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Time—only a way of seeing things

From the April 2001 issue of The Christian Science Journal

"Immortality is here. Our task is to recognize it." Julian Barbour, The End of Time—The Next Revolution in Physics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 335 .

IN HIS BOOK The End of Time—The Next Revolution in Physics, Dr. Julian Barbour, a British theoretical physicist, poses three questions: What is time? What is change? What is the plan of the universe? Dr. Barbour maintains that time does not exist; instead, there are only timeless "Nows." Time, he says, is only a way of seeing things—the universe is actually timeless. Neither time nor motion exists except as illusion. In fact, Barbour argues, time is nothing but the illusion of material change: "I start from the philosophical conviction that the only true things are complete possible configurations of the universe, unchanging Nows. Unchanging things do not travel in time from Now to Now. Material things... are simply part of Nows." Ibid., p. 49 .

Barbour believes that the omission of time from the foundation of physics will enable scientists to finally achieve a unified theory of physics. "[U]nification of general relativity and quantum mechanics," he explains, "may well spell the end of time. By this, I mean that it will cease to have a role in the foundations of physics. We shall come to see that time does not exist." Ibid., p. 14 . Most of The End of Time is a survey of the history of scientific thought about time from ancient philosophers (particularly Plato) to current scientists. Parts of the text may be challenging for the general reader. For me, perhaps the best part about reading this book is seeing the growing realization among physicists that life is more than matter—and more than the illusory change of matter we call time. It's exciting that scientists are continuing to dig beneath the surface, struggling to break through the mere appearances of things. Many are beginning to move gradually from physics to the threshold of metaphysics in their ongoing efforts to understand the nature of reality.

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