is that all times exist with equal reality.” J. G. Ballard, the well-known science fiction writer, echoed this view. In his short story “Myths of the Near Future,” a character suggests that we should “think of the universe as a simultaneous structure. Everything that’s ever happened, all the events that will ever happen, are taking place together…. Our sense of our own identity, the stream of things going on around us, are a kind of optical illusion.”
Eddington proposed that time was subjective, a construct of the human mind. “General scientific considerations,” he wrote, “favour the view that our feeling of the going on of time is a sensory impression; that is to say, it is as closely connected with stimuli from the physical world as the sensation of light is. Just as certain physical disturbances entering the brain cells via the optic nerves occasion the sensation of light, so a change of entropy… occasions the sensation of time succession, the moment of greater entropy being felt to be the later.”
Oxford physicists Julian Barbour and David Deutsch have independently developed models in which each instant of time (in Barbour’s terminology, “Nows”) represents its own reality—a separate world, so to speak. These Nows are linked up through records of what we call the past. Thus, the only reason we say that one moment is later than another is because the “later time” contains particular information about the “earlier time.” This is analogous to a film, in which each frame comprises a separate photograph. Nevertheless, if the movie is coherent, then even if these frames were cut up and placed randomly in a box, one could sort out the order of the segments.