The most difficult subjects can be explained to
the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but
the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is
firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is
laid before him. - Leo Tolstoy
Definition and Nature of Time
WARNING: If you enjoy "time travel" movies or TV programs, do NOT read
the rest of this article!
First of all, lets make sure that we understand the difference between
the words "time" and "eternity", because they are not the same. The
definition of eternity may be somewhat difficult to elaborate, but the
definition of time as we use the word should be very simple, clear and straightforward.
Since "time" is included in, and affects, not only our everyday
lives but also many physics equations and chemical recipes or
formulations, a proper definition of "time" is of the utmost
importance. It is helpful to realize that the chemical reactions in
the vessel are not really effected by some mysterious thing called
time but by the number of contacts or collisions that take place in
the soup of atoms and/or molecules. This gives us a big, fat clue
for what the factor "T" or time really stands or means.
This aspect of reality that we call "time" is integral to the currently
accepted physical paradigm called "relativity", and almost everyone
uses the term "space-time" continuum. We will challenge that on
a fundamental level of logic.
Albert Einstein was a gentle mathematical mystic who published three
important papers in 1905, one on Brownian motion, one on the
Photoelectric effect, and one on his theory of relativity. Here is some
of what H.C. Dudley has to say about these papers:
"These two theoretical papers are the reason for Einstein's receiving
the richly deserved Nobel Prize in 1921, although many historians of
science have led our students to believe that it was the much more
publicized Theory of Relativity that earned for him this coveted honor.
For this reason it is here emphasized that the papers on Brownian
movement and the photoelectric effect, based on directly observable
phenomena, are just as valid now as when written 70 years ago. Also it
is of utmost importance to note that these theoretical developments
required little or no use of the metaphysical mathematics and
philosophical assumptions which were becoming so popular in Western
Europe at that time." - Dudley, H.C., "The Personal Tragedy of
Albert Einstein", KRONOS I-4 Winter 1976
Dudley further remarks about the third paper that is so related to
our subject of the nature of time:
"In contrast to the theoretical methods which he had utilized in
treating Brownian movement and the photoelectric effect, Einstein in
developing Relativity allowed himself to become an integral part, in
fact a leading disciple, of the "school" which made use of metaphysical
mathematics. This group assumed time to be an independent variable,
combinable with three coordinates of space (Minkowski's space-time). He
assumed as true the following unproved attributes of the physical world:
A. That there
exists no "ether," no generalized subquantic medium by which absolute
motion could be determined.
B. That mass
and energy are interconvert able (E=mc')
C. Reversibility of time
With these unsupported hypotheses A and C, Einstein flew in the face of the
majority opinion then held by professional scientists, and particularly
experimentalists. He embarked on a course that brought eventual
disillusionment." - Dudley, H.C., "The Personal Tragedy of
Albert Einstein", KRONOS I-4 Winter 1976
And here is a foundational metaphysical principle and keen insight by
"And yet Einstein did
not destroy the Absolute. There is always an
Absolute in science. In
the nineteenth century it was the ether, but when the ether fell to
pieces and disintegrated, there was no Absolute left at all–a condition
intolerable to scientists, although they don't know it. Einstein made
space and time relative, but in order to do this he had to take
something else, which was the velocity of light, and make it absolute.
The velocity of light occupies an extraordinary place in modern
physics. It is lese majeste to make any criticism of the
velocity of light. It is a sacred cow within a sacred cow, and it is
just about the Absolutest Absolute in the history of human thought.
There is a textbook on physics which openly says, "Relativity is now
accepted as a faith." This statement, although utterly astounding in
what purports to be a science, is unfortunately only too true." - A.
Stander, Science Is a Sacred Cow (New York: E.P. Dutton, Everyman
All statements we ordinarily make about time seem to
imply that time
is something which we know it is not,
and make assumptions about it which
we know to be
- R. G. Collingwood, "Some Perplexities about
Time: With an Attempted Solution"
Proceedings of the
Aristotelian Society 26 (1925-1926): 138.
Premise 1: Eternity may be a somewhat mystical overarching
reality outside of the physical universe but Time is NOT , nor is
Time a THING that ANYBODY can do ANYTHING to. In other words, it cannot be reified.
Premise 2: The universe doesn't exist in time, but time exists in the universe.
Premise 3: The proper general definition of time is: The sequence of events in the material universe.
For a more specific definition for the purpose of physical equations
and chemical formulas we can add: The events are individual micro events on the
particle or sub-particle level.
Think about it this way. Generally, when we heat a chemical reaction, it
happens faster. Do we think that the heat is evaporating or destroying time?
No! Obviously the heat is just increasing the rate of molecular collision or
Leibniz objected to any conception of time which is exterior to
the objects that are normally said to be “in” time (time as an exterior
framework, a dimension), but he infused his thinking with confusion about
the eternality of God, entelechy, and a chronology of "nows".
The notable philosopher Immanuel Kant, considered by some to be
the center of modern philosophy, insists that he has given a rigorous
and conclusive proof for the proposition that the universe had a
beginning in time, and other philosophers have characterized the
proof as certain. He also insists that he has given a rigorous and
conclusive proof for the proposition that the universe did not have
a beginning in time, and other philosophers have characterized the
proof as certain.. Of course, this is a straightforward violation of
the Law of Contradiction, a concept held to be inviolate. He seems
to suggest not that both of these proofs are true but that they are both false.
This assertion of Kant's is a violation of another time-honored
concept, the Law of the Excluded Middle, which has it that two
contradictory propositions cannot both be false, nor can these two
be true. If two contradictory propositions can both be considered to
be false, then they can both be considered as true. "And yet Kant
accepts the conclusion that they are both false, and rejects the
conclusion that they are both true.[*]
What is going on here? What is the problem? The following
treatise on what time really is gives the explanation, but I will
relate first what the eminent philosopher G.E. Moore has to say
about Kant's assertions,
"Now suppose we say that, instead of proving these two
propositions, what his proofs really prove (if they prove anything
at all) is the following two hypothetical propositions. Namely (1)
If the world exists in time at all, then it must have
had a beginning, and (2) If the world exists in time
at all, then it can have had no beginning...For if we say that what
Kant proved is merely these two hypotheticals, then he has not
proved that these two contradictory propositions are both of them
true. For these two hypotheticals do not contradict one
Of course, what is being said is that the premise or "IF"
statement in both of the above are false, Bottom line? The universe doesn't
exist in time, but time exists in the universe.
Back in the summer of 2000 the chief astronomer and director of
the US Naval Observatory, the late Tom van Flandern, and I were over
in Italy to give presentations at the annual University of
Milano-Bergamo symposium. Both of us were staying up in Bergamo,
about an hour’s train ride to Milano. One morning we sat together on
the train to Milano and talked about time. He is the thinker that
really kick-started me to deal philosophically with this subject.
He said that he thinks about it along these lines. He asked me to
imagine there was nothing except empty space with just a faucet in
it. The faucet drips. The faucet drips again. He asked me how much
time there was between the drips, and I immediately saw and we agreed that the
question was unanswerable. There was nothing that we could say.
Then he asked me to visualize a second dripping faucet, one that
drips 60 times for every time the first faucet drips. Now, what can
we say? Well, we can now remark about the ratio being 60:1 on a regular
basis. And then we add a third faucet that drips 60 times for every time
the second faucet drips. Now we can remark not only about the
mathematical ratios, but we can now talk about cycles within cycles
and regularity in their relationships.
The experience of reality, of life content, and of
meaning is based on events
The above seems to be so obvious that it is trite or questionable to
mention it. However, there are three TYPES of events, 1) those that
we relate to as quantitative where they are triggered or created by
the physical, mechanical cycles that have been set in motion and
that have no further impact or meaning in and of themselves, and 2)
those that we relate to as qualitative where they are not cyclical
but have some "good or bad" impact on the quality of our life, and 3)
those that are qualitative but also purposeful in that these events
are triggered by some level of volition.
Time and Duration are based on
cyclical, quantitative discrete events
The question was asked above, "How much time is there between two
events?" We simply cannot say without counting the number of
quantitative cycles that we are using as a background or matrix, a
woven fabric canvass if you will upon
which we can “paint”our experience. In other words, the number of
"times" a clock ticks or the number of seasons, moon or solar
cycles. In our language we often use the word time to be synonymous
with the word event, as in "Plates of food were spilled three
"times" during the party," or "The batter came to the plate four
times during the game."
Consider the words "eventual" and "eventually". Don't these words
with the root "event"
mean further downstream in time, in the sequence of future events?
The Arrow of Time is based on Sequence
Humans and the higher orders of animals have an innate ability to
determine sequence. That in itself is a wonder, and is one of the
foundations of intelligence, the ability to apprehend reality. We
can distinguish sequence as long as the "interval" between is large
enough to be discernable. Sequence, an intangible, is more
fundamental than time.
So, humans experience time as a directional series of sequential
events, the smallest–of which we are generally only subconsciously
aware–being that of our heartbeat, essentially equivalent to a
second. Seconds to minutes to hours to days to weeks to months to
years to decades to centuries to millennia, all
mechanically determined cyclical series of events. Events or series
of events distinguishable from one another and in sequence provide
for the reality of our experience, including our experience of what
we call time. We use uniform cyclical, non-relevant events (such as
the ticking of a clock, or the vibration of an atom, or the
rotations or revolutions of the solar system) that mark out small
increments of duration to help us better keep track of the sequence
of more important, relevant events that affect our lives.
Put very straightly, without physical events to demarcate
experience in a sequence there would be no such thing as time.
And these are five important aspects for the basis of a
COMMON concept or standard of time tracking:
1. It must be externally imposed upon the corpus of individuals
2. It must be corporately experienced
3. It must be countable instead of measurable
4. It must be uniform to a useful degree
5. It must be tracked and recorded in some fashion.
One aspect of time should be emphasized and further elucidated:
There are two kinds of quantity, continuous or measurable,
and discrete or countable. - R. G. Collingwood
This is an important distinction elucidated by Collingwood. Time is NOT MEASURED
against an artificial standard, like the platinum bar in France for
the meter, but the events are COUNTED for time. This absolute "standard" is
built into our minds, and there is nothing arbitrary or artificial
about it because it is based on adding the unit one for each item.
Counts are either right or wrong–if done properly OR CORRECTLY they
are absolutely right, and if done improperly they are wrong.
In contrast, measurements are always approximations, and if precision is an
issue, they are done several times and statistical analysis is
applied using the mathematical technique of standard deviation. If
there are a few marbles in a bag, and we want to know exactly how many, we
count them; we do not apply some artificial standard and then
There is little or no point in counting events unless they are
essentially uniform. If an event is not effectively identical to
another, it is in a class by itself–no need to count the number because it is 1.
We should all know in this discussion that the ancient accounts
of “creation” are not descriptions of the beginning creation of the physical
universe, but are “accounts” of the creation of a new world
environment, a new “cosmic” order, or new age, the age of timekeeping. In
the somewhat recoverable history of Man, the
“beginning of time” was inaugurated for humans on earth by the cycles of the crescent on
the face of the planet Saturn, and some of the very words associated
with time–chronology, chronological, chronometer, synchronous, etc.–came from the
name of that planet, Chronos. Evidently, before the polar column was
formed and the regular cycles of morning and evening started
appearing on the “face of the deep”, humans were not exposed to any
significant, identifiable, celestial chronometer or regular cycle that provided
the underlying “time” fabric of background events. With these cycles of
morning and evening events and intervals being externally imposed and
corporately experienced, counted and kept track of, they provided
the background upon which were appended in human consciousness the
sequence of the more meaningful events of life. Thus was a new
“time” consciousness initiated in the earthly population.
After the breakup and the attendant catastrophic disruption of the
comparatively benevolent or benign environment, the brighter and dimmer part
of the cycle was turned into blackest night, which contrasted with a
too-bright day, an almost ultimate visual, cyclical contrast. Also, at
that point in history, life turned into more of an ordeal to survive in
contrast to a more carefree experience.
Thus the “tyranny of time”, the pressure of survival productivity
was imposed on the earthly human race.
Sequence is inviolate to our most fundamental concept of reality,
experience and logic. In other words, sequence is absolute and unassailable; it can never be altered or
reversed. If it could be, then the universe, the "order" of things,
would be truly unstable and chaotic. Is not the very word “order” a
synonym for sequence? There never could be even any meaning because it
could always be undone by changing the sequence of events. Sequence
is one of those non-material realities that even applies to
non-material events such as thoughts or imaginings.
Vibration and oscillation pervade our physical universe, and
every reversal of direction in an oscillation, every “wiggle” of
every polarity of every particle, every Brownian Motion collision
and all the other particle interaction events form a background fabric of time indicators
that happen in sequence. In the Electric Universe paradigm, every particle
electrically “knows” about every other in a connected universe. So,
every event has some affect upon all the others, if only a
“vanishingly small” and irrelevant one. Thus when “t” as a symbol of
time is used in a scientific equation or chemical formula, it
doesn’t stand for some mysterious, indefinable aspect of reality,
but it represents the multitude of background events being
demarcated by that period or duration that have some effect upon the phenomenon
symbolized by the equation or formula.
Existence precedes time
Further thoughts. Existence is not based on time, but time is
based on existence and events in the physical universe. IMO, we need
to learn to think and talk more carefully about these fundamental
issues. Examples of nonsensical questions might be, “Was there ever
a time when there was nothing?” or “Was there ever a time before the
physical universe existed?” or “What happens when time runs out?” or
“If there was a beginning, what existed or happened before the
beginning?” And we COULD be more careful in our terminology, and an
example is that a minute is not a time but is a duration.
So, to repeat, time is an aspect of or an adjunct to the physical
universe based on physical events. Simply put, no material
universe, no time! But that does not mean that time can be
reified, because “time” is not a thing in and of itself. Time is not
something that can be slowed down or speeded up nor can it be
reversed. If synchronized clocks or metronomes get out of sync, “one
must look at which mechanisms or processes can cause that”. Also,
dimensions are not something that can be reified in order to be
compressed or stretched. The theories of “Relativity” are thoroughly
confused on these points.
The essence of all
perceived reality is contrast or difference, change, discontinuity, limits
and irreversibility. Our senses essentially only convey information about
differences or contrasts. Despite what mind-imbalanced science speculators
and popularizers say about Time, human beings relate to Time as a series of
sequential events. The most fundamental aspect of the reality that I live
in (or any other that I might want to live in) is the irreversibility of
Time or sequential events.
It is true that one of
the fundamental assumptions that Einstein made in formulating his Theory of
Relativity was that Time was reversible, but despite his popularity and press
exposure during that period, he became more and more uncomfortable with his theory as "time"
went on. Contrary to popular opinion, the famous Michaelson-Morley
experiment, having supported Relativity, did not demonstrate that Relativity
was correct but just did not falsify it. My understanding is that Chaos
Science demonstrates there is a direction or arrow of Time.
The concept of time
travel based on reversibility of Time is one of the most vacuous of ideas that have
been given such exposure, and is suitable only for people that cannot think
critically, those that can be talked into accepting that 2 + 2 = 5 for large
enough values of 2. Having said that, there are some paradigms of reality,
such as the Holographic Universe paradigm, that conceptually would allow our
minds to revisit the implicate realm or "holographic record" of the past and
view it and/or experience it but not change it, just as we don't change a
movie by watching it.
We talk of three aggregations of time: the past, the
present, and the future. The past is that part of the sequence of events
that have already happened, and the present is that small interval for us
personally between one awareness and the next, and the future has not been
created yet. So, there CANNOT be any melding or confusion between these references.
But Albert Einstein made one telling comment before he
died in 1955:
"For us believing physicists the distinction between past,
present, and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one." as
reported by Snow, C.B., 1991, Dreams of the Future,
"Believing" physicists? Yes. Critical thinking physicists?
NO! Einstein showed his mystical lunacy with this remark.
The above conceptual presentation is NOT "rocket science". It is way
past "time" that we become more intellectually responsible and less
confused in our thinking!
[*] Moore, G.E., Some Main Problems in Philosophy, Collier
Books, New York City, NY, p. 183.
[**] Moore, G.E., Some Main Problems in Philosophy, Collier
Books, New York City, NY, p. 184.