Monday, May 03, 2004

The Physics of 'Now'
Authors: James B. Hartle

"The world is four-dimensional according to fundamental physics, governed by basic laws that operate in a spacetime that has no unique division into space and time. Yet our subjective experience is divided into present, past, and future. This paper discusses the origin of this division in terms of simple models of information gathering and utilizing systems (IGUSes). Past, present, and future are not properties of four-dimensional spacetime but notions describing how individual IGUSes process information. Their origin is to be found in how these IGUSes evolved or were constructed. The past, present, and future of an IGUS is consistent with the four-dimensional laws of physics and can be described in four-dimensional terms. The present, for instance, is not a moment of time in the sense of a spacelike surface in spacetime. Rather there is a localized notion of present at each point along an IGUS' world line. The common present of many localized IGUSes is an approximate notion appropriate when they are sufficiently close to each other and have relative velocities much less than that of light. But modes of organization that are different from present, past and future can be imagined that are consistent with the physical laws. We speculate why the present, past, and future organization might be favored by evolution and therefore a cognitive universal."

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