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CATEGORY: Questioning the Foundations Essay Contest (2012) [back]
TOPIC: Reductionist Doubts by Julian Barbour [refresh]
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Author Julian Barbour wrote on Sep. 4, 2012 @ 10:44 GMT
Essay Abstract

According to reductionism, every complex phenomenon can and should be explained in terms of the simplest possible entities and mechanisms. The parts determine the whole. This approach has been an outstanding success in science, but this essay will point out ways in which it could nevertheless be giving us wrong ideas and holding back progress. For example, it may be impossible to understand key features of the universe such as its pervasive arrow of time and remarkably high degree of isotropy and homogeneity unless we study it holistically -- as a true whole. A satisfactory interpretation of quantum mechanics is also likely to be profoundly holistic, involving the entire universe. The phenomenon of entanglement already hints at such a possibility.

Author Bio

After completing a PhD in theoretical physics, I became an independent researcher to avoid the publish-or-perish syndrome. For 45 years I have worked on the nature of time, motion, and the quantum theory of the universe. I am the author of two books: The Discovery of Dynamics and The End of Time, in which I argue that time is an illusion. Details of my research work are given at my website Since 2008 I have been a Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford.

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Yuri Danoyan wrote on Sep. 4, 2012 @ 15:43 GMT

Are you agree with my abstract?

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Jin He wrote on Sep. 4, 2012 @ 15:52 GMT
Whenever I see Dr Julian Barbour or Dr Laurent Nottale's name, I am pleased and excited. I see any of them as the greatest humans in our science history whereas Einstein is nothing but a funny God. Sorry for those believers, I offended your God. It is OK, you God's believers can ask HIS officers to delete my comment.

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Paul Reed wrote on Sep. 4, 2012 @ 17:36 GMT

By definition (ie it is the only way physical reality can occur), the sequence of physical existence only occurs in ‘one direction’ and once. That is, any occurrence which has the appearance of oscillation or reversal, is a repetition of a previously existent state (ie present). Though in actual fact, it is highly unlikely to be even a repetition; it just appears so to us when viewed at a higher level of differentiation than that which actually occurs.

Similarly by definition, what constitutes the physically existent state of any given present, must be a function of the immediately previous one, because physical influence cannot ‘jump’ physical circumstance (and neither can a non-existent state have influence). Furthermore, of those possibilities, that which was the cause must have been immediately spatially adjacent to what subsequently occurred, because, again, physical influence cannot ‘jump’ circumstance.

The explanation as to how and why any given different state occurred, must ultimately be explainable as a function of the lowest level of that which caused it (ie the previous state). In any given circumstance, cause must ultimately be traceable to, and be a function of, the fundamental components of the circumstance involved.

Finally, these rules apply to all physical existence. There cannot be a situation whereby some phenomenon is deemed to have some physical effect, but have no physical existence of its own.

So the crux of the problem is: what, generically, constitutes a physically existent state, ie physical reality-that which exists as at any given point in time, and complies with these rules.

Having said all that, there is nothing wrong with applying a different approach as it might spark an idea. But this must then not lead to hypotheses which contravene the way in which physical reality occurs.


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Member Benjamin F. Dribus wrote on Sep. 4, 2012 @ 18:14 GMT
Dear Julian,

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your essay. You write as well as you think. I have a few questions/remarks.

1. To what extent are shape dynamics and best matching dimension-specific? I ask this for three reasons. The first is because I wonder if dimension 4 is “selected for” by having special properties in this regard. The second is because certain theories, such...

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Yuri Danoyan replied on Sep. 21, 2012 @ 16:37 GMT
Dear Julian

Freeman Dyson described reductionism in physics as the effort "to reduce the world of physical phenomena to a finite set of fundamental equations".

Please read my 2 essays


It is a real triumph of reductionism.

No doubt about reductionism...

All the best


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Author Julian Barbour wrote on Sep. 5, 2012 @ 11:19 GMT
I can agree with some of Yuri's abstract, mainly because it only invites us to reconsider.For Pentcho Valev, as I responded to a similar post before, I still believe in the constancy of light. Nothing is certain in physics, but there is nothing as yet to question the constancy. For Paul Reed, I think you make rather conservative assumptions about "the way in which physical reality works". I believe one can have real insightful physics in which your assumptions are replaced by others. FQXI is about considering new ideas.

Benjamin Dribus asks several good questions. 1) Shape dynamics and best matching will work in any number of dimensions. As of now, I see no compelling reason to change from 3+1. 2) In shape dynamics, matter 'lives in' and 'interacts with' the conformal structure.3) The relatively strong reasons for questioning the existence of time have led me to propose a different kind of causality, or explanation for what is. I guess I must ask you to read The End of Time. 4) You say "the idea of binary relations seems so primitive". However, I have doubts whether the structure one needs for physics can be built up from them. King Lear said to Cordelia "Nothing will come from nothing". I argue "Not much will come from not much". You might be interested in my previous essay "Bit from It" challenging Wheeler's "It from Bit". I will try to read your essay.

I can read the final post in Russian but it still makes not much sense to me, though I agree time is ultimately an illusion.

Paul Reed replied on Sep. 6, 2012 @ 07:51 GMT

"For Paul Reed, I think you make rather conservative assumptions about "the way in which physical reality works".

There are two knowns about physical existence: a) it is independent of sensory detection, b) there is alteration. Therefore, it is sequence. And the key feature of sequence is that only one state in any given sequence can occur at a time. Because the predecessor must cease in order that the successor can occur. This also governs what can potentially be a cause, both in terms of the sequence of existence and spatial position. The point about traceability to the smallest denominator is a logical truism.

So there is nothing conservative about this, it is determined by physical reality, of which we are a part, and an avoidance of metaphysical concepts which have no physical correspondence. However, it is easy to say all this. The real question being: what constitutes a physically existent state as at any given point in time, ie physical reality-that which exists (there may be more than one type). Timing being the method whereby occurrence can be differentiated until one discerns what occurred at a point in time, which, practically, is probably impossible for us to achieve. Certainly at present the tendency is to refer to some physical state as having been existent when in fact it comprises more than one (ie there is alteration within the 'state).


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Sean Gryb wrote on Sep. 5, 2012 @ 16:40 GMT
Thanks Julian for another thought provoking essay! Your writing always makes me reflect. You're right that shape dynamics brings out the holistic nature of general relativity. The same holism is also manifest in the non-local nature of observables in GR and the holographic principle. Maybe this is not a coincidence?

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Wilhelmus de Wilde wrote on Sep. 5, 2012 @ 17:13 GMT
Dear Dr Barbour,

Thanks for your thinking in different angles. You opened a new door in my own thinking by introducing SD, it widenes the perceptions that I had untill now. In "THE CONSCIOUSNESS CONNECTION" I also questioned reductionism and favoured "emergence" (i also referred to your work).

The first question I have is about page 3 : you say "If the universe is spatially infinite,...

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DANIEL WAGNER FONTELES ALVES wrote on Sep. 6, 2012 @ 22:19 GMT
Dear Julian

Another clear, well written essay. I have always looked at machian principles and SD with great enthusiasm and the essay makes it very accesible. The idea of generating the background (space,time) upon the behaviour of their ''inhabitants'' fascinates me. As I told you before, I plan to study SD deeply and try to find the origin of the best-matching procedure (maybe by using category theory?).

''Instead of thinking of particles in space and time, we should perhaps be thinking in terms of complete shapes of the universe''

We arrive at the importance of shapes by questioning:'' what is time, what is space?'' and giving a meaning to them by observation. More questioning on what is time and what is space could lead to something even bigger that could maybe have SD as a part. This is what I argue in my essay (that I showed you as a draft via email. here´s the final version Absolute or Relative Motion...or Something Else?), and it´s something I´ve been thinking.

Good luck in the competition!

Best Regards,

Daniel Wagner

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Author Julian Barbour wrote on Sep. 7, 2012 @ 13:58 GMT
Some very brief responses and then a longer one.Daniel: you may well be right that questioning the nature of time and motion may lead to something even bigger. Sean: The nonlocality of observables is surely a direct consequence of holism as it exists in shape dynamics, holography, about which I know less, probably too. Wilhelmus: I cannot quite make out what you are trying to say, so I am unable to respond. However, one can certainly have coordinates as mathematical possibilities on an infinite plane.

Paul Reed. You wrote:

"There are two knowns about physical existence: a) it is independent of sensory detection" Quantum mechanics already makes that a questionable statement.

"b) there is alteration. Therefore, it is sequence. And the key feature of sequence is that only one state in any given sequence can occur at a time. Because the predecessor must cease in order that the successor can occur."

I accept there is alteration, though I would prefer to call it difference. But that does not necessarily mean you have a linear sequence A, B, C ... You can easily have branching and recombining sequences. This is strongly suggested by the by no means disreputable many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. With regard to you final comment, the natural numbers 1,2,3, ... form a sequence but I think it would be odd to say 12 must cease so that 13 can exist.

Paul Reed replied on Sep. 8, 2012 @ 09:07 GMT

Indeed it is difference. Physical reality occurs differently, ie when one is compared with another then difference is identifiable, and hence we know there is alteration. In the circumstance of physical existence, any given sequence can only be linear because the predecessor must cease to exist. There can only be one physically existent state within the sequence at a time. Any...

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Steve Dufourny wrote on Sep. 7, 2012 @ 16:00 GMT
Hello Mr Barbour,

I found your essays very intresting. We search the answers. The universal spirituality like a torch of extrapolations. The reductionism for me is more complex. The trinity that said is relevant considering the fractal form the mai central sphere. But the complexity after this 1 and 3 is so important. The system is finite and precise, so it implies a specific serie ,...

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Ted Erikson wrote on Sep. 7, 2012 @ 20:44 GMT

Somehow, your essay seems related to my model, (in End Notes of To Seek Unknown Shores

I am trying to imagine the distal vertex of a tetrahedron that communicates with the central point of sphere contained within the solid angle of the tetrahedron such that the sphere is always tangent to the tetrahedral face. It is a naive attempt to combine motion AND growth from microscopic to macroscopic dimensions.

Perhaps you can destroy the idea so that I might really retire.. Thank You.

Your writing is lucid.

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The Spherical Jedi replied on Sep. 11, 2012 @ 10:32 GMT
a sphere, interesting.:) revolution spherization !!!

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Member Ian Durham wrote on Sep. 8, 2012 @ 01:53 GMT
Hi Julian,

Thanks for yet another well-written essay. You may be interested to read some of Eddington's Fundamental Theory. There are some similarities to your approach.

Nevertheless, I have to say I was a bit surprised by some of your assertions regarding reductionism. I think there is a subtle but important distinction that appears to have been muddled in several of the essays...

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James Putnam replied on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 17:44 GMT
Dr. Barbour,

I did not find in your first essay that you showed how newton's notion of an independent absolute time can be derived from motion. As far as I can tell, Newton was attempting to define the best clock, not absolute time, and used motion for that purpose of defining a most useful measure of duration. More to the point of your present essay, your example in part 1 of reductionism does not appear to be an example of reductionism. It appears to be an example of applying your 'holistic' concept in a piecemeal fashion.

Reductionism is the ability to trace evolution step by step through its development. Those steps will not be small repeated images of the whole. They will however, reveal at every step during evoluion, from beginning to end, the same unity that makes the holistic result possible. I accept that your professional view is different from my unprofessional view.

I will though take this opportunity to state my view that neither time nor space undergo changes of velocity. For this reason there is no empirical evidence to tell us about motion involving either space or time. Motion tells us only about effects endured by objects. We do not learn the natures of 'cause' in either of its two forms, force and mass. The still unknown natures of the universe, restricting this to the mechanical concepts employed by theoretical physics, are those of force, mass, space, and time.

Should you find it worthwhile to offer corrections to what I have said, I would welcome them. Thank you.


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Author Julian Barbour wrote on Sep. 8, 2012 @ 15:49 GMT
This will be a relatively long response to Ian Durham's thoughtful critique. First though a comment on Eddington's Fundamental Theory, I did try it many years ago and found it very tough. In the end I concluded he was incapable of saying anything that made sense, though he seemed to be groping towards a Machian standpoint. One of my lecturers at Cambridge referred to the book as "that graveyard of...

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Member Ian Durham replied on Sep. 9, 2012 @ 00:42 GMT
Thanks for your thoughtful reply! I suppose it is rather appropriate that when I wrote my thesis on Fundamental Theory that I included photographs of headstones from the graveyard where Eddington is buried. At any rate, I'm not sure I entirely agree regarding Fundamental Theory, but that's for another discussion over a drink sometime.

I still think I disagree about reductionism, though. ...

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John Merryman replied on Sep. 9, 2012 @ 22:11 GMT
Julian, Ian,

I think it somewhat "reductionist" to say reductionism is a product of the last few hundred years of scientific thought. Knowledge is foundationally a process of extracting information from the whole.

There is a conceptual reductionism to math which obscures wholism. When we actually add things together, we get a larger whole, so what we are really adding, when we say one plus one equals two, are the sets, not the contents of the sets. So we have one larger set, not applesauce.

This then is a dynamic process, where we do not just have distinct states in sequence, but one state that changes. It's just that our minds see the distinctions, the angles, not the connections, the distances. This is because our minds function as a strobe like process of extracting frames of seemingly static perception from that dynamic. Which we then string together as a sequence of events. Yet the foundational reality is only the process, because duration is the state of the present between the occurrence of events, not a timeline external to the present.

Writing on a phone is a study in thought compression.

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Member Ian Durham replied on Sep. 11, 2012 @ 10:45 GMT

Well, to some extent, reductionism as we know it, vis-à-vis the scientific method, *is* largely a product of the last few hundred years of scientific thought. And, one of the points I've been trying to make is that nowhere does reductionism imply an anti-holism. Reductionism is merely a method for understanding the whole, but it does not deny that the whole may possess features that are unique.

Kudos on writing that on a phone, by the way. Most impressive.

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Anthony DiCarlo wrote on Sep. 8, 2012 @ 15:54 GMT

I am suspecting that the angle you "measure" in ADM correlates somehow to a Lorentz Rotation angle? Recall that a Lorentz boost can be represented as a bonified rotation in the information space of Dirac. Does ADM build the "information space" of Einstein that provides the ultimate in a physical spatial scaling w/ "a measured Lorentz angle value" for each physical object possesing mass and having a rest frame to make measures within? If so, this sounds like the information we receive when we multiply by a complex #. Isn't this the information attained by conformal QED? ADS/CFT stuff with Alpha being the 5D symmetry having the 4D QFT "shapes" occupying a bounding surface?

Your analogy of the Alpha as the most uniform angle space yearned for by all different angle spaces (well you may not have exactly stated this ... ad lib by me here) may imply that the angle space of the ADS version of a QFT "desires" to become part of the 5 Dimentional informational space but has asymmetrically been broken off and given a series of angle measures that "precisely measure the asymmetric break-up" (maybe encoded in DNA for a "life" shape?)... like a conciousness in birth being the asymmetrical parting from a structure having a complete symmetry (like point symmetry of the electron. Hmmm, this may imply that the quantum field is created by nothing more then a correlation between the asymmetric "yearning - a projection on to Alpha" that drives all other shapes to entropically become more in line with the symmetric Alpha (an S matrix with a mission!) ... thus ... all shapes contain paths (maybe similar to the Feynman decision paths) that lead them them back to occupy the Alpha symmetry once again... ?

Afterall ... in ADM a living thing would have a shape space ... and like all shapes ...

My most enjoyable read, Thank you,


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Anthony DiCarlo replied on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 14:01 GMT
In your search for low N clustering parameters you may want to read Ralph Chamberlin's "Mean Field Cluster Model For the Critical Behavior of Ferromangetics." Nature, Volume 408, November 16, 2000. While this cluster model has been derived for ferromagnetics, it applies generally to all "physical ordering in a mean field" and may provide a computational path to Alpha once you define the coupling (probably a second law derived entropy maximization). What's nice is that it leaves size "unrestrictive" which would be desirable in you scaled holistic space.

Also, your holistic space must also come with a temperature vs. size if it is truely the universe to which the holistic space depicts. Microwave temperature for todays size, and hotter on average when the universe shrinks.

One other thing, you may want to also read David Hestene's Space Time Geometry" approach to build the electron in Dirac space. The basic form of to represent the electron has the spatial pseudoscalar as the power of e (natural log). This pseudoscalar element must be directly related to your shape when the mass is that of an electron - your angles 2+2, would be the measures.

Best Regards,


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Anthony DiCarlo replied on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 15:17 GMT

Not sure if you are reading my comments (no reply). I'll therefore make this my last "question" comment. Fermions are believed to form the structure of everything that has a measurable shape. Light (a boson) is the element that provides information regarding the shape (up to the Chandrasekhar limit). This implies that the information supplied by Shape Dynamics has to accomodate these facts (well, assuming they really are physical fact). This may then imply that Shape Dynamics can precisely describe information measured at the Fermi surface of virtually any manifold. Do the methods for obtaining information regarding the Fermi surface resemble Shape Dynamic methods - does this information correlate? One can envision the angle measures between atoms and molecules in solids (and especially atoms on the solid's surface) as being angle parameters in the Shape Dynamic representation. This would also bring forth band information as conduction (global information) and valence (local information). As the two bands part ways (conduction -> valence) global information (molecular levels) becomes local (atomic levels), periodic cellular, and increase in # of identical copies (all the atoms and molecules that makeup the solid). Can Shape dynamics accomodate anything like this? Characterizing band structure with a more simplified model could provide new horizons in the semiconductor business.

When a grad student, I went head to head with a person who insisted that the information regarding the 7x7 reconstruction of the Silicon surface was locked up in the measured angles and positions of the surface atoms .... that's it... and my argument was that the information was locked up in the hybridization of the atomic orbitals and forces generated (minimized energy, yadda, yadda). It would seem that from a shape dynamics perspective he may have had a good argument!



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Georgina Parry wrote on Sep. 8, 2012 @ 23:26 GMT
Dear Julian Barbour,

thank you very much for this essay. It does very clearly set out your ideas and the ideas of other that have been the foundation for them. Like your previous essays, it is accessible to non specialists, very well crafted and relevant to the essay question. I am sure there is still more I can learn from it. It is another fine essay.

You wrote "Using grand philosophical terms, the gap between epistemology - what can be observed - and ontology - what is assumed to exist - should be as small as possible. Ideally, there should be no gap at all....." That is where our views necessarily diverge. As I regard the observed output of data processing to be distinct from what existed unobserved as the source of the data.

Thank you once again for giving some time to discuss you work on your blog thread and your replies here. Good luck in the competition.

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Georgina Parry replied on Sep. 28, 2012 @ 23:23 GMT
Dear Julian Barbour,

I appreciate that you are a busy man and there are more essays in this competition than any individual can be expected to read thoroughly and comment upon. However I would be very grateful indeed if you could take a look at my essay. If you are able to comment on it as well that would mean a great deal to me. I have received very little feedback from the members over the years and I do admire your essay writing and other very clear and sensible explanations of your work. I have tried to improve my writing from last years inadequate entry, making it more readable. I will certainly respect your opinion, even if you dislike what I have produced and can find no merit in it.

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Avtar Singh wrote on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 21:06 GMT
Dear Julian:

I enjoyed reading your well-written and intuitive essay describing the weaknesses of the reductionist approach in representing the Natural physical reality.

My paper -“ From Absurd to Elegant Universe” strongly vindicates the following conclusions of your paper especially related to the QM paradoxes and inconsistencies with GR -

“….it may be impossible...

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Janko Kokosar wrote on Sep. 17, 2012 @ 20:04 GMT
Dear Mr Julian Barbour

Our intuition gives that Machian principle is foundation of physics, although it is not yet proved. Similar unproved intuition appears at fundamentality of consciousness and that gravitational force is different that other forces.

You wrote that time arrow is a holistic phenomenon. I wrote similarly in one old article: "Important time's arrow is also the...

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Peter Jackson wrote on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 12:07 GMT
Dear Julian

Original, thoughtful and well explained. But is reductionism a 'mutually exclusive' methodology? Should the real solution to the workings of the universe not be valid on a macro as well as micro scale, deriving observed reality from a consistent mechanism applicable to both ends of the 'known' scales, quanta to universe? (both ends of course yet unconstrained).

I now...

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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 14:37 GMT

Very interesting to see your essay.

Perhaps all of us are convinced that: the choice of yourself is right!That of course is reasonable.

So may be we should work together to let's the consider clearly defined for the basis foundations theoretical as the most challenging with intellectual of all of us.

Why we do not try to start with a real challenge is very close and are the focus of interest of the human science: it is a matter of mass and grain Higg boson of the standard model.

Knowledge and belief reasoning of you will to express an opinion on this matter:

You have think that: the Mass is the expression of the impact force to material - so no impact force, we do not feel the Higg boson - similar to the case of no weight outside the Earth's atmosphere.

Does there need to be a particle with mass for everything have volume? If so, then why the mass of everything change when moving from the Earth to the Moon? Higg boson is lighter by the Moon's gravity is weaker than of Earth?

The LHC particle accelerator used to "Smashed" until "Ejected" Higg boson, but why only when the "Smashed" can see it,and when off then not see it ?

Can be "locked" Higg particles? so when "released" if we do not force to it by any the Force, how to know that it is "out" or not?

You are should be boldly to give a definition of weight that you think is right for us to enjoy, or oppose my opinion.

Because in the process of research, the value of "failure" or "success" is the similar with science. The purpose of a correct theory be must is without any a wrong point ?

Glad to see from you comments soon,because still have too many of the same problems.

Regard !


August 23, 2012 - 11:51 GMT on this essay contest.

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Anonymous wrote on Sep. 20, 2012 @ 20:04 GMT
Dear Dr. Barbour,

I just read your essay. The idea of shape dynamics appears to be a form of Regge calculus. I watched a video presentation of yours on the FQXi blog. The time evaluated from the Jacobi variational principle

δt = sqrt{m_iδx_iδx_i/(E-V)}

is related to a proper time, or an interval. This got me thinking about how you could describe this in a...

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attachments: light_rays_and_triangles.JPG, null_rays_and_triangles_in_curved_spacetime.JPG

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Lawrence B. Crowell replied on Sep. 20, 2012 @ 20:10 GMT
This post above is mine; I forgot to include my name. My essay is on a different path.

Cheers LC

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Pentcho Valev replied on Sep. 20, 2012 @ 20:31 GMT
Lawrence Crowell wrote: "On another vein I am not convinced that time is a complete illusion. Maybe I will go into this later, but I think that in quantum spacetime it may be that if you only have space then time is not defined. Conversely, if time is defined you have no space. I suspect the two are complements."

How can one qualify this without facing deletion? "Not even wrong" seems to be a suitable euphemism. Brendan Foster? Is "not even wrong" too rude? Are you going to delete this comment?

Pentcho Valev

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qsa wrote on Sep. 21, 2012 @ 11:39 GMT
here is what I wrote and got deleted without the link. do you think it is prime for deletion.

"The standard physics has failed to really tell us what reality is, your theory as non-standard is the most interesting one in my opinion. My theory QSA confirms your hypothesis as to the nature of time and is close to other aspects of your theory. It is also the most direct description of reality and it is a natural outcome of the mathematical universe hypothesis. My theory just like yours says that each point carries the information about the rest of the points in the universe; as a matter of fact that is how interaction is described (or brought about). My theory ties space (time indirectly), energy, matter, forces in one concept based on the line. The theory spits out the mass of the electron from purely random numbers, the first theory to naturally predict the mass of the electron. Moreover, the non-local behavior also naturally appears as an automatic consequence of invariance. Many other results are obtained including the amazing formulas."

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Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Sep. 21, 2012 @ 13:42 GMT
Hi Julian,

I am always impressed with your commitment to relativity in its purest form.

I fail to understand, however, that you admit this barrier:

"I have given what I believe is the correct definition of Mach's principle [5] and argued that if the universe is closed up in three dimensions like the earth's surface in two then GR does implement Mach's principle [5]. If the universe is spatially infinite, the answer is equivocal. It is Machian however far you can imagine, but infinity is unreachable, and one can never establish a complete sense in which the whole determines the part."

Surely there are solutions to GR in an open universe that do not contradict Mach's principle. The conventional "finite and unbounded" interpretation of GR as finite in time (bounded at the singularity of creation) and unbounded in space, closed up like a 3-ball as you say -- suffers no loss of generality when transposed to a model finite in space and unbounded in time. This latter interpretation requires topology to implement global boundary conditions, and it agrees with your angle-preserving evolution of shapes without regard to the length-preservation inherent in ordinary geometry.

As always, thanks for a masterful presentation, and best wishes in the contest. (I hope you get a chance to visit my own essay site, "The Perfect First Question.")



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Steve Dufourny Jedi replied on Sep. 21, 2012 @ 14:58 GMT
don't try with the probelm of language and the name sphere and the name ball, for me a sphere is a ball ok dude ! You cannot arrive at your aim without bad strategies poor thinker.

Insert my spheres balls in yopur parallelizations of frustrated in team.I eat your sciences at my breakfast band of comics.And you know it all furthermore and you insit like poor obliged strategist of nothing for...

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Yuri Danoyan wrote on Sep. 21, 2012 @ 17:22 GMT
Dear Julian

Freeman Dyson described reductionism in physics as the effort "to reduce the world of physical phenomena to a finite set of fundamental equations".

Please read my 2 essays


It is a real triumph of reductionism.

No doubt about reductionism...

All the best


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Pentcho Valev wrote on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 15:12 GMT
Dear Dr. Barbour,

You kindly deleted the following comment of mine but I find it important so let me repost it.

You are looking for a no-expansion explanation of the Hubble redshift:

JUlian Barbour: "The greatest need is for an EXPLANATION OF THE HUBBLE RED SHIFT THAT DOES NOT RELY ON EXPANSION OF THE UNIVERSE. (...) The estimates of section 7 show how readily the scale-invariant potential energy can increase if the universe becomes more clumpy. Scale-invariant gravity must, in the first place, yield a cause of the Hubble red shift. The only plausible candidate that I can see is this change in the 'potential' of the universe induced by such clumping. It is suitably great and, according to the standard model, has been happening since the end of inflation. Therefore, the conjecture has to be that somehow the change in potential causes the Hubble red shift. This is not inherently impossible. We know that differences in the gravitational potential give rise to a gravitational red shift."

But the speed of light VARIES with the gravitational potential, according to both general relativity and Newton's emission theory of light. So perhaps the redshifted light coming from distant celestial objects has a speed lower than c? What does Shape Dynamics say?

Sincerely yours, Pentcho Valev

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Don Limuti wrote on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 20:48 GMT
Hi Julian,

Take a look at:


It may give you some ideas on how to get a red shift without expansion. It is possible that the red shift may come from increased gravity and not increased speed.

OH, and if you get a chance check out my entry:

Greetings from a fellow Machian.

Don L.

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Yuri Danoyan wrote on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 21:52 GMT
The computer and the universe

John Archibald Wheeler


The reasons are briefly recalled why (1) time cannot be a primordial category in the description of nature, but secondary, approximate and derived, and (2) the laws of physics could not have been engraved for all time upon a tablet of granite, but had to come into being by a higgledy-piggledy mechanism. It is difficult to defend the view that existence is built at bottom upon particles, fields of force or space and time. Attention is called to the “elementary quantum phenomenon” as potential building element for all that is. The task of construction of physics from such elements is compared and contrasted with the problem of constructing a computer out of “yes, no” devices.

Preparation for publication assisted by the University of Texas Center for Theoretical Physics and by National Science Foundation Grant No. PHY78-26592.

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Author Julian Barbour wrote on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 10:02 GMT
There are several new posts since I last visited this thread. I hope those that posted them will excuse me if I don't respond. Some are inappropriate, others not but there is a limit to what one can do.

However, I will briefly respond to Pentcho Valev, who on 19th September wrote:

"You heroically delete any critical comment, in accordance with your ethical principles, but I am going to ask my question again and again. Are absolute simultaneity and Einstein's 1905 light postulate both true according to Shape Dynamics?"

First, I deleted nothing; second, they are compatible according to Shape Dynamics.

With regard to the later post on 22nd September quoting my comments on the expansion of the universe, they are no longer to be taken as my position. I still find the expansion of the universe a most important issue but no longer think it can be understood along the lines suggested in Pentcho's quote.

Pentcho Valev replied on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 11:03 GMT
Julian Barbour wrote:

"First, I deleted nothing..."

Then I apologize. But my comments - 7 or 8 perhaps - all disappeared so... Brendan Foster, what are you doing?!?

"...second, they [absolute simultaneity and Einstein's 1905 light postulate] are compatible according to Shape Dynamics."

But, Dr. Barbour, in textbooks the relativity of simultaneity is directly deduced from the light postulate - see pp. 9-10 in David Morin's text. In other words, according to special relativity, absolute simultaneity and Einstein's 1905 light postulate are incompatible.

I think you should explain this contradiction between Shape Dynamics and special relativity.

Pentcho Valev

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Paul Reed replied on Sep. 24, 2012 @ 17:39 GMT

Has it ever struck you to ask what the speed at which any given photons happen to travel has got to do with anything? Except that is, the timing relationship between the incidence of observation and the occurrence of the reality which affected the state of those photons.

The whole issue of the supposed relationship between the speed of light and simultaneity is based on simple mistakes (section 1 1905). Unless they occurred in immediate proximity(!), the point in time when two events occurred simultaneously was deemed to have a relationship with the distance between them. This is nonsense. Either events occurred at the same time, or they did not, distance is irrelevant.

Distance was then expressed in terms of duration of light travel, which is irrelevant as such, in that the distance AB is one distance, however expressed. The next mistake was confusion over timing and duration. So the point in time at which both events occurred was defined as being when the time (ie duration) for light to travel in one direction equalled the time (ie duration) to travel back. Although nonsense anyway, this was then incorrectly expressed. Hence: when t(b) – t(a) = t’(a) – t(b), a duration of time has been confused with a point in time, ie this involves the concept of ‘and then’ back. Following on from this, the constant velocity of light is derived as: 2AB/ t’(a) – t(b).


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Stefan Weckbach wrote on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 14:02 GMT
Dear Pentcho, Dear Julian,

thank you for clarifying your positions, so i can see more clearly.


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Vladimir F. Tamari wrote on Sep. 25, 2012 @ 02:28 GMT
Dear Julian,

An intriguing enjoyable and intriguing essay from an author I really respect. However I am not completely convinced that a holistic approach is always indispensable. Could one not argue, that if the result of the reductionist approach is a concept, idea or formula that is physically *very close* to nature then the whole would emerge from it on its own without further ado? As a...

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attachments: 2_BUFIG11.jpg

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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Sep. 25, 2012 @ 04:38 GMT
Dear Professor Julian Barbour

Perhaps Professor to doubt the concept for the Reductionist because professor think that: time is an "illusion", although it is always "present" in our lifetime.

Actually, it was too simple to the extent that we can not "doubt" that: that is it.

Unfortunately do not have the same opinion with professors on this issue.

Hopefully not so that professors ignore essay and my new theory.


August 23, 2012 - 11:51 GMT on this essay contest.

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Michael A. Popov wrote on Sep. 27, 2012 @ 16:10 GMT
If Mathematics, the tool of theoretical physics, can only describe becoming , then Mathematics of Becoming is Physics ?

I afraid there is no such thing as Mathematics of Becoming at all...

May be it is new philosophical abstraction or some kind of physical simplification of Calculus, and, If I understand, we cannot deduce any taking technical mathematical theorems seriously from Notion Mathematics of Becoming ( Similarly, from Einstein attempt to introduce a new kind of complex number in SR - please, see my FQXi 12 essay - we simply cannot deduce scientifically any taking physical time theory seriously )

I suppose, that Mathematics is not Tool, Language or Human subjectivity at all. It is independent perfectly working area of experimental science. Anybody can test for example, that, x^3 + y^3 = z^3 cannot exist in Nature and in any version of Multiverse as well. Pure Mathematics is not Pure Physics.

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Author Julian Barbour wrote on Sep. 29, 2012 @ 08:41 GMT
Again, there are some posts that are inappropriate or too difficult for me to understand, but I will comment on three:

Vladimir Tamari wrote:

"Could one not argue, that if the result of the reductionist approach is a concept, idea or formula that is physically *very close* to nature then the whole would emerge from it on its own without further ado? As a minimalist example cellular automata interact according to a local rule and from it the whole emerges in due time."

I think that is reasonable position and certainly a reductionist starting point can lead to a holistic picture. However, even with cellular automata there is an holistic element. The individual elements must be tied together since otherwise what happens at one element could not affect what happens at its neighbour. A chain is an holistic concept.

Michael Popov seems to have inverted what I said. I said mathematics can only describing Being. I did not say it could only describe Becoming.

Pentcho Valev again challenges me on the issue of simultaneity and the speed of light. I twice invited him to look and my papers or talks on the web, but he has twice declined the invitation. Perhaps a simple analogy will help. Imagine a very smooth landscape with a single valley running through it.If you look at only a very small part of the landscape, it will appear flat, both at the bottom of the valley as well as elsewhere. In very small regions, no directions on the surface will be distinguished. This is almost exactly analogous to the absence of a distinguished definition of simultaneity in special relativity.However, in the bottom of the valley, there is clearly a distinguished direction, along the valley, even though on the smallest scales it cannot be detected. This is by no means a perfect analogy for what happens in Shape Dynamics, but it does show how what happens on the smallest scale may be misleading about large-scale structure.

Paul Reed replied on Oct. 1, 2012 @ 09:23 GMT

It is the concept of simultaneity, as defined, that is wrong. Any given physically existent state occurred at the same time as any other, if that was at the same point in time. Timing being an extrinsic measuring system which enables the comparison of disparate changes. It has nothing whatsoever to do with light, etc, etc. Now, in the assessment of whether that occurred, and if the sense being utilised is sight, the speed of light is, obviously, a factor. But whatever occurred, did so, independently of the sensing thereof, and occurrences either happened at the same point in time, or they did not.

The speed of light always starts at the same speed because it is the result of an atomic reaction, and like anything else, it will then continue at that speed unless impinged upon. There is nothing mysterious about this. But, 1905 presumed light was in vaccuo and everything else was not, hence the two could not co-exist (so it was not a cohesive theory and is not SR). Later, SR presumed a purely theoretical circumstance where everything was in vaccuo (in order to reconcile the mis-match of 1905). While GR is the real world, and so light is affected by the physical circumstances encountered in its travel.


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Vladimir Rogozhin wrote on Sep. 29, 2012 @ 20:21 GMT
Dear Julian!

An excellent analysis in your essay and hypotheses. But the «Alpha» and «Omega» is not enough. To search Protostructure (Superstructure, "the missing structure" by Umberto Eco) requires synthesis of "Alpha" and "Omega". This can be done "Delta" with its deep OntoTopoLogical Interpretation. Ontological framework of the country Platonia - it is also an ontological framework of the world (univerce), represented as the natural (absolute) coordinate system. .

From a country of eternal forms helps to get the time - the memory structure at a certain level of its holistic existence. Time is the burden of becoming. This - the price of becoming. Its outcome - asymmetry. Sincerely, Vladimir

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Anonymous wrote on Oct. 1, 2012 @ 17:16 GMT

Many including I have had the courtesy to read your essay and comment on it in your thread. Here we are, as last year, side by side, but, as last year, you still don't speak. We are all busy, but some would consider it a courtesy implicit on entering to read and comment on others essays. The word 'arrogant' has been used here, and you may perhaps wrongly be giving that impression.

Perhaps my post, or even my essay, was among those you referred to as 'too difficult to understand'. I wouldn't be surprised as I identify a multiple set of associated assumptions, and explain a complex ontological construction. The ontology does however derive the SR postulates (inc. CSL) direct from a known quantum mechanism, (which Roger Penrose termed the 'Holy Grail' of physics). It may be wrong, but is falsifiable and is so far unfalsified. I've given the model it the most stringent tests, and hope you also may study it.

I do hope you are able. I think if I can understand yours you should be able to unravel the layered depths of mine. There's even a little contemporary theatre and a sonnet! I'm personally suffering a bit of eye strain, but there is much excellent quality work here you seem to be missing.

And very best wishes in the competition.


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Peter Jackson replied on Oct. 1, 2012 @ 17:20 GMT
Ooops! That was me. The system logged me out again.


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David Rousseau wrote on Oct. 3, 2012 @ 12:40 GMT

You essay is just splendid -- clear, compelling, captivating, and revelatory. I think your work is going to change the shape of our paradigm! It is great to see clear-headed philosophical thinking put to such immediately effective use in the service of good physics (and good education) -- this is exactly how philosophy and empirical science should integrate to bring progress in our understanding of what exists and how it works. I think your position that 'the angles are the fundamental things', provides a surprising but exact way of giving mathematical expression to the intuitive notions of holism and of concrete properties being determined by context.

Julie and I argue, from very different grounds, but largely on philosophical grounds too, for a similar vision of the nature of the world in our essay. We approach it from the quantum vacuum side rather than the SR side, but our philosophical trail led to a highly congruent world-view. Our difference is that we infer a fundamental concrete world in which 'becoming' is a primary attribute (I guess we could have called it Energeia?), thus providing a foundation for the evolution of the platonium (sorry I couldn't resist) that you associate with instants of being. Either way leads to a world in which 'holistic change' is the primary observed quality of the phenomenal world.

I think the Shape Dynamics formalism will turn out to be seminal for Systems Philosophy. So glad to have read your work!

With admiration and best wishes,


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Eric Stanley Reiter wrote on Oct. 4, 2012 @ 21:35 GMT
I see you have embraced entanglement instead of seeing through its illusion. A simple solution is the long abandoned loading theory. The reason everyone is going through such acts of desperation to explain quantum irrationality is that they were baboozeled by their textbooks and much biased coverage. If you look at original data of famous experiments one can see that the loading theory fits just fine.

Please look at what I have on the loading theory: Revealing the coverup, experimental verification for matter and light, theory, history, analysis of famous experiments, predicting new working experiments, first failure of quantum mechanics. What more does one need?

So please give my essay a good rating. Even better, please take actions toward my essay falling in the top 35 in your contest. I suggest a note at the beginning of this contest of my essay being news. It is the only essay that I know of describing an experiment doing fundamental things. I made a note of this idea in B Fosters blog on the essay contest. Another place to visit is my website

There are two problems: (1) everyone is invested in their pet theory, and (2) my message is hard to take because other experimental physicists need to witness the gamma-ray splitting. However, you can see experimental verification yourself. Any physics lab can read pulse height spectra of Cd-109 gamma-rays or Am-241 alpha-rays. There is an anomalously large pile-up count in the pulse height spectrum at 2x(characteristic pulse height). At this part of the spectrum the coincidence rates exceed chance, killing quantum mechanics. I explain why this effect is not always visible from other radiation sources or detectors.

Begging for mercy already. It has bee 10 years since my experimental breakthrough.

Eric Reiter. Essay: A Challenge to Quantized Absorption by Experiment and Theory

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George Ellis wrote on Oct. 4, 2012 @ 21:39 GMT
Hi Julian

I'm glad to see you flying the Machian flag, and also taking a stand against infinity. I'm with you in both cases.

I find shape dynamics intriguing, and agree with the basic premise that the gravitational degrees of freedom are conformal. I'm struggling with whether they are 3-d or 4-d conformal. I tend to the latter position, but am willing to learn.

Best wishes


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Jin He wrote on Oct. 5, 2012 @ 19:21 GMT

An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents; it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning.

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MV Vasilyeva wrote on Oct. 6, 2012 @ 03:59 GMT
Dr. Barbour,

thank you for thought provoking essay. I read it today the second time, because of Daniel Waagner Fonteles Alves, whose essay I found more accessible than yours. The concept of shape dynamics is new to me but my immediate instinct is that this is the right way to go.

You write, " A closed geometry is needed to model a universe as a whole. A closed three-geometry is much harder to imagine, but is mathematically possible. "

I happen to visualize 3-geometry very well, even though call it 4D geometry, because I insist on considering not just the 3D surface, but the 4D object as a whole. My approach to physics is visual and, in line with your holistic approach, I see the universe as a hypersphere, on the 3D surface of which we live. I found that this 4D perspective dispels the paradoxes that plague contemporary physics and makes the workings of the universe, from its smallest components to largest structures, appear to make perfect sense.

I especially appreciate your holistic view, because I conceive of space, energy and time as 3 aspects of one and the same, a process, with either one being the expression of the other two. To me it appears that shape dynamics is the best way to model such processes evolving and interacting locally.

I wonder if Alpha shape is a hypersphere -? because, topologically, 4D allows for most symmetries in comparison to all other spaces, and as a space with even number of dimensions, also permits more rotations than the next runner-up, 3D.

I very much hope that you would find time to comment on my essay, even though the ratings are already closed ( ) I would very much value your feedback.

Congratulations on making the finalists list!

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Paul Reed wrote on Nov. 28, 2012 @ 06:44 GMT

I noticed a reference to a Discover article just now on another blog (Is Einsteins’s work….)

The error Einstein (and indeed most other people) made was to presume there is duration in physical existence. This results in the misuse of x = vt. So, having introduced a non existent variable into physical existence (ie reified time), then that has to be explained. That was achieved via another common error, which is to conflate physical existence with the observation of physical existence. That is, what Einstein explained as being variations in timing because ‘everything is relative’ is the differential in the time taken for light to travel from the point where it was created (ie where physical existence occurred) to the observer.

Without becoming an historian and reading everything, I can track the formal reification of time back to Poincaré and his flawed concept of simultaneity, in narrative form 1898 and in numerical form 1900. He picked up on local time which Lorentz was using by 1895, essentially correctly, after Voigt and Doppler, but associated it with his misunderstanding of simultaneity. In addition they all thought their thinking was correct because the first hypothesis was dimension alteration, a false reaction to Michelson, so the concept that timing devices could not keep ‘proper’ time when being caused to change momentum seemed valid.


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Kamilla Kamilla wrote on Apr. 10, 2016 @ 17:05 GMT
Thanks for sharing this interesting blog with us.My pleasure to being here on your blog..Iwannacomebeck here for new post from your site


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