The Reality of Time

Sunday, May 18, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Nothing seems more basic or real than time.  Yet many philosophers, like Zeno of Elea, find it deeply puzzling.  Some, like McTaggart, even claim time is unreal.  Of course, philosophers often find reasons to doubt the existence of things we take for granted.  But with time, it's not just philosophers.  It's physicists, too.  Like Stephen Hawking, to name just one. 

But what does it even mean to say that time is unreal?  That there's no such thing as past, present and future?  That we're not moving through time? 

The best way I have of thinking about the possibility that time might not be real goes like this.  Suppose I’ve got this very detailed calendar.  It’s basically a list of events --- last week’s pizza party, yesterday’s meeting with the dean, tomorrow’s dentist appointment. Now, no physicist is going to convince me that such things don’t occur.  Events happen.  Things change. Pizza is real, at least after it is baked and before it is eaten.

But when it comes to the whole structure represented by the calendar,  there seems to be a bit of room for maneuver.  This super detailed calendar, divided into years, months, weeks, days, hours, and even minutes.  Its structure imposes a strict order on the events.  And they all fall either into the past or the future, except for this particular moment in time we call now.

But this all goes beyond what we actually experience: things happening.   We have this common-sense idea of time as a kind of structure that all events fit into, like on a calendar.  But we came up with this framework when we thought the Earth was flat and at the center of the universe.  So, would it be too alarming if a physicist were to say… surprise!  This is completely the wrong view of time?  All these common-sense ideas we have -- like before and after, today, tomorrow, yesterday, and so on -- they’re all just a framework that helps us organize events from a human perspective.  But when we look at the vastness of the cosmos and the intricacies of quanta, it could turn out that this framework doesn’t fit. 

Well, actually it might be pretty alarming to really believe this, depending on how much of the structure we have to give up.  Unless the future is importantly different from the past, for example, we might be faced with fatalism.  We shall see what our guest has to say.  In the future.  Or the past.  Depending on when you read this.  And how real time is.

Comments (21)


mirugai's picture

mirugai

Sunday, May 18, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

TIME    

TIME    
As in many cases, there are two kinds of time: scientific time, and philosophical time. Once again, it is my contention that the scientific study of what time is only obscures and misdirects the philosophical study.  Science can only relate to time as instants on a linear continuum.  This is one way of ?defining? time; but it does nothing for the ?meaning? of time. For philosophical inquiry purposes, since it will be an investigation of ideas of ?significance,? not definition, I suggest the most undefined and amorphous representation of time as a starting point, and that is that ?time is a white noise.? This will get the philosophers past the burdensome imagery of points along a line. In this way, there is no need to get lost in definitions of causation, reality and history. These are stumbling blocks that make contemplation of philosophical time so difficult. Let?s talk about time without these impediments to our discussion.
 
 

MJA's picture

MJA

Monday, May 19, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

True Light

True Light
Time is but a measure of human construct in a Universe that is truly immeasurable.
Removing measurements such as time from the equation reduces the Universe mathematically to Einstein's long sought after unified field equation, the equation for truth that unites us All. Removing the uncertainty of measure from the equation leads to the solution, to truth, the absolute, to justice, to liberty, to freedom.
Removing the speed from light leads One to true light! 
The equation for truth is:
energy equals mass times the speed of light squared > energy equals mass > =
 
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Martin Luther King, Jr.
Love,
=

 

Fred Griswold's picture

Fred Griswold

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Entropy came up on this show,

Entropy came up on this show, the way the amount of disorder in the universe increases as time goes on. I've never been able to figure this out. Isn't that a subjective matter? Like, if you look at a chessboard ten moves into a game, it would look disordered to someone who doesn't know chess. To somebody who does, who understands the openings and how the pieces move and what's under attack and what isn't, it wouldn't look disordered. So it's just a matter of opinion how ordered something is, isn't it?

paul@pjrichmond.net's picture

paul@pjrichmond.net

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Time seems so real to us and

Time seems so real to us and yet all the physics we know seems to treat time as merely another dimension.   There is a dynamic, we believe, and the equations of physics seem to reduce things to a static description. Can the many alternate futures that quantum mechanics rescue the dynamic?   Because from a given present, there seem to be many alternate futures, perhaps an infinite number of them.    If these are all laid out in the space-time continuum, could we accept the infinite possibilities from any single physical state as providing a substitute for the dynamic we fear we might otherwise loose from describing all things in as existing in a space-time continuum?
To make this more personal, I look at my life as a track with choices I make as forks in the track and I traverse the track and come to a fork and take one choice.
But that's illogical.   I've added time again in order to traverse that track, and I already used time once to lay down the track, so that's not a reasonable thing to do.
Instead, in order to recover the dynamic, postulate infinite options?   The mystery of infinity then takes the place of a flow in time in providing the dynamic - or perhaps something we might call equivalent to the dynamic. 
Does this possibly make sense to anyone else besides me?

paul@pjrichmond.net's picture

paul@pjrichmond.net

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Most entropy is actually at

Most entropy is actually at the atomic or molecular level, and represents the disorder that comes about as heat makes the atoms move around.   Such entropy in its sheer quantity dwarfs any little bits of entropy we may or may not perceive in the places chess pieces occupy on the chess board. 

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Awesome link...can't wait for

This link is very helpful in getting to exactly what Barbour is saying here... I don't think I would understand his point of view nearly as well without it.  Thanks.
 
 

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Paul,

Paul,
I think Barbour is saying the laws of physics are limiting the infinity of possibilities for any given physical state to the finite possibilities/probabilities defined by the laws of physics.  He is also stating that there is no space-time continuum only a space continuum onto which conscious minds project time as a means of understanding it as the continuum changes.
I'm understanding your recovery of the dynamic to be the taking on of the mystery of physics and consciousness in lieu of the flow of time.  This makes time the construct of the mind to interpret the changes in the physical state it experiences. Hmm...I think that is what he is saying.
I'm looking forward to the chat tomorrow to see if he gives further clarity.

Fred Griswold's picture

Fred Griswold

Friday, May 23, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Most entropy is actually at

Most entropy is actually at the atomic or molecular level, and represents the disorder
that comes about as heat makes the atoms move around.
So energy comes in patterns, somehow? But if it started out in an ordered state, and got into some other state via the laws of physics, then wouldn't the new state be just as ordered, since the laws of physics are predictable? Or is this where the Heisenberg uncertainty principle gets into the act?

MJA's picture

MJA

Saturday, May 24, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Heisenberg proved nature to

Heisenberg proved nature to be truly immeasurable. It was this realization that led science down the grey path of probability, what is called quantum mechanics today. Einstein didn't believe Nature to be a dice game at best and spent the rest of his life searching for the absolute Way, the right Way. Science is lost now, lost in their theories of God particles and big bangs and string theories, lost in the their own quagmire of uncertainty, lost in the the dark searching for light, searching for the solution that is simply the other Way.
What is order, what is chaos, what is normal, what is just? What is red? What time is red? The answers can be found by going the right Way!
To truth,
=

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Saturday, May 24, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Michael,

Michael,
I'm curious what the right Way is?  In total agreement with your post though - science is going to have a hard time finding it.  Barbour's conception of time is, for me at least, mind expanding.  This is the first I have come to consider the Wheeler-Dewitt equation.  Second to Kurt Godel's incompleteness theorem - I find this equation to be disconcerting to say the least.  Both Godel and Dewitt make me feel somewhat lost.
I'm going to have to think quite a bit more.  Hopefully this will lead to the right Way.
To truth - indeed.

Fred Griswold's picture

Fred Griswold

Monday, May 26, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

If MJA is implying I'm hung

If MJA is implying I'm hung up on science, he's right. Philosophers are good at asking questions and making distinctions, but science is better at providing answers. Ain't nothing perfect about it, of course, it's by nature a matter of probabilities. It's based on evidence, but since evidence is perceived by humans, there is necessarily a subjective component to it. You have to decide what to make of the evidence. Like, for instance, whether the universe was more ordered a split second after the Big Bang than it is now. That's a subjective matter. My chess game analogy was just that, an analogy, I wasn't trying to comment on any bits of energy the chess pieces might have in some quantum mechanical sense.

MJA's picture

MJA

Monday, May 26, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

If I may,

If I may,
Let us move beyond the theories and uncertainties of science for an infinite moment as the mathematical solution has already been written on a prior post and found. You did see it didn't you? You no they say the Indians could not see the ships of Columbus when they first arrived because there minds could not grasp a ship, is that true? If you haven't seen it, don't be alarmed, Einstein missed it too.
Lets move beyond anyway, beyond the equation for everything and into the empirical, into the light of metaphysics (ooh mystical), beyond the uncertainty of science and the endless philosophical questions of what is truth, beyond the faiths of religion and the blind of justice, lets move to a place where truth just simply is. Lets come out of the church for a moment, out of the laboratory and our nuclear accelerators, out of our endless books and schools, out of our meditative mindless states just for a moment and go to a place called Nature, a place where truth resides, is practiced, and lived. Where is you ask, Michelangelo pointed me this way: 
Find yourself at or as a river or steam and a stick of any kind, throw the stick into the river, the direction to truth is the same direction the stick or river goes. Follow the stick to truth!!
= is 
 

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Tuesday, May 27, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Philosophy and science weren

Fred,
Philosophy and science weren't different to begin with.  When they separated it was never overt or intentional, I think.  Science for me at least is the middle place.  Philosophy asked the questions to begin with.  Philosophy asks the questions that science doesn't answer (that apparently sometimes it can't answer... but like you I prefer it to any other tool.)  Recently it seems philosophers are rejoining the scientific community with bouts of experimental philosophy that, after reading many dead philosophers, is refreshing to my aging mind.
As I understand Barbour here, entropy is the analog of time's arrow.  Energy and mass are still very much tied together with or without time in the equation.  There is a very good hour long documentary on entropy and energy.  It is not enlightened to Barbour's take on time but it certainly addresses the chess analogy.  No matter what order humans, biology or the energy of the Sun on this planet manufacture the apparent order we see is the result of a wasteful and ultimately entropic action.  Here is that documentary... let me know if I have this wrong.  Entropy is a very deep concept of reality.  I would very much like to understand it as best I can before I succumb to it.

Fred Griswold's picture

Fred Griswold

Thursday, May 29, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Tim -

Tim -
A comment regarding the role of science in philosophy. Take the issue of privacy, that came up on the show a while back. A scientific look at nature tells you that mice and other such animals like to stay in their hiding place. Or imagine a couple of philosophers watching a squirrel spiraling up the trunk of an oak tree - he's exercising his right his privacy. Also, female mammals, birds etc. will protect their young. You see these traits in humans, too, in addition to a long period of the parents raising their children. And the home provides an environment where that can happen. Scraps of information like this can help illuminate whatever the philosophical question is. A scientific look at the roots of privacy doesn't answer everything about it, but it does give you a pretty good start. This is typical of science. In other words, I think science has about the same role in philosophy that it has in most other things.
Regarding Goedel's incompleteness theorem, by the way, if you're a materialist like I am, and you think that matter (and, I guess, energy, and the laws of physics) come first, and ideas are just a matter of patterning, perception, and so on, then conundrums like this just vanish.
Maybe you could give us the name of that documentary on entropy and energy. They seem to have taken the link out.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, May 30, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Fred,

Fred,
Here is that link... it's pretty good.  The link  above is working for me (it's on the word "Here" - maybe it's a browser thingy).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezoTJJ9wfNY (I'll save listing it by name as that is the way most youtube things see death.)
I think we feel differently about the implications of Goedel's theorem.  That is another  topic and another time.  This view on time is far and away enough to talk about here.  I will say this though... the proof is hard to deny and is very far reaching in consequence.  Of course everything I say is my opinion but a logical theorem or a scientific theorem is not.   A logical theorem can not be refuted by a twist of philosophical perspective.  It's true for materialists and every one else.  You might as well deny the truth of the Pythagorean theorem (which I guess would be correct in a non-euclidean context... so there's that.)
Regarding your comment.  I think we both agree that science comes first then philosophy.  The problem with most scientists is that they don't take the philosophy seriously or refuse to take that step at all.  This refusal is unfortunate because philosophy is where truth lies.  And I mean that with all its double entendre. 
Sorry about the linky thing.   Let me know if you watch the documentary.  Entropy is constant throughout all chess matches...throughout all time.  If there is such a thing as time.  My head hurts.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Monday, June 2, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Fred,

Fred,
The second critical part of the documentary above is here... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNGa9IfRzM4
?The over arching idea is Landauer's principle.  Again... sorry for not getting the links right originally.  I thought this second part was included above.
Cheers,
Tim

Martha Bynes's picture

Martha Bynes

Sunday, October 12, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

Einstein made a quote once

Einstein made a quote once stating that ?time is an illusion?, his reasoning was that if you are doing something you enjoy one hour seems like one minute, and if you are doing something you hate one minute seems like an hour, so time is relative to your experience, and of course it?s true from this perspective. However, when you are on a physical plane like Earth, no matter what it seems like, one minute is still one minute, one hour is still one hour. Basically, time as a statistical parameter is just a helpful reference, and the reality of life is that all creations take a linear amount of time. The experience of linear passage of time is one of the important experiences that consciousness lives through the realm of physicality.

Sienna Miller's picture

Sienna Miller

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

I find this post very

I find this post very interesting. As soon as we open our eyes, after birth, we see light and darkness, later when we learn how to speak we are taught that these light and dark cycles are days, which as every adult knows, are due to the spinning motion of earth. A little later, yet still not knowing about earth's motion, we are now taught that a day is a time, which is divided in 24 equal times called hours. A bit older we become aware of the seasons, and years, which as every adult knows, are coincidental to earth's revolution around the sun and in spite of the fact that this new motion has nothing to do with earth's spin we are nevertheless taught that seasons, and years are also times.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, March 13, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

OK... links come and go...

OK... links come and go... the title is "BBC Horizon Order and Disorder Energy | History Documentary | BBC News".  Search it and you can find it.  Sorry for not listing it before.  The second part is on Information Theory.  Check it out if you have the time.  :-|
Tim

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, April 20, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

I like Einstein's analogy

I like Einstein's analogy about the illusiveness of time---or would that be the illusoriness of time? Perhaps it is truly both ? When I was but fourteen or fifteen, I postulated that time did not exist and that what we perceive as time is merely the passage of people, places, things and events--- as long as there is a somethingness, rather than nothingness to the known universe, what we choose to call such passings does not matter a jot or even a tittle. Well, physicists and others would have had no use for that most unscientific of notions and now, after many years, I recognize that I was just a dumb kid attempting to explain the unexplainable. If only to my acolyte self. So, anyway, the significance of time is there because we as advanced sentient beings make it so. On nearly level of human existence and endeavor, human beings must account for time, make the best use of time, save daylight time, take time for reflection, and yes, even occasionally, take time out.
Native Americans (or those aboriginal humans whom we identify as such) were aware of time and knew that time was important somehow, but they were probably not nearly as obsessed with it as are we moderns. They were born, grew to adulthood, begat children, made war, made peace, defended land deemed to be within their territory, took land from weaker tribes and ultimately killed  the white devils who wanted to exterminate them. It was all simply what needed to happen under given sets of circumstances. Had there been no white devils to contend with, time may have never meant any more to them than before events changed everything. Not saying that Native Americans would have never progressed---they would have had to develop different strategies for continuance of their civilization(s). But, I must propose this: they would have done so, because they were resourceful. And time would not have gotten in their way. Illusion or no.

 
 
 

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