Something Out of Almost Nothing. Drunken Risibility.

Kant’s first antinomy makes the error of the excluded third option, i.e. it is not impossible that the universe could have both a beginning and an eternal past. If some kind of metaphysical realism is true, including an observer-independent and relational time, then a solution of the antinomy is conceivable. It is based on the distinction between a microscopic and a macroscopic time scale. Only the latter is characterized by an asymmetry of nature under a reversal of time, i.e. the property of having a global (coarse-grained) evolution – an arrow of time – or many arrows, if they are independent from each other. Thus, the macroscopic scale is by definition temporally directed – otherwise it would not exist.

On the microscopic scale, however, only local, statistically distributed events without dynamical trends, i.e. a global time-evolution or an increase of entropy density, exist. This is the case if one or both of the following conditions are satisfied: First, if the system is in thermodynamic equilibrium (e.g. there is degeneracy). And/or second, if the system is in an extremely simple ground state or meta-stable state. (Meta-stable states have a local, but not a global minimum in their potential landscape and, hence, they can decay; ground states might also change due to quantum uncertainty, i.e. due to local tunneling events.) Some still speculative theories of quantum gravity permit the assumption of such a global, macroscopically time-less ground state (e.g. quantum or string vacuum, spin networks, twistors). Due to accidental fluctuations, which exceed a certain threshold value, universes can emerge out of that state. Due to some also speculative physical mechanism (like cosmic inflation) they acquire – and, thus, are characterized by – directed non-equilibrium dynamics, specific initial conditions, and, hence, an arrow of time.

It is a matter of debate whether such an arrow of time is

1) irreducible, i.e. an essential property of time,

2) governed by some unknown fundamental and not only phenomenological law,

3) the effect of specific initial conditions or

4) of consciousness (if time is in some sense subjective), or

5) even an illusion.

Many physicists favour special initial conditions, though there is no consensus about their nature and form. But in the context at issue it is sufficient to note that such a macroscopic global time-direction is the main ingredient of Kant’s first antinomy, for the question is whether this arrow has a beginning or not.

Time’s arrow is inevitably subjective, ontologically irreducible, fundamental and not only a kind of illusion, thus if some form of metaphysical idealism for instance is true, then physical cosmology about a time before time is mistaken or quite irrelevant. However, if we do not want to neglect an observer-independent physical reality and adopt solipsism or other forms of idealism – and there are strong arguments in favor of some form of metaphysical realism -, Kant’s rejection seems hasty. Furthermore, if a Kantian is not willing to give up some kind of metaphysical realism, namely the belief in a “Ding an sich“, a thing in itself – and some philosophers actually insisted that this is superfluous: the German idealists, for instance -, he has to admit that time is a subjective illusion or that there is a dualism between an objective timeless world and a subjective arrow of time. Contrary to Kant’s thoughts: There are reasons to believe that it is possible, at least conceptually, that time has both a beginning – in the macroscopic sense with an arrow – and is eternal – in the microscopic notion of a steady state with statistical fluctuations.

Is there also some physical support for this proposal?

Surprisingly, quantum cosmology offers a possibility that the arrow has a beginning and that it nevertheless emerged out of an eternal state without any macroscopic time-direction. (Note that there are some parallels to a theistic conception of the creation of the world here, e.g. in the Augustinian tradition which claims that time together with the universe emerged out of a time-less God; but such a cosmological argument is quite controversial, especially in a modern form.) So this possible overcoming of the first antinomy is not only a philosophical conceivability but is already motivated by modern physics. At least some scenarios of quantum cosmology, quantum geometry/loop quantum gravity, and string cosmology can be interpreted as examples for such a local beginning of our macroscopic time out of a state with microscopic time, but with an eternal, global macroscopic timelessness.

To put it in a more general, but abstract framework and get a sketchy illustration, consider the figure.


Physical dynamics can be described using “potential landscapes” of fields. For simplicity, here only the variable potential (or energy density) of a single field is shown. To illustrate the dynamics, one can imagine a ball moving along the potential landscape. Depressions stand for states which are stable, at least temporarily. Due to quantum effects, the ball can “jump over” or “tunnel through” the hills. The deepest depression represents the ground state.

In the common theories the state of the universe – the product of all its matter and energy fields, roughly speaking – evolves out of a metastable “false vacuum” into a “true vacuum” which has a state of lower energy (potential). There might exist many (perhaps even infinitely many) true vacua which would correspond to universes with different constants or laws of nature. It is more plausible to start with a ground state which is the minimum of what physically can exist. According to this view an absolute nothingness is impossible. There is something rather than nothing because something cannot come out of absolutely nothing, and something does obviously exist. Thus, something can only change, and this change might be described with physical laws. Hence, the ground state is almost “nothing”, but can become thoroughly “something”. Possibly, our universe – and, independent from this, many others, probably most of them having different physical properties – arose from such a phase transition out of a quasi atemporal quantum vacuum (and, perhaps, got disconnected completely). Tunneling back might be prevented by the exponential expansion of this brand new space. Because of this cosmic inflation the universe not only became gigantic but simultaneously the potential hill broadened enormously and got (almost) impassable. This preserves the universe from relapsing into its non-existence. On the other hand, if there is no physical mechanism to prevent the tunneling-back or makes it at least very improbable, respectively, there is still another option: If infinitely many universes originated, some of them could be long-lived only for statistical reasons. But this possibility is less predictive and therefore an inferior kind of explanation for not tunneling back.

Another crucial question remains even if universes could come into being out of fluctuations of (or in) a primitive substrate, i.e. some patterns of superposition of fields with local overdensities of energy: Is spacetime part of this primordial stuff or is it also a product of it? Or, more specifically: Does such a primordial quantum vacuum have a semi-classical spacetime structure or is it made up of more fundamental entities? Unique-universe accounts, especially the modified Eddington models – the soft bang/emergent universe – presuppose some kind of semi-classical spacetime. The same is true for some multiverse accounts describing our universe, where Minkowski space, a tiny closed, finite space or the infinite de Sitter space is assumed. The same goes for string theory inspired models like the pre-big bang account, because string and M- theory is still formulated in a background-dependent way, i.e. requires the existence of a semi-classical spacetime. A different approach is the assumption of “building-blocks” of spacetime, a kind of pregeometry also the twistor approach of Roger Penrose, and the cellular automata approach of Stephen Wolfram. The most elaborated accounts in this line of reasoning are quantum geometry (loop quantum gravity). Here, “atoms of space and time” are underlying everything.

Though the question whether semiclassical spacetime is fundamental or not is crucial, an answer might be nevertheless neutral with respect of the micro-/macrotime distinction. In both kinds of quantum vacuum accounts the macroscopic time scale is not present. And the microscopic time scale in some respect has to be there, because fluctuations represent change (or are manifestations of change). This change, reversible and relationally conceived, does not occur “within” microtime but constitutes it. Out of a total stasis nothing new and different can emerge, because an uncertainty principle – fundamental for all quantum fluctuations – would not be realized. In an almost, but not completely static quantum vacuum however, macroscopically nothing changes either, but there are microscopic fluctuations.

The pseudo-beginning of our universe (and probably infinitely many others) is a viable alternative both to initial and past-eternal cosmologies and philosophically very significant. Note that this kind of solution bears some resemblance to a possibility of avoiding the spatial part of Kant’s first antinomy, i.e. his claimed proof of both an infinite space without limits and a finite, limited space: The theory of general relativity describes what was considered logically inconceivable before, namely that there could be universes with finite, but unlimited space, i.e. this part of the antinomy also makes the error of the excluded third option. This offers a middle course between the Scylla of a mysterious, secularized creatio ex nihilo, and the Charybdis of an equally inexplicable eternity of the world.

In this context it is also possible to defuse some explanatory problems of the origin of “something” (or “everything”) out of “nothing” as well as a – merely assumable, but never provable – eternal cosmos or even an infinitely often recurring universe. But that does not offer a final explanation or a sufficient reason, and it cannot eliminate the ultimate contingency of the world.

Philosophy of Local Time

Time 01

Let us hypothesize on the notion of local time.

Existence of temporal order: For each concrete basic thing x ∈ Θ, there exist a single ordering relation between their states ≤.

We now give a name to this ordering relation:

Denotation of temporal order: The set of lawful states of x is temporally ordered by the ≤ relation.

The above is a partial order relation: there are pairs of states that are not ordered by ≤; e.g. given an initial condition (x0,v0) for a moving particle, there are states (x1,v1) that are not visited by the particle.

Proper history: A totally order set of states of x is called a proper history of x.

The axiomatics do not guarantee the existence of a single proper history: they allow many of them, as in “The garden of forking paths”. The following axiom forbids such possibility.

Unicity of proper history: Each thing has one and only one proper history.

Arrow of time: The axiomatics describe a kind of “arrow of time”, although it is not related to irreversibility.

A proper history is also an ontological history. The parameter t ∈ M has not to be continuous. The following axiom, a very strong version of Heraclitus’ hypothesis Panta rhei, states that every thing is changing continuously:

Continuity: If the entire set of states of an ontological history is divided in two subsets hp and hf such that every state in hp temporally precedes any state in hf, then there exists one and only one state s0 such that s1 ≤ s0 ≤ s2, where s1 ∈ hp and s2 ∈ hf.

The axiom of continuity is stated in the Dedekind form.

Continuity in quantum mechanics: Although quantum mechanical “changes of state” are usually considered “instantaneous”, theory shows that probabilities change in a continuous way. The finite width of spectral lines also shows a continuous change in time.

Real representation: Given a unit change (s0, s1) there exists a bijection T : h ↔ R such that

h1 = {s(τ)|τ ∈ R} —– (1)
s0 = s(0) —– (2)
s1 = s(1) —– (3)

Local time: The function T is called local time. The unit change (s0, s1) is arbitary. It defines an arbitrary “unit of local time”.

The above theory of local time has an important philosophical consequence: becoming, which is usually conceived as evolution in time, is here more fundamental than time. The latter is constructed as an emergent property of a changing (i.e. a becoming) thing.

Philosophizing Twistors via Fibration

The basic issue, is a question of so called time arrow. This issue is an important subject of examination in mathematical physics as well as ontology of spacetime and philosophical anthropology. It reveals crucial contradiction between the knowledge about time, provided by mathematical models of spacetime in physics and psychology of time and its ontology. The essence of the contradiction lies in the invariance of the majority of fundamental equations in physics with regard to the reversal of the direction of the time arrow (i. e. the change of a variable t to -t in equations). Neither metric continuum, constituted by the spaces of concurrency in the spacetime of the classical mechanics before the formulation of the Particular Theory of Relativity, the spacetime not having metric but only affine structure, nor Minkowski’s spacetime nor the GTR spacetime (pseudo-Riemannian), both of which have metric structure, distinguish the categories of past, present and future as the ones that are meaningful in physics. Every event may be located with the use of four coordinates with regard to any curvilinear coordinate system. That is what clashes remarkably with the human perception of time and space. Penrose realizes and understands the necessity to formulate such theory of spacetime that would remove this discrepancy. He remarked that although we feel the passage of time, we do not perceive the “passage” of any of the space dimensions. Theories of spacetime in mathematical physics, while considering continua and metric manifolds, cannot explain the difference between time dimension and space dimensions, they are also unable to explain by means of geometry the unidirection of the passage of time, which can be comprehended only by means of thermodynamics. The theory of spaces of twistors is aimed at better and crucial for the ontology of nature understanding of the problem of the uniqueness of time dimension and the question of time arrow. There are some hypotheses that the question of time arrow would be easier to solve thanks to the examination of so called spacetime singularities and the formulation of the asymmetric in time quantum theory of gravitation — or the theory of spacetime in microscale.

The unique role of twistors in TGD

Although Lorentzian geometry is the mathematical framework of classical general relativity and can be seen as a good model of the world we live in, the theoretical-physics community has developed instead many models based on a complex space-time picture.

(1) When one tries to make sense of quantum field theory in flat space-time, one finds it very convenient to study the Wick-rotated version of Green functions, since this leads to well defined mathematical calculations and elliptic boundary-value problems. At the end, quantities of physical interest are evaluated by analytic continuation back to real time in Minkowski space-time.

(2) The singularity at r = 0 of the Lorentzian Schwarzschild solution disappears on the real Riemannian section of the corresponding complexified space-time, since r = 0 no longer belongs to this manifold. Hence there are real Riemannian four-manifolds which are singularity-free, and it remains to be seen whether they are the most fundamental in modern theoretical physics.

(3) Gravitational instantons shed some light on possible boundary conditions relevant for path-integral quantum gravity and quantum cosmology.  Unprimed and primed spin-spaces are not (anti-)isomorphic if Lorentzian space-time is replaced by a complex or real Riemannian manifold. Thus, for example, the Maxwell field strength is represented by two independent symmetric spinor fields, and the Weyl curvature is also represented by two independent symmetric spinor fields and since such spinor fields are no longer related by complex conjugation (i.e. the (anti-)isomorphism between the two spin-spaces), one of them may vanish without the other one having to vanish as well. This property gives rise to the so-called self-dual or anti-self-dual gauge fields, as well as to self-dual or anti-self-dual space-times.

(5) The geometric study of this special class of space-time models has made substantial progress by using twistor-theory techniques. The underlying idea is that conformally invariant concepts such as null lines and null surfaces are the basic building blocks of the world we live in, whereas space-time points should only appear as a derived concept. By using complex-manifold theory, twistor theory provides an appropriate mathematical description of this key idea.

A possible mathematical motivation for twistors can be described as follows.  In two real dimensions, many interesting problems are best tackled by using complex-variable methods. In four real dimensions, however, the introduction of two complex coordinates is not, by itself, sufficient, since no preferred choice exists. In other words, if we define the complex variables

z1 ≡ x1 + ix2 —– (1)

z2 ≡ x3 + ix4 —– (2)

we rely too much on this particular coordinate system, and a permutation of the four real coordinates x1, x2, x3, x4 would lead to new complex variables not well related to the first choice. One is thus led to introduce three complex variables u, z1u, z2u : the first variable u tells us which complex structure to use, and the next two are the

complex coordinates themselves. In geometric language, we start with the complex projective three-space P3(C) with complex homogeneous coordinates (x, y, u, v), and we remove the complex projective line given by u = v = 0. Any line in P3(C) − P1(C) is thus given by a pair of equations

x = au + bv —– (3)

y = cu + dv —– (4)

In particular, we are interested in those lines for which c = −b, d = a. The determinant ∆ of (3) and (4) is thus given by

∆ = aa +bb + |a|2 + |b|2 —– (5)

which implies that the line given above never intersects the line x = y = 0, with the obvious exception of the case when they coincide. Moreover, no two lines intersect, and they fill out the whole of P3(C) − P1(C). This leads to the fibration P3(C) − P1(C) → R4 by assigning to each point of P3(C) − P1(C) the four coordinates Re(a), Im(a), Re(b), Im(b). Restriction of this fibration to a plane of the form

αu + βv = 0 —— (6)

yields an isomorphism C2 ≅ R4, which depends on the ratio (α,β) ∈ P1(C). This is why the picture embodies the idea of introducing complex coordinates.


Such a fibration depends on the conformal structure of R4. Hence, it can be extended to the one-point compactification S4 of R4, so that we get a fibration P3(C) → S4 where the line u = v = 0, previously excluded, sits over the point at ∞ of S4 = R∪ ∞ . This fibration is naturally obtained if we use the quaternions H to identify C4 with H2 and the four-sphere S4 with P1(H), the quaternion projective line. We should now recall that the quaternions H are obtained from the vector space R of real numbers by adjoining three symbols i, j, k such that

i2 = j2 = k2 =−1 —– (7)

ij = −ji = k,  jk = −kj =i,  ki = −ik = j —– (8)

Thus, a general quaternion ∈ H is defined by

x ≡ x1 + x2i + x3j + x4k —– (9)

where x1, x2, x3, x4 ∈ R4, whereas the conjugate quaternion x is given by

x ≡ x1 – x2i – x3j – x4k —– (10)

Note that conjugation obeys the identities

(xy) = y x —– (11)

xx = xx = ∑μ=14 x2μ ≡ |x|2 —– (12)

If a quaternion does not vanish, it has a unique inverse given by

x-1 ≡ x/|x|2 —– (13)

Interestingly, if we identify i with √−1, we may view the complex numbers C as contained in H taking x3 = x4 = 0. Moreover, every quaternion x as in (9) has a unique decomposition

x = z1 + z2j —– (14)

where z1 ≡ x1 + x2i, z2 ≡ x3 + x4i, by virtue of (8). This property enables one to identify H with C2, and finally H2 with C4, as we said following (6)

The map σ : P3(C) → P3(C) defined by

σ(x, y, u, v) = (−y, x, −v, u) —– (15)

preserves the fibration because c = −b, d = a, and induces the antipodal map on each fibre.