New theories abound, but sadly few if any can be proved by experiment in the traditional scientific manner. Instead, whether scientists are claiming there is no such thing as time or the universe sprung from an anti-universe, they are exercises in mathematics completely divorced from reality and observation. This is why we’ve had no new testable theory in almost 50 years.
There was a time when science, particularly physics since the time of Galileo, could claim to be a more rational, evidence driven approach to the world than any other human endeavor. Scientific giants like Galileo himself, Sir Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Albert Einstein, and Erwin Schrödinger matched their intuition and creative gifts to the facts available to them through observation, and together expanded human knowledge like never before in history. At the time, many of their ideas might have seemed revolutionary, radical, or even downright crazy. Who thought a feather fell to the earth as fast as a hammer? Or that the earth rotated around the sun for the same reason that a feather drops to the ground? That matter and energy were different manifestations of some more fundamental building block, and light could behave as both? Dared dream that the subatomic world worked radically different from our own experience?
The individual ideas prevailed, however, because they could be replicated by experiment. If you want to test Einstein’s conclusion that light and hence time is affected by both velocity and gravity, you need only have the proper training and equipment. This was true when an experiment conducted during a solar eclipse on May 29, 1919 first validated the concept, determining that light itself does indeed bend around a star as predicted by the General Theory of Relativity. It remains true today. Overall, Einstein’s work has been tested thousands of times in hundreds of different ways, and whether you choose to believe it or not, care to understand it or not, the results are the same. Likewise, you might find the conclusions of the modern version of Schrödinger’s theory, the Standard Model of Particle Physics, preposterous. Most people who aren’t lying to themselves do, but thousands of experiments don’t lie. As absurd as it sounds, subatomic particles really are more than one thing at once until you measure them. They are connected in ways that defy our normal concepts of time and distance. No one knows why or how, we just know that no experiment ever conducted has found otherwise. Therefore, for whatever reason, the theory must be describing some small sliver of reality, whether or not we can truly understand why.
In recent years, however, theoretical physics hasn’t been bound by experiment, making it clear the scientific establishment is no longer guided by evidence or the inconvenience of ensuring their ideas conform to a reality we can observe, or even hope to. Instead, they spin increasingly wilder and irrational mathematical fantasies, “theories” that I am hesitant to even call science in the first place. Hence, a new “study” claims we might be living right next to an “anti-universe” where time runs backward. The researchers start with a non-controversial concept known as Charge, Parity, and Time (CPT) symmetry. The belief that there is some symmetry to the laws of physics is nothing new. Einstein, for example, showed that there are symmetries for velocity – an experiment performed at rest or in constant motion yields the same result – and between gravity and acceleration.
The CPT symmetry refers to a combination of three things concerning subatomic particles. The charge aspect means that if we were to take every particle in a system and replace it with its opposite, known commonly as the antimatter version, the system would behave the same. Parity refers to replacing properties of every particle with their mirror image. For example, a parameter known as spin, where particles are referred to as left handed or right handed. In this case, we swap left handed particles for right or vice versa. Time assumes the system behaves the same way whether you run it forward or backward in time, a common feature of mathematical models of reality, though not one actually observed in reality. CPT symmetry is an all or nothing affair. Some particles display certain symmetries of Charge, or Charge and Parity, or other combinations but not universally. When all three are combined together, however, it is believed the symmetry is absolute and any system that moves forward in time will obey the same laws of nature as one moving backward in time, consists of anti-matter, and is reflected in a mirror. This proposition has been tested for decades now on the subatomic level, and it has shown to be precise to within one part in a billion.
In other words, it is well established, tried, and true, the same as the other theories alluded to earlier. This doesn’t mean it cannot lead to radical, untested conclusions, namely the existence of an entire anti-universe, one where the parity of every particle is reversed to its mirror image, every particle is replaced with its anti counterpart, and time runs backward. There is no evidence in support of this idea, no experiment, no observation, save that CPT symmetry can be flipped. Alas, this is precisely what the researchers used as a springboard for their new theory. They propose that the Big Bang itself could serve as a transformation point between a universe and its opposite. “We investigate the idea that the universe before the Big Bang is the CPT reflection of the universe after the bang, both classically and quantum mechanically.” Adding, “The universe before the bang and the universe after the bang may be viewed as a universe/anti-universe pair, emerging directly into the hot, radiation-dominated era we observe in our past.” There are a number of problems with this idea, of course. For starters, there is no such thing as “classically and quantum mechanically.” There is one or the other. The entire world has been waiting fifty years for a theory that unifies the two, but it has yet to be found. Beneath the surface, this means that the “time” used in the CPT experiments upon which this new anti-universe idea is based is not the same as that used by Einstein. Time in the Standard Model does not dilate based on velocity or acceleration, nor does space. It is fixed.
Therefore, one cannot experimentally go from CPT observations made on subatomic particles to suppositions about the entire universe, meaning the very idea of a complete anti-universe running backwards in time is suspect. Moreover, modern physics doesn’t even allow us to consider what happened before the Big Bang. Instead, it claims that time started then and there are no theoretical means to go backward from there. In other words, unlike the great theories of yore: This is an idea that cannot be tested in any fashion. The authors themselves admit there is no way to go back and observe this anti-universe. No way to determine if it is real or experiment on it in any way. What then is the point other than as pure mathematics and wishful thinking? I don’t write this to single out these researchers. Their proposal at least has the benefit of being an attempt to explain the existence of dark matter. They believe it could be a residual effect of the anti-universe, so called “right handed neutrinos” that are invisible in our universe. Even then, however, there is an uncomfortable circularity to the logic. Symmetry laws suggest a right handed neutrino should exist, but it has never been found. Scientists now propose a new universe built onto these same symmetry laws to explain how they might exist and just be invisible in our universe. What if symmetry isn’t truly a law in the first place? Or is a law, but not true in all cases and conditions, the same way Einstein’s relativity doesn’t apply in the quantum realm?
There are other, even more speculative and untestable ideas in the news in recent years. Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Max Tegmark proposes that time happens all at once, a theory known as the “block universe.” There is no past, present, and future, and our experience of it is just an illusion. As he explained it to Space.com, “We can portray our reality as either a three-dimensional place where stuff happens over time, or as a four-dimensional place where nothing happens— and if it really is the second picture, then change really is an illusion, because there’s nothing that’s changing; it’s all just there — past, present, future. We have the illusion, at any given moment, that the past already happened and the future doesn’t yet exist, and that things are changing. But all I’m ever aware of is my brain state right now. The only reason I feel like I have a past is that my brain contains memories.” Mr. Tegmark finds support for this idea in the work of Albert Einstein, whose consideration of time as varying under velocity and acceleration lead to the proposition that time is the fourth dimension, and there is a space-time continuum where the traditional concepts of length, height, and width are united with time itself. Therefore, if you can move anywhere along a vertical line, you can move anywhere along the time axis as well.
The only problem: There is absolutely no evidence of this. In fact, the theory is in complete contradiction to every available piece of evidence about the nature of time as we observe it in the universe ever obtained. Length, height, and width maybe considered similar to time in mathematics, but in the real world they are totally different, every second of every day, and have been throughout every observation ever made by humankind. Further, time is about more than merely your memories and your experience of it. Prior to your birth, there is a multi billion year history of the universe that is completely and totally fixed and unchangeable from everything we can observe and measure. Your existence, and hence your memories, are contingent on events that happened billions of years ago, events you need not know about it all, and couldn’t possibly experience as a memory. To reduce time to memory and human experience, you must ignore the reality that this massive history of the universe exists in some fashion, no one has ever observed time running backwards or sideways, and no event in the past has ever been changed. In other words, there must be something far more to time than merely how we experience it, whatever we might conjure up in a mathematical model. As an aside, Einstein is often credited with creating the concept of spacetime, but that isn’t entirely accurate. The idea actually comes from the German mathematician, Hermann Minkowski. Einstein’s original work doesn’t mention it and the mathematics can be formalized without it. The concept has proven useful in many ways as an approximation of how the universe works, but there is no evidence it captures the truth of reality and it clearly runs counter to experience and observation, where length, height, and width behave nothing like time. To spin fanciful models of the universe from it strikes me as pure speculation, another experiment in mathematics rather than an attempt to explain the evidence.
Ultimately, that is the crux of my concern: What is the difference between science and religion or philosophy except the evidence? Mathematics is amazing and beautiful at times, but in and of itself it doesn’t constitute evidence. Science is traditionally the application of subsets of mathematics to observation and evidence, but that linkage has been broken. The result is scientific “theories” that are less grounded in reality than any religion. In the Christian faith for example, God is often conceived of as the “prime mover,” the cause to all effects. He is said to be omniscient and all powerful. What’s the difference between that and claiming the universe exists in and of itself, containing everything that ever happened and will happen? There is none that I can tell, save for mathematics. Further, this isn’t a purely esoteric concern. The explosion of “physics” based purely on speculative mathematics has been accompanied by the longest period in modern history without a breakthrough new theory of how the world truly works. The Standard Model of Particle Physics was finalized in the 1970’s, but since then scientists have proposed no new physical theory that has been successfully tested against the real world. It is conceivable that our understanding of how the world works is somehow limited to Einstein’s General Theory and the Standard Model, meaning we can peer no further into the workings of reality, but the truth is we appear to have stopped trying. Instead, new theories are proposed that simply cannot be tested. They are evidence-free and you have to take them on faith, same as any religion.