What "Flat Time" isn't.
"Flat Time" isn't a formal scientific theory resulting from an expensive and prolonged research project involving a great deal of practical experimentation in a laboratory. (An attempt was made in 2001 to obtain funding for just such an academic research project to test the proposals of "Flat Time" by practical experiment and extensive computer modelling, working with the Quantum Gravity Department of Imperial College London. However the funding application failed to focus sufficiently on the economic profits that might arise from the potential applications for "Flat Time" in the commercial world. Luckily for the rest of us, neither the Special nor General theories of Relativity, nor the theoretical process that lead to Quantum Mechanics were ever required to satisfy such an unscientific agenda. It is clear that atomic power and quantum computing which directly derived from such theoretical advances proved of massive commercial significance. However, profit potential alone is not an acceptable or feasible qualifier for the relevance of radical scientific thought, or research as it must by definition come after the fact.
It may be an irrelevance to remember that Einstein was a Patent clerk before his theoretical work made him famous but the reasons why "Flat Time" has come from the art trajectory are rather more logical. It is just as much the artist's professional business to envisage, reflect and propose the nature of "what is the case" as is the scientist's. Both artist and scientist are concerned with the same axis, but travelling with opposite "spin", the scientist being convergent and the artist being divergent, although both move constantly forward to create the way we envisage and by thus envisaging, shape our "reality" and indeed the possibilities of our future.
What "Flat Time" is.
"Flat Time" is a major, entirely new and radical "Overview" with much to say about our world at the micro and macro level and the cosmos that is our context. Like the "overview" theories and conceptual models of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics which preceded it, it is concerned with "the nature of what is the case" and like them it is the consequence of many decades of ongoing analysis and "thought experiment". It differs in one crucial respect.
"Flat Time" is an "Overview" which potentially includes the whole of our experience within the same mensurate reference frame.
As with the fundamental theories mentioned above, at the core of Flat Time is an apparently minor but radical shift in the manner in which we envisage "what is the case" at a micro-temporal level. The quickest and simplest way to explain this radical difference is to compare it in very general terms with the way mainstream science currently envisages "reality".
Relativity makes startling observations about the relative and subjective nature of time, yet at its core the world is still conceived in a very similar way to 19th century Newtonian Physics, as an arena of "objects" moving through "space" in a manner which "takes time". This is because the conceptual "micro-unit" involved is a "thing", however infinitesimally small, a fragment of "stuff". In addition "the observer" is taken to be a neutral origin of observation and is not included in the theoretical model as an equally significant manifestation of what is being observed.
Quantum Mechanics involves radical and in some cases counter-intuitive predictions yet suggests that there are in reality no "things" at all but rather "overlapping fields of likelihood's" which give the appearance of "thingness" depending on the relative frequency and contiguity of the observer's reference frame. Once again "the observer" is neither a matter of focus nor considered as example of what is being observed.
Indeed even the much used term "model" bears the stamp of our unconscious but constant a priori assumption of "things" in "space-time". Hence the term "overview" is preferred herein as it inherently refers to the observer as its sole perceptual and conceptual origin. For the same reason "what is the case" is preferred to such questionable terms as "reality" as it retains the essential uncertainty and partiality of our comprehension.
As has been well demonstrated over a generation of developments in practical science arising from them, both the Relativistic and the Quantum Mechanical overviews have made possible major advances in our grasp of "what is the case" and our power to shape and manipulate the world around us. However, the fundamental intuitive contradiction between the two world views ("things in space" and "no things only fields") has so far made it impossible to develop a truly inclusive "Theory of Everything" or "GUT" (grand universal theory) an overview that will apply in all cases, at all times, to all things, in all places. Developing the latter is arguably the ultimate goal of all science as Hawkin observed on the closing page of a Brief History of Time. One might usefully add that it is also what characterises truly "great" art, as the greatest art works do not depend upon when, where, or for how long, you see, hear, read or experience them, they just "work".
A major factor that Relativity and Quantum Theory have in common is that neither addresses the "problem of the observer" and the intuitively obvious fact that "perception is aggressive and the nature of the observer must inevitably influence and perhaps partially determine the nature and behaviour of the observed". One might also add the word "apparent" at almost any point in that sentence without essentially changing its meaning. Both established conceptual models ignore the "problem of consciousness" entirely, even though both manifestly depend upon and derive from it. Accordingly the massive uncertainty that is the necessary consequence of ignoring everything "on the inside of the eyeball" that comprises the "observer" underlies the whole of the current conventional "overview". As Hawking has observed "We and our models are both part of the Universe we are describing, we are not angels who view the Universe from the outside."
So how is Flat Time different?
In particular how does it resolve the inherent contradiction between substantial "things" and insubstantial "fields of likelihood" while also taking into account "the observer" making the observations?
In a nutshell, Flat Time is a "time-based" overview rather than a "space-based" overview. This conceptual shift permits entirely new perspectives on phenomenology.
Flat Time takes the simple first step of proposing that the "smallest unit" which we imagine in our deliberations about "the nature of what is the case", is not a "thing" or a "field" but a "least event", as all phenomena can usefully and accurately be described as "events" however small or large. Indeed there is no necessary theoretical limit to the precision with which any "event" may be described, defined or measured.
By contracting the whole argument about whether the smallest items in our conception of the universe are "things" or "fields" to the level at which they can be treated as "events" and taking a "least event" as out primary conceptual unit, we can avoid all the contradictions at a stroke. Far from being a minor change or "just a play on words", this is a major shift in conceptual perspective which "cuts the Gordian Knot", because the concept of "event" already includes and subsumes time, space, field and (crucially) non-material but indisputable phenomena such as "consciousness". This enables us to include the observer with the observed, as both are concurrent phenomena in an arena of "events" and their interaction can be mapped within a single reference frame; that of "event-structure".
For the purposes of thought experiment "Flat Time" took as its "least event" and primary unit of such an "event-structural" perspective, the time taken for light to traverse the orbit of a classical electron, although it seems likely that a far smaller least event could and perhaps must be proposed for the mapping to be really useful at a quantum level.
Amongst its conceptual ancestors Flat Time can perhaps count such proposals as D'Arcy Thompson's radical observation in Victorian times that all animal skeletons could be shown to be variations of a virtually identical configuration, varying in a way that could be tracked by envisaging them all as mapped onto the same grid, then expressing their differences in the manner that grid was symmetrically distorted, compressed, or stretched. Thompson was actually demonstrating the remarkable capacity of human consciousness and imagination to schematise perception internally, in a manner that then enables real predictions of the unknown to be made, in the "real" world. "Flat Time" also owes much to "The O Structure" which was a seminal work self-published in 1959 at the Institute for the Study of Mental Images by the astrophysicist and former Director of the London Observatory, C.C.L.Gregory & Anita Kohsen, subtitled "An Introduction to Psychophysical Cosmology". In this work Gregory & Kohsen proposed a compound model whose essential unit was a micro-event, introduced the relevance of the time-base of events and suggested a compound model which they called a "Uranoid". This was essentially an abstract dynamic model of the universal event hierarchy and a first attempt at an inclusive event-mapping model. Gregory also introduced the extremely useful concept of "Informational relationship" which has perhaps been most precisely realised in the recent experimental conformation of the counter-intuitive prediction by quantum theory of "action at a distance" or the linkage thereafter (regardless of time or space) between any two elements that have once been parts of the same event.
"Flat Time" is essentially a new way of "mapping" "what is the case" at a micro, median and macro level in a manner that potentially permits events of every imaginable kind to be accurately and consistently mapped within the same reference frame. If this indeed proves the case it is by no means a trivial matter and has very far reaching implications on many levels.
So how does Flat Time make the leap from a "least event" as a unit, to a potentially comprehensive mapping of "what is the case" at all levels?
The second step is to recognise that all events at any given level are in fact "constellations of micro-events" or "event-structures".
However, manifestly, we do not experience the world as an amorphous swirl of "event structural constellations" but as "things" moving in apparent time and space. Although Einstein famously said "Time is that which permits space to change" that revealed perhaps more about the nature of human observation and the human observer, than the cosmos. For what we call a "thing" is simply a perceptual or even an imaginary boundary, assigned to a volume of phenomena by consciousness, and what we call "time" is a manifestation of the relative rate of our perception, to the rate of apparent function of that assigned boundary, as indeed Einstein himself later observed to such effect. Both are in fact epiphenomenona of consciousness and the quality of perception that it permits or imposes. Perception is an "aggressive act" which, quite literally, determines the manner in which we experience ourselves and our context. As Aristophanes (to brutally paraphrase) said long ago "what either of these actually are is almost certainly another matter entirely" as would be obvious from the perspective of a differently configured observer or consciousness. Indeed, if true aliens ever appear on earth, it is entirely possible that we will completely fail to even notice them, or they us.
Rather than avoiding this conundrum as current overviews still do, Flat Time addresses this by proposing that these assigned "things", "spaces" and "times" can all be considered "events" whilst being precisely distinguished from one another in terms of their "Time Base". i.e. The actual elemental components which comprise a galaxy, a star, a geological era, a tree, a human being, a plant, a gnat or an elementary particle are all there before and after it exists as an apparent "thing". But the duration of them "clustering" in that precise recipe to which we give that name, has what Flat Time refers to as a definite "Time Base". For a galaxy it is perhaps what the Buddhists call a Kalpa, for a star an eon, for a geological era millennia, for a tree centuries, for a human being decades, for a plant years, for a gnat hours and for a particle, nanoseconds.
The First Law of Thermodynamics states "Energy can be changed in form, but it cannot be created or destroyed."
Flat Time restates this as "All phenomena can be considered as 'event-structures' and all 'event-structures' have a 'time-base'" because "Flat Time" enables us to dispense with amorphous fields and things in space and thus in turn replaces the illusion of "creation and destruction" with the phase shifts in boundary conditions that are in fact actually the case. All that are "created or destroyed" are boundaries that consciousness and perception have assigned, as all "event-structures" in fact comprise a continuous compound manifold of unrelenting change. For example there are in reality no distinct or discrete "waves" or "currents" in any river or ocean, only universally varying flow, yet we assign these distinctions in order to enable us to exchange descriptions and attempt to predict change.
Flat Time's third step is to propose that there is more than one kind of time which is in accord with the very latest proposals in the field of Quantum Gravity. (vis.Time and Modern Physics a paper by Prof.Christopher J. Isham and Konstantina N. Savvidou - Christopher J. Isham is Professor of Theoretical Physics, Imperial College London; Konstantina N. Savvidou works at Imperial College London)
There is "passing time" that subjective phenomena whose relativity Einstein observed and quantified.
There is "Time-Base" comprising the relative boundaries of observable events.
There is "Flat-Time" which is the "area" subsumed by both of the above when they are used to form two axes of a flat graph of unfolding events.
It is this "Flat-Time" that creates the illusion of space than enables us to reduce a continuous cosmic event into discrete and separate phenomena that we can "perceive" and exchange communications about.
If one imagines a roller blind hanging against a wall and unrolling slowly from the back, flat against that wall, with the whole of the turning roller visible at all times.
"Passing time" is represented by rotation of the roller and "History" (or "passed time") by the vertical left and right hand edges of the blind as they descend under the influence of gravity.
"Time-Base" is represented by the lateral width of the roller, on which one can mark various phenomenal events as bands, their "width" representing their "time base".
Micro-events to the left and macro-events to the right, hence the extreme left of the roller represents the origin of the universe in the big bang at a micro level when (supposedly) everything started from a point, before which there was "no time or space" in the conventional sense and the right hand end of the roller represents the whole cosmos of universes, the "total event" as a whole. So the roller (or a computer modelled analogue of it) can be used to represent the whole spectrum from microcosmos to macrocosmos.
"Flat-Time" is the area mapped on that roller by any given "event-structure" as, and after it has, occurred.
It can be seen that the history of an atomic particle, a leaf, or a person, could be precisely represented by different shapes of stain on the descending flat portion of the roller.
If the banding is on the front of the roller, then as it turns up and over and descends behind, it becomes invisible and inaccessible, even though it remains there and accessible to forensic excavation and reconstruction, just as all "histories" do.
One could apply very precise temporal measurement from zero to infinity across the roller from left to right and equal precision to the vertical dimension of passing time.
If one has sufficient imagination one can see that in terms of relative scale, rather than being a cylinder, the roller must in fact be a cone on its side, with the primary "least event" at its left hand point and the whole Cosmic event as its infinite right hand base. This in turn implies that the descending sheet becomes in fact an arc of circle that repeats its rotation and overlays itself in layer after layer, as indeed the whole "history" of phenomena appears to do. Alternately the change in scale can be represented logarithmically from left to right retaining the simpler imagery of a normal cylinder.
The "grain" of that which is observed is a matter of the "time-base" from which one chooses to make the observation. i.e. From an oak tree's 500 year "time-base" a human life would appear like a hyper-fast mosquito track, gone in an instant, where as from the perspective of that same human being's "time-base" a tree's growth and motion will appear almost geologically slow. The equations of Relativity might be applied precisely to this variance between "time-bases" as they are indeed an alternate way of stating the same thing. "Flat Time" enables one to reflect the differences for different observers.
The "clouds of likelihood's" of quantum mechanics are equally well represented by the "stains on the roller" which comprise a given event-structures assigned boundary in a Flat Time sense, with a degree of precision determined solely by the degree of fineness of temporal "focus" applied to any give area within any chosen boundary one elects to assign.
With a little imagination one can quickly see that this overview could be used to track and compare virtually any imaginable kind of phenomena or event, from a molecule to a political movement, all within a single and consistent frame of reference within which comparative measurements and relative observations could for the first time be made "across categories".
We are currently surrounded by overwhelming current evidence of the desperate situation that has resulted from a complete absence of any existing tools, conceptual or otherwise, to perform exactly such analyses across categories.
If one takes the logical next step (as was intended at Imperial College) and creates a mathematical computer model along these lines, which can then be fed with "real world data" in "real time", then demographic, scientific, social, political and phenomenological observations of an entirely new order become feasible as changes in event-structures from formally unconnectable categories could in theory be dynamically and simultaneously tracked, in real-time. The degree of precision limited only by the scope and bandwidth of the data input, the power of the computer running the model and last but most crucial of all, the agenda and creative imagination of those interrogating the model.
The final component in the overview of "Flat Time" is "score".
The simplest way to explain the concept of "Score" is to refer to embryology. In that discipline one observes that although not a single scrap of evidence of any "blue-print" or "plan" or "equation" can be discerned in the initial zygote before or indeed after it divides and sub-divides, nonetheless an almost inconceivably complex organisation of organic structures invariably assemble themselves along almost precisely the same path of development as the embryo develops, resulting eventually, every time, in the phenomenal complexity that is an adult being. This is a non-trivial observation as absolutely no mechanical ("space-based") progenitor for that dynamic structural complexity is discernable at any level through any kind of electron microscope, within the cells that comprise the components of this unfolding sequence of "events" however closely one looks. All that can be said is that there appears to be a steep "slope" in the "pattern of likelihood's" which ensures that the embryo will develop as it "should" and as a very close replication of the way embryos of its species have "always developed". What slight and minute changes there are, comprise what we lightly refer to as "evolution", assuming them to be adaptations in the sequence in response to the environment. As there is no discernable physical record however, they cannot be "space-based" changes in the structure of the cells, but must be "imposed" by some unimaginable "configuring field" that stamps the new embryo with minor changes before it even "comes into existence". Those changes are not made in perceivable space but occur "elsewhere" and somehow "offstage" outside space-time even though such a thing is not even remotely possible according to our current overview of medicine. But babies still get born and species still evolve. We could say that changes in the "score" are somehow made by experiences of former "performances" of that score. The "score" in music makes no sound, is in itself inert and looks nothing like the music it configures, yet from it comes the symphony that is performed, whose every note is determined by it, even though successive"enactments" may vary in small details. All are "variations on the score" determined by "audience response" our metaphor for "environmental feedback"? As Darwin so upset the Victorians by making obvious, it is not necessary to postulate any "composer", only a kind of a-temporal and non-spatial feedback of some kind. Indeed we have to postulate it, as it manifestly occurs.
Similarly, on the microcosmic and macrocosmic scales, it seems likely and now even generally agreed, that in successive "enactments" of "universe", the same approximate sequence will be followed, leading to the same range of elements and following the same dynamic "laws", leading eventually to phenomena very similar in their broad outlines and even to a considerable depth of detail, to former "enactments". i.e. "Flora and fauna" may vary in local detail, just as the weather does, yet the periodic table is likely to remain almost identical in all possible universes. The key to evolution lies in the word "almost".
In the unlimited arena of "cosmos", it would appear as Hawking among others has outlined in detail, that individual universes are born, spawn whole galaxies of stars, expand, grow old, slow to a halt and eventually collapse back in on themselves again to a singularity, which in turn "eventually" self destructs, leading "eventually" to the re-birth of a "new" universe in a fountain of undifferentiated matter exploding from a single point, coming from wherever the "score" also persists, which is manifestly outside conventional "space-time". However, far from being different and random every single time, each successive "enactment" appears to follow a "score" which in turn may well "evolve" gradually by changing in small details as it unfolds, just as the embryos of every species do. Presumably over unimaginably great expanses of "passing time" in the "time-base" of cosmos as a whole, there is an evolution taking place, towards what ends we can only speculate with humility, awe and wonder.
It would seem unnecessary to add concepts as local as "divinity" to a vision of such scale, yet it would also appear that the capacity to even truly imagine such a vision in its entirety approaches what is meant by the term "enlightenment". The functional utility of any creature that has evolved to be capable of this is perhaps key in the larger scheme of things in a manner that is not immediately obvious from a local perspective. In the body of cosmos, perhaps all conscious life is finally the "knowing eye" whose recursive capacity enables the meta-consciousness of the whole in some unimaginable macro sense.
Like Gödel, Wittgenstein and Russell before him Hawking has recently observed that a complete vision may in the long run be inherently impossible. It would seen clear to the writer that the one component of the whole that which no observer can ever include in a holistic vision is "where they are looking from". This only further underlines the crucial responsibility of the "observer" in the configuration of perception and the consequent boundaries in the "vision" of successive "overviews" for us all. Perhaps in the long run we truly do "create the future" in a macro sense, in concert with all other conscious life in our local universe, but are protected from the crippling emotional responsibility which certainly of this would bring, by the massive differential between the "time-base" of cosmos and the "time-base" of the gnat-like span of a human individual's life.
Argonaut Systems Consultancy
The business of Argonaut Systems Consultancy is "Conceptual Engineering".
Copy Right - Ian Macdonald-Munro Feb 2004
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