CD Rollins is not an expert in physics nor can he string a number of academic credentials after his name. However, Rollins has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a special interest in physics and the near-death experience. Rollins believes the fundamental laws of the universe, which allow life to exist, truly are the laws of God. He will not claim, as others may have, that new theories in physics support or even prove post-mortem survival of the human consciousness. He merely wishes to share some observations he made recently while reviewing some new developments in theoretical physics in the popular science magazine Discover (December, 2000 issue). There are some very interesting books on the subject of new theories in physics and consciousness such as, The Holographic Universe and The Physics of Consciousness. This is excellent reading. The following is a profile of his observations as they relate to the near-death experience.

The Paradox Defined The Reason for the Paradox  

“Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live.” – Albert Einstein

So why the paradox? In simplest terms the paradox arises because of how relativity and quantum physics treat time and space. In relativity, time and space are relative to the observer. Einstein’s equations allow one to accurately transform position data from one reference frame to another. Quantum mechanics treats time and space as a rigid, fixed, four dimensional coordinate system, however it shows that it is impossible to place any object in this coordinate system with absolute precision. So either time and space are flexible and relative to the observer, or they are fixed and the observer’s position as well as what he is observing can only be stated as a probability.

Solving this paradox is the Holy Grail of modern physics. There are many theories: Super-Symmetry (SUSY), super-string, Higg’s Field, and various subsets of these and others, each competing to be heralded as the GUT (Grand Unified Theory) or TOE (Theory of Everything). Physicist Julian Barbour has introduced one unique theory that might solve the paradox. Barbour suggests that it might be possible to throw time out altogether. After all, what is time? It isn’t a substance, field, or particle that physics can measure. Is it simply a fundamental property of the universe? Barbour says no.

Barbour’s universe consists of an infinite number of “eternal nows” stretching from the Big Bang to the end of the universe (either by heat death, or super contraction, sometimes called the Big Crunch). Time is merely an illusion created by the human consciousness, which only sees one “now” at a time, as it moves along through all of the “nows” that make up its life. Somewhere in Barbour’s universe, which he calls Platonia, you are being born, attending your first day of school, going on your first date, and lying on your deathbed. However right now you are only aware of the you which is reading this essay and probably saying to yourself: “This guy has flipped his cork!”

Possibly I have. But according to Barbour, eliminating time as a fundamental property of the universe would remove much of the difficulty in uniting relativity with quantum physics and thereby slay the final dragon of science. Do other scientists agree? Surprisingly, many physicists and cosmologists think time will have to be left out of the final unified theory, and many suspect the concept of space may have to go as well.

First it would be appropriate to discuss modern physics for those who may not be familiar with it. Modern physics is a paradox created by two mutually exclusive theories. Both cannot be true, yet both have been shown by observation and laboratory experiment to be true. These two theories were born of the intense desire to locate two different objects in space and time.

The first object is the planet Mercury. Mercury has been observed by human beings since prehistory. As astronomers’ instruments became more precise they were able to more accurately predict the position of the planets in the sky. This led to new theories about the nature of the solar system: first the Ptolemaic system which placed Earth at the center of the universe was replaced by the Copernican system which put the sun at the center, and made Earth simply one of the planets. Soon Johannes Kepler developed his laws of planetary motion which described the orbits as ellipses rather than perfect circles, and from there Sir Isaac Newton was able to deduce the law of universal gravitation.

Newton’s laws appeared to completely describe the universe. The position of any object in space could be determined for any point in time with great precision. However as measurements of Mercury’s position became more exact, it was clear that they did not match the position predicted by Newton’s laws. Could Newton be wrong? The measurements of the planet’s position were uniformly off by about 43 arc seconds, barely enough to notice but enough for physicists to question Newton’s model of the universe.

The solution required Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. Einstein’s theory changed the way physicists and astronomers view the universe. In Newton’s universe, time and space were absolutes. A mile was a mile, and an hour was an hour no matter where in the universe you measured it. Time and space formed a fixed, rigid, four dimensional coordinate system. In the new relativistic universe, time and space are flexible, and only the velocity of light is absolute. “Now” is not “now” everywhere in the universe since gravity distorts time and space. A mile is only a mile relative to the reference frame of the observer, likewise an hour. This is difficult for many people to understand because we are so used to seeing time and space as fixed. Einstein’s theory accurately predicts how the sun’s gravity warps space in its vicinity and causes Mercury’s position to be other than where Newton’s laws predict it to be.

The next object physicists tried to locate in space and time was the electron. The electron is a sub-atomic particle found orbiting the nuclei of atoms of which all matter is composed. Here physicists Heisenberg, Bohr, Schroedinger and others were not as successful as Einstein had been with Mercury. They found that it was impossible to know an electron’s speed and its location in space with exact precision. In fact the more you knew about its speed the less you could know its location and vice versa. The problem has nothing to do with the availability of precise laboratory equipment for making the measurements. The problem had to do with the nature of the universe itself. Imagine an electron detector of arbitrarily high precision and it will still not be able to tell you the exact speed and location of an electron. Whatever the physicist does to measure the speed of the electron changes its position and whatever he does to measure its position changes the speed. Thus quantum physics, a means of expressing the speed and position of sub-atomic objects in terms of statistical probability was born. The physicist can say an electron is about here in time and space and about this speed but not precisely both. In fact if he establishes the exact location of the electron it will have an equal probability of being at any speed from rest to the velocity of light, and if he establishes the exact speed, it will have an equal probability of being anywhere in the universe. This may seem difficult to believe, but it is true.

Strangely enough this quantum imprecision of the universe extends upwards to macroscopic objects such as tennis balls, people, planets and galaxies. Modern physics has discovered that it is impossible to say exactly where you are at any given moment, however the degree of imprecision for objects such as people is minute enough to be negligible. Only with very small objects such as electrons is it necessary to use probability to predict where an electron might be, rather than say it is here.