Quantum Mechanics Revisited: Physicists Propose New Structure of Time

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Futurism |

In Brief

Physicists propose that time may not be continuous at all, but instead represent a “crystal,” a rigid structure composed of discrete snapshots in time. They also suggest that the smallest interval of time may be much greater than formerly supposed.

Does time flow continuously, gliding without interruption from one happening to another?  Or is it choppy and pixelated, an illusory phenomenon formed of innumerable discrete elements?

The world of our sensory experience would seem to support the former notion—that time moves ever, ever on; however, new research, which was recently published in The European Physical Journal C, suggests time may be much grainier than we suppose, and the idea has important implications for quantum mechanics.

The research centers on what is called the “Planck time,” approximately 10-43 seconds, which is widely believed to be the smallest meaningful unit of time.

Defined as the time interval required for light to traverse the Planck length (about 1.6 x 10-35 meter), the Planck time resides at that incomprehensible scale where spacetime, reality, and everything that is begins to break down and lose all meaning.

But the new paper proposes that the shortest unit of time may really be several orders of magnitude greater than the Planck time; if so, the basic equations of quantum mechanics may have to be altered to follow suit, with a corresponding change in the description of quantum-scale systems and phenomena.

Proving that the Planck length (and, therefore, the Planck time) is an utmost minimum may be difficult; as the authors of the paper note, “…the energy needed to probe spacetime below the Planck length scale exceeds the energy needed to produce a black hole in that region of spacetime.”  Which effectively rules out any experimental tests in the near future.

But determining the smallest time interval to be something much greater than the Planck time might be possible.

The researchers propose an experimental test involving the spontaneous emissions of a hydrogen atom: a different rate of emission is predicted using their modified quantum mechanical equations than when using the unmodified ones.  And it’s possible the same effects could be observed in the decay rates of unstable atomic nuclei.

Read a little further into the paper, and things get really weird.  If the equations of quantum mechanics must be altered in accordance with the new research, then it will give rise to a new and very curious definition of time.

Time is, essentially, a “crystal”—a highly organized lattice of discrete “particles,” or regularly repeating segments.

“The physical universe is really like a movie/motion picture, in which a series of still images shown on a screen creates the illusion of moving images,” said Mir Faizal of the University of Waterloo and the University of Lethbridge in Canada, and lead author of the paper.

If that’s true, our perception of time as continuous and indivisible is a mere illusion—perhaps a result of biological or evolutionary happenstance, a makeshift sensory accommodation to the entropy of large-scale thermodynamic systems.

Take some time to think about that.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust will be the first hospital in the UK to offer hand transplants. The hospital is set to begin performing operation towards the latter end of this year (2016).

Notably, consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay states that this will be the first nationally funded hand transplant hospital: “There have been lots of hand transplants around the world but this is the first time a national funding organisation has closely examined the issue, come up with the conclusion that it’s worth pursuing and is now going to fund it nationally in one centre,” he stated in an interview with the Telegraph.

Also of note, the NHS was founded in 1948, and it is based on the idea that healthcare should be available to everyone, irrespective of wealth. As such, all care on the NHS is free at the point of delivery

Ultimately, this operation is the only way to restore complete function. But of course, this is about more than just function. As the NHS notes, hand transplants are recognized as “the only method of reconstruction that looks and functions like a normal hand.”

For successful operations, the replaced limb is expected to move with as much strength and dexterity as the non-transplanted hand. In addition, the procedure will allow the hand to sense its surroundings, is also warm to the touch, and is capable of healing itself should you get injured.

“The NHS are leading the world in offering this cutting edge procedure, which has been shown to significantly improve the quality of life for patients who meet the criteria,” said Jonathan Fielden, Director of Commissioning at NHS England.

That said, the integration will take time, and the operation is far from simple.

An estimated two to four patients annually will be screened for this procedure. Potential transplant candidates will go through a comprehensive screening process where they will undergo psychological screening as well as compatibility tests for the limb. These tests will look at blood type, immunology, arm size, and skin tone.

Britain’s first ever hand transplant patient Mark Cahill with his wife Sylvia at home in Halifax Image Credit: Bruce Adams/Rex/Shutterstock

Ultimately, the procedure is expected to take six to twelve hours (this information is based on data from previous operations).

For the procedure, the two bones in the upper arm will be attached to each other using titanium plates while tendons and muscles are also attached. Major blood vessels will also connected to allow blood to flow into and out of the limb.

This hospital is also the hospital behind the first ever hand transplant. Mark Cahill, who underwent the procedure in 2012, has now regained almost complete use of his hand. Two in five of patients who have undergone the hand transplant procedure report excellent results.

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