We achieve a life worth living by understanding how the cosmos achieved an existence worth existing.
This paper is a celebration of Martha Rogers, specifically her translation of patterns of the cosmos into theoretical principles and perspectives for nursing. In doing this, I revisit some of Einstein's main theoretical ideas about spacetime and relate them to Rogers' conceptual system, ontological and epistemic issues, and to future inquiry in nursing science.
I begin with a reflection on shifts in paradigms and an overview of Einstein's theories of special and general relativity. Einstein's theme of spacetime symmetry is highlighted and then related broadly to nursing and health. Two dominant frameworks of time are discussed in reference to the concept of broken symmetry in temporality, as it confronts nursing with metaphysical (ontological) questions - such as about life and death. Implications of Einstein's special relativity theory for nursing epistemology are also addressed what we can come to know within the limits of spacetime. I also mention loop quantum gravity theory in reference to temporality. I conclude with reflections on Einsteinian and Rogerian theory and need for continuing inquiry based on the underlying pattern of the person-environment process of health and well-being.
Rogers' (1970) Introduction to the Theoretical Basis of Nursing initiated a major shift in our paradigm of inquiry and practice. She revised views about human beings, environment, and health to motivate a new perspective different from the traditional mechanistic, biomedical model of health to a unitary view of the human-environment process in health and healing. Her nonlinear, unitary view of holism challenged the existing additive paradigm of holism.
Einstein challenged a major paradigm, the Newtonian view of space and time. According to Newtonian theory, gravitational forces act on a flat three-dimensional space to produce acceleration of objects. Gravity was an absolute and immediate force. In contrast, Einstein theorized that gravity was not a force but a mass-induced curvature of space; it followed a curved four-dimensional structure or a Minkowski spacetime manifold of events that combined space and time (Friedman, 2007). The element of time was introduced by Einstein's professor and mathematician Hermann Minkowski who, after reading Einstein's early papers on his 1905 theory of special relativity, "revealed important symmetries in time and space" (Siegfried, 2002, pp. 77, 245). In Minkowski spacetime, time is a fourth coordinate (along with the three dimensions of space) to describe a location in space. Einstein's 1915 theory of general relativity provided the explanation of how space and time were unified into spacetime by one of the most profound symmetries of nature - gravity. Because Einstein's explanation initially derived from unobservable patterns and mathematical equations, he preferred calling this theory of gravity an invention. Since then, of course, his invention has acquired the empirical support to regard it a theory if not a law.
The Bucket Experiment and Shifting Spacetime Perspectives
Isaac Newton's 1689 Bucket Experiment illustrates shifts in thinking about the universe over the centuries (Dainton, 2010). For the experiment, imagine a bucket filled with water suspended from a tightly wound rope. Release the rope and the bucket spins. At first only the bucket spins and the water surface remains flat. Then, the water spins and its surface becomes concave as its center is drawn down into the bucket. The water continues to spin for a while, even when the bucket stops spinning. Newton used this experiment in part to argue that the physical effect (the concavity of the water) of the water's rotation occurred not in relation to the objects nearby, but in relation to an absolute space.
Three centuries after Newton conducted this experiment, physicists still debate over possible explanations of the underlying process that bends the water (Greene, 2004). Newton proposed an absolutist view of space: He depicted space as an absolute entity that presses against the water and alters its shape (Maudlin, 2012). Then in the 1800s, the Austrian physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach employed a relationalist view of space to explain the water's spin as caused by its relationship to the matter and objects in space, although he did not offer an explanation as to exactly how the far away objects in space could influence the water. Inspired by Mach's relationalist view, Einstein (1936, 1949) thought that gravity might have a role in how spatial objects influence the water, and that Newton had "mistaken the gravitational field for an absolute space" (Rovelli, 2004, p. 56). Einstein rejected Newton's view that gravitational effects occurred instantaneously. The infinite velocity of gravity as required by Newton's view conflicted with Einstein's 1905 discovery of special relativity where nothing could exceed the speed of light.
Special Relativity. Einstein's 1905 theory of special relativity was built on two principles: 1. The fixed velocity of the speed of light at 186,000 miles per hour (independent of the motion of the source of the light and speed of the observers); and 2. The relativity principle (today it's called a symmetry law) that explains why observers moving at uniform (non-accelerating) speeds do not discern movement. This is so because the laws in two reference frames of constant speed have symmetry; they remain the same for both observers. Einstein's "great insight" was that these two principles worked together (Greene, 2004) to make it the case that there is no objective point in space for deciding when an event occurs; this depends upon the motion of the observer.
General Relativity. After a decade of intense mathematical and theoretical work, including pondering the bucket experiment, in 1915 Einstein proposed his theory of general relativity (Gribanov, 1987). This theory was "general" in that it applied to all frames of movement, accelerated as well as inertial (uniform), based on that deep symmetry of nature, gravity. The force felt from gravity is the same force that occurs in accelerated motion (as with the unwinding rope). Einstein posited that gravity was a mass-induced curvature of spacetime; the larger the mass, the greater the curvature and gravitational "pull" of objects toward the center of that mass. Objects fall toward the center of a mass along curved spacetime. (Einstein's invention of general relativity was facilitated by 19th century mathematician Bernard Riemann who described a geometry of curved surfaces, unlike Euclidean geometry where parallel lines never crossed.) The spinning rope exerted a "localized" gravitational force, which bent the water toward the center of the bucket. So today, whether scholars subscribe to the relationalist or absolutist view of spacetime, they acknowledge that symmetries of nature are foundational in Einstein's relativity theories.
Symmetry and Health
To sum up, then, Einstein's (1936, 1949) theories employed laws of symmetry in nature. Einstein's 1905 theory of special relativity describes a symmetry between two objects in inertial (non-accelerating) frames rendering a person unable to discern which object is moving, such as when riding on the subway and seeing the people on the platform "pass by." Einstein's 1915 theory of general relativity describes a symmetry between objects in an accelerated frame under the influence of the gravitational field as in a free fall or orbit. In free fall, one is a "co-mover with gravity," moving along the curvature of space, unable to discern whether one is accelerating through spacetime or spacetime is accelerating as gravity through the person (Gowan, 2014).
There is a parallel notion of symmetry between Einstein's principle of relativity and Rogers' principle of integrality:
* Within Einstein's 1915 theory, there is an unavoidable relativity in how observers are connected to their environment such that space and time are no longer viewed as distinct entities but instead as spacetime. Travel by the laws of symmetry, when one is a co-mover with the gravitational field as in free fall or orbit, is smooth and the force of gravity is undetectable--undetectable that is until a thrust of acceleration (change in velocity) breaks the symmetry of gravity, where the free fall ends and can change the direction of movement. On a more local level, for example, a person can break the symmetry of special relativity by sticking her arm outside the window of a moving car and becoming acutely aware of motion through space.
* Within Rogers' (1990, 1992) theory, there is an unavoidable integrality in how human beings are connected to their environment in health patterning such that this became her person-environment process. There is a symmetry between person and environment whereby we're hardly aware of being in health and in process with our environment --until the pattern is perturbed in some way. This new pattern, then, may be experienced as illness or disability.
Broken Symmetries as Areas of Inquiry
Physicists study broken symmetries as a way to discover symmetry (Siegfried, 2002). Many symmetries in nature are hidden from us, so we are often more familiar with broken symmetries. For example, magnets have a symmetry where initially its particles are randomly oriented. Heating the magnet breaks this symmetry, and when cooled, the particles within the magnet become oriented familiarly in one direction. A steam cloud loses its symmetry when it cools and turns into water and then ice particles. It is thought that the four forces in the Standard Model of the universe (strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravity) were once united but emerged out of the broken symmetry that occurred as the universe began cooling after the Big Bang (Siegfried, 2002).
Broken symmetry may be a path to discovering healthful processes. In the human sciences, our approach to knowledge typically has been to first acquire understanding of the normal, for example in physiological or emotional development, before studying the abnormal and pathological. But perhaps another approach to understanding health and well-being (nursing symmetries) is by studying "broken" symmetries as encountered in nursing practice and theories. Symmetry in the person-environment process of health, when broken, may generate palpable health problems and acute experiences of illness. Nurses are equipped to both study and address these broken symmetries, or asymmetries in human beings.
The Asymmetry of Temporality and Nursing Ontology
Although we live under nature's laws of symmetry, gravity in particular, our lives are also influenced by broken symmetries. A major asymmetry in life--and one that nurses and other scientist have studied derives from a broken symmetry where space and time have become disconnected. This is the experience of time or temporality (Dainton, 2010; Siegfried, 2002).
Within this temporal perspective, we perceive time as unlike space. We don't talk about space passing, or the march of space, or the flow of space in the way we talk about time--time passing, time marches on, the flow of time, the directionality of time.
There is an arrow of time that pierces through our lives such that what is future will become present, what is present will become past, and what is past was once present. However, this classical view of time in inconsistent with Einstein's relativity theory, where there is no stable or unique present existing in the now in a three-dimensional space with a distinct past and future (Brading, 2015; Dainton, 2010).
This perception of the flow of time and time passage is attributed to a broken symmetry that some physicists posit to have occurred because of certain initial conditions of the universe as it cooled. Just how a temporally asymmetric world has emerged from time-symmetric laws of nature is a very old and still unsolved puzzle. We perceive various asymmetries (Dainton, 2010):
* Entropic asymmetry - According to the second law of thermodynamics, disorder increases over time in closed systems.
* Explanatory asymmetry - We tend to explain later events by earlier events, and not the reverse.
* Knowledge asymmetry - We have detailed and reliable knowledge of what happened in the past, more so than of what will happen in the future.
* Action asymmetry -We deliberate and worry over what to do tomorrow, not what to do yesterday (though we often worry about what we did yesterday!)
* Experience asymmetry--We experience our lives unfolding in a present that seems to move forward toward the future. We "remember" the past but not the future.
Now, it may seem ridiculous to point out these asymmetries to those of us accustomed to living by a perception where time flows from a past, to a present, and on to a future. But from another temporal framework based on spacetime symmetry where space and time are not disconnected, the asymmetries listed above are puzzling.
Two Frameworks of Time There are two common frameworks about time passage, originating from philosopher J.M.E. McTaggart in 1908 but perhaps even further back to 4th century BCE (Dainton, 2010). The A-Series framework posits a dynamic view where time appears to run from a distant past up to the present and on into the future. In this framework, things seem to come and go, and events hold properties of pastness, presentness, or futurity. The present, whether or not it is relativized to a certain inertial frame, is privileged as having concrete reality. However, McTaggart claimed that the A-view cannot exist because paradoxically at any given time, since everything starts off as being future, it follows that an event must be past, present and future all at once as it moves through time.
The B-Series framework, more commonly called the Block view of the universe and the one most subscribed to by scholars (Brading, 2015), posits that there is no actual passage of time; instead all events already exist all at once, in a Minkowski manifold of spacetime. The spacetime symmetry postulated in Einstein's theory of special relativity is reflected in the Block framework of time (Dainton, 2010). Time is like space: It does not flow, it just is. Now and then exist all at once, as much as here and there exist at the same time.
The B-series is often depicted as a rectangular block where all events in time exist at once. There is no specific past, present, future and events are merely earlier or later than each other. The block (as the universe) doesn't exist in time but rather time exists within the block. All moments in time are equally real. There is no moving or changing present (Dainton, 2010, p. 7; Davies, 2014) according to some primal or fundamental "time" external to our world through which we move for our past, present and future.
Contemporary philosopher of physics, Carlo Rovelli, further describes a view about time (and space) according to "loop quantum gravity" theory, which brings together ideas from general relativity theory and quantum mechanics. According to this theory, neither time nor space is absolute and continuous: "There is no longer space that 'contains' the world, and there is no longer time 'in which' events occur ... The passage of time is .born in the world itself in the relationship between quantum events that comprise the world and are themselves the source of time" (Rovelli, 2016, p. 44). Further, laws once thought to be fundamental may actually undergo evolution (!) in a universe whose fate is not equilibrium but self-organization (Smolin, 2013). In words we can imagine Rogers to have uttered, Rovelli (2016) states: "At the minute scale of the grains of space, the dance of nature does not take place to the rhythm of the baton of a single orchestral conductor, at a single tempo: every process dances independently [--and unpredictably!--] with its neighbors, to its own rhythm" (p. 44). Our temporal perspectives, then, may emerge out of our many interactions and integrality with the environment, out of Rogers' (1980) person-environment process or Rovelli's (2016) "elementary processes wherein quanta of space and matter continually interact with one another" (p. 44).
Einstein remained puzzled about the distinction between theoretical understandings of time and the everyday experience of time, but he generally rejected distinctions between past, present, and future. His most descriptive testimony to this view is found in an often-quoted letter he wrote to the family of a very close friend, Michele Besso, who had just died. In the letter, Einstein wrote "And now he has preceded me briefly in bidding farewell to this strange world. This signifies nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one" (cited in Dainton, 2010, p. 408, quoted in Hoffman, 1972, p. 257-258.). Einstein died soon after this.
Rogers likely expressed similar views about death similar to those of Einstein. I say "likely" because as a doctoral student, I can only recall my fellow Rogerians remarking that Rogers' view of death as an illusion was so fervent that she refused to use the word, death. The idea was that the connotation of death as a final end to the human energy field deeply conflicted with her ontological view of unitary human beings and misrepresented reality. Whether or not Rogers ever actually expressed these ideas, it seems consistent with her philosophy and cosmology of nursing, as drawn from "Einstein's ideas about relativity and the unity of spacetime as a foundation for her postulate of pandimensionality" (Butcher, 2015).
Other scholars have expressed ontological perspectives similar to those of Rogers. Theoretical physicist Davies (2014) suggested that if we could explain away the flow of time, we would have fewer significant worries: Worries about death would become as rare as worries about one's birth; there would be less urgency about time; expectation and nostalgia would not be so prevalent; and we would no longer fret about the future or grieve for the past (p. 13).
Why do we experience these asymmetries when the laws of our physical universe are symmetrical? We were able to shift our pre-Copernican views of the solar system, but not so with our pre-Einsteinian views of space and time. This question continues to be a puzzle for physicists and philosophers alike. Some physicists and philosophers of physical science have even suggested that our laws are not so timeless or absolute, that "laws of nature evolve in time" (Smolin, 2013, p. 249). Regardless of this ongoing puzzle, it is likely that our asymmetrical temporal experiences are relevantly linked to health and well-being. Temporal experience has been a concept of interest to nurses and other scientists such as psychologists, as well as poets and musicians.
Historically, Rogerian nurses have studied human interactions with time and space as related to health (for example see Malinski, 1986). Time asymmetries are vividly experienced in various ways relevant to nursing, for example, while waiting--for a diagnosis, for pain medication, for a communication or a visit; or when ambulation is altered, on bedrest; in reminiscence; and across the lifespan from youth to growing older and in dying. We're all familiar with the unhealthful time pressure and narrowed time perspectives that accompany crises. Alternatively, there is the rejuvenating sense of timelessness that characterizes vacations or being engrossed in a valued activity - where spacetime symmetry is unbroken and our "travel through space" is smooth. Still, something in our person-environment process breaks spacetime symmetry in a way that alters our awareness of ourselves and our environment. Rogerian nurses possess the conceptual and empirical tools for inquiry into these health-relevant experiences of our movement through spacetime.
The Cosmic Speed Limit and Nursing Epistemology
The speed of light, as postulated in Einstein's theory of special relativity, has epistemic implications. What we can know about life and death, and our universe is limited by the speed of light, our "cosmic speed limit" (Greene, 2004). In a sense, history moves at the speed of light (Norton, 2015). The symmetry of gravity converts space to time (Gowan, 2014) such that the combined speeds of movement through space and movement through time never exceed the speed of light. As speed through space increases, time dilation occurs and slows time to where, theoretically, at the speed of light, time stops. So, spacetime symmetry enforces a cosmic speed limit on what is knowable and observable about ourselves and the universe.
Philosophers of physics use a light cone as a visual aid for understanding this cosmic speed limit and the trajectory of events that are knowable, as they propagate outward in waves through the geometry of spacetime. As light travels, it follows the curvature of spacetime and "lights up" the geometric structure of spacetime. Spacetime has a cone-like structure even in the dark. Every event in spacetime has a light cone. When a pulse of light is emitted (that is, when an event occurs) at a particular point, the light spreads in sphere-like circles like ripples on a pond. The expanding sphere of light marks out a cone-shaped area. The region within the cone represents the set of events traveling at or below the speed of light that we can know or influence. The region beyond our light cone is called the "elsewhere" (Norton, 2015).
Spacetime is filled with light cones, each of which mark all of what can be known about that event as information is received at or under the speed of light. However, despite this cosmic speed limit on what we can know, we can imagine the existence of events (for example the death of a star or the birth of a planet and other events) outside the light cone. Although reality is never entirely observable at any given point in time, we can contemplate the elsewhere and form metaphysical beliefs about the unseen. Those who theorize about the unobservable--like Rogers and Einstein--provide a window into future possibilities. While there is a limit on our epistemology (as a science), we also have an ontology and metaphysical views (as a philosophy), all of which keep us open to discovering new knowledge and nursing practices (as a basic and professional discipline).
Conclusions: From Metaphysical Questions to Empirical Inquiry
By appreciating the limits and possibilities posed by spacetime symmetry, we come to value our theories and philosophies as placeholders of conceptual inventions waiting for empirical exploration. Physicist Sachs (2010) stated that the revolutionary idea in Einstein's theory of general relativity was that it provided us with a "spacetime language system that represents the mutual interaction of all of matter in the universe" (p. 73). Although physicists often speak in a mathematical language, Rogers (1992) recognized the relevance of spacetime for nursing in terms of the person-environment process characterized by openness, pattern, and pandimensionality. This metaphysical language can be translated for future empirical inquiry.
Einstein's (1936, 1949) concept of spacetime motivates metaphysical questions for nurses, notably through the lens of Rogers' (1990) science of unitary human beings. The nature of nursing is such that it must wrestle with questions about life and death, the nature of human beings and health, meaning and purpose in life. As nurses, we employ both metaphysical as well as the empirical systems of knowledge and belief in our work with patients and families. Rogers' science of unitary human beings helps us make meaningful links between the cosmos and our personal lives and professional work. She is admired and beloved for this.
Rogers' (1970) insights stretched our imaginations toward new ways of thinking about human beings, environment, health and nursing practice. Nature's laws of symmetry, embedded in Einstein's theories, are congruent with Rogers' deepest insights about human beings in relation to the cosmos, as she wrote about the "infinite field or manifold" and about the pandimensionality (of human beings) as a "non-linear domain without spatial or temporal attributes" (Rogers, 1992, p. 29).
In stating this, Rogers was challenging us to imagine reality beyond the asymmetries in conventional thought, to account for the underlying pattern so relevant to human health and well-being, and to advance a new paradigm of nursing.
Looking ahead, Einstein's general theory of relativity is a theory of symmetry where moving through space means moving through time; gravity is the way matter distorts spacetime. But as Siegfried (2002) explains, general relativity is a classical theory that is not based upon quantum features of the atom. So, it is conceivable that the quantum particle may extend ideas about the 'field' as fundamental. More recently, theoretical physicists have proposed loop quantum gravity theory (LQG). Unlike the standard model, LQG theory brings together quantum mechanics and general relativity--the very small and the very big--in new understandings of the evolving universe and spacetime. And what is it but time that "sits at the center of the tangle of problems raised by the intersection of gravity, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics" (Rovelli, 2016, p. 63)! Physicists expect to find other dimensions far beyond the standard spacetime dimensions we experience--maybe reaching pandimensionality. Rogerian nurses will be ready.
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Pamela G. Reed, RN, MSN, MA, PhD, FAAN
The University of Arizona
College of Nursing, Community and Systems Heath Sciences Division
1305 N. Martin/PO Box 210203
Tucson, Arizona 85721-0203
(1) from Newberger Goldstein, R. (2014).
(2) See Smolin (2013) and Rovelli (2003) for two highly readable sources on this theory competing with string theory about quantum gravity, and in a manner strikingly consistent with Rogerian views about open systems and ongoing change.
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|Author:||Reed, Pamela G.|
|Publication:||Visions: The Journal of Rogerian Nursing Science|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2016|
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