The Static Universe

by H. Clay Gorton

“From Here to Eternity,” by Tim Folger in Discover, Dec. 2000, discusses Julian Barbour’s concept of a constant universe. To unify Einstein’s relativity theory with quantum mechanics, Barbour has eliminated the concept of time. He states that time is a figment of the imagination, that the universe is static and that all things are eternal. We only seem to be moving through time as we sequentially perceive successive “nows” that eternally exist.

Barbour used the analogy of existence compared to a movie film. Watching the movie, we perceive the illusion of motion, but the frames that have been shown (representing our past) have not disappeared, and the frames yet to be shown (representing our future) also exist although they have not yet been perceived. Likewise, we in the future also presently exist, but the “nows” of what we call the future, although in existence, are not yet available to our experience.

This concept bears both some similarities and some contradictions to LDS philosophy. The intriguing similarity is that we exist now in eternity and are always and forever in existence. The contradiction is that there is no motion—no action, just “still frames” passing through our consciences. Such a concept implies no real life, no free agency, no responsibility for action, since there is no action.

I believe that Barbour’s concept could be expanded to include volition and accountability. Accept the movie film analogy of existence, that everything always exists, but each minute phase of existence (each “now”) is slightly different from the preceding one, giving rise to the illusion of time and motion. Let’s add one more dimension to the two-dimensional film analogy. Rather than have just a single frame for a given “now,” let that frame have infinite extension in an orthogonal direction to the direction of imagined sequence. As one “now” progresses in the next one, intelligent beings, acting on their environment, may select their next frame from the continuum of variations from the one most approximating the present “now.” Thus, intelligent beings can exert a causative influence on the make-up of the succeeding “now.”

So, if one could examine the fabric of existence, one could find both real and virtual universes. The virtual universe would be made up of the infinite possibilities of successive “nows” that were not chosen or caused to exist, and the one path that was the result of volition would be the real universe. Thus, with volition there would be accountability for the choices made.

This volition and accountability would be consistent with the concept of responsibility and reward for righteous action and punishment for iniquitous action.