A Different Perspective on Time: Old Ideas, New Theories

One of the most exciting things throughout this journey of making A Brief History of Time Travel is not just learning about new ideas, but also finding just how interconnected ideas can be – across disciplines, culture and eras.

Jumping off of my last post on time travel in the Mahabharata, I wanted to share with you some interesting parallels between Vedic beliefs and quantum mechanics, and how ancient religion and modern theories in science seem to have complementary views on the perception of time and space.

We had the amazing opportunity to interview Dr. Satyanarayana Dasa, an expert in Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy. He explains that time is merely an illusion; and that we can only measure time by the changes in matter, like watching budding flowers bloom or finding wrinkles on your skin: “Suppose, beginning now, nothing changes. Would you differentiate between past, present, and future? We believe that time is moving. Time is not moving- it is the matter which transforms it.”

Dr. Satyanarayana Dasa, Still from A Brief History of Time Travel

The ancient Hindu scriptures view the world as Maya, best described as an illusion or unreality. Time and space are mental structures, and how we look at the world is actually a projection of the mind. So the world is what we choose to observe.

Does quantum mechanics view time and space in a similar manner?

Where quantum mechanics deals with the behavior of extremely small objects like subatomic particles, it’s not possible to observe “the system” without changing the system. What does that mean?

The Shrödinger’s Cat paradox is a modern, whimsical way to explain the world of quantum mechanics.

In the thought experiment created by Erwin Shrödinger, Nobel prize winning physicist and grandfather of quantum mechanics, a cat is placed in a steel box along with a Geiger counter, some poison, a hammer, and radioactive material. When the radioactive material decays, the Geiger detects it and triggers the hammer to release the poison, which then kills the cat.

Since radioactive decay is a random process, there is no way to predict when it will happen. The observer doesn’t know whether the cat is alive or dead until the box is opened. The cat would, as Schrödinger put it, be “living and dead … in equal parts” until it is observed.

 “The world extended in space and time is but our representation”- What is Life? by Erwin Schrödinger
Schrödinger’s idea that the “observer” must be considered as a part of the system being observed seems pretty consistent to the Vedas teachings. Interestingly enough, Schrödinger studied Vedic scriptures throughout this life and so perhaps it should not be that surprising to find parallels between the ancient teaching and his modern postulates. One can find similarities even in the most unexpected places.