In The Armchair

Is Our Physics the only Physics?

Posted in Armchair Ruminations by Armchair Guy on April 15, 2007

Time and space are modes in which we think and not conditions in which we live — Einstein

We have a specific way of perceiving things. For example, our mind perceives the world through a four-dimensional model: 3 spatial dimensions, and one (unidirectional) time dimension. But is this the only way the world around us can be perceived?

It is clear that, as long as there is a one-to-one mapping between one representation and another, any two representations of any piece of information are equivalent. For example, it does not matter whether we store a position in polar or Cartesian coordinates – because we have a one-to-one map from one to the other.

So, imagine that we meet an alien species. Would they necessarily have a unit of distance? Could it be that, instead of (x, y, z, t), they perceive (tx, ty, tz, t^3)? Their unit of measurement would then have distance and time entangled together. They might say, “walk for 125 cube-seconds” (equivalent to us saying “walk for 5 seconds”). Our statement “the car is 10 kilometres away and the time now is 125 seconds” would translate to “the car is 50 km-seconds away”. Is there a logical reason why every species should perceive in the same units that we do? Maybe not!

This needn’t be restricted just to distance and time. A species might perceive taste and colour together, or even distance confounded with emotional state. “That’s red-sweet, my friend, but it’s happy-far!”

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