The Present is Where Isaac Newton and Niels Bohr Meet? An Intriguing New Theory of the Block Universe!

And it might even preserve free will.

Technology Review (published by MIT) reports today that two physicists have a new idea about what it means to live in a block universe:

Today, Ellis and Rothman introduce a significant new type of block universe. They say the character of the block changes dramatically when quantum mechanics is thrown into the mix. All of a sudden, the past and the future take on entirely different characteristics. The future is dominated by the weird laws of quantum mechanics in which objects can exist in two places at the same time and particles can be so deeply linked that they share the same existence. By contrast, the past is dominated by the unflinching certainty of classical mechanics. What’s interesting is that the transition between these states takes place largely in the present. It’s almost as if the past crystallizes out of the future, in the instant we call the present. Ellis and Rothman call this model the “crystallizing block universe” and go on to explore some of its properties. . . . Ellis and Rothman suggest that their model provides a straightforward solution to the problem of the origin of the arrow of time. “The arrow of time arises simply because the future does not yet exist,” they say.

Okay, so let me get this straight. The future does not exist, so it’s open, right? Human consciousness lives on the boundary between a determinate and expanding Newtonian past and an indeterminate quantum future.

So maybe we live in a block universe and still have free will?

And if this is the kind of block universe that we inhabit, does that mean that our consciousness is analogous to a water droplet moving on the surface of a block of ice? And once we move, the trace behind us freezes, and we make another move, and another, until one day, at the death of our “consciousness droplet”, we are wholly consumed (or “frozen”) and so end? Consciousness is the condensate of the present?


Choose wisely your slippery path through this strange boundary existence, grasshopper. The way may be open.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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