The Perimiter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, hosts a series of public lectures. Most of these show up on television in some form or another, usually on Rogers TV. The TVO program Big Ideas has also shown at least one of these lectures. I caught William Phillips talking about Time and Einstein in the 21st Century. Phillips works at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, apparently helping to design more reliable atomic clocks. The most fascinating part of this presentation is the idea that the understanding of accurate time is entwined with the atom. Phillips does a fantastic job of explaining how atomic clocks work, and the various scientific principles behind them. He also touches on the implications for quantam physics and quantam computing. But it is the reality that every atom of a similar type resonates to the same beat no matter where it is in the universe that is compelling.
Religious leaders and philosophers from a number of traditions have speculated and ultimately taught that every item in the universe is inextricably linked. Many North American native communities view the entire planet as an interconnected web of animate and inanimate objects. There has been speculation that atoms of a similar type are somehow conencted to one another, though to my knowledge no proof has been found. Given the variety and variability of the objects they form, the smallest blocks in what we see has reality are amazingly uniform. There are probably a number of possible conclusions that flow from this understanding, from belief in a deity to gratefulness for a random confluence of events that have created something where there might otherwise be nothing. In my view, it’s not that science somehow justifies any kind of spiritual or ideological belief, but that it inspires amazement and curiosity that really matters. The atomic clock may not unlock the deep mysteries of the universe, but it will keep people asking the questions in new and imaginative ways for generations. Enjoy the lecture.