John Wheeler was a visionary physicist and teacher who helped invent the theory of nuclear fission, gave black holes their name and argued about the nature of reality with Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. This quote from him about language and time shows he must have been a natural ‘taoist’, so to speak. Or perhaps he was a ‘closet Taoist’.
“We have learned how to use our words. It’s a fantastic thing – we humans are so easily trapped in our own words. The word time, for instance. We run into puzzles about the concept of time and then we say, ‘Oh what a terrible thing’. We don’t realize we’re the source of the puzzle because we invented the word.”
Of course, doesn’t his comment apply to absolutely everything we are puzzled about, not just time? For more on the puzzle of time, see this recent article in Science News, Law & Disorder. One part stood out especially…
In this way, the high-entropy empty spacetime that existed before the Big Bang can always increase its entropy even more — by giving birth to a baby universe. Although the baby would have low entropy, the total entropy of the system (mother de Sitter space plus baby) would be higher, preserving the second law. After pinching itself away from the mother space, the low-entropy baby will expand and the second law will drive a direction of time as the baby’s entropy rises. Eventually, the baby universe’s entropy will reach a maximum, becoming just like its timeless de Sitter space parent. And then it could give birth to baby universes of its own.
“As time evolves, you pop universes into existence — a baby universe comes into existence, expands and cools, and for a moment, there’s an arrow of time,” Carroll said. “The moment is several trillion years.”
I see here a few telling parallels with the Taoist view. Here are a few examples: Chapter 4, The way is empty, yet use will not drain it. Chapter 5, It is empty without being exhausted. Chapter 45, Great fullness seems empty, Yet use will not drain it.
My favorite is chapter 40…
Sure, these ancient thoughts lack the rigorous details of modern science. In the end though, all we will ever see through science is the reflection of our own mind… How could it be otherwise? The benefit of the scientific process lies in how it favors a high degree of impartiality. The beauty of the Tao Te Ching lies in the impartiality achieved through means other than modern experimental science. Yet, they are both certainly in sync with each other in the big picture. Honestly, I suspect science is playing catch-up. The parallels will only increase over time, especially as science increasingly proves and recognizes the power of Nothing !