Science Seen Time One author Colin Gillespie helps you understand the physics of your world.

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Here and Now: New Words

Man in motion (myself, not the Night Ranger album), I could get conflicted (once again): The universe moves on, I see this, yet I know it never moves. It has no way to move. It has no time. At any given now it simply is; so now is all it ever has. It is a lot of flecks, no more, no less. This is clear from its Beginning. So: How do I move?

A fleck―new use for an old word―is a quantum of space. In the Beginning there was one; now there are vastly many. Each fleck is a fantastically small but precise volume. Each fleck has a relationship with next-door neighbors. Flimsy groups of these relationships make sub-atomic particles. I’m trying to see things this way. It’s not easy; yet it’s marvelously simple. We are made of space. By David Fleck,

Here’s my conflict: I know the universe must be unmoving. But what I see is: at time now, 8-followed-by-sixty-digits tocks―an exact number, if I could stop the cosmic clock―after the Beginning, a thin wisp of fleck relationships is moving north on Albert Street. At this tock―another old word finding a new use; it’s the quantum of what we see as time―the wisp is looking for a parking spot. I am this wisp. Slowed down to tock time it moves in jerky jumps at fleck size. Why? Because, each tock, each fleck relationship gets shuffled.

New-fangled science-fiction? In truth, it’s neither new nor fiction. For example, as to fiction, here’s physicist Carlo Rovelli: ‘At small scales there should be quanta of space and quanta of time.’ And as to new, here’s Albert Einstein, who foresaw this sixty years ago:

I consider it entirely possible that physics cannot be based upon … continuous structures.  Then nothing will remain of my whole castle in the air including the theory of gravitation, but also nothing of the rest of contemporary physics.

I’m at the office of my publisher, Big Fizz, on Albert Street. It seems solid and unmoving, yet at fleck scale it is not. It, too, is a wisp of fleck relationships; they, too, take jerky jumps.

So does the cosmos move or is it static? The answer’s clear from the Beginning: Successive universes are like frames of 3-D movies. But instead of twenty frames per second there are twenty million trillion trillion trillion. No flicker will mar this show, we know, thanks to Max Planck who first conceived of fleck- and tock-scale physics around 1900.

Lost in thought, I fail to see the line of cars behind me. A Honda driver spins out by me with a curse and finger. Planck-scale viewing is the way to see what’s really going on . . . but not in traffic.

I find a spot. It’s tight, some thirty inches longer than my ’89 Miata. I edge in without complaint; tight is why the spot is open. And all the space I need for a Miata is a volume of three billion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion flecks. Or, as Max Planck would shortly say, 3 × 10105 of them.


Carlo Rovelli (2004), Quantum Gravity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 4;

Albert Einstein, letter to Michele Besso, 10 August 1954, see (in German) Einstein-Besso Correspondence: 1903 – 1955, Pierre Speziale (ed.) (1972), Paris: Hermann, p. 529; quoted (in English) at, for example,

Other reading:

Jim Baggott (2011), The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments, New York: Oxford University Press, ch. 39;

Planck units,

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