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January 21, 2018

CATEGORY: The Nature of Time Essay Contest (2008) [back]
TOPIC: The Nature of Time: Turning the Kaleidoscope by Ryan Sloan Westafer [refresh]
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Ryan Sloan Westafer wrote on Dec. 1, 2008 @ 11:23 GMT
Essay Abstract

The idea of a harmonious universe is one with which scientists and philosophers have sympathized for centuries. Of course, many such as Tolman, have revealed difficulties with original oscillatory models, typically citing divergent entropy or difficulty with singularities. By scientific judgement and recent developments, I am compelled to resort to such a model in the description of time. In this paper, we will consider both forward and backward time (and everything else) as nature’s harmonious and balanced arrangement to allow something in spite of nothing. First I will clarify the qualities and pervasive generality of a resonant universe. Second, I will highlight and show connections among several observed properties of time including: entropic irreversibility, the fluctuation theorem and Loschmidt’s paradox, and the eventual decay of matter. Finally, I conclude with corroboration, potential validation, suggestions for our improvement, and a bit of reflection.

Author Bio

Ryan Westafer is a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA, USA. Evidently he is working hard in extracurricular studies which are unlikely to advance his graduation. Having also received his MSECE and BS (Computer Engineering) degrees from Georgia Tech, Ryan is a "lifer" at Tech and would love to do it all again, although of course, not exactly the same way. Ending this philosophical excursion, he will continue his own life balance with a return to applied research.

Download Essay PDF File

Ryan Westafer wrote on Dec. 2, 2008 @ 07:21 GMT
Below is a URL at which everyone can download the entire collection of essays (33MB ZIP Archive). This will hopefully allow me (and you all) a good way to read and categorize all these very diverse and interesting essays. I wish everyone success in navigating this massive amount of material! I counted 112 essays, and I did a single pass verifying the last name of each file.

Ryan Westafer wrote on Dec. 2, 2008 @ 17:16 GMT
I have updated the archive to reflect three additional papers posted Dec. 2.

Archive is available at:

Ryan Westafer wrote on Dec. 2, 2008 @ 19:37 GMT
Yet again, I just added 4 new papers. I will continue to update the online archive and I will not make subsequent posts about it.

T H Ray wrote on Dec. 3, 2008 @ 01:11 GMT
Hi Ryan,

I loved your essay!

"Perhaps we need to look through the kaleidoscope while standing in front of a universal mirror (of all action)..." is profound.

I am already looking forward to reading more of your work in what is sure to be a brilliant career.


Peter Morgan wrote on Dec. 3, 2008 @ 15:38 GMT
Hi, Ryan, thanks for your comment on my essay. I had read and quite appreciated your essay, but I couldn't find a focus for a comment. I can see lots of ideas in your paper that I could hang a hat on, where I think, from my POV, that you've picked a good thing to think important enough to mention, but I think your essay lacks sufficient focus as a whole, and ultimately doesn't bring the ideas together enough. Sorry! One of the things that takes many years in Foundations of Physics, one reason why you're well-advised to go back to applied research, is the honing of focus while still saying something interesting about foundations.

The closest thing you have to a fundamental focus, particularly with regard to the Nature of Time, seems to me to be the entropy thing, but I have a quibble with this: "if we compute a phase space volume for an initial state then any subsequent state exhibits at least an infinitesimally larger volume". This is only true if there are interactions with DoFs external to the system, otherwise phase space volume is conserved in a Hamiltonian system, right? Of course there are always external DoFs, unless we have a truly fundamental model that includes Every DoF and gets the dynamics Exactly right (wow, if so). The above statement is also sloppy, in that an initial "state" is either a point in phase space, with zero volume, or it is a measurable function on phase space. I find entropy problematic as a fundamental mathematical object because it requires a foliation of space-time to construct a phase space --- I'm never sure whether this is something I should worry about, but my approach to quantum field theory suggests that there should be a Lorentz invariant thermodynamic dual to quantum fluctuations, just as entropy is the thermodynamic dual to thermal fluctuations (or, rather, to the scale of thermal fluctuations, temperature), and that the relationship between these two concepts is quite complicated.

One thing I quite enjoyed was your writing style, despite being taken to so many points of interest along the way that my head fairly span. I'll comment on my essay comment thread as well. Feel free to tell me that I have no focus discernible to you. I often think so, though the moments when things seem a little clear to me are precious.

Ryan Westafer wrote on Dec. 3, 2008 @ 20:35 GMT
Thanks for your critique, Peter.

It seems you point out my unorthodox approach. I think backward from many people. I'm sorry the presentation didn't appeal to your reasoning, so I will clarify a few things below. Many people have posed additional questions. 10 pages isn't enough. (I just posted FAQs on my website:

First, you are correct in your point about a volume of phase space, but my statement is also correct. I chose my words carefully. Would you like to compute anything which is not finite? Every quantum mechanical problem I have solved (OK, yes they were from textbooks) only computed to a finite volume of phase space. Otherwise, we would never finish computing.

Second, use caution referring to "internal" and "external" with this model- it is self-contained. In the electricity example, we saw that the generator must be considered when power is dissipated at the light bulb. I even mentioned in the kaleidoscope section that you might consider: if I am turning the kaleidoscope... how am I doing so? Step outside yourself- think big! There is no bound in the depth of the atom, and there is no bound in the expanse of space as you look toward a black hole. Well, not for the timeless *complete* mathematical universe- however, in our state, we may find quantities which are *approximately* constant, e.g. the bias represented by the thermodynamic arrow. The bias is only possible if our state does not exist for all time, space, or energy: however you'd like to view it. I think this is evident and intuitive.

I started with a model I've enjoyed for some time now, and then I set out to describe the nature of time. I took a relevant subset of the concepts I could recall and reduced them to the oscillating universe model, and then, from that foundation, subsequent generalization to several other areas of physics just flowed naturally, though it left my mind "atwirl" as it apparently did yours. It has been a journey for me, and I'm sorry it wasn't enjoyable for you. I thought that a more fundamental description of time and its origins should lead to much more- and it did.

Maybe come back to my paper after reading some others. There are some amazing papers in this lot, and I see similarities in several! Taken together, there is much progress here. I am excited.

I appreciate that you enjoy my writing style... it felt natural. At least something struck you positively, but even so, I wish academic papers (and a Ph.D. dissertation) so written would be accepted! Matriculating from a Ph.D. program would then come naturally too.

T H Ray wrote on Dec. 4, 2008 @ 18:32 GMT

Anoher thing jumped out at me as I re-read. Your analogy of the cacophonous noise caused by different symphonies playing different scores reminded me that Einstein (a gifted violinist), IIRC, said that one can correctly and in detail describe a symphony as variations in sound wave pressure; such a description would not, he added, inform us of the meaning of a symphony.

We cannot substitute technique for meaning. The tools are not the art. For what it's worth, I think you have just the right POV to focus a complex systems approach on the problem of time that I find quite productive, for on that stage, sounds are laterally distributed among instruments called to task singly and en masse, all coordinated toward keeping time with the rythm of the score.


Ryan Westafer wrote on Dec. 5, 2008 @ 00:37 GMT

Thanks for re-reading! I'm so glad I could communicate the beauty to someone. Your further analogy is great! I was about to ask you where we could envision the conductor in this analogy, because I have been curious about that as well.

Well, then I realized, having played in ensembles before, that a group may play very well with out a conductor- if the musicians are not separated by large distances. Feedback among musicians makes this possible, by careful listening while playing. But then, with each musician having adjusted faster or slower to meet at a group tempo, the actual value of the tempo may have converged to something not exactly as the composer intended. It seems there is a duality here as well. When consensus is reached, something most have been compromised. "Sync" by Strogatz provides much insight into such behaviors.

After a couple days' reflection, it really seems to me that I have been studying tautology- and that science studies the structures allowed under tautology. A hint of this was in the kaleidoscope-in-the-mirror statement you appreciated. Physicists are already studying all sorts of automorphisms and generalized rotations to connect all the observed fields. So, with such "trivial" in mind, I should go back the other way- to taking measurements in the lab. We don't know what beautiful details await us in the world, but we are able to look for them. Measurements follow the entropic arrow, so they allow us to realize the future by providing information- a basis for prediction. By Shannon mutual entropy over a time channel (if I may), our observations fall into the past, but they also indicate the future.

Fortunately there is a lot more fascinating truth to the "redundant universe" for people to study...

e.g. that triviality also affords infinite complexity. In some sort of intuitive way, 0 and infinity balance, though I'm not sure how to mathematically express that. As yet, the product zero times infinity remains undetermined- it likely admits infinitely many solutions.

Thanks for taking the time for this conversation! I am not seeing much conversation on this forum. My goal is to read all the essays, but that leaves little time for comments. Maybe everyone else is also reading. I hope so.


T H Ray wrote on Dec. 5, 2008 @ 12:13 GMT

You wrtie: "Well, then I realized, having played in ensembles before, that a group may play very well with out a conductor- if the musicians are not separated by large distances. Feedback among musicians makes this possible, by careful listening while playing. But then, with each musician having adjusted faster or slower to meet at a group tempo, the actual value of the tempo may have converged to something not exactly as the composer intended."

I concur. In fact, that is the insight that led me to the result in my ICCS 2007 paper: Negative feedback informs the present; positive feedback informs the future. Negative feedback, in fact, substitutes for the "conductor." They are the same thing. In a time-dependent network model, conductors change position according to the scale of measure. Google for Braha & Bar-Yam, "From centrality to temporary fame: dynamic centrality in complex networks."

In other words, the partial order that massive coordinated future events impose on the present appears cacophonous from a future perspective because the aggregation of past symphonies and present symphonies at one instant is the same as your metaphor of many orchestras playing different scores at once.

A dissipative system in which time pays an active physical role guarantees a local one dimension succession of beats by negative feedback, while simultaneosuly creating a positive feedback loop with the future, which increases the potential for greater varieties of negative feedback potential in the partially ordered present.

You continue, "It seems there is a duality here as well. When consensus is reached, something most have been compromised. "Sync" by Strogatz provides much insight into such behaviors."

I plan to invest more study into Strogatz, Watts, et al, and small world networks. Perhaps we can travel that path together. From a future perspective, we have all the time in the world. :-)

Just one more comment: You write, "In some sort of intuitive way, 0 and infinity balance, though I'm not sure how to mathematically express that."

For physical applications, I think the central limit theorem and regression to the mean are sufficient.


Ryan Westafer wrote on Dec. 5, 2008 @ 16:53 GMT

Just "wow." There is so much truth in what you say. Your comments really resonate with me. (By the way, I'm seeing the word "resonate with" more and more in business and social contexts, too)

I woke up thinking about "Time Counts." Later today I will read it again, and yes, I think there is a great opportunity to work together.

T H Ray wrote on Dec. 9, 2008 @ 19:11 GMT

I had to ponder for a while your statement, "Measurements follow the entropic arrow, so they allow us to realize the future by providing information- a basis for prediction. By Shannon mutual entropy over a time channel (if I may), our observations fall into the past, but they also indicate the future." Not because I disagree with it--I fully agree with it--but because I was looking for a way to diagram it.

Suppose one draws a squiggly vertical line to represent a singularity. Curved lines drawn over the top and bottom of the singularity form a convex-lens shape (gravitational lensing). Label the area left of the singularity, "present," and the area to the right of the isngularity, "past." If the past is assigned a negative value and the present a positive value, the singularity would be the zero-valued future. The past area is empty; information from the past is channeled along the 1-dimensional edges of the "lens;" the present area is filled with events. An observer from the present cannot look back into the past without staring into the future of the black hole event horizon. Connecting with my own theory:

Because we live in a 10 dimension event space, which as I calculated and explained is identical to the 4-dimension horizon, our only access to the past is in the one-dimensional time parameter. The asymptotic lines trailing to the right where the "lens" closes (but not quite) is the d >= 11, n-dimension Hilbert space. The "emptiness" of the past space is handled analytically in my mathematical model by calculation in the complex plane for reasons that I think shouold be obvious--the 2-dimensionality of the information channel (the surface of the lens' edge) is a negatively valued space, and the ratio of two negative complex numbers is real and positive.

All best,


Eckard Blumschein wrote on Dec. 18, 2008 @ 17:00 GMT
Herewith I suggest to all who are using negative and imaginary numbers in physics to read the attached "lecture" of mine and to take issue if they do not agree. Who agrees should realize that there might be flaws in commonly accepted tenets.

attachments: 5_Microsoft_Word__How_do_negative_and_imaginary.pdf

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