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Contact & Staff
University Scholars Program
2003 - 2004 University Scholar
Mentor: Chuang Liu
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
"Time is the essence of all things," as the old adage goes, but according to University
Scholar Dustin Hall, our common notion of time may not truly exist in the universe. "I
tend to believe that time is symmetric, and there is no difference between the past and
the future," he says.
An English major and philosophy minor, Dustin researched the philosophy of time with
mentor Chuang Liu, an associate professor of philosophy, for his USP project. He spent
months poring over complicated physics and philosophy texts arguing for and against the
existence of time, including "The End of Time" by Julian Barbour, "The Unreality of Time"
by John Ellis McTaggart, and "Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point" by Huw Price. He
devoted two entire months just to reading and re-reading The End of Time.
"My mentor and I used The End of Time as the foundation of my readings," Dustin says.
"Written by a physicist in 1999, it argues that essentially there is no time-it does not
exist in the natural world. He argues if you get rid of time, then all of these problems in
quantum mechanics, especially in making quantum mechanics and Einsteinian relativity
In the book, Barbour argues that time does not exist and what is perceived as time is
simply a change in the arrangement of matter in the universe taking place. "A movie
strip is just a bunch of instances of a configuration of people or action on screen that
don't change," Dustin says. "An individual cell is always going to look the same, but when
you string them together, we seem to have this idea of motion, though all an actual film
strip is, is a bunch of individual arrangements of matter. Barbour says that is the exact
case of the universe-there is a ton of instances that don't change unto themselves, but
when we string them together we get the perception of a flow, of a change, but all it is,
is instances like a movie strip."
Other scientists argue that time does indeed exist in our universe and point to the law of
entropy as proof, which measures the disorder in a system. "A kid's room, if left to the
kid alone, is going to reach an equilibrium state of very high disorder," Dustin says.
"Toys will be everywhere in a jumbled mess. A very unlikely situation in that room is
highly ordered, in which everything is picked up and in its place. Entropy says that if a
system is left to itself it is going to reach a state of maximum disorder, which is
constantly increasing. Given the evolution of the universe, by a natural process, entropy
has increased and in the far future is going to reach a maximum disordered state, which
will lead to the heat death of the universe. So some scientists say the arrow of entropy
defines time and the amount of disorder defines what we think of as time."
Dustin admits exploring these two conflicting views left him perplexed at times,
especially since they involve very advanced mathematical equations, the laws of physics
and complex philosophical theses. He says one of the troubling things about talking
about time is discussing "when" time began. "You can't even make statements about
'before' the Big Bang because there was no time then. Time began for us at that instant.
It is weird to think of because we can't get outside of thinking about a string of time. You
can't wrap you mind around 'nothing.'You just kind of throw your hands in the air and
can't really talk about it." After much study, Dustin aligned himself with Huw Price's line
of thinking-time, as we usually describe it, does not exist in the universe. Humans
created the asymmetries we ascribe to the nature of time.
Following Price's lead, Dustin believes the distinction between past and future does not
exist in nature-that time is symmetrical and the past and the future are completely
identical. "These distinctions aren't real in the universe," he says. "We are creatures that
see things asymmetrically-it's not like we have come to this decision somehow in the
history of our thought and we could change our mind and realize that there is not a
distinction. We are like a train on a track that only goes in one direction."
Since the past and future are symmetrical, time travel is logically possible. "We are so
biased about thinking there is actually a privileged point in the universe that is 'now'," he
says. "But physics says there is not, it is all subjective. There is no reason that I am
here, my spatial position is not privileged. If I wanted to get up and walk across the
room I could. So if time is symmetrical in a similar way to space, there is nothing
stopping us from walking back in time, or forward in time. There is the logical possibility.
Just like I could get up and walk five feet away, I could walk five years into the past."
Journal of Undurgraduate Re~carch Universilyof Florida
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In Dustin's past, he was a star pitcher on the Flanagan High School baseball team in
Miramar, Florida, near Ft. Lauderdale. An injury kept him from playing baseball in
college, and he started at New College before transferring in to the University of Florida
in spring 2002. Before graduating from UF in spring 2004, he played intramural softball
and was a member of the Undergraduate Philosophical Society and the English Society.
He enjoys gourmet cooking and is an avid Yankees fan. Dustin is preparing to apply for
law school and hopes to be admitted to UF in the fall of 2005.
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