Some of the prettiest mathematics ever invented was used to explain classical mechanics, where the law of force and action principles are utilized. This gave rise to world-changing ideas, such as E = mc2. The math has a beautiful symmetry: time-reversal invariance. The equations look the same going forward in time, as they do going backwards in time. They describe nature as a perfect palindrome (unlike the imperfection imparted by the punctuation in my title, which serves to give meaning), like a perfect propagating wave, oscillating indefinitely without dissipation.
So pretty is this math, so beautiful are its consequences, that there have been arguments in the scientific community as to whether time goes forward or not. In essence, these are high-level arguments on causality: determinism versus free will. The quaintness of these arguments, and the ability of scientists to focus relentlessly on the consequences of their theories without quarter, has no analog I know of in any other field of human endeavor. If you think I am exaggerating the heat and significance of these arguments, I recommend to you a review of the life and work of Ludwig Boltzmann who, with a world-changing idea, explained the origin of time. Indeed, there are still some scientists who fuss and fret about this. But of course the simple act of arguing argues against the thesis: convincing one means something has changed, and is hence irreversible, not reversible. (more…)