TED Conversations

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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow_of_time) 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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  • 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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