How Time Works
This philosophy of science paper 'Time's Paradigm' argues that the passage of time is a continuous cycle, rather than a meandering, linear voyage into infinity with an ambiguous present moment.
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"What do we really know of time? About as much as we know of motion. We stand still and swear we are not moving, but the planet beneath our feet..,
is travelling at 10s of thousands of miles per hour."
CHAPTER 2. Time
What is time? The last chapter delved into the age old debate between destiny and free will, and whether choices in life can really alter our future. Philosophy has long argued this subject; Quantum Theory also offers the Many Worlds Interpretation; then there are those who consider that time does not exist, or that time is merely another name for motion, that time only seems to exist because we move.
This paper, Time's Paradigm, puts it another way: Fundamentally, time is about change:
There is a difference between the past and the future. From one minute to the next, things are altering their position, their form and their state, be they great celestial bodies or tiny atomic particles. If no change occurs, there is no need for time. In other words, if the past and the future are identical, existence does not occur, because there is no point or reason for it being, and no place for it to be. Time implies existence.
Another view of temporal progression is entropy, or Time's Arrow. Things break but they do not un-break. There is only one direction in time and that is towards chaos. Quantum mechanics might disagree, as it likes to argue that sub-atomic particles may wish to do things in reverse; but on a macro scale we don't seem to be heading for birth. So, entropy is the redistribution of energy in time. It is described by the second law of Thermodynamics as the passing of energy from useful levels to ever less useful levels, in decline.
On the other hand, entropy is said to increase with this redistribution process, from a state of perfection and little chance of change, to a state of more possibilities due to more freedom. This suggests progress, however it is a linear model, where energy flows from a beginning towards an end; not a satisfactory model as far as this paper is concerned. It can also be argued that the Universe is not following the rule of entropy; clouds of gasses are induced by gravitational forces to 'clump up' and eventually form celestial objects such as stars, being a process quite the opposite of Time's Arrow.
While Entropy proceeds with time, it is not time. Without entropy, existence might still progress.
Then there is space/time, the bases of Relativity, a theory that most have adopted due to its enormous success at solving so many powerful, physical quandaries over the last century. It insinuates time's irrelevance to some degree. However, it does demand that time vary dependent on velocity - again a connection between time and motion. Beyond this handful of ideas, not much else is out there. Quite surprising; that time and its obvious significance to us has gone largely un-debated in the World, over the last hundred years.
Recently, however, there has been quite a stir in Science circles, and time has become the topic of much debate. If time does exist, or has some physical attributes - as this paper wishes to convey - we should be asking such questions as: Where is time going? Is the passage of time an infinite journey that goes on forever? Was there a beginning, is there an end?
Sir Roger Penrose, and other prominent scientific figures have, in not so distant decades, been at this very subject. Ideas range from: A Conformal Cosmological Cycle, proposing that our universe must have existed before the Big Bang; to a more recent suggestion that two identical universes erupted from the Big Bang, one heading forwards in time, the other backwards, thus providing equilibrium. Indeed, Stephen Hawking questions the concept of when our Universe began and has spoken of the quirky possibility that it might only have come into existence a few years ago, and that all our memories of before such a time are merely implanted - though it is likely he was simply making a point.
The Big Bang is understandably thought of as the beginning of time. So, where there is a beginning there is, no doubt, an end. Ending is relative to something that continues. Stopping means the prospect of starting. All these issues need satisfying, if we are to believe in the flow of time. If time can stop here, then what is to say it can't stop there, or there, or there..? Or stop for a moment and then proceed? Time could come and go as it pleased. However, it appears to be a continuous, uninterrupted passage. So, we must ask: Was there a beginning of time, is there an end?
A Cosmological Cycle of Time
What are the possibilities? If we accept that time is continuous, either it wanders off into forever and infinity, or it appears to go on forever by revolution, or cyclical progression. Both scenarios satisfy the notion of forever, but a cycle offers contained stability. It is odd that a revolving (or returning) time line is not a realistic consideration for some. We do, after all, spend our lives returning to the same spot, or doing the same thing at the same time, day after day.
As with all things that journey, the beginning and the end are almost invariably one and the same thing. The greatest human invention, it is often said, was the wheel; it revolutionised mobility and functionality by later being transformed into gears and motors, pulleys, round-abouts and race tracks - why stop there? Gyroscopics and Magnetic Fields here de-mystified, are all about circuits, rotations and cycles. Likewise, time has the same potential, of being a circuit, a loop. Time is about motion, only things that move require time, to do so. Motion is composed of energy. Energy doesn't magically come and go; it is perpetual. It may change form, entropically evolve, but it does not start and stop.
Time cycles, this paper argues, as do all progressive systems, the consequence of which is that all matter in our Universe will eventually return to their state of origin, and the cycle continues. No loss of energy in the Universe, no catastrophic beginning or apocalyptic end, because there are no ends in a cyclical model. All matter through time already exists, as if a giant, revolving wheel whose parts are all connected and, so, able only to flow in one direction. Such systems drive themselves; they are autonomous, contained and independent; lacking infinities and finalities.
That time doesn't stretch off into forever does away with that incalculable and murky world of infinities associated with linear models. It suggests that there is no end as such, because, by cycling it does away with both a beginning and an end. No identifiable breaks, and yet, it still goes on forever from our perspective.
Simple.., containable.., fathomable...
A cosmological cycle of time might conjure in the minds of some, the notion of us living our lives over and over again, the World repeating itself every few billion years or so. Unlikely. Such thoughts are born of our duty to imagine we are the centre of the Universe, that we are somehow important and make a difference. The Universe - this material existence we experience - is enormous and we are completely irrelevant to its structure. The more likely case is that as existence in the Universe re-generates, growth and nature will be somewhat similar, showing repetitive construction; but never will it repeat itself precisely nor, indeed, produce the likes of you or I ever again. The point being made here is not about consistency but continuity.
Alternatively, we can re-consider Stephen Hawking's comment above, and question whether a few billion years is all that realistic. A cyclical progression for time, where the end meets the beginning might be just a few years long. The end could be minutes away, while the beginning might be yesterday. Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day would welcome such thoughts, the possibility being: we don't know how big a loop we live in but it doesn't really matter.
Simply speaking: Once in motion, time must go on, round and round, like the current in a copper wire that flows from a battery only if it can return. Break the wire - the current stops flowing - the light goes out.
Cycles permit progress. They contain continuity. These two facts become abundantly clear in the next chapter.
Clocks are repetitive, they cycle through the days. One day does not end for another to begin. A compass cycles through 360 degrees, and keeps right on going. Our planet is a sphere, upon which we wander, with no apparent end in sight. Solar systems, giant galaxies and so on, all cycles, as are the myriad of infinitesimally small atomic structures, of which we are made. Why stop there?
Time going round and round, like a big wheel, means there is no beginning or end, and no infinite dimension - it is finite within itself - though appears infinite. This offers purpose and relevance, but though it solves a few puzzling questions, it creates some of its own. If it has a defined course, does it need to exist everywhere along its length at once, i.e. does the future already exist?
A circuit is a self contained unit; that is its simplicity. It can exist without interference. And the whole functionality of a circuit is that it is connected, all the way around; it exists in its entirety. However, it is not time that is whizzing around this circuit, it is us. We are everywhere, giving us the opportunity of being aware from one moment to the next.
So, you get up and go make yourself a cup of coffee. You come back and sit down with it. Now you must consider that you are still in the kitchen, though not your current consciousness, just as you are washing your mug in the sink sometime in the future even before you have drunk the coffee you are staring at. Bizarre!
Is it likely we are conscious at all times throughout the circuit? Or, are we just conscious now, and our material bodies in the past and the future are simply empty vessels? First, we must accept that conscious creatures like ourselves are a drop in the ocean. The vast majority of matter in the Universe is not conscious at all. So, we really are just an odd collection of molecules and living cells that happen to have stumbled into a puzzle. With that in mind, those empty shells we imagined of ourselves at another time, if existing, are existing along side all the rocks and the trees and the grass in our yard, and they fit right in. If there was someone conscious at that time, like an alien visitor, would they not see the planet beneath their feet, mountains in the distance, motion in the wind through the trees, waves on the shore, fish jumping and birds soaring - so, why not people walking about?
The alternative case extolled by choice and the Free Will Camp is both beautiful and wondrous. It implies that there is nothing out there beyond now. The present, like a speeding bullet, encountering nothing in its path; neither relative nor relevant to anything it may approach; totally unpredictable, and that is pleasing. But how does something that encounters nothing, exist? It has been scientifically established that being in a place where there is nothing renders oneself irrelevant, that is, in space; so we could argue the same for, 'in time'. One thing cannot exist on its own, it has to be connected to and therefore be relative to something else. The present cannot be by itself.
If we demand that things exist all along the time line, both now and in the past and in the future, then why can't we see the 'you' that was doing something just a minute ago in the kitchen? After all, the kitchen is still there!
Safely seated on this planet we can be forgiven for forgetting that we are moving vehemently through space. Our planet is hurtling at many hundreds of miles per second through the universe. So, the thing you did in the kitchen a few moments ago actually happened a million miles away from where you are now. The light that bounced off you in the kitchen at that time, it has now gone out into the universe, and can only be seen by things a very long way away, because it is travelling faster than we are. It has gone before us.
However, that does not explain why we are not aware in two 'nows', simultaneously. If we exist and are conscious throughout our timeline, what makes this present moment the alpha, driving seat? What forces us to be aware now, rather than 5 minutes ago? Could we not be thinking the same thing, 5 minutes ago? For a start, our brain capacity can hardly cope with one present moment, so adding a bunch more would over-load our resources. But equally, if we were in communication with former consciousness, we would not experience the passage of time.
Due to such paradoxical conundrums, many consider time an illusion. It is a mistake, however, to interpret the flow of time as being a continuous passage. In reality, it all happens at once; we are a connected strand of consciousness; what is apparently happening now is because we were doing something before and will be doing something later. If you push one pearl on the end of a string of pearls, they all move.
Physical movement is the illusion. We do not move about in space, we perceive progress through time and, with each moment, we find ourselves in a slightly different location - we have apparently moved.
This presents an enormous challenge for perception. We have always thought we move our physical selves from A to B as time passes, and now we are being asked to consider that, actually, our selves are already there, at point B, that no physical movement is required, we must only move in time to get there. What that does is create an uncomfortable lack of control because, while we think we can adjust our physical flow through space, we are unaware of how to adjust time's flow to our advantage and so create the future.
We are conscious anywhere and everywhere on our time line. How we are capable of perceiving time, and how we are able to consciously move with this moment we call 'now', is as a result of The Kalahari Effect, and is covered in more detail in the following chapter.
So, when is now?
We say we exist in the present, and yet everything we experience in this so called 'now moment' is actually from the past. It takes time for sound to reach our ears, for light to reach our eyes; even if we were deaf and blind it would take time for our brains to receive and process the feeling of the chair we just sat down in. So what exactly are we experiencing in whose present? Is there such a thing?
A few decades ago we would watch CNN coverage of an event in the Middle East, and the journalist on the scene was often having difficulty with the lag time between questions and answers. So were we. It would take a few infuriating seconds before she was able to comprehend what the Anchor was asking, and for us another nail-biting few seconds before we began to get the answer.
Information we receive classifies the present moment in our minds, regardless of its origin. Sensory deprivation would render us completely unaware of time's flow. If we could not smell, hear, move, feel or see, we would have no sense of now. We would be a living entity with no conscious consideration, not unlike the vast majority of creatures inhabiting this planet. Consciousness creates the present moment; it is a useful tool for life-forms that utilise movement. Many sensory deprivation experiments have found that our sense of now becomes dramatically distorted, even with just one or two inputs denied.
Sleep is a form of sensory deprivation. A dreaming mind has no use for time; though you might wake up and consider the dream you were in, it is difficult to be sure you or anyone else in that dream were actually moving, that time was actually flowing. The sub-conscious is without time. (See the supplement, Conditioning versus Making Choices, for a more in-depth look into this topic.)
Today, we are witness to past moments from many millions of years ago, thanks to the telescope. In fact, we can see the history of the entire Universe unfold before our eyes. But oddly, not our own history.
Peering out into the Cosmos, we watch as if a video or film recording of a bygone 'now': whether a huge supernova event or the tiny variance of light from a distant star announcing the existence of a planet in orbit! Light has guarded that moment on stream, conserved it while it travels, for whomever might come across it at some time somewhere else in the Universe. It is not hugely different to imagine that we could film an event here on Earth and beam it out into space, on a curved trajectory that would have it return to Earth many centuries from now. Or, we could just stick it on a flash card and carry it with us into the next century.
Consciousness creates now for an individual, but not necessarily for the collective. It explains how we experience a moment, by continuous input, so being conscious throughout our entire time line. But it does not explain how we all feel as if we are in the present moment together. Why do we not all experience 'now' out of sync'? Or, perhaps we do...
The journalist continued to experience her now, long after she transmitted and presumably at the same time as our now, even though we are not by her side to verify as much. Is there a universal clock that keeps us all in line? Like a laser beam, we might imagine it, running through everyone's time line, making us all aware simultaneously, even though we receive sensations from different origins. There is no reason to assume otherwise. Some process does seem to act so, as we do not appear to be growing older at different speeds. This Universal Clock would progress at the same rate for everyone, and yet physics asserts that our own clocks and watches do not.
In the 1970s work with atomic clocks proved the predictions made years earlier by Special Relativity: that all our time pieces - clocks, watches, etc. - tick along at different speeds, depending on our velocity.
If a space traveller sets off at a great speed from this planet, her on-board clock will slow down the faster she goes. This does not affect her ability to function; for her everything appears to be just fine. To some extent, we know this because people travel by jet airlines all the time; indeed, some atomic clock experiments were conducted on-board passenger planes.
The common consensus is this: while our clocks at home continue as normal and a few years pass, in that time, the speedy space traveller's clock has only registered a few months going by (an exaggeration in order to appreciate the difference). When she returns to Earth we will all be much older than she. From her younger perspective, she has somehow returned in our future. But, would she have?
It is expressed by the majority of academics, that our metabolism slows down as we accelerate. Just as the mechanisms in our clocks will function slower. Regardless, both we and those speedy space travellers would all be aware in the same moment (had we the means to communicate), demanding that there be a present moment by which we all abide.
An analogy of clock variances might be this: a vehicle's tachometer doesn't quite measure distance as accurately as one might hope if the tyres are worn - but the distance is still the distance. Clocks give us the impression they are reading the speed at which the present moment is moving toward the future, but this is considered a fallacy. If the battery in your watch is nearly dead, the arms move slower; we say your watch is losing time - but now, we maintain, is still now.
So, back to the speedy space traveller: Would she have returned in our future? Her now and our now seem locked together in progress, even though our measuring devices are not. The question never asked is: Why should she be bound to the 'now' of those with faster ticking clocks? If someone walks slower, do they live longer?
If 'now' is not a unilateral occurrence for everyone, it could be argued that her 'now' is just as relevant. But, as far as we are concerned, she must arrive home having completed her mission in the time we say, and the distance we calculate, in our present moment. What makes us right? She might just as easily return to Earth when her present moment dictates, and we have to abide by it. Projecting our own views on where 'now' is and how time flows for others is subjective, relative and quite un-informative. It is, simply, bending reality to conform with our self-influenced observations and self-induced calculations.
To truly consider time and any moment or event therein, we must disengage from it. Observing the universe from afar and being devoid of time, we see that there is no present moment we have imposed. We see all of time, not just the bit we choose. Think of it like this: If we watch a movie on two screens, one being at the proper speed and the other in slow motion, for some reason, when the movie on the first screen ends, the slow motion version has also proceeded through the same length of time. However, if you roll two marbles across a table, one travelling faster than the other, they do not keep pace with one another; the slower one falls behind.
Why does the slow motion movie keep up with the standard speed of the other? Because we determine the present moment. If we do not, then the slow motion movie will disappear soon after starting. It is still running, it still exists, but it is lagging behind. When we exchange the slow motion movie for the speedy space traveller, she no longer keeps up with the 'now' of those on planet Earth. However, because we are aware all throughout our timelines, she is in sync' with Earth in her own time, and we in earlier states of awareness will concur.
The slow marble can be seen to lag behind because matter and distance exist, in our minds, before and after the point at which the marble is situated. If time follows the same principle, and the past and the future exist either side of the present, then, when our metabolism slows due to increased velocity, we will also lag behind the present moment we had originally been experiencing with others.
It all boils down to one, plain fact: The present does not exist. In Cyclical Time it cannot. We think it does because we are all stuck together on this planet, travelling at the same speed through the cosmos. We presume that it therefore must elsewhere, and at the same time.
A similar scenario to the speedy traveller was beautifully illustrated in the H. G. Wells fictional classic, The Time Machine. The machine was a pod situated in the time traveller's living room. He was then somehow able to slow down the on-board clocks, while he could look out from the machine and watch the world around him fast-forwarding through time. The beauty of this concept is that he and his surroundings were in visual contact with one another, whereas we on the planet can never visually determine that a speeding astronaut traversing our galaxy and a few light years away, is in fact, living in slow motion from our point of view.
The way this clock variance is often looked at is as if we have two rulers laid out on a table, side by side. The slower clock of the astronaut being twice as long as ours on Earth, for example. When she passes through 30 minutes, we have reached one hour. That is not a problem, from our perspective, on Earth. But for her, after a journey of many months, there is a big problem: she will say she must have travelled at twice the speed we say she was going, in that time. Meanwhile, we are all shocked to see that she is so much younger than us.
She is a scientist well aware of relativistic physics and she knows that, while travelling, Lorentz Factors would have bent time and space so she would not have noticed any additional speed - while no such thing occurs to us. However, back on Earth she can look in the mirror and then examine her charts and say, without a doubt, she has travelled to a distant star and returned in less than a year - not ten years as prescribed by us.
A Universal Clock governing all has to assert that there is only one conscious, present moment for everyone, and that neither the past nor the future exist, simultaneously. What if they do, and we are all conscious in every moment along our time lines? When your clock slows down you actually see others a little bit behind their faster progressing 'now' and yet they are still conscious, as if you are lagging behind in their past; not the illusion, afore mentioned, that you would progress at the same rate they were, into their future.
Doing away with a Universal Clock governing 'now' implies that fundamentally we move in time, not space; so when we rush off into the cosmos at speed, we are shifting on our time line and no peculiar illusions surface regarding time travellers or variable speeds, as common consensus expresses above; there is only the apparent conclusion that superluminal velocities might be possible. Of course, this latter suggestion is at odds with Special Relativity, which is addressed in later chapters.
Different inertial frames of reference provide observers with differing views on when events occur. According to Special Relativity, no two events happen simultaneously. It is clear that relativistic physics makes things appear different to different observers: lengths, clocks, gravity, speeds, events and so on. However, awareness of 'now' has its roots somewhere else. As explained earlier, the present moment is a creation of conscious beings, it does not exist outside of awareness. On a planet with no lifeforms capable of reason, there would be no 'now'. There would certainly be motion: geological; gravitational; atmospheric and so on - but no experience of such things.
At relativistic speeds realities are unknown, only the physics. We don't know how astronauts might respond at such speeds, whether they would be lucid, whether they might be conscious, at all. And consciousness is key to our experience of now. 'Now' is the realm of psychology (and cats), not just physics. In this respect, physics can tell us what our clocks are doing, what our measuring devices are doing, what a robot is doing, but not what our human minds might be experiencing.
Physics says the impossibility of simultaneity is absolute, but then by contrast demands that our consideration of 'now' be the same for everyone. Physics has been having difficulties lately with concepts approaching the edge of knowledge and reason. Physics places limits on existence (such as light speed, zero Kelvin, the Universe and the Big Bang), and then says that if we approach those limits things start to get a bit strange. Perhaps known physical laws are having difficulty with limits, rather than reality.
In cyclical time and space there are no limits, there are no ends. And, for that reason there is no 'now'! Later chapters reveal more on this subject.
Returning to Cycles:
Of death we can say this: When we eventually lose our state of mental awareness, our molecules continue to exist. They join the myriad cycles of atomic arrangement that will eventually make up other entities, like gasses, liquids, rocks, plants and, perhaps, at some time in the future, parts of another creature that may become aware of time.
Cycles are everywhere. They are the affirmation of progress.
For example: There are many loops in the passage of time, from the very smallest to the biggest and most complex of them all: this universe. Every morning we set off for work, or drive the kids to school, or walk down to the mall. What do you know? Every day we return home, we recharge our batteries and the next day we're off again. Some times we pick our noses - usually the same way - we tie our shoe laces or check our mail, and often at almost the same time. One day is pretty much the same as the next, even if it may seem quite different.
What we experience is a progression through time that is in itself, one giant cycle; no end or beginning, nothing to screw it up. We are creatures of habit, we do not decide our fate, we are already connected to our future, so we can't screw it up, either. We sense the passing of time in a moment we call now, apparently all together, however this is just because we are firmly stuck to our planet. In reality we are conscious throughout time and can meander within it dependent on our velocities.
Part 3. Infinity, discusses the peculiar conditions for progress and temporal perception, and part 4. Dimensions, defines time as being a structure intimately related to our three spatial dimension.
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Home - pt1. Destiny - pt2. Time - pt3. Infinity - pt4. Dimensions - pt5. Velocity - pt6. Travel - pt7. Wrapper
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A synopsis of a work in progress. Copyright: A. Graham, 1988 - 2016
No unauthorised use of the material published or the concepts described herein is permitted.