Re: Gina, Barbour and Vaughan on Time

Damien Broderick (
Mon, 06 Dec 1999 13:33:34 -0800

At 07:08 PM 5/12/99 -0500, Bob Owen wrote:
> A Talk With Julian Barbour

>Reading Barbour's work, I was reminded again and
>again of a poem by Henry Vaughan [1622-1695]. I must quote it
>from memory, so forgive any literal errors:
> I saw Eternity the other night,
> Like a great ring of pure and endless light

I always crack up when I see that, because the first line is almost a perfect example of the literary crime of bathos. Sorry. `I had a drink with Bill the other night.' `Really? I saw Eternity.' `Oh, good. In fine form, was it?' `Looked okay to me, Roger. Another pint?' `Ta.'

Julian Barbour's book is startling lucid for a popularized treatment of such an arcane topic. He avoids equations heroically, uses splendid and usually intelligible diagrams, and fails to convince me - but it's fun trying to follow him. His ideas resemble those of David Deutsch, that uncompromising Many Worlds-er, which isn't surprising since they've been discussing this stuff for years. The basic stumbling block for me is his key idea, which I will vulgarize horribly: there are no causal links between today's events and yesterday's (yester-Planck time's), just a kind of fossilized pseudo-history embedded as `records' in each instantaneous snapshot or `time capsule', one of the many configuration spaces in Platonia, his timeless N-dimensional phase space. This is so like Gosse's conjecture (I believe it was Gosse) that *actual* fossils were planted in the earth by God to create a sort of false history, like Adam's navel, that it's rather hard not to smile.

But the book should be read, it's fun.

Damien Broderick