There’s No Time Like Physics

Posted on August 3, 2007. Filed under: Science |

“It may be that the best way to think about quantum reality is to give up the notion of time-that the fundamental description of the universe must be timeless.”

The above is quoted from Discover Magazine‘s article Newsflash: Time May Not Exist. It gives support for the position that measurable time is a mental construct. Physicists say Time is what keeps everything from happening at once. Metaphysicians often state that everything does happen at once. We chose to invent time when we decided to have physical experiences, so that those experiences would be ordered, structured, and comprehensible.

It may be next to impossible to imagine a life without time, although perhaps nearly all of us have had moments of timelessness. For me, these are often involved with music–rehearsing, performing, or listening to it. I can get caught up in composing or arranging and getting it “just right”. Then, I’ll realize that several hours have gone by in what feels like the space of a few minutes. Others may experience this feeling in art, or work, or love.

We have pithy sayings to describe this: “Time flies when you’re having fun!” We tend to think it’s a psychological trick, but some physicists state that it’s a very “real” phenomenon. Time does actually speed up or slow down depending upon our conscious attention to it.

“…our ordinary clocks don’t measure something that’s independent of the universe. In fact…clocks don’t really measure time at all.”

We were taught that our universe is linear. It started with the “big bang” some billions of years ago, and will keep expanding until, at some moment, it STOPS. And then begins to contract again. And will eventually disappear. Aside from the obvious questions–“What happened before the big bang? What will happen after the universe disappears?”–there are questions like “Who was there to measure this, anyway? How could we know? Can there have been light-years before there was light?”

In school, at least in Western education, we are taught about “primitive” cultures, who hadn’t invented clocks yet. We’re told charming stories about how friends would arrange to meet “when the sun makes a pattern like a bull upon the big boulder”. Yet, some of these cultures left monuments containing amazingly precise solar and lunar calculators. They just didn’t run their lives by the second as we do. It appears that the movement of the heavenly bodies through space led us to start to measure time in days, months, years–and finally hours. Now we are told that those hours don’t exist independently of our observation of them.

“…he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” – Einstein, upon the death of a friend.

People who “believe” in physics??? A traditional scientist would state that physics just “is”. Did physics exist before the universe? What does the word “before” mean in this context? I don’t know how we can discover or postulate findings like those articulated in the above quotes without a healthy dose of wonder.

The full article, and many fascinating links, can be seen here: Discover Magazine

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One Response to “There’s No Time Like Physics”

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Excellent article, I totally agree.

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