The Science News article, Out of the Fabric: Are space and time fundamental?, hinted at something I never thought I’d live to see. I’ve always thought that science would take forever to incorporate the irreducible and immeasurable side of reality that the Tao Te Ching inspects.
The following quotes were particularly striking. For scientists to even suggest that time is an emergent property is welcome and quite unexpected. Then again, I don’t suppose it should be. After all, we are still at the ‘toddler’ stage of our species evolution, with many more millennia ahead to figure it all out — or perhaps, return to review paths we’ve already traveled.
Seiberg, though, believes time and space will both go down the cosmic drain together. “My personal prejudice is that these objections and questions are not obstacles to emergent time,” Seiberg writes. “Instead, they should be viewed as challenges and perhaps even clues to the answers.”
More intriguingly, he observes, space and time’s ultimate status in nature may have something to say about the practice of science. Much of modern science is based on the concept of reductionism — explaining large-scale phenomena from laws operating at smaller scales. That notion will eventually break down if there’s a smallest scale below which space no longer exists.
“Therefore, once we understand how spacetime emerges, we could still look for more basic fundamental laws, but these laws will not operate at shorter distances,” he writes. “This follows from the simple fact that the notion of ‘shorter distances’ will no longer make sense. This might mean the end of standard reductionism.” And the beginning of a new view of not only space and time, but of science itself.
Mass, energy, space, and time are the somethings of existence. They are the bottom line of what is perceptible to human senses though our biology. However, this is possible in only a very narrow sensory range. The tools of science allow us to perceive much more: ultra sound, infrared, nuclear decay, galaxies and molecules. These somethings, along with any future somethings that new theories and tools of science uncover, are still something that the Tao Te Ching refers to literally. For example:
With a wave of your mind’s wand, wipe away all the somethings, both conceivable and inconceivable, and what are you left with? Nothing! In the end, nothing feels a lot like the constant way. Conversely, any something that can be named is not the constant way as chapter 1 put it. Understanding the nature of nothing is certainly a bizarre challenge. Chapter 70 hints at this situation…
Our biology biases us. Nothing is mysterious, or is it? Words fail. Nothing fails to receive the awe it deserves because we can’t touch, see, taste, smell, hear, or possess Nothing. Nothing is simply nothing, while the somethings of life are really something, especially if they are something rare and valuable. Conversely, to paraphrase chapter 70, Therefore Nothing, while clad in homespun, conceals within itself a priceless piece of jade.
While this article suggests the end of standard reductionism, will that change anything? After all, most people have an even harder time with Taoist views than with standard scientific ones. At least with science there is something on which to grasp, and that invariably makes us feel more secure and comfortable.