Chapter 7


Now then, let us look at the most obvious case of process, which, as I said, Newton said is not a process at all when its velocity is constant: movement. Was Newton right?

The question can be answered if we can find some way that an object could be observed to be in motion when no change in energy-level was happening.

First of all, if a body were completely "left to itself" it could not either move or be observed to move, because there would be nothing by which it could be said to be "in a position" and (since there would be no observer) nothing by which it could be observed to be in a position either.

That is, the whole universe does not move, because there is nothing outside it which could establish that it is "now in this place and now in that," either from an ontological or an observational point of view.

So we need at least two objects (or one body with parts) in order for something to be said to move at all. Let us first make our bodies points, so that they have no size.

Now if the distance between them changes, then obviously movement can be observed, at least in principle (though in practice it would be hard to see how you could tell whether a point was "nearer" or "farther away" if there was nothing else in the universe). But of course, if they are real bodies, they have mass, and hence there is a real distance (force) between them, and this effect each has on the other is different. Hence, movement toward or away from each other is a real process.

So it is not possible for an body to "move in a straight line" whether at a constant velocity or not, without there being a real change in the energy-level of some body's field; and so Newton's First Law of Motion is impossible as stated.

But if the distance does not change, you could think that one could move in a circle about the other. (We will eliminate the complication that Newton's physics would say that this circular orbit involves acceleration and hence is a change; if Einstein is right, it need not be.) But since both are points, which have no "sides," this would not be observable as movement. Hence, with two point-objects, the only observable movement would be one which also involved a real change of energy-levels.

Note that if you introduce a third body, you could observe that one of your original two was moving in a circle around the other one. But then the distance between at least one of these "observed" bodies and the third one would have to be really changing in order for this to happen; and so once again movement would be observable as such only if there is a real change of energy-levels going on.

Note also that if there is any movement observable from the third body, there will be a movement observable from each of the other two; each will observe at least one other body as moving. Let us say that the distance between the third body and the first is constant, and the second is seen as moving around the first from the point of view of the third. The first will then see the second and third bodies change positions with respect to each other, though not with respect to itself, and the second will see a change in position of the third but not of the first.

If we return to two bodies and give one size, letting the other orbit in a circle around its center, we will now be able to observe the motion from any point on the first body except the center itself. We will see the orbiting body "rise" and "set" over the other parts of the first body. But in actuality, the orbiting body's field will exert a greater force on the side of the first body that is closer to it, and a lesser force on the side farther away; and as the earth-moon system shows, it will tend to start the first body rotating.

So there is a real change going on, even though the orbiting body is moving in a perfect circle and there is no change in the distance between the bodies' centers. But is the orbiting body "really" orbiting? There is no way to tell, because from its point of view, what is happening is that it is stationary, and the other body is simply rotating at a fixed distance from itself; and neither of these points of view is the "right" one.

Again, you could choose between these two, but only if you introduced a third body and used that as privileged; but it is of course no more privileged than the other two, and I leave it to you as an exercise to figure out what things would look like from each of the bodies if this third body were introduced, and what real changes of distance would be going on.

But if there is a real process going on between the "orbiting" body and the one with size, then this has to have a purpose, which will be equilibrium without any either real or observed movement.

Does this occur? Yes. The orbiting body will tend, as I said, to make the body with size rotate; and this will continue until the speed of rotation catches up with the revolution of the orbiting body, so that the orbiting body makes one revolution as the rotating body makes one rotation. If either moves faster or slower once this point is reached, the gravitational pull of the other will tend to pull it back into "synchronicity," so that the final state of this unstable situation will be a synchronous orbit.

But with only two objects in the universe, then once again no movement will be observable, because all distances from the body with size to the "orbiting" body will now be constant. It is only if we imagine ourselves as at some privileged point outside the system that we can speak of "revolving" and "orbiting" at the same rate (but that is because from our "reference frame" distances will be changing).

And in fact, the process that will be seen from the body with size is not that it begins to rotate, but that the "rising" and "setting" of the other body just gets slower and slower, until it finally slows down to a complete halt just overhead, say; and from then on, it is just "there," in a fixed position. And from the orbiting body, what will be observed is that the revolution of the other body (which originally was pretty fast) will slow down until the body finally stops revolving and is simply like our moon, always showing the same face. Hence, movement is a process. Whenever movement can be observed, there is always a change in energy-level of fields (always a change in real distance); and this change, like all changes, implies instability and a purpose, in which there is no real movement and in which no movement is observable. Movement has as its purpose some definite position.

This is true with the orbits of the heavenly bodies; but because there are so many of them, and they are so complex, the actual synchronous orbits of all the planets and their satellites even of our relatively simple solar system are too far in the remote future to be achievable before the sun blows up, I would guess. And then there are all the stars of our galaxy, of which the sun is one, orbiting its center, acting on each other as they do so.

But we can see that the tendency is there toward the equilibrium of synchronicity with no more movement; each of the planets (and the stars in the galaxy too) exerts something of a "drag" on the others; and if they all ever did get into synchronicity, it would be easy to see that any deviation on the part of one would be rectified back into equilibrium by this same "drag" of all the others.

Let me close this discussion of process and movement with a general look at cosmic evolution. There are two possibilities, since we know that the universe is now expanding: (a) that this is one phase of a cyclical expansion and contraction that is not a process, but is a kind of equilibrium; or (b) that it is a real process.

In the first case, what we have is something like Zoroaster's or Nietzsche's "eternal return." And in that case, either absolutely everything occurs exactly as it did two hundred billion years before (or whenever the last time was), or the basic macroscopic events are the same--the expansion to a given point, then collapse to a fireball and the explosion--but the "fine structure" is different each time. In the latter case, you are spared what Nietzsche wondered if he had the courage to face: the fact that what you are reading now "for the first time" you have at the same point in every preceding cycle for all unending time been reading "now for the first time," and that you will be doing this again "now for the first time" a couple hundred billion years from now.

As I write this, the Hubble space telescope is being deployed, and one of its functions is to see if it can find out how much mass is in the universe, to test whether there's enough to make the universe contract again after this expansion we know is going on. By the time you read this, that first alternative may have been eliminated; but at least based on what physics knows to date, it is a possibility.

If, on the other hand, the universe is simply expanding, then cosmic evolution is a real process, which implies several things.

First of all, it implies that the universe as a whole is unstable, which means that it was either something in equilibrium before the "big bang," and somebody or something did something to this mass of material to scrunch it down into the unstable condition that made it explode in the first place--or else there was no body that it got transformed "out of" and it just absolutely began to exist, with the instability that produced the initial explosion that cosmic rays, apparently, are still some of the free radiation of.

Secondly, it implies that the universe as a whole has a purpose. Unfortunately, this is not to say that it has some deep "meaning" that it is trying to "fulfill." It just means that the instability has a direction toward a future equilibrium. And in fact, not surprisingly, we can tell what that future equilibrium is going to be, because the universe as a whole is pretty simple, actually.

As far as the bodies in the universe go, they are all unstable based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that all the complex (high-energy) forms of energy will eventually degenerate into heat; and the end (the purpose of this process) is the "heat death" of the universe, consisting of nothing but heat-photons filling space uniformly to a temperature of a degree or two Kelvin.

As far as the expansion of the explosion is concerned, once the cycle has been eliminated, then what it means is that the bodies will just get farther and farther apart from each other (as they degenerate by the Second Law of Thermodynamics) until they will be so far apart that they will have for practical purposes no gravitational effect on each other, and each will be nowhere with respect to all the others. Systems of bodies will presumably stick together longer, but there are forces in them that will tend to break them up too.

All of this, of course, supposes that things go on as the laws of physics say they will, and that there isn't some personal kind of a God who has his own ideas about things and isn't above interfering in this process he created, making instabilities that couldn't be predicted from the original "soup" that resulted from the explosion.

There are indications that this is in fact what happened; but they become more clear when we deal with living bodies than in the inanimate realm; and so this belongs to the second part of this book.

And so let this hint at evolution be a finish to this part and a transition to the treatment of living bodies.