What does the Universe know?

Thursday, 13 June 2013
I recently read an article entitled "The Universe Is Not A Computer", by Ken Wharton. I found it very interesting. In it, the author explains that other point of view can be possible in Physics: the Universe is not an algorithm that is running and it's waiting to see what happens. Other formalisms in Physics are possible, where the Universe "knows" where it is going to be in the next interval of time. That formalism is that of Lagrange. 

He uses the example of a beam when it passes through a crystal. If you know the initial angle and the different refraction indexes, you can calculate the angle in which it will bent. That's the usual way of looking at it. But you also can use a formulation where you give the initial and final points. Light just go following the path of minimum action. 

So, we have two possibilities: on one hand, you give all the initial conditions and the equations, and then the Universe keeps updating its state at each interval of time or, on the other hand, the Universe knows where it started and where it is going to finish, and just follows the path of minimum action. 

The first point of view is the one physicists work with normally. It is the foundation of Wolfram's work, "A New Kind of Science". Wharton argues, however, that the Universe already knows its final state, and just follows the laws of physics. 

Note that both points of view are deterministic. In the second case it is obvious. In the first case, the Universe only follows the laws and its future was determined by its initial conditions. 

This article reminded me Prigogine's Tanner lecture "Only an Illusion", and the opposing ideas about time he talks about: is there an absolute point of view, where past, present and future are the same, or there is only the human point of view, where we are irremediably linked to the passing of time? For humans, the answer is clear: we cannot escape time. However, the point of view of the Universe could be different. It contains all that there is, and "knows" perfectly its laws. 

In "Only an Illusion" we can read the conversation between Einstein and Tagore about the nature of human's truths. Einstein believed in a Truth independent of human's mind. Tagore, however, stated that humans can only grasp human's truths. Does the Universe "knows" the Truth, or does it have to wait until the end of time to "know" it?

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