Reflections on Time

We are all very familiar with time, making appointments, being hurry, putting the alarm clock to silence, planning for the future etc. Time plays an important role in our lives. But what is time? We have never seen it nor heard it nor experienced it directly. Is it possible to getting closer to this strange thing called time?

Obviously, there is some sort of relation between movement and time. Movement takes place in the real world. Movement can be experienced directly due to a certain slowness in our perception. That is the reason why the sequence of pictures in a movie is perceived as moving figures. And that is the reason why the sequence of tones is perceived as melody.

It is - in addition - possible to observe lasting movements: If I keep the head quiet, I may see a car crossing my field of vision in front of me. It has taken time according to the with of my field of vision. I can - if I turn my head after the car - increase the duration of the car's movement across my field of vision. If the distance to the car's crossing road increases so that the car has a longer way to cross my field of vision, the duration of the observed movement will increase accordingly.

Time "itself" can not be perceived. Time is a word - invented by thought. Time doesn't exist in the real world, only as idea - or ideas - in our heads. Thought has invented the notions of "past" and "future", where past and future only exist as conceptions in our minds, nowhere else. This psychological dimension of time creates the idea of a future time coming and time passing along. In addition thought can imagine movement. It can think and hear a melody within the mind; thought can think and see the flight of a bird within the mind. Thought can simulate what senses have perceived.

All that happens in the real world and in the mind, happens now - all movement, all changes, all action takes place now - all the time. Nothing can escape the now. The real world and its changes are accessible to the senses who perceive "what is" as it is now. On the other hand thought is dominated by the dimension of time as past and future. Thus, time and now exist in the mind - simultaneously - obviously without any conflict(!) as most drivers have experienced when observing the street coming against one while thinking what to do tomorrow.

The lack of time in nature has become a problem to a mind dominated by future and past. The invention of the clock and putting it "everywhere" in our surroundings have solved the problem. Most clocks have tree hands, the third of them - eagerly counting seconds - has the ability to confirm that time is moving. Thus time has become a moving aspect of manmade nature.

We have seen that our senses convey now-information of the real inner and outer world to consciousness, and that consciousness is dominated by thought as future and past. We have further seen that movement is real and the notion of time a fiction.

However, this distinction is not so clear. There seems to be some "grey zones" as the real things called velocity and duration imply time. Thus, movement has two real qualities that imply time and can be measured: duration and velocity.

Obviously, velocity is a real aspect of movement. We are for instance able to observe two cars driving with different speeds. As velocity implies time, the "non-existing" time has become part of the real thing called velocity.

Duration is another example. Normally, we cannot observe duration directly, only the consequences of lasting movements. But thought can record the whole observed process and simulate it afterwards; the starting point, the movement in-between and the end. Thus - through this collaboration between observation and thought - duration becomes a quality of movements in our minds, and it seems to be real. One may talk about the chronological aspect of time; that the end comes after the beginning, that lasting movements have consequences etc. - This seems to be so in the real world and in our minds.

How measure the non-existing time? It is impossible. It is however possible to measure the two aspects of movements which imply time, namely duration and velocity.

All measurement is based on comparison, and so is measurement of time - through measurement of the duration and velocity of movement. The movement to be measured is compared with a standard movement based on the oscillation of atoms in atomic clocks - for practical purposes accumulated to hours, days and years. The practical tools - or scale - is given through calendar and clocks: The defined movement that all other movements are measured against or compared with.

A duration of the movement to be measured is limited by two "nows"; one at the beginning of the duration and one at the end. The same two nows are marked at the standard scale, and the duration is the piece of scale between the two nows on the scale. And what about the velocity? Velocity is distance divided by duration, and thus, the challenge is dealt with.

What is said above seems to be of general application. However, science seems to think differently. There are however, contradictions in their theories.

The way time is measured makes time dependant on the behaviour of atoms in matter. As this behaviour depends on some physical conditions and natural laws, time - as understood in science - has been made dependant on the same conditions. As variations of these conditions can influence the atoms to move slower or faster, time - as a consequence - will also move - or "go" - slower or faster. But can time go? - with a velocity? It seems that time has become - or has been made - dependant on time! All the same - all that happens, happens now. Consequently the distance between two nows must be the same in the entire universe. The now seems to unify the whole universe.

There is some discussion going on among scientists if it is possible to change the past and to undertake time travels. In the scientists brains there are some time-based models of the outer world. In these models past and future are realities. Therefore the past can be changed. In a similar way, they say, can the sequence of events - the time arrow - be turned back to front. The mechanism of the models make that possible as the models have no such restrictions. The question is: Has the outer world the same freedom as the models? Obviously not. The past doesn't exist and can consequently not be changed. And the arrow of events cannot be reversed. Time isn't a real "entity" in the real world - past and future don't exist at all. There seems - however - to be an arrow of events in the real world called growing entropy, and that arrow can not be reversed either.

Time remains a mystery. Is time real or not real? - present or not present? - measurable or not measurable? Is time - the everlasting now - an all-penetrating reality that cannot be grasped? Is the mysterious now giving birth to the mysterious flow of time? And what role does consciousness play?

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Alt innhold © 1999-2009 Johan Lem.