From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time

You know what the world really needs? A good book about time. Google tells me there are only about one and a half million such books right now, but I think you’ll agree that one more really good one is called for.

So I’m writing one. From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time is a popular-level book on time, entropy, and their connections to cosmology, to be published by Dutton. Hopefully before the end of this year! I’ve been plugging away at it, and have shifted almost into full-time book-writing mode now. (Note to collaborators: I promise not to abandon you entirely.)

I have my own idiosyncratic ideas about how to account for the arrow of time in cosmology, but those are going to be confined to passing mentions in the last chapter. Mostly I’ll be discussing basic ideas that most experts agree are true, or true ideas that everyone should agree on even if perhaps they don’t quite yet, or the implications of those ideas for knotty questions in cosmology. Hopefully we can at least shift the conventional wisdom a little bit.

Naturally there is a web page with some details. Here is the tentative table of contents, although I’ve been cutting and pasting pretty vigorously, so who knows how it will end up looking once all is said and done. One thing is for sure, some of these chapter titles need sprucing up.

  1. Prologue

Part One: Time, Experience, and the Universe

  1. The Heavy Hand of Entropy
  2. The Beginning and End of Time
  3. The Past is Present Memory

Part Two: Einstein’s Universe

  1. Time is Personal
  2. Time is Flexible
  3. Looping Through Time

Part Three: Distinguishing the Past from the Future

  1. Running Backwards
  2. Entropy and Disorder
  3. Information and Life
  4. Recurrent Nightmares
  5. Quantum Time

Part Four: Natural and Unnatural Spacetimes

  1. Black Holes
  2. The Life of the Universe
  3. The Past Through Tomorrow
  4. Epilogue: From the Universe to the Kitchen
    Appendix:  Math

If anyone out there is friends with Oprah, maybe drop her a line suggesting that this would make a good book-club choice. I hear that’s helpful when it comes to sales.

Update: And now you can buy it.

This entry was posted in Personal, Science, Time, Words. Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time

  1. John Kemeny says:

    Where can I pre-order it?

  2. Sean says:

    You can’t, yet. I think they want evidence it is more than half written before they will put it on sale. Hopefully soon.

    But I like how you’re thinking.

  3. rww says:

    I read the blog, Sean, but it is totally over my head. I love the idea of the book.

  4. Otis says:

    I want this book, Sean, and I want it now. But I’m a little worried when you say that you are working on it “full time”. That is, can you reassure me that you are still devoting the bulk of your intellectual and imaginative powers to conducting original research (I’ve put money on you winning a Nobel prize 30 years from now) and only using your evenings and coffee breaks to compose this wonderful-sounding popular book?

  5. moshe says:

    That looks really excellent, I think I’ll make an exception and read a popular book about theoretical physics when this becomes available. Good luck!

  6. kent says:

    I want to buy one!

  7. Peter Coles says:

    Good luck with the book

    If you’re looking for quotes, try this one:

    “The future becomes the past, presently”

    Well, I like it anyway.

  8. Elliot Tarabour says:

    From the book website…

    “What would Maxwell’s Demon say to a Boltzmann Brain? ”

    Wouldn’t the correct answer be: ” DEWD”

    e.

  9. Kevin Colagio says:

    I think that if I read this, my head will explode.

    For just that reason, I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

    *sits down to wait patiently for it to be done.* Is it ready yet?

  10. Elliot Tarabour says:

    Hey I’ve got it. I’ll write the review now and then when the book actually comes out it can refer to the review as an arcane example of time-reversal.

    e.

  11. Matt says:

    Yay! There has been a popular-science-book-by-sean-carroll-shaped hole in the universe for far too long.

  12. Dave W says:

    I hope there will be a nod to the discussion thread between Kant and Einstein in which they develop/refute the concept that our minds may simply be so limited as to be incapable of perceiving time more flexibly than we do. Are there any physiological or psychological limitations on the direction of time? If there are, can we even develop language to talk about those limitations?

  13. Thor says:

    Very good! Looking forward to reading the book. Your essay on FQXI was pretty stimulating.

    P.S.: why do the Sean Caroll links at http://eternitytohere.com/ point to your old blog?

  14. Random person w/ random thought says:

    Re ch. 4… [in movie-preview guy’s voice] Newton 2: Einstein: This Time it’s Personal

    Sorry. My will is weak. Couldn’t resist.

  15. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    Looks very interesting, especially if the appendix is something I can hope to comprehend at least a little. Thanks!

  16. Neil B says:

    I don’t think I’ve yet gotten good answers to two points about the arrow of time. One, is the issue of interfering in a “time-reversed world” and how the changes in such a world undermine the credibility of arguing that the AoT is just relative. As I proposed earlier, what if I say, deflect a backwards-happening bullet so it “then” misses the barrel it “came out of” (but not yet in the view of the intruding other world relative to which the intrusion is benchmarked.) If that interference happens, the bullet maybe goes past the gun it should have come out of, runs into a tree etc. and then we have a ridiculous “past” that continues to get more wrecked as time (?) goes on. In principle, our world could be such a time-reversed world if there’s no true physical distinction (or one that matters to showing “legitimacy”, versus some distinctions about nuclear decay etc. that have equal “standing” regarding genuineness.) Yet now many of us can believe that an intervention from another world etc., regardless of what time flow they were in relative to us, could actually change our own past? Such questions are part of the foundational framing and can’t be brushed off from not being more directly operational expressions of what we already know.

    Also, considering how important it is regarding the arrow of time, is entropy rigorously defined? I mean, say I have some material and maybe radioactive (so what the atoms do in statistical mechanics is not all there is to it) is there really, a specific value of “entropy” for that? How could such a rigorous definition be made, and unlike energy or momentum we can’t (?) “put it into” something to measure in a simple way, like using final mass to show change in mass-energy etc. And especially about radioactivity, I mean really – I can have some stuff lying around very cold and lowest “entropy” and if it can radioactively decay, it can change and turn into other stuff etc.

  17. Eugene says:

    Sweet, I can’t wait to see you cross swords with Stephen Colbert!

    Good luck with the book!

  18. I just found a book by Huw Price second hand – Time’s Arrow and Archimedes Point. This is the guy who argued with Hawking in Nature some years back. Its a philosopher’s book but aimed at physicists. In general his book is a plea for taking time symmetry seriously, with all apparent arrows stemming from the Universe having low entropy at one end. As well as the usual stuff about entropy, cosmology, and the radiation arrow, he argues that “advanced action” is just what quantum mechanics needs to make it make sense. So quick opinion Sean – how is his stuff rated by heavyweight cosmologists like yourself ?

  19. CW says:

    If you want Oprah to endorse it, and I don’t think it’s entirely impossible, you really have to use a lot of analogies in your writing. I use an analogy of a deck of cards when describing what entropy is in open/closed systems. Although the milk/coffee analogy is good too. The egg is too simplistic.

    Remember, [b]a lot[/b] of analogies!

  20. CW says:

    Erm, the “a lot” is suppose to be in bold.

    And also, always describe what the possibilities would be if we reach the point of “understanding” (i.e. zero-pollution energy, unlimited food supply, cats and dogs living in harmony, etc.)

  21. greg says:

    Oh, I’m definitely going to look forward to picking this one up.

    As for marketing, I’m sure that this is something you can get all sorts of people to promote, like the folks over at skepticblog.com.

  22. Sean says:

    Andy, Huw Price is extremely smart and respected. Reading his papers was as important as anything in getting me to think about the arrow of time, and convincing me that there were puzzles conventional cosmology was sweeping under the rug.

    Thanks for all the encouragement, everyone! I will get back to writing now.

  23. Blake Stacey says:

    A popular science book from Sean “the physics one” Carroll? Well, it’s about ti—

    [A hook reaches in and pulls Blake off the blogo-stage]

  24. Sam Gralla says:

    Hi Sean,

    I would suggest including more philosophy. For example, you could discuss the classic argument for God via the impossibility of traversing the infinite. I’m suggesting this not so much because the subject matter begs it, but because the subject matter can accommodate it and you are very good at that sort of thing.

    In general this looks like a great read. One nice thing about entropy, compared to the rest of physics, is that there aren’t that many equations. It’s really a simple physical idea more than anything else. I wonder what the scope of popular books on the topic looks like.

    -Sam

  25. randomeda says:

    Hi,

    Interesting stuff, but one of the mst intersting this i ever read on time was “the end of time”by julian Barbour. He has the fantastic notion that time does not exist. Maybe worth a chapter?