The Illusory Nature of Time: II
“And there we were, all in one place
- a generation lost in space,
with no time left to start again.”
Don McLean, ‘American Pie’.
For thousands of years sages and mystics have been telling us that time is an illusion.
Recently scientists discovered that at levels below Planck Time, even the concept of time drops off the scientific agenda.
Here, in very simple terms, is an explanation for why that is. As an objective cosmic reality, time literally does not exist.
Confused? You won’t be – read on …
Taking a Step Backwards
Picture the scene: broken glass littered all over the floor, small orange thing flapping around on soaking wet carpet. Suddenly glass, water, orange thing lift off the ground and leap towards the table, assembling themselves as a goldfish swimming in a bowl – just as a cat leaping in backwards through the window brushes past the goldfish bowl, off the table and out through the door in reverse gear.
Couldn’t happen? Course it couldn’t, the universe isn’t built that way.
|Then what way is the universe built, if the total matter and energy content is identical at both ends of that little episode but it can only happen in one direction? What is this ‘arrow of time’?|
That one’s actually quite simple. Imagine a bag full of grasshoppers: open the bag, and in no time the little critters are everywhere, heading in every direction. Reversing the process, getting them back into the bag, would be nigh on impossible. It certainly wouldn’t happen by chance.
Every physical or chemical reaction, including those in biological processes, involves energy transfers in which some of that energy gets away. The nuclear reactions in stars are driven by the release of energy, the energy that comes to us as heat and light from the sun. Scientists call this increasing entropy, also The Second Law of Thermodynamics.
That lost energy scatters in every direction, making the reverse process about as likely as all those grasshoppers obligingly stepping back into that bag. [Reversing one of those reactions requires more energy, so there’s always a net energy loss.] The one-way street of time is the route taken by those grasshoppers and that energy alike: out, never back in; scattering, never regrouping.
… And One More Time Around …
Numerous studies point to particles of matter being light wrapped round in closed loops. The book Tapestry of Light shows how this precisely fits a whole spread of proven scientific facts. Here, too, some of that steadily circulating energy can be released ‘into the wild’ by one-way reactions – such as two atoms joining to form a molecule, releasing some of the electron energy from each of those atoms.
So there we have the flow of time. It’s actually those energy flows, scattering randomly from events that thus can’t run in reverse (since they’d need a random focused input of energy – a contradiction) or circulating round to form material particles. The rate of those energy flows – the speed of light – defines the rate of time.
Or does it? Let’s take a closer look.
Anything You Can Do …
And that’s what gives us our measure of time, whether it’s an atomic clock or marks on a burning candle – or even the synapses in your brain or mine, giving us an estimate of time. The faster rate of external events would be precisely balanced by the faster rate of every measure of time that you can imagine, including our own perception. If something happens twice as fast, and your clock runs twice as fast, you won’t notice the difference.
Those energy flows* could speed up by a hundred, a thousand, a million times – or, conversely, slow down by any of those factors – and it would make no detectable difference whatever to the universe. Our experience, and the way of being of everything around us, would be absolutely unchanged.
[* Yes, we’re talking about the speed of light here.]
This is because what we refer to as ‘timing’ a process or event is actually a comparison of two distances travelled by energy flows: around the process/event and around the ‘timing’ device, whatever that may be. That comparison doesn’t change, whatever the speed of those energy flows.
In short: any externally imposed ‘rate of time’ would be 100% irrelevant to the workings of the material universe. So inclusion of that concept in our world view is a red herring, it simply gets in the way of an objective analysis of material reality. Time, in that sense, does not exist.
[This reasoning, of course, applies equally to the ‘proper time’ of objects in different frames of reference, for those concerned with relativity theory.]
How the – ? What the – ? Who the – ?
But … but … but there is time. We experience it every day, every minute, every second.
Each reinforcing our perception of the steady progress of time – whether it be minutes, days, or thousands of years.
Yes. We experience sequencing of events – but we also experience sequencing of the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and the sequencing of notes on the piano. Neither of them involves time. We also have the sensation of duration: we can even check that sensation against a clock – but that’s just comparing the distance travelled by energy flows around the circuits in our brain with distance around energy-flow circuits in our clock. Two distances again.
So – dammit, what is the thing we experience as time?
It’s the mind rationalising a rather greater (though actually very simple) cosmic principle – just as the mind rationalises some electromagnetic frequencies as colours. That’ll have to wait for another time – but you could try reading this paper in the meantime (especially the final paragraph). [You'll need to register, free, here first.]
If you’d like to be informed about future posts: subscribe (free).