We propose that the Chern-Simons invariant of the Ashtekar-sen connection is the natural internal time coordinate for classical and quantum cosmology. The reasons for this are a number of interesting properties of this functional, which we describe here. (1) It is a function on the gauge and diffeomorphism invariant configuration space, whose gradient is orthogonal to the two physical degrees of freedom, in the metric defined by the Ashtekar formulation of general relativity. (2) The imaginary part of the Chern-Simons form reduces in the limit of small cosmological constant, Λ, and solutions close to DeSitter spacetime, to the York extrinsic time coordinate. (3) Small matter-field excitations of the Chern-Simons state satisfy, by virtue for the quantum constraints, a functional Schrödinger equation in which the matter fields evolve on a DeSitter background in the Chern-Simons time. We than propose this is the natural vacuum state of the theory for Λ ≠ 0. (4) This time coordinate is periodic on the configuration space of Euclideanized spacetimes, due to the large gauge transformations, which means that physical expectation values for all states in non-perturbative quantum gravity will satisfy the KMS condition, and may then be interpreted as thermal states. (5) Forms for the physical Hamiltonians and inner product which support the proposal are suggested, and a new action principle for general relativity, as a geodesic principle on the connection superspace, is found.
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