jeremy_bernstein's picture
Professor Emeritus, Stevens Institute of Technology; Former Staff Writer, The New Yorker

Go Small

When confronted with a question like this the tempatation is to "go big" and respond with something,say, from Einstein's theory of relativity. Instead I will go small. When Planck introduced his quantum of action h at the turn of the 20th century he realized that this allowed for a new set of natural units. For example the Planck time is the square root of Planck's constant times the garvitational constant divided by the fifth power of the speed of light. It is the smallest unit of time anyone talks about but is it a "time?" The problem is that these constants are just that. They are the same to a resting observer as to a moving one. But the time is not. I posed this as a"divinette" to my "coven" and Freeman Dyson came up with a beautiful answer. He tried to construct a clock that would measure it. Using the quantum uncertainties he showed that it would be consumed by a black hole of its ownmaking. No measurement is possible. The Planck time ain't a time or it may be beyond time.