Rustie Lin UC Berkeley CS, Distributed Systems, Blockchain

Time is fake

"Time has been invented in the universe so that everything would not happen at once."

Distributed systems

It all started with researching distributed systems safety, and the tools used to test it: namely Jepsen and WANem. The concept of time in the coordination of systems has always interested me. Especially that of distributed systems and its extension to the more philosophical.

The universe is thrashing

When your computer hits a bottleneck in compute, everything else seems to slow down. That’s because every process on your computer is sharing time.

When your computer hits a bottleneck in memory, everything also seems to slow down. That’s due to consistent paging in and out of memory - thrashing.

These two scenarios are bottlenecks in the handling of information. It’s clear how memory (and the memory hierarchy) represent information. Compute can also represent information, just over time. And the common way to handle information overload is to slow down time. To keep the flow of new information consistent as we encounter high density pockets of information. For computer hardware, there’s a physical bottleneck - and upper bound on the information throughput that is processable.

The universe also has this inherent bottleneck - a bottleneck on the rate of information processing - the speed of light.

As you get close to a black hole, the immense mass bends space time and theories of special relativity suggest that time slows down for you. Mass is information, at least according to Maxwell. In other words, in an attempt to process so much information, the universe is thrashing.

But this phenomena only occurs to the observer, which begs the question: is the universe thrashing, or is the observer’s observation (or the observer themselves) thrashing? Is there such a distinction?

Exploring Space(time?)

It was a peaceful summer evening sitting with the family and listening to bossa nova on Spotify. But my mind once again drifted to thoughts of the essence of space and time. The music playing through the speakers has itself no understood notion of time. Yet the delayed playback of the music brought about its melodies and harmonies. Downloaded music is just a collection of bits, existing all at once in space. But by interpreting it as a data stream with a particular bitrate, imbuing it with an artificial notion of change and time, we’re able to enjoy the music fully as humans. Imagine being handed a CD or USB with music (or anything else) loaded on it and being able to fully understand it simply by glancing (or sensing?) it, perhaps akin to static analysis.

In any case, the encoding of data to a physical form separable from time reminded me of that work of Roman philosopher Lucretius. He stated that the universe consisted of atoms, and that a (random) atomic swerve randomized their otherwise deterministic movement. Movement is of course closely tied with the notion of time, for there is no motion without the passage of time. Perhaps then we could view motion as an artifact of the limited processing capacity of the human brain: needing to invent notions of time and change to process an otherwise static universe. Perhaps all atoms, as Lucretius suggests, exist eternally. But their movement caused by natural trajectory and atomic swerve are artifacts of both human presence and intervention. The human brains’ processing of the universe inadvertantly invented time.