The stillness of Time

IF blog readers, I've reposted the entry below without the original tease about Sean Carroll's appearance at the IdeaFestival. These entries are syndicated; just click the "IdeaFestival blog" link to the left if you are reading this on the web site. "Insider Passes" to hear Carroll - and all the other fantastic presenters - are now available for purchase.


A recent Wired piece interviewed Caltech physicist and author of "From Eternity to Here," Sean Carroll and asked whether "he could explain his theories about time to a layman." 

His reply?

In one very real sense, you are time:

I’m trying to understand how time works. And that’s a huge question that has lots of different aspects to it. A lot of them go back to Einstein and spacetime and how we measure time using clocks. But the particular aspect of time that I’m interested in is the arrow of time: the fact that the past is different from the future. We remember the past but we don’t remember the future. There are irreversible processes. There are things that happen, like you turn an egg into an omelet, but you can’t turn an omelet into an egg.

And we sort of understand that halfway. The arrow of time is based on ideas that go back to Ludwig Boltzmann, an Austrian physicist in the 1870s. He figured out this thing called entropy. Entropy is just a measure of how disorderly things are. And it tends to grow. That’s the second law of thermodynamics: Entropy goes up with time, things become more disorderly. So, if you neatly stack papers on your desk, and you walk away, you’re not surprised they turn into a mess. You’d be very surprised if a mess turned into neatly stacked papers. That’s entropy and the arrow of time. Entropy goes up as it becomes messier.


From a cosmological view, the universe is moving from a highly ordered state to a completely disordered one, from a colossally energetic beginning to a cold end. Although the laws of physics are in theory symmetrical, the arrow of time goes in only one direction. People grow older. Suns eventually exhaust their fuel. It's that passage from energy to lethargy to stillness that we perceive and clock on the way to the next business appointment.

Among other reasons, it's that intuitive association of the passage of time with decreasing energy that makes Salvador Dalí's painting "The Persistence of Memory," pictured here, so startling.

Wayne      alt


Network model miraculously untangles Facebook, hopes for more

Exhausted from favoriting wall posts from across Facebook, a mathematical model has finally untangled relationships on the social network. Amazingly, the new technique could be applied to analyze the spread of infectious disease or pandemics, or, though there are clear limits to the method, to understanding what happens in Congress. Those slim hopes rests on getting members to talk across the aisle.


With the new community detection method, researchers should be able to dig deeper to examine the relationships among different groups in dynamic, multiplex data. Identifying community structures in a network might help to model processes and provides a signal about the underlying system, such as legislative polarization or the influence of various factors and forces...


Daniel Tammet: Thinking in Puns, Daydreams, Similes

Having been confirmed as one of the IdeaFestival 2010 presenters, prodigious savant and author of Born on a Blue Day and Embracing the Wide Sky, Daniel Tammet, recently took some time to answer five questions about his amazing mind.

Make plans today to hear Daniel and all the fantastic and accomplished people who will be in Louisville this September!

In your books you've talked about the synesthetic landscapes you encounter. Can you describe synesthesia and how it has contributed to your ease with language and math?

Synesthesia is a rare phenomenon in the brain. Individuals experience a mixing of the senses caused by unusual cross-communication between brain regions. Some synesthetes can taste words, or 'see' musical notes as colors or hues. My own synesthesia is similar to that of the writer Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita among many other novels. Nabokov said that letters of the alphabet had different colors, and it is likely that this tangible and intuitive experience of language played a role in his remarkable writing. In my case, letters and words have their own colors and textures and like Nabokov I make use of these in my own writing (for example, for such techniques as alliteration and metaphor). The ability also helps me to learn foreign languages, by visualising the connections between words. Numbers, too, have their own colors as well as shapes which I can manipulate in my mind to produce the solutions to sums.


First, Believe

Saying that "I think if we had more conversations about what we really care about, we might find innovation happens pretty much spontaneously," Johnnie Moore points out that breakthroughs depend on hunches, authenticity and risk - not sure bets, representations and proof.

Applied to our inner lives, the point is well taken.

It's those internal conversations that led Philippe Petit onto a wire sprung between the Twin Towers, or, having lost two legs mountain climbing, urged on Hugh Herr to scale new and different heights, or lent Sapphire the rhetorical depth in "Push." Each will be at IdeaFestival 2010.

"Coversations about what we care about?" First, believe.


Image: eye2eye, Creative Commons

Know-it-all, 'Information" hits Superfecta. Claims "higher power"


Down on his luck before being discovered as the root of all reality, information goes on to clean up at the betting window the first Saturday in May. 


IdeaFestival/ICI, Inc. | 200 West Vine Street, Suite 420 | Lexington, KY 40507 | | phone: 866-966-4607 toll-free or 502-966-4607 | fax: 859.259.0986

Copyright @ ICI, Inc. 2014