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SCI 'There is no such thing as past or future': physicist Carlo Rovelli on changing how we think about time
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  1. #1
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    6 'There is no such thing as past or future': physicist Carlo Rovelli on changing how we think about time

    Interesting guy.



    'There is no such thing as past or future': physicist Carlo Rovelli on changing how we think about time

    Sat 14 Apr 2018 03.01 EDT


    Seven Brief Lessons on Physics sold over a million copies around the world. Now Rovelli is back to explore the mysteries of time. He tells Charlotte Higgins about student revolution and how his quantum leap began with an acid trip

    • Extract from Carlo Rovelli’s new book: on the elastic concept of time

    What do we know about time? Language tells us that it “passes”, it moves like a great river, inexorably dragging us with it, and, in the end, washes us up on its shore while it continues, unstoppable. Time flows. It moves ever forwards. Or does it? Poets also tell us that time stumbles or creeps or slows or even, at times, seems to stop. They tell us that the past might be inescapable, immanent in objects or people or landscapes. When Juliet is waiting for Romeo, time passes sluggishly: she longs for Phaethon to take the reins of the Sun’s chariot, since he would whip up the horses and “bring in cloudy night immediately”. When we wake from a vivid dream we are dimly aware that the sense of time we have just experienced is illusory.

    Carlo Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist who wants to make the uninitiated grasp the excitement of his field. His book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, with its concise, sparkling essays on subjects such as black holes and quanta, has sold 1.3m copies worldwide. Now comes The Order of Time, a dizzying, poetic work in which I found myself abandoning everything I thought I knew about time – certainly the idea that it “flows”, and even that it exists at all, in any profound sense.

    We meet outside the church of San Petronio in Bologna, where Rovelli studied. (“I like to say that, just like Copernicus, I was an undergraduate at Bologna and a graduate at Padua,” he jokes.) A cheery, compact fellow in his early 60s, Rovelli is in nostalgic mood. He lives in Marseille, where, since 2010, he has run the quantum gravity group at the Centre de physique théorique. Before that, he was in the US, at the University of Pittsburgh, for a decade.

    He rarely visits Bologna, and he has been catching up with old friends. We wander towards the university area. Piazza Verdi is flocked with a lively crowd of students. There are flags and graffiti and banners, too – anti-fascist slogans, something in support of the Kurds, a sign enjoining passers-by not to forget Giulio Regeni, the Cambridge PhD student killed in Egypt in 2016.

    “In my day it was barricades and police,” he says. He was a passionate student activist, back then. What did he and his pals want? “Small things! We wanted a world without boundaries, without state, without war, without religion, without family, without school, without private property.”

    He was, he says now, too radical, and it was hard, trying to share possessions, trying to live without jealousy. And then there was the LSD. He took it a few times. And it turned out to be the seed of his interest in physics generally, and in the question of time specifically. “It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually,” he remembers. “Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality. He had hallucinations of misshapen objects, of bright and dazzling colours – but also recalls thinking during the experience, actually asking himself what was going on.

    “And I thought: ‘Well, it’s a chemical that is changing things in my brain. But how do I know that the usual perception is right, and this is wrong? If these two ways of perceiving are so different, what does it mean that one is the correct one?’” The way he talks about LSD is, in fact, quite similar to his description of reading Einstein as a student, on a sun-baked Calabrian beach, and looking up from his book imagining the world not as it appeared to him every day, but as the wild and undulating spacetime that the great physicist described. Reality, to quote the title of one of his books, is not what it seems.

    He gave his conservative, Veronese parents a bit of a fright, he says. His father, now in his 90s, was surprised when young Carlo’s lecturers said he was actually doing all right, despite the long hair and radical politics and the occasional brush with the police. It was after the optimistic sense of student revolution in Italy came to an abrupt end with the kidnapping and murder of the former prime minister, Aldo Moro, in 1978 that Rovelli began to take physics seriously. But his route to his big academic career was circuitous and unconventional. “Nowadays everyone is worried because there is no work. When I was young, the problem was how to avoid work. I did not want to become part of the ‘productive system’,” he says.

    Academia, then, seemed like a way of avoiding the world of a conventional job, and for some years he followed his curiosity without a sense of careerist ambition. He went to Trento in northern Italy to join a research group he was interested in, sleeping in his car for a few months (“I’d get a shower in the department to be decent”). He went to London, because he was interested in the work of Chris Isham, and then to the US, to be near physicists such as Abhay Ashtekar and Lee Smolin. “My first paper was horrendously late compared to what a young person would have to do now. And this was a privilege – I knew more things, there was more time.”

    The popular books, too, have come relatively late, after his academic study of quantum gravity, published in 2004. If Seven Brief Lessons was a lucid primer, The Order of Time takes things further; it deals with “what I really do in science, what I really think in depth, what is important for me”.

    Rovelli’s work as a physicist, in crude terms, occupies the large space left by Einstein on the one hand, and the development of quantum theory on the other. If the theory of general relativity describes a world of curved spacetime where everything is continuous, quantum theory describes a world in which discrete quantities of energy interact. In Rovelli’s words, “quantum mechanics cannot deal with the curvature of spacetime, and general relativity cannot account for quanta”.

    Both theories are successful; but their apparent incompatibility is an open problem, and one of the current tasks of theoretical physics is to attempt to construct a conceptual framework in which they both work. Rovelli’s field of loop theory, or loop quantum gravity, offers a possible answer to the problem, in which spacetime itself is understood to be granular, a fine structure woven from loops.

    String theory offers another, different route towards solving the problem. When I ask him what he thinks about the possibility that his loop quantum gravity work may be wrong, he gently explains that being wrong isn’t the point; being part of the conversation is the point. And anyway, “If you ask who had the longest and most striking list of results it’s Einstein without any doubt. But if you ask who is the scientist who made most mistakes, it’s still Einstein.”

    How does time fit in to his work? Time, Einstein long ago showed, is relative – time passes more slowly for an object moving faster than another object, for example. In this relative world, an absolute “now” is more or less meaningless. Time, then, is not some separate quality that impassively flows around us. Time is, in Rovelli’s words, “part of a complicated geometry woven together with the geometry of space”.

    For Rovelli, there is more: according to his theorising, time itself disappears at the most fundamental level. His theories ask us to accept the notion that time is merely a function of our “blurred” human perception. We see the world only through a glass, darkly; we are watching Plato’s shadow-play in the cave. According to Rovelli, our undeniable experience of time is inextricably linked to the way heat behaves. In The Order of Time, he asks why can we know only the past, and not the future? The key, he suggests, is the one-directional flow of heat from warmer objects to colder ones. An ice cube dropped into a hot cup of coffee cools the coffee. But the process is not reversible: it is a one-way street, as demonstrated by the second law of thermodynamics.

    Time is also, as we experience it, a one-way street. He explains it in relation to the concept of entropy – the measure of the disordering of things. Entropy was lower in the past. Entropy is higher in the future – there is more disorder, there are more possibilities. The pack of cards of the future is shuffled and uncertain, unlike the ordered and neatly arranged pack of cards of the past. But entropy, heat, past and future are qualities that belong not to the fundamental grammar of the world but to our superficial observation of it. “If I observe the microscopic state of things,” writes Rovelli, “then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between ‘cause’ and ‘effect’.”

    To understand this properly, I can suggest only that you read Rovelli’s books, and pass swiftly over this approximation by someone who gave up school physics lessons joyfully at the first possible opportunity. However, it turns out that I am precisely Rovelli’s perfect reader, or one of them, and he looks quite delighted when I check my newly acquired understanding of the concept of entropy with him. (“You passed the exam,” he says.)

    “I try to write at several levels,” he explains. “I think about the person who not only doesn’t know anything about physics but is also not interested. So I think I am talking to my grandmother, who was a housekeeper. I also think some young students of physics are reading it, and I also think some of my colleagues are reading it. So I try to talk at different levels, but I keep the person who knows nothing in my mind.”

    His biggest fans are the blank slates, like me, and his colleagues at universities – he gets most criticism from people in the middle, “those who know a bit of physics”. He is also pretty down on school physics. (“Calculating the speed at which a ball drops – who cares? In another life, I’d like to write a school physics book,” he says.) And he thinks the division of the world into the “two cultures” of natural sciences and human sciences is “stupid. It’s like taking England and dividing the kids into groups, and you tell one group about music, and one group about literature, and the one who gets music is not allowed to read novels and the one who does literature is not allowed to listen to music.”

    The joy of his writing is its broad cultural compass. Historicism gives an initial hand-hold on the material. (He teaches a course on history of science, where he likes to bring science and humanities students together.) And then there’s the fact that alongside Einstein, Ludwig Boltzmann and Roger Penrose appear figures such as Proust, Dante, Beethoven, and, especially, Horace – each chapter begins with an epigraph from the Roman poet – as if to ground us in human sentiment and emotion before departing for the vertiginous world of black holes and spinfoam and clouds of probabilities.

    “He has a side that is intimate, lyrical and extremely intense; and he is the great singer of the passing of time,” Rovelli says. “There’s a feeling of nostalgia – it’s not anguish, it’s not sorrow – it’s a feeling of ‘Let’s live life intensely’. A good friend of mine, Ernesto, who died quite young, gave me a little book of Horace, and I have carried it around with me all my life.”

    Rovelli’s view is that there is no contradiction between a vision of the universe that makes human life seem small and irrelevant, and our everyday sorrows and joys. Or indeed between “cold science” and our inner, spiritual lives. “We are part of nature, and so joy and sorrow are aspects of nature itself – nature is much richer than just sets of atoms,” he tells me. There’s a moment in Seven Lessons when he compares physics and poetry: both try to describe the unseen. It might be added that physics, when departing from its native language of mathematical equations, relies strongly on metaphor and analogy. Rovelli has a gift for memorable comparisons. He tells us, for example, when explaining that the smooth “flow” of time is an illusion, that “The events of the world do not form an orderly queue like the English, they crowd around chaotically like the Italians.” The concept of time, he says, “has lost layers one after another, piece by piece”. We are left with “an empty windswept landscape almost devoid of all trace of temporality … a world stripped to its essence, glittering with an arid and troubling beauty”.

    More than anything else I’ve ever read, Rovelli reminds me of Lucretius, the first-century BCE Roman author of the epic-length poem, On the Nature of Things. Perhaps not so odd, since Rovelli is a fan. Lucretius correctly hypothesised the existence of atoms, a theory that would remain unproven until Einstein demonstrated it in 1905, and even as late as the 1890s was being written off as absurd.

    What Rovelli shares with Lucretius is not only a brilliance of language, but also a sense of humankind’s place in nature – at once a part of the fabric of the universe, and in a particular position to marvel at its great beauty. It’s a rationalist view: one that holds that by better understanding the universe, by discarding false beliefs and superstition, one might be able to enjoy a kind of serenity. Though Rovelli the man also acknowledges that the stuff of humanity is love, and fear, and desire, and passion: all made meaningful by our brief lives; our tiny span of allotted time.

    There's a couple of pictures at the link:

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/20...time-interview
    So when's the Revolution? God or Money? Choose.

  2. #2
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    Time as we perceive it is but a single point in a universe of eternity.
    The wonder of our time isn’t how angry we are at politics and politicians; it’s how little we’ve done about it. - Fran Porretto
    -http://bastionofliberty.blogspot.com/2016/10/a-wholly-rational-hatred.html

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dozdoats View Post
    Time as we perceive it is but a single point in a universe of eternity.
    And the "space" it lives in = infinity.
    So when's the Revolution? God or Money? Choose.

  4. #4
    Ah, Dozdoats... you are correct, in my limited understanding. We simply don't see the whole context of "time". If we did, we'd have less reason for our perception of it moving from past, to present, to future. A case can be made, that the "present moment" actually CONTAINS the past and the possible future(s).

    But whaddooIknow?

  5. #5
    That was really interesting. Thanks!

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    I feel compelled to say.... "Just a minute" for some reason.

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    Thank you for posting this, Mzkitty.
    Excellent stuff!

    I think each of us humans innately know this. We can't articulate it, but we know we are connected to the cosmos in an "out of time" way. If we are alive and conscious in the present moment, we are always alive and conscious. We cannot "un-be." We are also forever existing in the past, at least in the mind of God. The present moment intersects eternity. Christian mystics try to tell us this, and we usually run from the thought. We are all pieces of the divine spark that created the universe.
    (1 Cor. 8:1-2) : "We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know."

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    In the quantumverse, time does not exist. In the relativistic universe, time does exist. Humans require the passage of time to perceive existence. That perception is drawn from observing one moment as it moves forward in time.
    Facts?? We don't need no stinkin facts...

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    ..excellent read on this subject.."The Power of NOW" by Eckhart Tolle
    “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
    John F. Kennedy

  10. #10
    The older I get, the more nap time I want, but sleep alludes me.

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    I don't have time for this!


    Or do I?
    Would someone please let me know how we have spun out of control?
    Has the captain let go of the wheel?
    Or could we please try to find a way to be a bit more kind?
    I see the road to tomorrow in the haze - Queensryche

  12. #12
    ‘I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.’

  13. #13
    Muse... that changing the clock back 'n forth twice a year is screwin' up the space/time continuum ...so it all makes sense now.

  14. #14
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    Rovelli’s work as a physicist, in crude terms, occupies the large space left by Einstein on the one hand, and the development of quantum theory on the other. If the theory of general relativity describes a world of curved spacetime where everything is continuous, quantum theory describes a world in which discrete quantities of energy interact. In Rovelli’s words, “quantum mechanics cannot deal with the curvature of spacetime, and general relativity cannot account for quanta”.

    Both theories are successful; but their apparent incompatibility is an open problem, and one of the current tasks of theoretical physics is to attempt to construct a conceptual framework in which they both work.

    Time is, in Rovelli’s words, “part of a complicated geometry woven together with the geometry of space”.

    “If I observe the microscopic state of things,” writes Rovelli, “then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between ‘cause’ and ‘effect’.”

    Rovelli’s view is that there is no contradiction between a vision of the universe that makes human life seem small and irrelevant, and our everyday sorrows and joys. Or indeed between “cold science” and our inner, spiritual lives. “We are part of nature, and so joy and sorrow are aspects of nature itself – nature is much richer than just sets of atoms,” he tells me.
    The best description I've ever read of "relativity" and "quantum" and "time" and "eternity" was NOT written in those terms, nor by a physicist.

    It was written by a logician and linguist---named C S Lewis.

    You can find it in Perelandra, the second book of his space trilogy.

    Ransom is the main character, an earth-man who has been sent by Maleldil (God) to Venus (Perelandra) to fulfill a mission involving its first, just-created inhabitants, Tor (male) and Tinidril (female). He has fulfilled his mission and now he, Tor, Trinidril, and the mighty angels who direct the world (called eldil) are having a discussion together.

    "I am full of doubts and ignorance," said Ramson. "In our world those who know Maleldil at all believe that His coming down to us and being a man is the central happening of all that happens. If you take that from me, Father, whither will you lead me? Surely not to the enemy's talk which thrusts my world and my race into a remote corner and gives me a universe, with no centre at all, but millions of worlds that lead nowhere or (what is worse) to more and more worlds for ever, and comes over me with numbers and empty spaces and repetitions and asks me to bow down before bigness. Or do you make your world the center? But I am troubled. What of the people on Malacandra? (Mars) Would they also think that their world was the centre?...And what of the great spaces with no world at all? Is the enemy easily answered when he says that all is without plan or meaning? As soon as we think we see one, it melts away into nothing, or into some other plan that we never dreamed of, and what was the centre becomes the rim, till we doubt if any shape or plan or pattern was ever more than a trick of our own eyes, cheated with hope, or tired with too much looking. To what is it all driving? What is the morning you speak of? What is it the beginning of?"

    "Of the Great Game, the Great Dance," said Tor. "I know little of it as yet. Let the eldila speak."

    "We would not talk of it like that," said the first voice. "The Great Dance does not wait to be perfect until the peoples of the Low Worlds are gathered into it. We speak not of when it will begin. It has begun from before always. There was not time when we did not rejoice before His face as now. The dance which we dance is at the centre and for the dance all things were made. Blessed be He!"

    Another said, "Never did He make two things the same; never did He utter one word twice. After earths, not better earths but beasts; after beasts not better beasts, but spirits. After a falling, not a recovery but a new creation. Out of the new creation, not a third but the mode of change itself is changed for ever. Blessed is He!"

    And another said, "It is loaded with justice as a tree bows down with fruit. All is righteousness and there is no equality. Not as when stones lie side by side, but as when stones support and are supported in an arch, such is His order; rule and obedience, begetting and bearing, heat glancing down, life growing up. Blessed be He!"

    One said, "They who add years to years in lumpish aggregation, or miles to miles and galaxies to galaxies, shall not come near His greatness. The day of the fields of Arbol (the sun) will fade and the days of Deep Heaven itself are numbered. Not thus is He great. He dwells (all of Him dwells) within the seed of the smallest flower and is not cramped; Deep Heaven is inside Him who is inside the seed and does not distend Him. Blessed is He!"

    "The edge of each nature borders on that whereof it contains no shadow or similitude. Of many points one line; of many lines one shape; of many shapes one solid body; of many senses and thoughts one person; of three persons, Himself. As ins the circle to the sphere, so are the ancient worlds that needed no redemption to that wrld wherein He was born and died. As is a point to a line, so is that world to the far-off fruits of its redeeming. Blessed be He!"

    "Yet the circle is not less round that the sphere, and the sphere is the home and fatherland of circles. Infinite multitudes of circles lie enclosed in every sphere, and if they spoke they would say, 'For us were spheres created.' Let no mouth open to gainsay them. Blessed be He!"

    "The peoples of the ancient worlds who never sinned, for whom He never came down, are the peoples for whose sake the Low Worlds were made. For though the healing what was wounded and the straightening what was bent is a new dimension of glory, yet the straight was not made that it might be bent nor the whole that it might be wounded. The ancient peoples are at the centre. Blessed be He!"

    "All which is not itself itself the Great Dance was made in order that He might comes down into it. In the Fallen World He prepared for himself a body and was united with the Dust and made it glorious for ever. This is the end and final cause of all creating...and the world where this was enacted is the centre of worlds. Blessed be He!"

    "Though men or angels rule them, the worlds are for themselves. The waters you have not floated on, the fruit you have not plucked, the caves into which you have not descended and the fire through which your bodies cannot pass, do not await your coming to put on perfection, though they will obey you when you come. Times without number I have circled Arbol while you were not alive, and those times were not desert. Their own voice was in them, not merely a dreaming of the day when you should awake. They also were at the centre. Be comforted, small immortals. You are not the voice that all things utter, nor is there eternal silence in the places where you cannot come. No feet have walked, nor shall, on the ice of Glund; no eye looked up from beneath on the Ring of Lurga, and Iron-plain in Neruval is chaste and empty. Yet it is not for nothing that the gods walk ceaselessly around the field of Arbol. Blessed be He!"

    "That Dust itself which is scattered so rare in Heaven, whereof all world, and the bodies that are not worlds, are made, is at the centre. It waits not till created eyes have seen it or hands handled it, to be in itself a strength and splendour of Maledil. Only the least part has served, or ever shall, a beast, a man, or a god. But always, and beyond all distances, before they came and after they are gone and where they never come, it is what it is and utters the heart of the Holy One with its own voice. It is farthest from Him of all things, for it has no life, nor sense, nor reason; it is nearest to Him of all things for without intervening soul, as sparks fly out of fire, He utters in each grain of it the unmixed image of His energy. Each grain, if it spoke, would say, 'I am at the centre; for me all things were made.' Let no mouth open to gainsay it. Blessed be He!"

    "Each grain is at the centre. The Dust is at the centre. The Worlds are at the centre. The beasts are at the centre. The ancient peoples are there. The race that sinned is there. Tor and Tinidril are there. The gods (angels) are there also. Blessed be He!"

    "Where Maledil is, there is the centre. He is in every place. Not some of Him in one place and some in another, but in each place the whole Maleldil, even in the smallness beyond thought. There is no way out of the centre save into the Bent Will which casts itself into the Nowhere. Blessed be He!"

    "Each thing was made for Hmi. He is the centre. Because we are with Him, each of us is at the centre. It is not as in a city of the Darkened World (earth) where they say that each must live for all. In His city all things are made for each. When He died in the Wounded World He died not for men, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, He would have done no less. Each thing, from the single grain of dust to the strongest eldil, is the end and the final cause of all creation and the mirror in which the beam of His brightness comes to rest and so returns to Him. Blessed be He!"

    "In the plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else had been directed. Thus each is equally at the centre and none are there by being equals, but some by giving place and some by receiving it, the small things by their smallness and the great by their greatness, and all the patterns linked and looped together by the unions of the kneeling with a sceptered love. Blessed be He!"

    "He has immeasurable use for each thing that is made, that His love and splendour may flow forth like a strong river which has need of a great watercourse and fills alike the deep pools and the little crannies, that are filled equally and remain unequal; and when it has filled them brim full it flows over and makes new channels. We also have need beyond measure of all that He has made. Love me, my brothers, for I am infinitely necessary to you and for your delight I was made. Blessed be He!"

    "He has no need at all of anything that is made. An eldil is not more needful to Him than a grain of the Dust: a peopled world no more needful than a world that is empty: but all needless alike, and what all add to Him is nothing. We also have no need of anything that is made. Love me, my brothers, for I am infinitely superfluous, and your love shall be like His, born neither of your need nor of my deserving, but a plain bounty. Blessed be He!"

    "All things are by Him and for Him. He utters Himself also for His own delight and sees that He is good. He is His own begotten and what proceeds form Him is Himself. Blessed be He!"

    "All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans than it looked for. In these seas there are islands where the hairs of the turf are so fine and so closely woven together that unless a man looked long at them he would see neither hairs nor weaving at all, but only the same and the flat. So with the Great Dance. Set your eyes on on movement and it will lead your through all patterns and it will seem to you the master movement. But the seeming will be true. Let no mouth open to gainsay it. There seems no plan because it is all plan: there seems no centre because it is all centre. Blessed be He!"

    "Yet this seeming also is the end and final cause for which h He spreads out Time so long and Heaven so deep; lest if we never met the dark, and the road that leads nowhither, and the question to which no answer is imaginable, we should have in our minds no likeness of the Abyss of the Father, into which if a creature drop down his thoughts for ever he shall hear no echo return to him. Blessed, blessed blessed be He!"
    Be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled…Let no man deceive you by any means…..
    they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved….for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie….
    Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.


  15. #15
    According to George Van Tassel...

    The formula for time travel is ... F=1/T

    F being Frequency and T being Time.
    "Be a free thinker and don't accept everything you hear as truth. Be critical and evaluate what you believe in." Aristotle

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    Looking forward to eternity where the Lord will help me wrap my head around all this.
    JOHN 3:16 / John 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you FREE.

  17. #17
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    There are all kinds of time.

    Island time is my favorite. Island time is marked by tide cycles, usually two high and two low tides a day.
    The wonder of our time isn’t how angry we are at politics and politicians; it’s how little we’ve done about it. - Fran Porretto
    -http://bastionofliberty.blogspot.com/2016/10/a-wholly-rational-hatred.html

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    Great read- thx

    Quote Originally Posted by mzkitty View Post
    [And then there was the LSD. He took it a few times. And it turned out to be the seed of his interest in physics generally, and in the question of time specifically.
    Lets not ignore this. Rovelli sure gave this a place of pre-eminince

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