Search FQXi

If you are aware of an interesting new academic paper (that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal or has appeared on the arXiv), a conference talk (at an official professional scientific meeting), an external blog post (by a professional scientist) or a news item (in the mainstream news media), which you think might make an interesting topic for an FQXi blog post, then please contact us at with a link to the original source and a sentence about why you think that the work is worthy of discussion. Please note that we receive many such suggestions and while we endeavour to respond to them, we may not be able to reply to all suggestions.

Please also note that we do not accept unsolicited posts and we cannot review, or open new threads for, unsolicited articles or papers. Requests to review or post such materials will not be answered. If you have your own novel physics theory or model, which you would like to post for further discussion among then FQXi community, then please add them directly to the "Alternative Models of Reality" thread, or to the "Alternative Models of Cosmology" thread. Thank you.

Contests Home

Current Essay Contest

Previous Contests

Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fnd.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

Forum Home
Terms of Use

Order posts by:
 chronological order
 most recent first

Posts by the author are highlighted in orange; posts by FQXi Members are highlighted in blue.

By using the FQXi Forum, you acknowledge reading and agree to abide by the Terms of Use

 RSS feed | RSS help


Thomas Ray: "(reposted in correct thread) Lorraine, Nah. That's nothing like my view...." in 2015 in Review: New...

Lorraine Ford: "Clearly “law-of-nature” relationships and associated numbers represent..." in Physics of the Observer -...

Lee Bloomquist: "Information Channel. An example from Jon Barwise. At the workshop..." in Physics of the Observer -...

Lee Bloomquist: "Please clarify. I just tried to put a simple model of an observer in the..." in Alternative Models of...

Lee Bloomquist: "Footnote...for the above post, the one with the equation existence =..." in Alternative Models of...

Thomas Ray: "In fact, symmetry is the most pervasive physical principle that exists. ..." in “Spookiness”...

Thomas Ray: "It's easy to get wound around the axle with black hole thermodynamics,..." in “Spookiness”...

Joe Fisher: "It seems to have escaped Wolpert’s somewhat limited attention that no two..." in Inferring the Limits on...

click titles to read articles

The Complexity Conundrum
Resolving the black hole firewall paradox—by calculating what a real astronaut would compute at the black hole's edge.

Quantum Dream Time
Defining a ‘quantum clock’ and a 'quantum ruler' could help those attempting to unify physics—and solve the mystery of vanishing time.

Our Place in the Multiverse
Calculating the odds that intelligent observers arise in parallel universes—and working out what they might see.

Sounding the Drums to Listen for Gravity’s Effect on Quantum Phenomena
A bench-top experiment could test the notion that gravity breaks delicate quantum superpositions.

Watching the Observers
Accounting for quantum fuzziness could help us measure space and time—and the cosmos—more accurately.

January 20, 2018

CATEGORY: The Nature of Time Essay Contest (2008) [back]
TOPIC: Instants, inertia and quantum motion by Shan Gao [refresh]
Bookmark and Share
Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Shan Gao wrote on Oct. 14, 2008 @ 10:42 GMT
Essay Abstract

We present a new historical and logical analysis of motion. The analysis may help to reveal the structure of time as well as the meaning of quantum theory. It is argued that, if time is composed of instants as commonly assumed, the phenomenon of inertial motion may imply that motion has no cause and thus is spontaneous. The spontaneity of motion logically requires that motion is essentially random and discontinuous. We first analyze the random discontinuous motion in continuous space-time. It is shown that the wave function in quantum mechanics can be taken as a mathematical complex that describes the motion, and the equation of motion may assume the same form as the Schrödinger equation. However, the randomness of motion cannot emerge in continuous space-time. This is unnatural in logic and also contradicts experience. We then analyze motion in discrete space-time. It is argued that the discreteness of time can release the randomness of motion as experience reveals; the equation of motion in discrete space-time is a revised Schrödinger equation containing an extra stochastic nonlinear term, which results from the discreteness of time and will result in the dynamical collapse of the wave function. Moreover, the collapse can also lead to the appearance of continuous motion in the macroscopic world. Thus, in all probability, time is essentially discrete and the actual motion is the random discontinuous motion in discrete space-time, which provides a unified picture of motion in the microscopic and macroscopic worlds.

Author Bio

Shan Gao graduated from Institute of Electronics, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1995. He is an independent researcher living in Beijing. His main interests are in foundations of quantum theory, quantum communication and quantum consciousness. He has published four books including the monograph "Quantum Motion - Unveiling the Mysterious Quantum World" (2006) and the popular science book "God Does Play Dice with the Universe" (2008).

Download Essay PDF File

matthew kolasinski wrote on Oct. 26, 2008 @ 08:45 GMT
Hello Shan Gao,

that you have focused on motion in order to address the question of time is a novel but very fitting approach. it is indeed the perception of relative motion which gives us a sense of time.

i'm not an expert in physics, but, when i read:

3. Understanding RDM in terms of instants, for example, how a particle “knows” which position it will be at next instant in the sense of probability.

my first thought was "Feynman". he's fairly much the master on probability and motion.

a quick search of the web turned up:

Feynman’s path integrals and Bohm’s particle paths

and Feynman’s path integral formalism have something to do with particle .... provided a probability distribution on the space of all paths, ... - Similar pages

by R Tumulka - 2005 - Related articles - All 6 versions

downloading the pdf, i found:

"This theory would have the same ontology as Bohmian mechanics, but a different, in fact stochastic, law of motion."

he also has time as discrete. Tumulka appears to be looking at very similar things as you are. what he has to say in the paper may be helpful to you. his writing appears to be about as clear as your own.

you might also find 'time counts', another entry here, of interest, though maybe not as specifically relevant.

matt kolasinski

F. Le Rouge wrote on Oct. 26, 2008 @ 13:18 GMT
It is true that time is 'commonly' assumed as composed of instants - and that from 'instants' follows an idea of discontinuous time.

'Commonly', that is to say in technological langage first of all.

But compared to matter, langage is always discontinuous, either it is Chinese or Italian or mathematical or musical langage! It is the function of langage to enable a conventionnal common approach of things, Nature, phenomenons, social relationships. The discontinuity is the RanSom of langage.

Your approach is not new because you can still find this debate on Time in Motion in Antique Physics, in the Greek one but probably in the Egyptian too, until modern Metaphysicians or mathematicians such as Marx or Heidegger, Einstein, Russell, Berkeley...

I do not agree that the 'Wave equation' of de Broglie and Schrödinger is continuous space-time. The discontinuous motion of Einstein can be broken in 'arrows' but the Wave Mechanics can be broken in 'arcs' too.

Shan Gao wrote on Oct. 27, 2008 @ 08:58 GMT

Thank you very much for your interest in my idea! A more popular introduction of the idea of random discontinuous motion can be found in my book God Does Play Dice with the Universe (2008). I have read the article by R Tumulka. Many thanks for this very helpful information. I also read your interesting essay concerning the relation between perception and time, and I have learned much. I especially like the quote “When the bird and the book disagree, always believe the bird.” Thank you!


Shan Gao wrote on Oct. 27, 2008 @ 09:06 GMT

Thank you for your comments. I have also pointed out in my essay that two ancient thinkers Epicurus and Al-Nazzam had ever proposed similar ideas. You can read the more detailed version of the essay on my website, where I present a further discussion of their ideas.

Besides, I don't understand "The discontinuous motion of Einstein" refered by you. Could you explain more clearly? Thank you!


matthew kolasinski wrote on Oct. 28, 2008 @ 19:55 GMT
hello again Shan Gao,

a way big grin here. :-)

yes, i like your perspective on motion very well.

glad the paper i'd refferenced was useful - i hadn't read the whole thing myself but it appeared to be quite similar thinking.

glad you enjoyed my paper also.

delighted to meet you.


F. Le Rouge wrote on Nov. 6, 2008 @ 17:25 GMT
The 'measurement' of Time drives to discontinuous Time. It is an 'idea' of Time that you can brake in as many 'pieces' of Time that you want, according to the seasons or not.

And that is what Einstein is doing: he is starting from two measurements of speed (including Time): the measurement of the speed of a train from a fixed point, and the measurement of the speed of the same hypothetic train from a moving point. One train, one Speed, one Time but two measurement.

Anonymous wrote on Nov. 23, 2008 @ 16:54 GMT
This may seem like a simple question, but:

if time is discrete, not continuous, then the "units" of which it is composed are either temporally extended, or not. If they are temporally extended, then are they not divisible? (If they are divisible, they are not discrete unite). If they are not temporally extended, then adding them up will not make a temporally extended whole.

So, it seems to me that temporal extension must be continuous, rather than discrete, just as dimensive extension is. I understand that conceiving of these as discrete may be useful in mathematical models, but in reality, I think they must be continuous.

report post as inappropriate

Ryan Westafer wrote on Dec. 3, 2008 @ 00:12 GMT
Your essay wonderfully highlights the duality of the continuous and the discrete in the context of motion. The duality depends upon our choice of basis, just like the existence of particles versus waves. You might agree that particles lose their energy- their mass- to waves, and the discrete particle behavior is only realized again at another particle... the observer.

Thanks for your insights!

Chi Ming Hung wrote on Dec. 3, 2008 @ 04:17 GMT
anonymously wrote above:

"...If they are not temporally extended, then adding them up will not make a temporally extended whole..."

I think this is a common misconception about discrete theories of Time/Becoming (like this one and mine). It is perfectly consistent to postulate that Time/Becoming is discrete and composed of instants, while claiming that these instants or moments of Becoming are not themselves temporally extended. This postulate works because we never postulated that Time has the structure of a continuum from the beginning, and so it's not necessary for the collection of all instants to fill a continuum. To make connection with time duration in discrete theories of Time/Becoming, we simply need to define a unit of Time in terms of a definite number of instants of occurrence of a certain recurring process (such as the modern practice of defining the second as 9192631770 cycles of the process corresponding to the radiation from the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the Caesium 133 atom). This way we can define duration between instants without having to postulate the reality of a physical continuum of Time/Becoming.

Chi Ming Hung wrote on Dec. 12, 2008 @ 20:23 GMT

Just wondering how your RDM theory is different from the spontaneous collapse model of Ghirardi-Rimini-Weber. Could you please comment on that? Thanks.

Shan wrote on Dec. 15, 2008 @ 06:11 GMT
Chi Ming:

Thank you for your interest in my essay. GRW theory is a mathematical model about the dynamical collapse of the wave function. The RDM theory aims to provide more content than it based on a new physical analysis of motion. The theory explains the wave function in quantum mechanics as a mathematical complex that describes the motion, and further shows that the equation of motion is a revised Schrödinger equation, which can naturally result in the dynamical collapse of the wave function. Besides, the concrete dynamical collapse equations in these two theories are also very different.

You can read my paper in International Journal of Theoretical Physics ( or my book Quantum Motion ( for more information. Thank you!

Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Please enter your e-mail address:
Note: Joining the FQXi mailing list does not give you a login account or constitute membership in the organization.