Pabitra Mukhopadhyay


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Time's Flow - Is Past-Present-Future notion of time an illusion?

I asked about the perspective of decision making, authority or authenticity, in the conversation titled ‘What leads us to decide?’

The time perspective of decision making as presented by Philip Zimbardo in his talk ‘The psychology of Time’ raises questions about the elusive nature of time’s arrow.

The arrow of time, or time's arrow, is a concept developed in 1927 by the British astronomer Arthur Eddington involving the "one-way direction" or "asymmetry" of time. Physical processes at the microscopic level are believed to be either entirely or mostly time-symmetric: if the direction of time were to reverse, the theoretical statements that describe them would remain true. Yet at the macroscopic level it often appears that this is not the case: there is an obvious direction (or flow) of time.

Or is it?

Of the 7 arrows of time that we know of (you can check wikipedia here the psychological arrow of time is not a derivative of the thermodynamic arrow in the sense that it involves the linguistic notion of past, present and future and an idea of flow of time.

Flow of time? At what rate? A second per second? Seems non-sense. In his book 'God and the New Physics' Paul Davis describes a hypothetical discussion between a physicist and a skeptic implying our notion of past, present and future and flow of time as illusory. He contends that all time is there laid out on a space-time map where events are all but points with co-ordinates. Some events are causally related, some are not but everything that has happened, is happening and will happen are all there. We need just an efficient calendaring system to date the events and that’s about it.

Do you think you can live in a world where your brain state in 2013 records information about events in 2012 because 2012 < 2013 and cannot record information about events in 2014 because 2014>2013?

Is PPF an illusion?

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    Apr 19 2013: Time is simply a unit-of-measure. Like meters quantify distance and grams quantify weight, Time quantifies change. One second is defined in terms of the rate of change in a Cesium-133 atom. A Second is a unit of time equal to 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between two levels of the ground state of the cesium-133 atom. When we speak of the Past we are really speaking about what WAS. When we speak of the future we are really speaking about what WILL BE. When we speak of the present we are speaking about what will be becoming what was. How much Time is required for what will be to become what was? Surely the answer is zero. That Zero point, which has no length on the timeline, is what we call the present. The present cannot be spoken of in terms of was, or will be, nor can it be spoken of in terms of is. Every event in the universe either has happened or will happen. No event is happening in the present because there is no present. As you read each word here it moves into the past. The words you have yet to read are in the future. If nothing changed there would be no need for Time.
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      Apr 19 2013: Unless you are using metaphors, sir, Change is not a quantity and time is not a unit of measurement of it. Time is a physical dimension and a quantity by itself and second is one of its many units. All units measure intervals so yes points are relevant in time too and I think it is easy to conceive the non-dimensionality of a point for one who learnt geometry. From that basis all instants (events that happen instantaneously) are non-dimensional, be it present or past or future.
      One can think of time as an entire chain of presents or now-s but the caveat is that it does not lead to the conclusion that time moves (or flows) rather objects move in time. For a non-moving and non-happening universe time makes no sense.
      Question is if we understand that can we give up PPF notion?
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        Apr 19 2013: We agree that change is not a quantity just as a Second is not a quantity. A Second is (as I said above) a unit of Time. The Second itself has no weight and takes-up no space, it is a Unit of Measure. Change has no weight and takes-up no space so it is not a quantity.
        We do not agree that "Time is a physical dimension and a quantity all by itself. . . " as you say. Time has no weight and takes-up no space.
        We do agree that in a hypothetical Universe where there is no movement, no change, and absolutely nothing happening there would be no sense in having a concept of Time.
        I think I answered your question about the "Present" in the PPF notion. There is no present.
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      Apr 19 2013: I propose supposing that our current physics theories regarding dimensions (1, point, 2, line, 3, 3D reality, and 4, time) how on earth could we imagine the third dimension without the existence of the 4th, without time which brings us movement. Additionally, how could we imagine in contrast the 3rd dimension involving movement without time? And by golly, if the third dimension is 3D reality as we know it, where does the rest of human existence such as our thoughts and personalities come into play?

      Perhaps time is related to free will.

      Also, perhaps the existance of time and its (possible) relation to free will leads into further dimensions, which beyond the 4th are still debatable, but perhaps these dimensions are based on morality, choice, spirituality and so on. What do you think!?
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        Apr 19 2013: Wow! The boat is really rocking now! A real wave-maker you. Time is necessitated by Depth? Time is related to Freewill? First off, do we agree that the first dimension (X) in descriptive geometry is Width? The second dimension (Y) is Height? And the third dimension (Z) is Depth? In order to describe a solid object (3-D) I must have an X (width), a Y (height), and a Z (depth) dimension. To describe a shape (2-D) I only need an X and a Y dimension because a shape has no depth. If we agree on that please explain why the Z dimension makes Time necessary. I don't get it. Thank you!
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          Apr 19 2013: Hmm...I see fault in my logic - you can argue the existence of the first second and third dimensions (I'm seeing a 3D object in my mind here) but are we to propose that the perceiver of these dimensions is in fact out of time? I'm not saying arguably so otherwise, but it would seem that we are concieving notions about for example a 2D object observed and decidedly only in the 2nd dimension, but where are we proposing this observer is from and how is he able to form an analysis of this observation without observing in the dimension of time?

          So, in this debate we are only considering the facts of shapes and measureable attributes without regards to what we are able to measure this with. I cannot imagine a 2D object without myself included, and I suppose this is my reasoning why time is a necessary component to be able to understand the dimensions prior to. The creator of these things, without needing to be said, is outside of this relational analysis.

          I don't understand a great deal about physics, but I love theoretical physics. When I imagine dimensions, I include the totality of reality with the entire universe as its basis of reasoning with these dimensions that our physics geniuses have thought true. Could you begin to imagine the entire universe as a point? Could you imagine it as a line, perhaps a 2D line script-like production of our magnificant creator? Now, could you imagine it as an unmoving (assuming dimensions build upon one another and movement comes into play with the 4th dimension), an unmoving 3-dimensional picture of universal totality? We can't, at least I cannot.

          So, basically I think time is necessary because we are human, we are observers of the prior dimensions leading to our abilities performed inside of time to observe 2D and 3D objects, and we cannot imagine our strengths in a dimension where time did not exist (I am concluding that time in the 4th dimension is where movement begins here).
  • May 12 2013: Maybe, the question has to do with change, I mean whether real change exists meaning change which is truly novel and not just a rearrangements of distinct, pre-existing parts. Another question is, how does time flow, how can it if it is not just present but already past at the same time (so to speak). In order for time to become the past it must be that the present is immediately the past so that the past and present is intimately connected even though the past is not present. I do not believe that all of space-time is all laid out, this is an aspect of the old classical way of thought as completed in general relativity. We can see right away that the world must always be different and can never repeat exactly by the fact that we possess memory which knows the "difference".
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    Apr 22 2013: I think that PPF is indeed an illusion. We only think there is a past because we have memories but in fact, every moment is now.
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      Apr 22 2013: True. I appreciate the 'now' that made you reflect this on 22 April 2013 6.40 PM Indian Standard Time.
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    Apr 20 2013: Thanks for all comments and insights shared. To make this interesting I'd suggest two things.
    1. Humans (may be all sentient beings that we know of) have evolved without any specialized organ (except brain) to perceive time. Not in the sense and manner we have organs to receive signals/stimuli of light, heat, mechanical force, gravity and chemical sensations. Time is all in our minds and its perception can be greatly influenced with psychedelic drugs.
    2. If it is a fact that we adopt scientific values in our lives (albeit slowly), a realization that time is an illusion or a mental construct can have profound effect on our creativity, expression, language or even philosophies.
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    Apr 19 2013: Isn't Time relative to one's perceiving it? Then in essence all time is happening right now, in loops. But we are not reliving the aspect of today breakfast or lack there of forever, yet if time travel was around, we could in theory always go back to that time of breakfast eating or missing an it will always be there, but doesn't mean it's always occurring with us in it, is it?

    Seems that Past, present and future, should just be called the Present, since if we could travel in time, that's exactly what it would be, our possible present.

    What if a new universe is created each time we do something different? Like frames in an animation, each new movement is a new sheet of paper waiting to be recorded and compiled to be a set of action sequenced forming a linear illusion of a movie.
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      Apr 20 2013: Of course it is. Moreover we live in a physical reality where time is inseparable from any physical quantity. For example whenever we look at night sky we not only see distant stellar objects we also travel into past. We see a 8 minute old Sun perpetually.
      I think the idea of time has developed in our consciousness on account of our evolution in an environment where things (including us) move at speeds way slower than that of light.
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    Apr 19 2013: Another interesting notion - I actually have thought that just maybe free will is a dimension all it's own, the 5th dimension. I'm sure you are aware of the other-worlds theory of physics, where each choice we make may branch off into another universe. I don't quite see how this makes sense, other than that we may think of our past decisions with regret or happiness, etc., however, I do think that perhaps the next dimension from time is where we are faced with choice, and we choose. Accordingly, this dimension of free will is where are co-creating and where identity-actualizing reality begins - where are free-will is a part of time and the dimensions before it.
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      Apr 19 2013: RE: "Hmm...I see fault in my logic -". I agree the concept of Time is necessary for existence on Earth. To prove it is essential try to imagine never using a time related word in your communication with others. You could not use words like: is; was; am; are;will; were; now, before; after; later, earlier; past, present, future, duration; speed, velocity; and scores of other words and phrases that are time related. We could only make statements like: "The grass green", but we could not say: "The grass is, was, or will be green."
  • Apr 19 2013: Edward is basically correct.

    Time does not exist, except as a human concept.

    As human concepts, time is a very convenient way to refer to the past and make plans for the future.

    The past and the future do not physically exist, everything exists only in the present. You could say that the duration of the present is zero, or you could say that the present lasts forever. Both are correct, the difference is just your point of view.

    I would consider the arrow of time a useful concept rather than an illusion.

    By the way, this implies that time travel is completely impossible.
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    Apr 19 2013: Hello,

    I find your comment interesting but I have to disagree that there is no "now" regarding time as we know it. I think a lot of people go about their lives thinking, and you must consider thinking and consciousness in this argument because that is how we gain a perception of time in the first place, thinking anyway about the past or what they will do in 5 minutes, what action they are focusing on currently that is, as action is a verb in of itself, moving them into the future.

    The idea of consciousness that I use as an argument is that consider being in this realm of space and time and having no thought, having gained enlightenment to the point where what is, just is and you are not concerned about past, future or how you well you are doing at focusing - you just are. You exist. Does this sense of existance make you yourself a point in spacetime?

    I think there is a here and now, a way to be only in the reality and knowledge of said argument that all that exists is, and we are flowing through time, but what with this knowledge you are able to see beyond this annoyance of time observance and just be.