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The Universe - an Effect without Cause

Philip E. Gibbs


Through the history of science we have become accustomed to experiencing paradigm shifts in our fundamental understanding of the Universe. Previously-cherished principles have been abandoned by radical thinkers in order to free them of the constraints that were hindering progress. Copernicus ousted the geocentric worldview that had been the dogma for centuries and Einstein led us to abandon the absolutes of time and space introduced by Newton, then Heisenberg took away certainty leaving us to accept unavoidable unpredictability in the laws of nature. In each case the revolutionary move was met with strong resistance from the ruling guard of physicists, but eventually victory fell into the hands of a new generation of thinkers. Each of these revolutionary changes came as a surprise, but the next great shift in thinking will be different in that it has long been anticipated. Physicists already expect that some former assumptions will be tomorrow’s sacrifices in the battle to understand the nature of reality. They know that everyday senses, intuition and philosophical prejudice cannot be trusted when exploring the fundamental laws that prevail in physical regimes that are not part of our ordinary experience. They have seen it all before and all agree that something important has to give before the next breakthrough can be struck. I think it is clear that space and time will be the first casualties of this revolution. They will become emergent properties of a deeper reality. That is the easier part but with them, locality and causality must also fail. Of these it is temporal causality – the principle that every effect has a preceding cause – that is the hardest for scientists to lose. In this essay I discuss why this must happen and what can take its place.

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