This conversation is closed.

What is time?

Wasting time makes you think what time is... How everything is connected... After long contemplation you realize that time is everything around you! Gravity, matter, space, energy... All of it cooperate together to make time pass.

Actually, why do we even say time? Everything in the universe orbits a bigger object, the Earth and the rest of the planets orbit the sun at different speeds but they all move around the center of the milky way at the same speed. That galaxy floats around some bigger object etc. at some point we will realize that everything in the universe floats through it at a constant rate, then space = time! We all float through this space-time and each second passed can (theoretically) be measured in kilometers if only we had a point of reference (we can't find it as everything we know moves at the same rate). The theory that we can travel through time when reached over-light speeds seems not so realistic to me after tonight. There is something missing, we just accept that everything is relative. Each object in the universe is influenced by a bigger object, but the universe as a whole is influenced by something even bigger and it floats at a constant rate around it...
What do you think?

  • Jan 9 2013: An abstraction of physical processes such as the slow creep toward a fully entropic state. Time is a convenient fantasy in any absolute sense. It is wholly dependent on the presence of matter and a change in the state of the matter m. Outside of that context there is no such thing as time per se or at least not the clean linear flow we think about when we say time. Or maYbe not
    • Jan 10 2013: "It is wholly dependent on the presence of matter and a change in the state of the matter" exactly! This is exactly what I have been thinking as well... But since the Big Bang all the matter does is change it's state.
  • Comment deleted

    • Jan 13 2013: Beautifully said , Mark !
      Any attempt to define Time as a ' phenomenon ' that can be distinguished from everything else doomed to fail. Anything that could possibly occur in human mind belongs to Time and to everything, so we can't define anything in this realm. On the other hand, whatever you say what Time is , it may answer :
      Yes, it's me . :)
      Re : Now the question remains, do you occur as an aspect of that ongoing movement, or does it occur as an aspect of you ;).
      I guess both, it's inside out and back or vice versa, no causality here, since no movement usual sense.
      I can't language it, can you ?
      • Comment deleted

        • Jan 14 2013: We are talking about nothing/everything .... apparently , it's really hard to talk about.
          Actually, not possible at all .

          Thank you for the effort ! :)
  • Jan 9 2013: It seems that the consensus in this conversation is that time is just a unit of measure, and has no physical existence. It is just a man made concept that helps us communicate and make sense of events. I came to that same conclusion a few years ago. (Apparently I am slower than many of you.)

    I have read a bit about the Theory of Relativity, but I find the mathematics to be beyond my skills. What I read is that, within Relativity, time is considered the fourth dimension within a four dimensional space-time. I remember enough about the mathematics of multiple dimensions to understand that treating time as a fourth dimension restricts the equations and the treatment of time within the theory. It seems to me that this could be a major flaw in the Theory of Relativity. If not a flaw, perhaps just an unnecessary restriction. Treating time as a separate concept could improve the theory, perhaps removing some of the apparent paradoxes that result from the mathematics.
  • Jan 9 2013: Time is a human construct based on our fear of the unknown - that unknown being death. Without the concept of death, the construct of time becomes meaningless.
    • Jan 10 2013: what about when humans haven't existed yet?
  • thumb
    Jan 9 2013: Time is you.
  • Jan 8 2013: Does this make sense to you:

    "Time is the stream of flowing temporal events perceived by creature consciousness. Time is a name given to the succession-arrangement whereby events are recognized and segregated. The universe of space is a time-related phenomenon as it is viewed from any interior position outside of the fixed abode of Paradise. The motion of time is only revealed in relation to something which does not move in space as a time phenomenon. "

    Seems to harmonize with your definitions.
  • Jan 8 2013: The great physicist John Wheeler supposedly coined the phrase,
    "time was invented so that everything wouldn't happen at once."

    Well, everything is happening at once, every where in the universe and there is room enough for it all to happen.

    The British physicist Julian Barbour, proposed his pet theory that time doesn't really exist (actually some decades ago), and if I recall correctly, a young New Zealander in, oh, maybe 2002-2004 was able to write the first mathematical equation proving it. Something Barbour was working on but was unable to successfully write himself.

    Here's a bit about it:

    "He argues that we have no evidence of the past other than our memory of it, and no evidence of the future other than our belief in it. "Change merely creates an illusion of time, with each individual moment existing in its own right, complete and whole." He calls these moments "Nows". It is all an illusion: there is no motion and no change. He argues that the illusion of time is what we interpret through what he calls "time capsules," which are "any fixed pattern that creates or encodes the appearance of motion, change or history."

    Barbour's theory goes further in scepticism than the block universe theory, since it denies not only the passage of time, but the existence of an external dimension of time. Physics orders "Nows" by their inherent similarity to each other. That ordering is what we conventionally call a time ordering, but does not come about from "Nows" occurring at specific times, since they do not occur, nor does it come about from their existing unchangingly along the time-axis of a block universe, but it is rather derived from their actual content."
    • thumb
      Jan 9 2013: Of course Time does not exist. Neither do inches or kilograms exist. They are units of measure.
  • thumb

    Gail .

    • +1
    Jan 8 2013: What is time? That was the most interesting question and search that I have had in my life. In fact, my perceived world and thus my life changed dramatically for the better when I found the answer to that question.

    Conventional assessment says that time is like a parade, marching ever forward, but the evidence disagrees with that in so many ways. For me, the most profound difference is this:

    If there was a Big Bang (the singularity explosively expanded allowing its component parts to be known/experienced) then all that is, is entangled. What is entangled?

    If you take a photon and split it in two, you make two smaller photons. Send each of those photons along different courses (in a box using mirrors) and reunite them at the end. The reunited photon has two very different pasts at the same "time".

    When you split a photon, the parts are entangled. This means that each of the parts are still part of a greater, unseen whole, whose "frame" of time is so dissimilar to that which most accept as legitimate that it often makes little sense to people. As the two entangled photons are traveling along their assigned paths in the box, the unseen photon that is in superposition is experiencing both photon's experiences as happening "now". It's present includes more than one present. Its past - more than one past. From it's point of view, that makes utmost sense. If you are one of the photons, it makes no sense at all - if you have been "taught" that there are no such things as probable pasts, presents, and futures.

    Extend this thought a little. Consider the Twin Slit Experiment (TWD).
    Rather than having intents/observation collapse the wave function, consider that the wave pattern announces probable or potential futures that the photon(s) chooses from. (This assumes that the photon is sentient - and if all are entangled and the singularity is sentient - as I believe it is/was - then it is).

    Out of space. sorry
    • thumb
      Jan 9 2013: You speak of photons as if they were observable objects which have been isolated, experimented upon, split, measured, and proven to be capable of making choices. None of that is so. I guess you are speaking hypothetically?
      • thumb

        Gail .

        • 0
        Jan 9 2013: Because photons can be measured, they can be observed. As to inserting sentience, there is no way that I know of to test for that (yet), but if the Big Bang occurred, then all are entangled. If I am sentient, and I am entangled, then it only makes sense that you are sentient and the unseen whole(s) is/are sentient.

        The splitting of photons is common practice in experiments. Same with electrons. Even a C60 molecule has been tested in the Twin Slit experiment. (the largest molecule so far) So no, I'm not speaking hypothetically. If my experience (as an entangled "being") is part of a greater experience of "now", then the greater "now" includes my sentience.

        There are a host of scientific experiments that include splitting of sub-atomic particles. The photon in the box with mirrors is one of the least important, but it is used to substantiate the knowledge garnered from the Twin Slit Experiments and Bell's Inequality experiment and the mathematical theorem (Schroedinger's) upon which the Schroedinger's Cat thought experiment was derived.

        It is because of experiments that a majority (though not all) quantum physicists are asking if they have found god (the god equivalent). Its exquisitely logical and simple compared to what conventional assumptions are today.
        • thumb
          Jan 9 2013: Would you please support your assertion that "a majority of quantum physicists are asking if they have found god?" I interpret your use of the term "quantum physicist" to refer to people with professional training who do research in that field. If you mean something else, could you clarify that as well?
        • thumb
          Jan 9 2013: A photon is energy which, of course, has no mass. How do we split energy? How do we observe energy? We can observe, measure, experiment on, and predict, the effects of photons, but the photons themselves cannot be isolated, measured, split, and cataloged like butterflys. Also, as Heisenberg said, what we observe when manipulating photons varies with the method used to manipulate them. We cannot document their actions by watching from afar because watching them alters their actions. Do you disagree with this explanation, or do you ignore it?
        • thumb
          Jan 12 2013: The experts don't all agree.
          "The question “What is your favourite interpretation of quantum mechanics?” had 12 possible answers. The most popular answer was the Copenhagen interpretation with 42 per cent but 18 per cent chose the many-worlds interpretation. 21 per cent admitted to having switched their interpretation several times with one respondent writing that he sometimes switched interpretations several times a day. "

      • thumb

        Gail .

        • 0
        Jan 10 2013: Photons are both particle and waves. If you work with the particle, it can be split. Nearly two years ago, photons were split into three parts (rather than two) for the first time. The experiments referred to in previous posts are actual experiments.

        Heisenberg was at the forefront of quantum physics, but so much has been learned since then! What we have learned in the last two decades is nothing short of stupendous.
        • thumb
          Jan 10 2013: Ah, but for one word we mostly agree. That word is "learned", which signifies accumulation of truth. In the last two decades we have "conceived" new theories and conducted actual experiments giving us new POSSIBLE explanations for our universe, not necessarily truth. You reject Heisenberg's Principle? Alas, Time is simply the unit of measure for change. Change cannot be defined or described without Time. Thanks for the link.
        • thumb
          Jan 10 2013: This is true, and what scientists will likely learn within the next few years as the Large Hadron Collider ramps up to full energy may be even more so.
      • thumb

        Gail .

        • 0
        Jan 10 2013: No - learned has to do with FACTS - not with interpretations of them or theories developed as a result of them. So I repeat - what we have LEARNED is nothing short of stupendous
        • thumb
          Jan 10 2013: BAM! We run into that wall of disagreement about what parts of science are fact-based and what parts are theory. Too many folks categorize virtually everything science says as fact. Evolution; Big Bang; Dark matter; Higgs Boson; Super symmetry; String THEORY; etc. It may be that future discoveries will render some, or all of these false. They exist now as possible explanations of our universe, not as natural laws/proven facts. Time is the unit of measure of material change.
      • thumb

        Gail .

        • 0
        Jan 11 2013: I don't see the disagreement you see. If I say that a photon was split and each part sent along fiber optic cables in different directions, and the spin of one photon was changed causing the other photon to instantaneously change it's spin, that is a FACT because it is easily repeatable. Parts of what that fact means is a subject that can be debated, because the meaning - such as the Big Bang THEORY, String THEORY - are not facts. They are extrapolations from facts. But if you ask how one photon miles and miles away from its entangled photon can know in zero time that the other's spin was mechanicallly changed, certain explanations are rationally supported by the facts, thus they are the most probable explanations and legitimate grounds for a new theory and/or legitimate supporting evidence for other theories. If you add different facts from totally different experiments, and all show the same type of behavior, and the same most probable explanation, the theory grows - just as evolution grew into a theory which is the most probable explanation "at present". (I happen to think that the Theory of Evolution is incomplete, but I agree that it is the most reasonable explanation so far, and I think that if more evidence comes out of QM, the day MAY come when that theory becomes a law.
        • thumb
          Jan 11 2013: Well said sir. However, the photon is thought to have the feature of exhibiting a high-level and a low-level of energy within itself. The two levels have been separated in the experiments of which you speak, but it is always a "single photon" being acted upon by a force through a distance, not unlike gravity or magnetism. Iron filings are not proven to be sentient by responding to a magnet.
    • Jan 13 2013: Actually, for a photon traveling at the speed of light, the passage of time has no reality. In the "life" of a photon, all events happen at once and all distances shrink to zero.
      But i love your metaphoric description; it sounds like, one Being is experiencing different states of becomings at Now.
      I am not sure that what i like is exactly what you meant :)
      • thumb

        Gail .

        • +1
        Jan 13 2013: Of course, a photon experiences only the present, but if, just for the sake of argument) after you split a photon, and the two parts go in different directions, and one side of the box is red while the other side of the box is green, the analogy remains the same. The super-positioned observer would experience white because red and green (that are compliments to one another) = white and - if it could remember - would remember its own component parts experiences as its self.

        What worldview/explanation do you like?
        • Jan 14 2013: I don't define my worldview, don't think i should.
          " Time is the theater of God's becoming "
          It speaks volumes to me... i have nothing to add or alter.Your picture is somehow 'in tune', the instrument is different, but the melody is pretty much the same.
  • thumb
    Jan 10 2013: Dear Ammar,
    You probably know that there have been other discussions about "what is time" on TED? It's always interesting:>)
    I agree with you...everything is connected, and after "long contemplation", we can come up with all kinds of perspectives, depending on what "time" means to us as individuals?

    Time is a human construct, which seems to have been created to organize us (humans) within the earth experience. I suggest that in other forms, the same concept of "time" does not exist, and perhaps we can transcend "time" as we know it. What do you think?
  • Jan 8 2013: " TIME is the moving image of eternity "

    It sounds poetically beautiful and is quite accurate, i think.
  • Jan 8 2013: It is relative and the consequence of the existence and behavior of matter.
    • thumb
      Jan 9 2013: With that definition what would Time do if matter exhibited no behavior, that is if all matter came to rest and nothing ever moved, grew, shrunk, rusted, rotted, breathed, or underwent any change whatsoever?
      • Jan 9 2013: I probably had not business making the comment. I am not a physicist, but try to better understand what's been learned and apply it to what I think best describes the concept of time. I do think time is best understood from the point of view of physics. There are four basic forces in physics associated with particles. Electromagnetism, strong interaction, weak interaction and gravitation. It is this fundamental interaction of particles is what I meant by behavior of matter in my description of time.

        The gravitational force is associated with the attraction between a planet and the sun, a moon and a planet. It is that attraction and the dynamics of that attraction that create the cycles of day and night, seasons, the period of a year, etc., and consequently both a sense and reality of time.

        I hope physicists aren't cringing with this explanation. I don't know to what extent the other forces are involved with time other than they are fundamental to the dynamic existence of matter.
        • thumb
          Jan 9 2013: You have every right to make comments here. Curiosity, interest, and a desire to understand what has been learned are all you need to discuss such questions as this. PhD's are for those who want to ponder such things 24/7. Anyway, do you think Time would be irrelevant if all four of the forces ceased to operate? In other words if the universe was just a bunch of inert, inactive matter where nothing ever changed, would Time have a purpose? That's my question.
        • thumb
          Jan 9 2013: Don't worry, Dan. Most people who speculate about physics in TED conversations are not scientists either. Everyone is welcome to think aloud.

          It is best to consider expositions and claims about science in the Conversations to be lay expositions (or even sometimes pseudoscience) that would need to be confirmed by looking at expert sources.
        • Jan 9 2013: Actually ,the notion that physics is in some fundamental sense `timeless' has been widely accepted.
          "Time exists merely as a parameter for gauging the interval between events."
          At Planck length our notions of `before' and `after' is meaningless.

          "At Planck length, all geometric concepts break down, including connectedness, containment, locality, and especially order..."

          My point is: in some sense, our notion/ experience of Time is actually not there...
      • Jan 10 2013: Hi Edward.

        Let me try to respond to your followup question.

        It is only in the contraction of matter within the concept of a black hole where these forces of particle physics are described as disappearing or breaking down. In this environment time ceases to exist only to begin again upon the re-expansion of this matter and the return of these forces. That is why time seems to me to be a consequence to the behavior or formation of matter, in addition to being relative as investigated and explained by Albert Einstein.

        Physics tells us we don't have a choice as to matter existing as inert, or inactive without these four forces with the exception of the formation of a black hole where these forces cease to exist. By this logic time does not have a purpose, but is simply a consequence of the expansive reformation of this matter.

        The mystery of what constitutes nothingness and time is intriguing to me. If the black hole is timeless in the midst of ultimate particle concentrate is it possible nothingness "exist" in this raw form of this material just as in the realm of deep space there is a "nothingness" quality that is also timeless?

        Sorry for entering the Twilight Zone!

        What do you think?
        • thumb
          Jan 10 2013: Well sir, I have survived longer than usual in this debate, but I have now become lost. I will stay on terra firma where my understanding allows me to feel safe. Where Time is simply a way to measure material change. Black holes; event horizons; the Blandford-Znajek Process; that stuff I don't get. So, I can neither refute nor support your observations in the Twilight Zone. But I enjoy following the debate. Time marches on; waits for no man; and heals all wounds. Be well sir.
      • Jan 10 2013: Hi Edward,

        Thanks for your time!! I don't think you are anymore lost than I am. The science of physics can be so beautifully exacting and satisfying in some areas, yet I'm willing to admit my wheels fall off when it comes to grasping the physics of this more elusive stuff such as time, but it's still fun to explore. Good day.
    • thumb
      Jan 12 2013: The measurement problem: (P) If a quantity Q is measured in system S at time t then Q has a particular value in S at t.[1]
      • Jan 12 2013: touche! - but is it possible time has a spacial (s) component?
  • thumb
    Jan 8 2013: Time is the unit of measure of change.