Time is considered a linear, constant, fundamental, physical parameter that we so obviously can observe. And we feel very certain about what time is; we feel like we really, truly know what time is. Right?
But when one really investigates it, time can show itself to be totally illusive, lending itself to being all kinds of things which it is not! Is this crazy talk? Well, read on and tell me later what you think.
Before we get started with this, let me ask you a few questions. And take them with a grain of salt, please. They are simply meant to get the juices flowing in your skull a little bit, so that you are more ready to embrace what’s to come 🙂 What I am going to do, just to provoke you a little bit extra, is to provide my own, short, provocative answer after each question. This is supposed to stir you up a little bit. We’ll see if it does. Later on, I will get to explaining my answers. So…question time!
- What is time, actually? Can you provide a solid answer?
– Time is movement.
- If everything in the universe froze over, and stood completely still, would time still exist? Even if your clock didn’t move, and the Earth didn’t revolve around itself nor the Sun. Would time still exist? (Very hypothetical, of course, but..what is your answer, nevertheless?)
– No, time would not exist if everything froze over.
- You may have heard that “time is relative”, as described by Einstein’s theory of relativity, which he had a dream of 120 years ago…Is this theory of relativity just plain obvious to you? Does it make total sense…or not?
– Yes, it kind of makes sense.
- Is time an artificial construct, or is it a real, fundamental part of reality? Does it stand on its own, even without clocks and us to interpret it?
– Yes, it is an artificial construct. The underlying, fundamental nature of time is movement and we have generated the concept of “time” from the periodicity and fixed coordination of these movements.
- What defines past and future?
– It doesn’t make sense, bro. Go home, you’re obviously drunk!
- Does time exists? (Just bear with me and answer the question!)
– Yes and no..what do you mean? You’re still drunk, aren’t you?
So, now we’re ready to go through some logical derivations together! Let’s start off with speaking about time, as it would be spoken of by a strict believer in time; as being a linear, solid, fixed and an obvious part of reality. This could be anyone – Even you and me! One such person would argue that one can clearly see that time is all this: Real, fundamental and so forth… And actually, it’s almost too obvious for us to even bother thinking about it, isn’t it? Time obviously exists as a real, physical thing! Just have a look at how we age, how our clocks spin continuously or how the Sun so evidently rises every morning, over the horizon, only to get swallowed up again every night. “Time definitely exists, so stop all the crazy”. Such a person might say this. LOL!
Or, if this person was a little more strict with their definitions, they may cite the more “proper” definition of time as the second:
[The second is the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the Cesium-133 atom.]
In older times, and still today of course, time is also defined by the cyclical movement of Earth. One rotation is a day; some more rotations is a month; and even more of them will make a year; a decade; a century; a millennium. And so forth… I believe you know the story of time, right?
Apparently, today, we define time a bit more specifically as a number of cyclic, periodic movements of a Cesium atom and its two ground state levels…
But nevertheless, it can bring us to say, in a general sense, that
Time is defined as a change in relative positions of objects with respect to each other. Simpler put: Time is movement!
Time being defined as “movement”, huh?! – That’s already quite a bit different that what we usually perceive time to be, is it not? But think about it: Without movement, how could we talk about time?
Here are some bonus questions to help you to ponder this:
- Without the rotational movement of the Earth, how would you define a day, a month and a year?
– Argh! I don’t know!
- Without the movement of the ground state of the Cesium atom, how would you define a second?
– Not possible, bro!
- Without the movement of yourself, from your mother’s womb to the grave, how would you define a lifetime..?
– Ha ha, good one! But I guess I couldn’t…bro.
- Without moving faster, how would you “hurry”, getting somewhere in less time? Without moving slower, how would you “slow down”, getting somewhere in more time? Why is “slow” and “fast” movements correlated with time so blatantly obviously?!
– Good question! And quite silly too… It does, however, make it quite obvious that time is very closely related to movement. Fast movement = Fast time… Seems legit! LOL!
Very important insights, about reality itself, can be deducted from this knowledge.
For one thing, the fact that time is movement, means that reality is unbelievably well coordinated and disciplined, if you will. What I mean by this is, that even though movement is the basis of time, not just any movement is sufficient. It is always 9,192,631,770 fluctuations that occur in one second. And there are 86,400 seconds in one day, which means, that reality always makes the following number of Cesium ground state fluctuations in one day:
It never happens that reality makes a little less or a little more Cesium ground state fluctuations in a day, than this calculated number… For this reason it never happens that we end up experiencing the Sun rising and setting any more or less than exactly once, before we have counted this particular number of ground state fluctuations.
1 Earth rotation = 794, 243, 384, 928, 000 Cesium ground state fluctuations
It’s almost too simple: We would never, ever, go for what we feel is a ten minute run and come back to see that the Earth has rotated one full cycle! The insight is thus:
Reality always maintains fixed proportions between the pace at which things can move. This is what makes “time” seem linear.
“Slow” things are “slow”, only because the rest of reality maintains its relative pace, not slowing down to match speeds with the “slow”.
Similarly, “fast” things are “fast”, also only because reality continues to keep up its pace, never trying to catch up to whatever’s “fast”.
Reality sticks to its pace, relatively. The pace of Cesium atom ground state fluctuations never changes, with respect to everything else.
Bonus question round #2:
- If everything in existence, from the largest of galaxies to the smallest of subatomic particles, were slowed down to half speed of the speed of what they are now moving at – Would time also go half as fast?
– No! If everything was slowed down to half speed, the second would still be 9,192,631,770 fluctuations of the Cesium atom’s ground states. It would take “twice as long” to complete this number of fluctuations… But, it would also take twice as long for us to count it, because we are half as fast.
OK! Enough with the highly hypothetical nonsense talk! How about something else now, which makes more sense, and has more of a solid, physical background – Theory of relativity!
If you don’t know about theory of relativity already, let me just summarize some basic things about the special theory of relativity:
- When moving faster, time goes slower.
- When moving faster, objects contract, becoming shorter.
- When moving faster, you have more fun.
OK, the last one is not strictly true in a physical sense, but nevertheless, it’s true in my experience!
But why it is, that it seems so ridiculous for us to hear this “time is relative” nonsense? No one I’ve ever met has ever expressed that they thought this made any sense – Not at the university, not at birthday parties, nor anywhere else. People in general find it very counter intuitive, that time goes slower when you move faster. But it’s a fact: It’s been proven countless times! And coordination between real satellites, used for navigation and communication, have to take this into account, in order not to get totally screwed up. They simply move so fast that this stuff matters. In real life!
But something, which we have a much easier time understanding, is relative movement!
Can you feel some pieces falling into place now? (It’s your frontal lobe getting swollen from all the juices flowing to the area right behind your face 😉 It means that you are getting smarter…I think.)
Anyway, the point is, that we can easily relate to the fact that some things move faster than others. It’s so easy! This brings me to my next question…:
Question round #3…4? I lost count..:
- If time is relative movement of objects with respect to each other, and that movement is relative, how come we find it hard to acknowledge that time is also relative?
– I’ll tell you: Because we think of time, not as movement, but as something entirely different, something which exists on its own. This is our mistake, which we should correct (by reading stuff like this?). As soon as we see time for what it really is, movement, there’s no puzzle.
The full explanation of how space and “time” contract as speed increases, will have to wait for another time. It would take too much space and require serious calculations! For now, just consider that time actually is movement, and that a relative change in movement is very intuitive. Thus, relative time has become, at least a little more, intuitive.
One last thing, if time is movement, then what is the past and what is the future? Actually, let me make that a real question for you:
Question round #4:
- If Time = Movement, then what is past and future?
Past and future have always been hard to grasp, although we really feel like we know what they are. We feel that we know that stuff happened yesterday, and that something will happen tomorrow, or later today. It’s a no-brainer.
But given that time is actually just an effect of things taking up different positions in space relative to each other – What is the real answer?
The real answer is, that time doesn’t really exist on it’s own, an “past” and “future” are words that come out of this artificial construct. Only movement exists.
“Past” is some combination of positions of objects of reality which are different now…
“Future” is the recognition that relative positions in space of many different objects of reality, will be different as things are in motion.
This is obviously not how we think about past and future, but it is the truth. The way we do think about past and future is more like this:
“Past” is in our experience, a mind-related thing. When we experience a visual sensation of something, along with a feeling-sensation that corresponds to the auditive sensations of “I know this”, or “I remember”, then we view this mix of mind-phenomena as “past”.
The “future” is, in our experience, identical to the “past”. It’s also just a mix of mental images, sounds and bodily feelings.
Physically speaking, all times that ever existed was, and is, “now”. There is thus no past and future. They both were, and could be, but are not. At least not right now…
OK, that concludes all the stuff I would like to say about time at this given moment. I should mention, too, that naturally time is not completely useless. Although we see it for something which is existing on its own, as an independent property of reality, it is not. But regardless of this misunderstanding, it is useful!
With “time”, we can coordinate “when” we should meet up and not. And also, we know “when” to sing birthday songs for our friends and stuff like that. I like “time”, let that be known!
As a scientist, however, it is important to recognize, that we really don’t have any evidence that time is not just a manifest of movement. It’s simply the more realistic and factual point of view.
As “spiritual” human beings, if you will, it is also important to recognize this. Have you ever heard that we should learn how to live in the moment? Well, a good first start, is to realize what the moment is, and why no other option will suit us in the long run. As scientific meditators, we are always out to experience reality just like it is, not merely as we believe it to be. If we believe in past and future as if they were real, they can fill us with regret, sorrows, false hopes and fear. In other words: It’s not the life of a fulfilled human being…
Somewhere in between the blind beliefs of time and the total avoidance of the concept, exists a middle way. There always does. No, time does not exist. But still, I have been at this post for hours now, and it would be most reasonable if I stopped writing now. See? A perfect example of choosing the middle way with respect to time…
See you next time!