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Being and Becoming in Modern Physics

Two conceptions of time are competing with each other in mythical and mystical thought, in philosophy and in modern physics: being and becoming, timelessness and time.

From the perpective of becoming everything is flux and the flux has a definite direction (the arrow of time): we go from young to old, cups break but do not spontaneously reassemble themselves, we remember the past but not the future. In this perspective time is profoundly real, it is the essence of our very existence.

From the perspective of being, on the other hand, time, flux, motion, change are all part of a deep illusion. The ultimate reality is timeless; in it all instants of time coexist in an eternal present—past, present and future are all simultaneously given and nothing essentially new ever happens.

Surprisingly, the fundamental equations of physics seem to side rather with the timeless view of reality, which of course poses the problem of reconciling this fact with the phenomenological evidence of becoming and with the arrow of time. We will discuss this dual perspective on time and we will hint at some surprising proposals arising from the ongoing attempts to fuse quantum physics (the physics of the very small) with general relativity (the physics of the very large).

Shantena Augusto Sabbadini

Shantena Augusto Sabbadini (www.shantena.comwas awarded his PhD in physics from the University of California in 1976. He worked as a theoretical physicist at the University of Milan and at the University of California. In Milan he researched the foundations of quantum physics. In California he contributed to the first identification of a black hole.

In 1990s he was scientific consultant for the Eranos Foundation (www.eranosfoundation.org), an East-West research centre founded under the auspices of C.G. Jung in the 1930s. In that context he studied Chinese classics and produced various translations and commentaries in Italian and English, including the Yijing and the trilogy of Daoist classics, the Laozi, the Zhuangzi and the Liezi.

Presently he is director of the Pari Center for New Learning (www.paricenter.org) and lecturer at the Schumacher College (www.schumachercollege.org.uk), Devon, UK. He leads workshops on the philosophical implications of quantum physics, on Daoism, and on using the Yijing as a tool for introspection. His latest book, Pilgrimages to Emptiness, has just been published by Pari Publishing.