In his book, Many Worlds In One, Alex Vilenkin chronicles the development of his theory that a universe comes into existence through a process of “quantum tunneling from nothing.” (His paper describing the theory, including a mathematical description of the “nucleation” process, was published in Physics Letters, 1982.) In order for something to emerge from “nothing”, it must come from somewhere prior to space and time. This is not an easy concept to grasp, which makes Vilenkin’s theory quite a squirmy fish. However there was precedent for the idea 1,500 years ago, which Vilenkin became aware of a few years after his theory was first published. The source was Saint Augustine, the bishop of Hippo in northern Africa…

Augustine grappled with the question of what God was doing before the creation — a quest he eloquently described in his Confessions. “For if he was idle… and doing nothing, then why did he not continue in that state forever — doing nothing, as he has always done?” Augustine thought that in order to answer his question, he first had to figure out what time is: “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” A lucid alalysis led him to the realization that time could be defined only through motion and could not, therefore exist before the universe. Augustine’s final conclusion was that “the world was made not in time, but simultaneously with time. There was no time before the world.” And thus it is meaningless to ask what God was doing then. “If there was no time, there was no ‘then.'” This is very close to what I argued in my tunneling-from-nothing scenario.

It is a fascinating idea, that time can only be defined by the relative motion of things. No things — no time. It also seems that even in a world of things, if there is no motion, there is no time. A static (unchanging) universe that exists is little different from a universe of no-things that do not exist. In both, there is no timeframe in which to observe change and relative motion. But does a world of things without motion exist? Not as far as we can tell. Thus we conclude that at the moment things were created, things were also put into motion.

3 Comments on Time, Things, and Motion

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  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tame Bear. Tame Bear said: @raghavankk, I read Vilenkin's "Many Worlds In One." My favorite part was about Time: […]

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