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Learning to See the Timeless Infinite Universe

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The concept of imaginary time surfaced in physics as an integral part of several of our most advanced understandings of the cosmos. Unfortunately it is very much a reality still today that the works of the really great spirits in science, such as Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Hawking, and their most fundamental conclusions about the universe, remain unappreciated, even unnoticed in their own time by the majority of scientists. These three giants all made very similar conclusions regarding the timelessness of the Universe, yet even today the study of timelessness is overlooked, partly in avoidance of its profundity. With a special giftedness that penetrates beyond such obstacles and boundaries, Hawking has begun to awaken science to the world beyond time.

People:   Albert Einstein   Stephen Hawking   Hugh Everett   David Bohm

"I still believe the universe has a beginning in real time, at the big bang. But there's another kind of time, imaginary time, at right angles to real time, in which the universe has no beginning or end."
Stephen Hawking
Black Holes and Baby Universes


The Book:
  Everything Forever:
Learning to See Timelessness










One can think of ordinary, real, time as a horizontal line. On the left, one has the past, and on the right, the future. But there's another kind of time in the vertical direction. This is called imaginary time, because it is not the kind of time we normally experience. But in a sense, it is just as real, as what we call real time."
Stephen Hawking













Everything interpenetrates everything, and although human nature may seek to categorize and pigeonhole and subdivide the various phenomena of the universe, all apportionments are of necessity artificial and all of nature is ultimately a seamless web."
Michael Talbot












The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary. The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE."
Stephen Hawking







Related  Links

Stephen Hawking's Home Page
at Cambridge University

The Beginning of Time, Lecture
Copyright by Stephen Hawking

Black Holes and Baby Universes; and other essays (amazon.com)
Copyright 1993 by Stephen Hawking.

A Brief History of Time; from the big bang to black holes (amazon.com)
Copyright 1988 by Stephen W. Hawking.

Inflation; An Open and Shut Case, Lecture April 98
Copyright by Stephen Hawking

Science Journal Articles
Cosmology from the Top Down (astro-ph/0305562)
Copyright 2003

Virtual Black Holes
Copyright 1995

Pair Creation of Black Holes During Inflation (gr-qc/9606052)
Copyright 1996

Primordial Black Holes: Tunnelling vs. No Boundary Proposal
Copyright 1996

(Anti-)Evaporation of Schwarzschild-de Sitter Black Holes
Copyright 1997

DeSitter entropy, quantum entanglement and ADS/CFT

Copyright 2000

Lorentzian Condition in Quantum Gravity
Copyright 2000


Stephen Hawking and the
Time has No Boundary Proposal

Science is slowly awakening to the timeless Universe. The most popular physicist of our time is the esteemed Stephen Hawking, who has battled against what is known as Lou Gehrig's disease for some thirty years. And yet from his wheelchair, presently unable to communicate without his computer, Hawking still actively lectures while he professionally holds Newton's chair as Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University in England. 

Hawking has de-mystified the black hole, offered proof that time had to have begun from a singularity at the big bang, and written books so enjoyable that he has managed to educate much of the world about modern physics and cosmology. As if such miracles were commonplace, Hawking is now introducing what could be said to be a scientific version of forever.

For over ten years Hawking has been applying the No Boundary Proposal, a theory which extends other theories such as Sum Over Histories developed by the late Richard Feynman and Imaginary Time. Hawking's theory is the first cosmological model of the universe with a second reference of time which has no beginning or end. As yet scientists aren't using the word forever, that being such a big step. There are mind boggling implications to consider when the universe exists forever. And there are others, other influential scientists and the powers that be, who aren't sure what to think of the idea that the universe can have a beginning, and end, yet still exist forever.

Hawking rightly still insists that what we think of as real time has a beginning at the Big Bang, some ten to twenty billion years ago. And no one who knows much of anything about the universe is debating that issue. The evidence for the Big Bang event is conclusive, possibly irrefutable. Time as we understand it has a beginning. But if time began, then does that irrefutably mean that our existence began then also? 

In a lecture paper Hawking writes:

    Quantum theory introduces a new idea, that of imaginary time. Imaginary time may sound like science fiction, and it has been brought into Doctor Who [an English Star Trek]. But never the less, it is a genuine scientific concept. One can picture it in the following way. One can think of ordinary, real, time as a horizontal line. On the left, one has the past, and on the right, the future. But there's another kind of time in the vertical direction. This is called imaginary time, because it is not the kind of time we normally experience. But in a sense, it is just as real, as what we call real time. 

This designation, as real, is an important step for modern science. I don't know how it will turn out, for the better or unfortunate that Feynman chose to continue using the mathematical term imaginary time. People often think from the tag imaginary that this time is not real. Feynman recognized that time as we think of it becomes imaginary in this time reference, because this time is totally indistinguishable from directions in space. 

It takes very little reasoning to figure out that if the universe exists in an unseen way without beginning or end, at right angles to regular time, then that time is simply more elementary and even more real than ordinary clock time. Thus it seems the term imaginary applies more accurately to our time. If the universe exists in another time reference where conditions are permanent or static, suddenly it doesn't matter that we humans so convincingly observe a beginning and a possible future end to our ordinary clock time, since the other time reference applies regardless of our sense of where we are in time. The universe could be said to exist before our clock time began, and after time ends. The past and future can be said to exist now. Obviously imaginary time relates more directly than our own time to existence itself.

Scientifically what you end up with is what Feynman tried to communicate originally by saying that time is a direction in space. The concept of imaginary time and the no boundary proposal are still evolving theories, but they do seem to be telling us that the direction of our ordinary clock time is simply a path toward another place in existence. The past is simply another place in time, as is the future. 

Be aware that such concepts were fostered somewhat quietly by Albert Einstein, for different reasons, which he derived mainly from relativity. Einstein recognized the possibility that space-time can be described as a four dimensional existence, rather than as three dimensions that evolve in time. The only difference in opinion between the two physicists would be that Einstein believed only in our own past and our own future, concluding that our sense of a present was an illusion. He made statements showing that he believed he himself existed simultaneously both in his past and future. And if you think about it, this belief is the same as recognizing a simultaneous present.

Of course for Einstein the many worlds theory was not even proposed yet. He didn't seem to ever consider the idea of many possible worlds all existing simultaneously, as we do today in modern cosmology. On the other hand, Feynman's imaginary time is meant to explain quantum mechanics, which by many is said to predict all other equally possible worlds, which is known as the Many Worlds Theory. The term directions in space to Feynman meant all directions, backward and forward in time into other possible pasts and futures. 

In my work I explain what I believe to be the ultimate shape of the infinite universe, first in the form of an infinite number of spaces. Scientists call this the configuration space of the universe. I believe the universe is infinite, however, infinite does not simply mean every imaginable world. Instead I believe every possible space exists as real as the seemingly temporary moments of space we experience, so the universe is absolutely infinite in that framework. But I was able to create a model describing the overall shape of all possible universes, all possible other worlds but like our own, ruled by the same laws of nature, all existing permanently in imaginary time.

I am not sure if Hawking has yet made the final leap to an infinite space and time cosmological model. He has been conservative at times on the issue of the universe being infinite either in time or space.

...the universe has not existed for ever. Rather, the universe, and time itself, had a beginning in the Big Bang, about 15 billion years ago. The beginning of real time, would have been a singularity, at which the laws of physics would have broken down. Nevertheless, the way the universe began, would have been determined by the laws of physics, if the universe satisfied the no boundary condition. This says that in the imaginary time direction, spacetime is finite in extent, but doesn't have any boundary or edge. 

I am sure Hawking in the past has been concerned about the implications of such a theory and the impact it might have upon society, and people's religious beliefs, and himself and his family. But I have found it interesting that Christian friends have told me the bible actually says this is a period when we will find out more and more about God. I would think the two time references would correlate well with most religions, but there is the matter of getting used to it. A lot of people are afraid of change, and I believe that is healthy to some degree. I can only tell of the personal growth and contentment my own longtime understanding of the infinite has given me, after having applied such ideology into both my scientific and my own spiritual beliefs.

Elsewhere Stephen clearly describes an infinite, or a beginningless and endless time reference with the no boundary proposal.

    The no boundary proposal, predicts that the universe would start at a single point, like the north pole of the Earth. But this point wouldn't be a singularity, like the Big Bang. Instead, it would be an ordinary point of space and time, like the north pole is an ordinary point on the Earth, or so I'm told. I have not been there myself.

Using the no boundary proposal, it is fun to imagine the universe of time from within a globe. Looking up one sees the north pole from the inside. Looking up is looking into the past, not as if it no longer exists, but instead one can reach up and touch the surface of time as it exists permanently in imaginary time. The north pole is just a single position upon the rounded surface. So one can reach up and touch the first moment, or reach down into the past to touch time in the future.

In A Brief History of Time Hawking writes:

    One could say: "The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary." The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE.

Later he writes:

    ...This might suggest that the so-called imaginary time is really the real time, and that what we call real time is just a figment of our imaginations. In real time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time and at which the laws of science break down. But in imaginary time, there are no singularities or boundaries. So maybe what we call imaginary time is really more basic, and what we call real is just an idea that we invent to help us describe what we think the universe is like.

I sometimes think Stephen Hawking is being held back, he is way ahead of everyone else, and so primarily alone and unsupported concerning the issue of an imaginary time reference. In the latest paper he wrote for a conference on Inflation theory, he advocates a top-down approach to cosmology. Hawking seems to sense the necessity of a transformation in our view of the physical universe. This website presents what may be the first complete top-down view of the universe.

An example of the pressures Hawking deals with is present in an interview with the BBC radio program Desert Island Discs, this taken from Black Holes and Baby Universes. The interviewer asks:

    SUE: To oversimplify your theories hugely, and I hope you'll forgive me for this, Stephen, you once believed, as I understand it, that there was a point of creation, a big bang, but you no longer believe that to be the case. You believe that there was no beginning and there is no end, that the universe is self-contained. Does that mean that there was no act of creation and therefore that there's no place for God?

    STEPHEN: Yes, you have oversimplified. I still believe the universe has a beginning in real time, at the big bang. But there's another kind of time, imaginary time, at right angles to real time, in which the universe has no beginning or end. This would mean that the way the universe began would be determined by the laws of physics. One wouldn't have to say that God chose to set the universe going in some arbitrary way that we couldn't understand. It says nothing about whether or not God exists - just that He isn't arbitrary.

Nice answer Stephen!

The newest development is that Hawking has recently realized that the no boundary proposal does not require the universe to be closed and finite, as he thought before. In a lecture Inflation; An Open and Shut Case, Hawking included the following statement.

    ...I thought the no boundary proposal, implied that the universe had to be spatially closed, and finite in size. But a few months ago, Neil Turok and I, were talking about his ideas on open inflation. We realized that they could be fitted in with the no boundary proposal. The universe would still be closed and finite, in one way of looking at it. But in another, it would appear open and infinite. 

One of his many gifts is his ability to translate the math and the heavy science into more intuitive ideas and symbols which anyone can understand. Clearly, unlike most scientists he thinks in both ways, and I would relate much of his success to that fact. It has been helpful, even necessary, for me to utilize Hawking's encompassing mind and his imaginative directions of thought in order to communicate my own theoretical work which deals with the structure of all possible universes. In one paper I expand upon some of Hawking's descriptive ideas in order to explain that there isn't simply order and disorder in nature. This would have a great deal of impact on science and cosmology, and I suppose religion, if in the future we find that it had caught on.

Gevin Giorbran

Lots more about the Timeless Infinite Universe at: 


Advanced Study:  Grouping and Symmetry Order

This essay last updated Mar 16th, 2007

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