Explaining Time, the Universe, and All That

By Sean Carroll | November 18, 2009 2:09 pm

Greetings from Down Under! Current at the CosPA conference in Melbourne, after spending a couple of days in Sydney — a brief fling through Adelaide up next.

It’s been a mixed bag so far; while I’ve had great fun interacting with people here in Australia, I’ve also been struggling with a nasty cold I picked up on the flight over. Spent yesterday mostly in bed, too fogged up to even work on my talk for Friday. But when I’ve had the strength to be up and about, it’s been a treat. Here’s an iPhone snap of the University of Sydney; that clocktower in the middle houses, appropriately enough, the Centre for Time.


One of the perks of civilization that hasn’t quite caught on in these parts is affordable internet access in hotel rooms, so don’t expect a lot of blogging over the next week or two. Instead, I can point you to a couple of recent videos. One is an extended interview for Edge, entitled Why Does the Universe Look the Way it Does? It is an interview (presented in text and video), not a carefully pre-planned document, so not all thoughts are arranged as elegantly as one might like. Here is some of the flavor:

We are in a very unusual situation in the history of science where physics has become slightly a victim of its own success. We have theories that fit the data, which is a terrible thing to have when you are a theoretical physicist. You want to be the one who invents those theories, but you don’t want to live in a world where those theories have already been invented because then it becomes harder to improve upon them when they just fit the data. What you want are anomalies given to us by the data that we don’t know how to explain.

The other one is a panel discussion on Time Since Einstein, from the World Science Festival. As the description there says, it features Roger Penrose, David Albert, and some other people it would be too exhausting to list individually. Here’s part 1 of 5:

World Science Festival 2009: Time Since Einstein, Part 1 of 5 from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

Now if only my immune system would finish off the little viral buggers inside me, I could get out and see a bit of this interesting country.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Personal, Time, Travel
  • Sili

    At least it’s just a cold. I missed the first two days of the Durham Summer school on crystallography due to some sorta infection in my balance organs/nerves/whatnot.

    Couldn’t stand up. Now, I’m not one for declining an opportunity to sleep, but I prefer to have the choice to stay in bed.

  • http://www.shaky.com Timon of Athens

    “Now if only my immune system would finish off the little viral buggers”

    By the way, in Australian English to be “buggered” means that you are tired or not well. So don’t be alarmed if someone says to you, “You look buggered!” It’s an expression of concern, not a comment on the way you walk.

  • Jimbo

    Linus Pauling would remind U to scientifically maintain your health, particularly while flying, by MEGADOSES (grams) of Vit-C, post-meals. If will still aid in expunging the bugger post-infection, if U start now.
    Bon Chance, Mon Ami

  • Baby Bones

    Just had an idea.

    Have you ever considered how hard it is to actually go back to the same piece of space? Our daily experience would make it seem easy, but this is an illusion. We are on a moving planet circling a sun circling a galaxy that is expanding away from most everything else; in all of human history, no one has ever revisited the same piece of space. There is no point of return. We always spiral.

    But coordinate systems can be centered on ourselves. In that case, we are always in the same place and everything else spirals around us.

    Is there a middle sort of view? I suppose it is possible or easier to return to the patch of space, it may get ahead of me, but I might catch up.

  • joel rice

    Ah – you said the magic phrase – victim of its own success.
    I do not buy this at all. The Standard Model can not make any
    sense of generations of fermions – it does accomodate, which is
    fantastic, but generations are a huge mystery. And of course
    nobody has made sense of how gravitation fits. It might well
    be due to the SM being right for the wrong reasons. Perhaps
    Dirac is both the strength and the weakness ? Algebraically
    speaking it is not entirely clear that we even have spacetime
    nailed down as well as one might hope. Clifford Algebra does not
    appear to answer all the questions – and raises others.
    It brings up another common phrase like ‘an idea seems likely
    to survive in the future correct theory’. But if the neat idea is
    right for the wrong reasons and the future correct theory gets it
    right for the right reasons – the neat idea will be seen as a
    dreadful mistake.

  • Eric

    Gag me. Supported by the Templeton Foundation with a Catholic priest on the panel. Sean should avoid these events.

  • Bruce

    I watched all 5 videos. Interesting. Good job on the panel, Sean.

    Today I read a summary of some of Huw Price’s thoughts on time, and was a bit surprised that his views didn’t get mentioned in the panel, particularly as regards his views on quantum mechanics. I know his book on the subject is a bit dated (1996, I think), and I have yet to read it fully (only the summary), but I would have thought his ideas might have gained some traction. Did they get shot down somewhere along the way. I did a google of him, but nothing came up except a few references to his works.

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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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