What Is Time? – Thoughts About The Construct

Something that has always intrigued me is “Time”. I could never adhere to it as a kid and college student, maybe it was the fact that my sleep timings have always been erratic. I do what I please basically, something that my parents just can’t stand. But there was always a deep underlining meaning to my blatant disregard of time.

To me, Time is just a construct. Just like money. It’s a man-made conception. Yet it is necessary just like money. Time was made mainly to give meaning to the occurrences in nature and to categorize and classify them as periodic, so that tasks can be accomplished, to remember things, to go to to meetings, do the dishes, go to sleep, wake up etc.

I found myself deeply pondering about this yesterday. So Time – It truly doesn’t really exist. I know that is unfathomable but yes, time actually doesn’t exist. We just measure things based on clocks. What are clocks? Man made tools that just display numbers, of what should be called “Time” – based on sunrise and sunset. What we do is we relate physical occurrences with particular times on clocks to measure, remember and record. So it’s easier. So it has meaning. So it can be related to and re-collected. But in actual fact. Except the moment, the eternal moment there is nothing that exists. Or going further the only thing that is real is you experiencing your conscious state, progressively.

Meaning we think it moves, we think it is going forward, we think it is progressing.

Our brain just processes images as they progress. It seemingly moves forward but that is what we think. It is just existing, it is just being. There is no real motion of it. We move. We exert motion – that is moving. Planets move. They exert motion. Our brain is made to think that things move forward, that things keep moving towards something. It’s basic human conditioning. Stuff we were taught since we were kids. It really is just being. It is just existing. The way it should. The sun is moving, it sets and rises, the moon comes up at night. Those motions needed to be recorded and monitored so ancient humans invented the concept of “Time”.

Consider a world where there was no concept of time. What we would all experience is only the moment. There would be no necessary need to remember what happened in the past or contemplate about what would or could happen in the future. But yes to record, re-collect and remember is a vital part of the brain. So we attached numbers to it, to make it easier. Nothing more.

This is the mathematical definition of time.

“Time is an observed phenomenon, by means of which human beings sense and record changes in the environment and in the universe. A literal definition is elusive. Time has been called an illusion, a dimension, a smooth-flowing continuum, and an expression of separation among events that occur in the same physical location.”

It is observed. It is a means of sensing and recording changes in the environment. It is a creation to do that.

Time is a practical convenience in modern life. Numerous standards have been set up, allowing people to coordinate events and, in general, keep their lives running smoothly. The earth has been divided into so-called time zones that reflect the fact that high noon occurs at different times at different places on the planet.

Isaac Newton believed that time is continuous, and that it flows at an unchanging rate everywhere in the universe. He was wrong. This was accepted by most scientists until the Michelson-Morley experiment around the end of the 19th century, from which it was discovered that the speed of light is the same regardless of the direction of propagation, and regardless of the motion of the source. Albert Einstein considered this result an axiom, from which he derived the special and general theories of relativity. According to relativistic physics, the rate at which time passes depends on the relative motion between observers, and also on the strength of a gravitational or acceleration field.

Prehistoric man, by simple observation of the stars, changes in the seasons, day and night began to come up with very primitive methods of measuring time. This was necessary for planning nomadic activity, farming, sacred feasts, etc.

In Philosophy
In philosophy, this perhaps the most relevant quote by

Titus Lucretius Carus:

“The significance of things changes with the time.

Time doesn’t exist, but things go to the feeling of time.”

That pretty much sums up time doesn’t it. Time doesn’t exist but things go to the feeling of it. We feel like it exists. We feel like things are moving forward. They are perceptions inside our brains. Conditioned by our education and way we were taught to perceive it.

As Plato put it

“Time is eternity that sees its own implementations.”

What he is trying to say is, all that exists is the eternal moment, which has various interpretations.

You see these images that your brain processes must be allotted direction and specificity so that your brain can remember, so that it can re-access, so that it can say “Ok at 12:35 I moved my right hand, then I began to type, then I looked up at the television screen”. I can trace back my last three moves. I can remember, that was in the past. But remove the 12:35 from the statement and you realise that you just did all of that stuff in the moment, the only thing really exists. Not before. Not after. In continuation. We are taught it was before. We are taught it is in the past. But actually it is all just existing simultaneously. It is existing in the NOW.

In physics it goes much deeper.

Of course I am no physics major, but there is somebody, an Australian young physicist who I’m following though, who is. And I hope she writes her piece soon, it’s listed as upcoming on her blog.

This is her topic which she will write about.

“Time is a Fluid Construct which explores the nature of indeterminacy through performative, experimental actions. Time is framed as a fixed, immutable substance-something that cannot, will not change. Yet in truth, time is far more mercurial and indeterminate-surreptitiously flexing to reflect the specific nature of our passage through space. Through performative investigations I examine the philosophical limits of time as a standard measure and explore the social ramifications that stem from an engagement with the fluidity of time itself.”

Read the above again.

Coming back to a link I found. Here is the physics behind how “Time is an illusion”. The author writes..

“Why is time controversial? It feels real, always there, inexorably moving forward. Time has flow, runs like a river. Time has direction, always advances. Time has order, one thing after another. Time has duration, a quantifiable period between events. Time has a privileged present, only now is real. Time seems to be the universal background through which all events proceed, such that order can be sequenced and durations measured.

The question is whether these features are actual realities of the physical world or artificial constructs of human mentality. Time may not be what time seems — this smooth unity without parts, the ever-existing stage on which all happenings happen.”

To appreciate time is to feel the fabric of reality. I interview physicists and philosophers on my public television series, “Closer to Truth,” and many assert that time is an illusion. What do they mean that time is “not real?”

Huw Price, professor of philosophy at Cambridge University, claims that the three basic properties of time come not from the physical world but from our mental states: A present moment that is special; some kind of flow or passage; and an absolute direction.

“What physics gives us,” Price said, “is the so-called ‘block universe,’ where time is just part of a four-dimensional space-time … and space-time itself is not fundamental but emerges out of some deeper structure.”

We sense an “arrow” or direction of time, and even of causation, he said, because our minds add a “subjective ingredient” to reality, “so that we are projecting onto the world the temporal perspective that we have as agents [in this environment].” [Alan Alda Asks: ‘What Is Time?’]

Think of the block universe, which is supported by Einstein’s theory of relativity, as a four-dimensional space-time structure where time is like space, in that every event has its own coordinates, or address, in space-time. Time is tenseless, all points equally “real,” so that future and past are no less real than the present.

So, are we being misled by our human perspectives? Is our sense that time flows, or passes, and has a necessary direction, false? Are we giving false import to the present moment?

“We can portray our reality as either a three-dimensional place where stuff happens over time,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Max Tegmark, “or as a four-dimensional place where nothing happens [‘block universe’] — and if it really is the second picture, then change really is an illusion, because there’s nothing that’s changing; it’s all just there — past, present, future.

“So life is like a movie, and space-time is like the DVD,” he added; “there’s nothing about the DVD itself that is changing in any way, even though there’s all this drama unfolding in the movie. We have the illusion, at any given moment, that the past already happened and the future doesn’t yet exist, and that things are changing. But all I’m ever aware of is my brain state right now. The only reason I feel like I have a past is that my brain contains memories.”

“Time is out there,” said Andreas Albrecht, a theoretical cosmologist at the

University of California, Davis. “It’s called an external parameter — the independent parameter in the [classic] equation of motion. So, time — the time we know since we learned to tell time on a clock — seems to disappear when you study physics, until you get to relativity.

“The essence of relativity is that there is no absolute time, no absolute space. Everything is relative. When you try to discuss time in the context of the universe, you need the simple idea that you isolate part of the universe and call it your clock, and time evolution is only about the relationship between some parts of the universe and that thing you called your clock.”

Julian Barbour, a British physicist, describes time as “a succession of pictures, a succession of snapshots, changing continuously one into another. I’m looking at you; you’re nodding your head. Without that change, we wouldn’t have any notion of time.”

“Isaac Newton,” Barbour noted, “insisted that even if absolutely nothing at all happened, time would be passing, and that I believe is completely wrong.”

Which I have to agree with. It cannot just go on and pass by if there is nothing to observe. So Newton was wrong.

To Barbour, change is real, but time is not. Time is only a reflection of change. From change, our brains construct a sense of time as if it were flowing. As he puts it, all the “evidence we have for time is encoded in static configurations, which we see or experience subjectively, all of them fitting together to make time seem linear.”

So as I would like to conclude. There is no fundamental aspect of time to prove that is exists in the world except that we feel it progresses because of the change in our environment, the images that progress inside our brains. We “feel” it flowing but it really doesn’t exist. It is just a series of actions recorded by our eyes. Of course we need to abide by it for work, various events, recording, remembering etc all human actions based and dependent on it.

But to the thinker, it is merely a perception. It is merely a construct that we “feel” is real.

Further, the key to a peaceful state of mind is to immerse yourself in the only thing that is real the perception of the moment. Forget the past, forget the future, LIVE IN THE NOW.

Easier said than done, but with practice one perseveres.

Thank you for your time 😉


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