Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Of Dreams and Time

The Bible tells of Joseph the dreamer, whose brothers envied him and kidnapped him and sold him into slavery. The story goes on to tell of Pharaoh the dreamer, who saw seven fat cows and seven skinny cows and put all Egypt under Joseph's rule. Joseph reveals the metaphysics behind it all in Genesis 45:5-8.

I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.... God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.

This tale doesn't fit the modern worldview. The "experts" agree that we live in a universe of time and space and matter and energy, governed by natural laws that leave no place for dreams or deities. The consensus is that God is dead and chance is king and dreams are just coincidence.

This means that science doesn't just conflict with the first few chapter of Genesis--modern materialism contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture from start to finish. It may be easier to pick a fight over whether the world was made in "six twenty-four hour days" or not, but the real question to be resolved is whether God acts within time and space. If He does, then something in our physics is either false or incomplete. If He doesn't, then the whole Bible is in error, not just a few verses here and there.

The biggest hole in modern physics has to do with time. Mainstream physics says there is just one timeline, and it is guided just by chance. Picture a single, kinky thread writhing through fifteen billion light-years of empty immensity--then have it accidentally wind up on the one small bit of all this void that isn't empty, and you've got the best that modern science has to offer to explain how we got here.

David Deutsch is a secular physicist, but not in the mainstream. His picture of the universe makes more sense to me--he fills the void with timelines until there isn't any emptiness left. If there is some small statistical chance that particles could come together into self-replicating structures, Deutsch's multiverse will find it. If every possible world exists, then this one does--and so does Harry Potter's. But that goes way too far for mainstream physics.

John Wheeler offered a different option. The man who coined the term "black hole" believed the future could cause the past. (That sounds bizarre to the ordinary layman, but so does the rest of quantum physics.) Wheeler's participatory anthropic principle sketched out a way for future minds to create their own past. In Wheeler's model, there is only one thread through fifteen billion light years of time and space, but it isn't "kinky." It marks the shortest possible path from pure possibility to actual intelligence.

The story of Joseph doesn't make sense in two of these three models (one "kinky" timeline, all possible timelines, or one "guided" timeline). In the mainstream model, dreams don't come true. The stories in Genesis are just that--stories, myths made up by later generations around some campfire. In Deutsch's multiverse, the story may be true but it doesn't mean anything. Sure, Pharaoh dreamed of seven fat cows and seven skinny cows--in this timeline. But he dreamed of six fat cows and thirteen tadpoles in another. If everything happens, nothing matters.

In a world where the future causes the past, however, dreams fit nicely into physics. The dreams are essential to the outcome. If the outcome comes first, the dreams help make it happen. The most astonishing coincidences aren't coincidences at all in a "participatory" universe.

No comments: