Friday, May 9, 2008

359)2 intellectual giants speak to each other accross a millenium on "time": can it be slowed, sped up, reversed, transcended?Ask Einstein and Khusraw

I'm mixing and matching two prevoius blogposts, one talking about the special theory of relativity formulated and proved by Albert Einstein, the smartest scientist of the 20th century, the other on the nature of time by Nasir Khusraw, eminent Shia Ismaili Muslim cosmologist, philosopher and poet who lived in eastern Central Asia about a thousand years ago.

It is fitting to quote the following, which describes the proper place of "time" in creation from an Islamic perspective and the need to be cognisant of all types of knowledge with a committment to independent thinking:

"The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine Will"(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954)

"Our religious leadership must be acutely aware of secular trends, including those generated by this age of science and technology. Equally, our academic or secular elite must be deeply aware of Muslim history, of the scale and depth of leadership exercised by the Islamic empire of the past in all fields"(Aga Khan IV, 6th February 1970, Hyderabad, Pakistan)

"An institution dedicated to proceeding beyond known limits must be committed to independent thinking. In a university scholars engage both orthodox and unorthodox ideas, seeking truth and understanding wherever they may be found. That process is often facilitated by an independent governance structure, which serves to ensure that the university adheres to its fundamental mission and is not pressured to compromise its work for short-term advantage. For a Muslim university it is appropriate to see learning and knowledge as a continuing acknowledgement of Allah's magnificence"(Aga Khan IV, Speech, 1993, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan)

Time has been shown not to be the absolute phenomenon that people think it is. In fact, during the early 20th century(1905 to be exact), time was shown to be a relative dimension of the material universe. This was the basis of Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity, which showed that if a three-dimensional material object travels at speeds approaching the speed of light, time, which is the fourth dimension in that scenario, starts to dilate or slow down. Its a very difficult concept to undersatand but a simpler analogy might help: If we take two identical twins(of the same age obviously) and leave one twin on earth and send the other twin in a spaceship to a distant galaxy, then send the spaceship at speeds close to the speed of light, time will slow down and the twin in the spaceship will age slower than his brother on earth. If he later returns to earth, he will be younger than his identical twin. Time is therefore a relative phenomenon, it being part of Allah's creation, just like space.

The most elegant scientific proof of Einstein's special theory of relativity came with the use of radioactive nuclei of atoms. In these types of atoms, radioactive decay is very precise in terms of the loss of mass and the time for a radioactive atom to decay to half its mass(known as its half-life). That is why world time is kept according to atomic clocks. They are the most precise in measurement.

Scientists went to the top of a tall mountain and, through a specially designed tube, first sent radioactive nuclei shooting down the tube at speeds much less than the speed of light. When they collected the nuclei at the bottom, they found that the half-life of the radioactive atoms had not changed. However, when they shot the nuclei down the tube at speeds close to the speed of light, they found that the half-life of the radioactive nuclei were prolonged. Time had slowed down for these particular samples at close to the speed of light and so it took longer than expected for the mass of the sample to decay by half.

Nasir Khusraw, in his treatise on philosophical theology entitled "Knowledge and Liberation" has the following comments to make on the notion of time and how it relates to the acquisition of rational and suprarational knowledge:

'We say that first it is necessary to know what time is so that this knot can be untied. It should be known that in reality, time is (contained in) the act of an agent, because it is (a measure of) the movement of the (celestial) sphere. Thus, when a measure (equal to) a constellation passes from the sphere, we say that two hours from night or day have elapsed, and when half of the sphere passes we say twelve hours of time from day or night have elapsed. (However), if you take away the sphere from (your) imagination, nothing remains of time. When the existence of a thing depends on another thing, then if you remove the latter, the former which had come into existence through the latter (also) disappears. For instance, if we remove the sun from (our) imagination, the day would be removed. From this demonstration it is evident that if from the imagination you remove the sphere, time (too) would be removed. (In reality), since the rotation of the sphere is the act of an agent by the command of the Creator, time is (caused by) the act of the Creator Himself.'

'In this connection, those in possession of wisdom have also said that time is nothing but (a measure of) change in the conditions of body, one after the other. This view is the same as that of time being (contained in) the act of an agent, because the totality of the world's body is within the vault of the spheres, and when the spheres rotate its condition changes as every pont of it moves from its existing place to another place. (Furthermore), the rotation of the spheres does not stop because its time is never-ending.'

'It is inconceivable for the simple (person) that time can be removed from the imagination. This is because of the fact that since the human soul is linked with a body which is under time, it cannot go beyond (time) without being nurtured with the knowledge of the truth. As God says: "O assembly of jinn and men, if you can penetrate the bounds of the heavens and the earth, do so, but you cannot without the proof"(Quran 55:33)-that is, jinn and men cannot conceive anything in their souls other than what they see in the heavens and the earth, and they cannot go beyond what is under the heavens and time unless they receive nurture(of true knowledge) from the Imam of the time, who is proof of God(hujjat-i Khuda) on earth.'

Related Posts:
My Favourite Cosmologist-Philosopher-Theologian-Poets: Abu Yakub Al-Sijistani, Nasir Khusraw And Ikhwan Al-Safa; A Collection Of Posts On My Blog.

Astronomers Back Up Einstein, Again: Survey Of Stars Has Confirmed The Accelerating Expansion Of The Universe And Einstein's Ideas About Gravity.

Easy Nash

In Shia Islam, intellect is a key component of faith. Intellect allows us to understand the creation of God: Aga Khan IV(2008)
The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)
The Holy Qu'ran's encouragement to study nature and the physical world around us gave the original impetus to scientific enquiry among Muslims: Aga Khan IV(1985)
The first and only thing created by God was the Intellect(Aql): Prophet Muhammad(circa 632CE)