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the pith helmet

     I'm relatively intelligent. And I know some pretty smart people too. So I figure that it's about time that I share that intelligence with the rest of the world. Do you have a question? Sure you do! So ask it here!

I may, or may not, know what I'm talking about. I'm not a therapist. I'm not even really a writer. In real life, face to face, some of what I've written here might have been accompanied by a smirk or wild hand gestures. Keep it in mind.

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Published on 11/18/2000

Lauren asks:
I was discussing this with my boyfriend: If you were able to freeze time, get everything but yourself down to zero Kelvin, wouldn't you keep revolving even though the earth had stopped?

A wonderful question, and one that is so drenched in physics that even I, as someone who was once told by his math teacher that he was not allowed to ever take any more math courses again for essentially failing that one so badly, will hazard a shot at it. Of course it should be noted that you should not go off trying to freeze the universe based on any sort of recommendation that I make here. Also, please see the end of this article for a thorough bibliography. And now that we've gotten any semblance of formality out of the way, let's jump right into this question feet first.

As my area of study only gently touched upon physics in my academic days, I felt compelled to consult the Internet for further information. There are a few points that I would like to put out there before we go any further into the actual discussion of your question, however. First of all, I have discovered that the universe has something of a glow about it, not unlike that glow that you have around you after a hearty jog. This glow appears to be residual energy from the Big Bang1, and this means that the entire universe is quivering at about 3 degrees Kelvin.

So where did this glow come from? Well, if we go back in time from the present to the Big Bang, things get a lot hotter and a lot more compressed. These two things go hand in hand. The Big Bang started everything off with a lot of kinetic energy that flung the universe way open and over time things have slowed down and cooled down to this 3 degrees that we have now.

Now, if we were able to stop everything else in the universe except for us, what would happen? Well the first thing that would happen is that it would get very dark for everyone else, as there would be no more of this 3 degree glow that the universe is currently providing for us. But beyond that, would we continue to rotate? That is to say, would stopping time be like stopping a carousel short? Would we be thrown from our carved wooden horse (that is, the earth) and continue along our path of rotation? I am tempted to say no.

The carousel model does not seem work if you consider time to be "not a dimension but instead absolutely reflective of the rate of change." According Stephen Hicks, an Australian with apparently no physics credentials, if you were to observe the Big Bang when it was occurring from an area of the universe more like ours now, rather than at Big Bang speeds, it would appear that the events taking place in the Big Bang universe were happening at an increased rate of speed. Perhaps like fast forwarding a video tape while you're watching it. Only much hotter. However, life in the Big Bang would just continue along as it always did.

So, if we were to slow down the entire universe around us, we would appear, to the universe, to be moving much faster in our pockets of the universe (disregarding the fact that at Absolute Zero there wouldn't really be anyone else out there to watch, given that, in fact, time was standing still), but we, existing still in our own time, would continue to function normally.

However, I think that another Australian, Baris Purut, has it right when he says "Maybe if we could freeze the whole universe and beyond at zero Kelvin, the dimensional time would really 'stop'! Honestly, I don't really care. I only want to fall in love!"

So I think you have to decide what it is that you really want from life. Do you want to explore the darker reaches of theoretical physics, or do you want to find love? I'll give you some time to think it over.

Time is not the fourth dimension
The fading whimper
Time travel

1. Is the Big Bang a widely accepted theory on how the universe started? I'm assuming yes, since I've not heard anything else lately, and for the sake of argument and research, that's all I found out there. So I'm saying yes. Yes. Big Bang forever! Woah, that's a bit of an oxymoron isn't it?

hi, this is a comment. neat!
Posted by jcn on 11-18-2000 05:00

Though your response obviously involved a substantial amount of research and such, I believe the explanation you gave may have been slightly incomplete. What follows is a straight forward scientific explanation to the question.

First a little physics background:

When a light wave hits an object, what happens to it depends on the energy of the light wave, the natural frequency at which electrons vibrate in the material and the strength with which the atoms in the material hold on to their electrons. Based on these three factors, four different things can happen when light hits an object -- light waves can:
be reflected or scattered off the object
be absorbed by the object
be refracted through the object or
pass through the object with no effect.

One's perception is based largely on what you can see. What you see is based on light reflected off objects (your house, dog, etc).

The atoms in some materials hold on to their electrons loosely. In other words, the materials contain many free electrons that can jump readily from one atom to another within the material. When the electrons in this type of material absorb energy from an incoming light wave, they do not pass that energy on to other atoms. The energized electrons merely vibrate and then send the energy back out of the object as a light wave with the same frequency as the incoming wave. The overall effect is that the light wave does not penetrate deeply into the material. Instead, the light wave appears to reflect off the surface of the object.

Because reflection relies on the excitation of electrons in the material, when the material is at absolute zero electrons can not move, no light will be reflected. Thus, the observer would not be able to see anything. The observer would be floating in a black void.

Now you may ask what happens if the person moves, can they walk into a wall even though they can't see it. There is a paradox with that question though. Once the observer begins to move, molecules are displaced, and the world is no longer at absolute zero.

So therefore, because you can't see anything, and can not move while staying within the bounds of the question stated, if the world was frozen to absolute zero, the observer would be plunged into darkness and into a void. Not very exciting if you ask me.

reference: How Light Works

mmcc 12/28/00
Posted by Mike on 12-28-2000 21:29

i believe in the big bang theory also. God said it, and BANG! it was there. seriously though.
Posted by j on 01-03-2001 21:14

I would like to correct a mistake about Baris Purut's nationality. Mr. Purut, one of the leading authorities in paranormal phenomenon, is a native of Istanbul, Turkey.
Yoruk Isik
Posted by Yoruk Isik on 03-05-2001 16:44

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