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Zenith Grant Awardee

Julian Barbour

Oxford University


Project Title

The Nature of Time and the Structure of Space

Project Summary

My research project addresses the most fundamental questions in dynamics: What is space? What is time? What is motion? They were hotly debated by Newton and Leibniz three centuries ago and still have central importance because they have to be reconsidered with each new advance in our understanding of nature. They are critical for the greatest outstanding problem in physics: the unification of Einstein's general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics in order to create a quantum theory of the universe. Such a theory is needed to explain why the universe exists in the form it does, why it seems to have been created in a big bang, and why “never resting time'' seems always to flow forward from past to future through an elusive present. For many years, I have studied the foundations of dynamics and have shown that Einstein's theory of relativity answers the questions as to the nature of space, time, and motion in a manner that has not hitherto been fully appreciated. My project has two aims: to bring this study to its conclusion and to summarize all this work in a book written to help the creation of the quantum theory of the universe.

Technical Abstract

My application is for two mutually reinforcing projects. The first is to show that the structure of space essentially determines the dynamics of space, which in turn determines the physcial properties of time. This will be done by completing my program for the relational derivation of classical dynamics from the fewest possible axioms. In particular, only scale-invariant (angle-determining) structure of space is presupposed. Much of the structure of spacetime usually taken as fundamental is thereby shown to be emergent. This is likely to be important in quantum gravity, in which emergent structure of the classical theory should play no fundamental role. My second project is to write a monograph presenting a unifying vision of the relational foundations of physics. I am confident that I do now have a clear overview of relationalism in classical dynamics. The part played by scale invariance – the relativity of size and its relation to time – was the last piece of the picture to fall into place. A monograph that presents this picture will have value in itself and be a resource for researchers wishing to apply the insights of relational dynamics in quantum gravity.

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