It is of fundamental importance for a physical concept of time that time can be comprehended meaningfully only in conjunction with the existence of matter (that is not infinitely dense). Time concepts are of key importance in all physical theories that deal with dynamic phenomena. Timelessness does not exist within physics, for a physical event must always be defined both in space and time. During the course of the development depicted, time changes its status within the formulation of physical theory. Whereas in Newton and Leibniz, time is a necessary explanatory component without a substantial role, in Prigogine and Cramer, it comes close to being an operational entity. Theoreticians such as J. Barbour, on the contrary, do not think that time exists.
In Newton, space and time are the permanent stage for the cosmic drama. Visible to everyone and in absolute symmetry, every plank is arranged precisely and every position of the actors can be determined objectively. Although it is the scene for the most diverse plays, the stage remains basically untouched by what happens on it. Its solidity is unquestionable; God is its guarantor. Thus the task of the physicist is merely to explain the action of the drama. This point of view dominated two and a half centuries with singular majesty—and for good reason: Its practical applicability in the sphere of daily life gave it an indestructible vitality. Its defects became obvious only when physicists began to deal with the very small, the very large, and the very fast.
Thus the theories of relativity showed that the difference between the stage and the play is an artificial one. Space and time are just as much a part of the drama as are the actors, who are somewhat comparable to the atoms of matter. Scientific research can therefore not limit itself to the behavior of atoms, i.e., to the performing of the actors. It must be able to describe the actors, the drama, the stage, and the audience, as well as their interaction.314 The special theory of relativity robbed the concept of a universally valid "now" of its validity. It replaced the one absolute time with particular times dependent on motion [Eigenzeiten], which can be determined precisely and compared to one another. In the theory of relativity, the issue is less one of relativization than it is one of relation. Not only do the different particular times [Eigenzeiten] relate to one another, but space and time also establish a close connection. Time lost even more sovereignty as a result of the general theory of relativity. In this theory, Einstein succeeded in linking time, space, matter, and energy, including gravity. The absolute, true, and mathematical time reappeared as curved space-time.
Quantum physics was even more iconoclastic with regard to the absoluteness of time because it caused its ability to be measured to disappear in the fog of the uncertainty relation. It touched the boundaries of logic and language and essentially called into question the meaning of the concepts "objective" and "subjective." Mathematical undecidability and nonlocality in the quantum regime attest to the fact that we can never have complete information and thus can never have complete control over the reality in which we participate unless there are hidden parameters, yet to be discovered, that once again ensure, on a deeper level, a complete determinacy of nature. In the meantime, it has been proved that simple theories of hidden parameters, as Einstein imagined them, do not describe reality.
Within the framework of thermodynamics, the irreversibility of the increase in entropy was interpreted as proof for the existence of a time arrow; yet, the assumption of a universally valid time arrow presupposes that the universe as a whole can be understood as an isolated system. Here, a dilemma is revealed. In thermodynamics, the thought of a strict time arrow is linked to the idea of the universe as an isolated system, while the emergence of complex structures presupposes open systems far from equilibrium. The strict irreversibility of time that is intended in thermodynamics therefore appears to be modified by chaos research. Instead of speaking of a universal time arrow, one now talks more often of the "multiplicity of time."315 Rigid static behavior is not the signature of the world, but rather dynamic chaos that can create highly flexible and richly nuanced orders.
Theories of both entropy and self-organization appear to lend themselves to an ideologizing interpretation of entropic disintegration, on the one hand, and creative chaos, on the other. But just as one must be warned against a careless application of quantum theory in areas foreign to physics, one should also be careful when using thermodynamics and chaos theory. Accordingly, the applicability of chaos theory in no way signifies the end of determinism, but rather supports a more complex understanding of it than is found in classical physics. Chaotic processes are deterministic, though they are not predictable. Their openness therefore should not be mistaken for indeterminacy, since the development always follows the attractor acting immanently in the system. Openness to the future based on unpredictability does not therefore essentially cancel the determination by the initial conditions, even if the initial conditions of a chaotically developing system cannot be reconstructed. Nevertheless, the key concepts of nonlinearity, instability, and fluctuations316 have had a lasting influence on the understanding of nature and time. Twentieth-century natural science has attacked the strict causality principle on the basis of both its premises (in the form of the quantum theory) and its conclusions (in the form of chaos theory).317
To speak again metaphorically: Newtonian time is just as barren and lifeless as an empty theater stage. Measured by the multi-temporality that was discussed in chapter 2, it has about as much life in it as a cloister's ossuary. Comparatively, Einstein appears to have exchanged the hard stage floorboards for a trampoline that is constantly in motion. Finally, Heisenberg also doused this trampoline with liquid nitrogen and completed the scene by installing a strobe light: Lightning-like illumination shows instantaneous images of a nebulous drama. The static idea of a cosmology with an infinitely uniform flow of time by no means corresponds to this scenario, which is represented more adequately by the image of a dance, as we repeatedly encountered in the world of the hymns in chapter 1.
From depictions such as these, the layperson easily gets the impression that physics falls apart into diverse theories. Yet this is not the case. A theory is accepted only when it disposes of or subsumes another or contains it as a limiting case. In light of this presupposition, the attractive goal of physical theory formulation is the TOE, the "theory of everything." The struggles to unite all forces into one uniform theory continue. The difficulty of linking deterministic theories, such as the general theory of relativity with the statistical quantum theory, is obvious.
The direction in which the search for unification goes is dependent upon a hierarchy of valid theories, as well as upon space and time. It is well known that in his unification attempts, Einstein mistakenly presumed that field theory was more fundamental than quantum theory. This decision can be interpreted as a decision for the priority of space over time. At least Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker saw it in this way:
In my opinion, hidden behind [Einstein's] "objectivism" is the unconscious preliminary decision of so many physicists that space ontologically precedes time, i.e., that time is a kind of space, a fourth dimension. Conversely, the decision for the priority of quantum theory contains, in turn, an unconscious preliminary decision for the philosophical priority of time, since probability signifies the temporal mode of futurity.318
Thus, says von Weizsäcker, quantum theory distinguishes itself at an important point from Plato's philosophy. While there is nothing actually new in the Platonic world, the concept of probability lies at the center of quantum mechanics. Precisely by this means, it builds upon a time struc-ture319 and makes possible a renaissance of the Aristotelian notion of possibility. Thus it has a constructively tense relationship with a theology for which the primacy of the possible before the real is the major focus.320
If von Weizsäcker is correct, we are dealing here with a twofold motion: on the one hand, the "degrading" of absolute time into curved space-time, and, on the other hand, the quantum-theoretical "elevation" of time, through which objective statements within the framework of probability become a function of time. This development is further intensified by "the primacy of time and change"321 in chaos theory. A shifting of emphasis, from the category of law to the category of event, has thus resulted, which, speaking from a theological perspective, is also of extreme interest.322
The development of natural scientific theories depicted here also touches upon the question of truth. The theories of relativity and especially quantum theory have vigorously shaken the foundations of scientific rigor. Deciding what is objective truth and what is not proved to be more complicated than previously anticipated, although this reservation is far removed from the assertion that it is actually impossible to decide what truth is. Within certain references, rigorous criteria for truth are (still) valid. Complementarity and indeterminacy indeed point to the boundaries of possible knowledge, but the fruit of all striving for knowledge still lies more in the finding than in the fabrication of truth. In his 1954 Nobel lecture entitled "Statistical Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics," physicist Max Born described the normative implications of the situation created by quantum physics as follows:
I believe that ideas such as absolute certitude, absolute exactness, final truth, etc. are figments of the imagination which should not be admissible in any field of science. On the other hand, any assertion of probability is either right or wrong from the standpoint of the theory on which it is based. This loosening of thinking seems to me to be the greatest blessing which modern science has given to us. For the belief in a single truth and in being the possessor thereof is the root cause of all evil in the world.323
It is not the truth per se that has been lost. Instead, the simplistic, closed-minded perception of truth has been lost. What has been gained in its place is a complex, open-minded truth.
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