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"Time does not exist; it is merely our perception." Discuss. Watch

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    We cannot prove in an absolute sense that time exists - there might only be this one moment right now. Additionally, we cannot know the direction of time - indeed, saying that it goes 'forwards' is meaningless. If time went 'backwards', we would experience reality just the same, except with the interesting implication that the 'future' was already determined.

    I've previously written the following on the subject:
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    The Nature of Time

    December 2012

    Something I thought about a lot when I was living in France for the year was the nature of time. This was probably because it naturally went hand in hand with frequently considering how long I had left until it was time to leave and revert back to my old student life. The year was sort of like a long countdown.

    When considering the nature of time, there seems to be two approaches. The first is philosophical: questioning our perceptions of time; the second is physical: questioning what can be said to be fundamentally true about time. In other words, the philosophical study of time can tell us about our experience of time, and the physical study of time can tell us to what degree our experience couldn't be any other way.

    Physically speaking, space-time is the 'canvas' upon which matter and energy can exist, and so the existence of physical entities such as us implies (at least in our universe) their placement somewhere in space-time. But when we try to get more specific and separate the two concepts of space and time in order to create time-only concepts, we run into problems. For example, the concept of 'now' has no physical definition because time is relative and necessarily attached to location in space. Physical time, it seems, isn't linear like we're psychologically geared to believe.

    This idea, it's fair to say, was groundbreaking when it was first suggested and it's part of the reason why Einstein's become so revered — the people who shatter our world views tend to get remembered. The understanding of time as a 'fourth dimension' is also traditionally attributed to him, but this isn't accurate — H.G. Wells' The Time Machine published in 1895 clearly talks about time its own separate dimension, parallel to the three spatial dimensions. What Einstein did do, however, was publish his theory of special relativity in 1905 where, in his paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," he introduces, among other things,[1] a model of 4-dimensional physics where time and space are interconnected.

    Today we've progressed further and have discovered Planck time — the shortest physically possible unit of time. Such an idea easily evokes the most vigorous of head-scratching, as it immediately takes us back to one of Zeno's paradoxes, which had up to then been being quite comfortably ignored. When Zeno of Elea[2] offered up these riddles, they caused a great amount of confusion among the Greeks, who thankfully had the sense to label them "paradoxes" and wait for some discovery to come along to expose the trickery involved, rather than conclude that their systems of logic must therefore be wrong and start over.

    Wikipedia explains Zeno's arrow paradox in the following manner:

    In the arrow paradox (also known as the fletcher's paradox), Zeno states that for motion to occur, an object must change the position which it occupies. He gives an example of an arrow in flight. He states that in any one (durationless) instant of time, the arrow is neither moving to where it is, nor to where it is not. It cannot move to where it is not, because no time elapses for it to move there; it cannot move to where it is, because it is already there. In other words, at every instant of time there is no motion occurring. If everything is motionless at every instant, and time is entirely composed of instants, then motion is impossible.

    — Zeno's Paradoxes — Wikipedia
    With the discovery of Planck time, we really have discovered that time is a series of points rather than a smooth, continuous transition. This is not the only quirk of time, however.

    The philosophical approach raises different troubles. From a philosophical examination we might say that the experience of time is purely subjective. Our experience of it leads us to believe that time moves 'forwards', but in actuality this is meaningless. Time might move 'backwards', but our experience of existence would be the same as it is now. Douglas Adams understood this point when he introduced in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the race of aliens who believed everyone moves through time facing the wrong way round because we can only see what's already passed us by, rather than what's approaching us.

    From a position of scepticism, there is no evidence for the existence of time except the existence of the present moment. There is a Cartesian doubt about whether a demon[3] may be playing a trick on us, having simply brought us into existence with false history and false memories, perhaps only to subsequently send us all back to the void. If this (or any comparable scenario) were the case, we would have no way of knowing.

    Certainly, we're able to say that, subjectively speaking, 'now' exists, but we can't extend this to infer that either subsequent or previous instances in time have existed or will exist. We can't truly know that the past existed, nor that there will be a moment after this one. It feels obvious that probably the past did (or does or will) exist, and the future will (or did or does) exist, but I couldn't feel confident in saying anything about the actual order of those events; all I can be confident about is my own perception of the order of those events.

    Time may not move in a line at all — perhaps it happens all at once, and every experience is just a different perspective of that one instant. Perhaps the universe is a temporal singularity — such a scenario could potentially explain why we can have different definitions of 'now' for different locations. The point here though is that we can't tell.

    So, if we can't tell, why should we want to know? Because, if time did move backwards (or indeed, if it happened all at once), one implication would be that we had no free will; the outcome of the universe would already be set — it would already exist — and so the 'future' would be pre-ordained.

    In any of these cases, our experience in each moment would be the same as it is now, no matter what order each one actually happened in. The picture on the puzzle box would already be filled in — all the pieces would exist somewhere, only not assembled yet. Free will would be an illusion.

    Near the beginning of my time in France I imagined being able to 'fast-forward' through time to some point in the future. I then immediately wondered whether I'd already done it. There would be no way to tell — all we have to go on are our memories and our 'sense' of how long it took. Indeed, upon following this idea, I soon realised that the 'speed' of the progression of time was ipso facto meaningless.

    In order to measure something, it needs to be measured against something else in order for a comparison to be made. With time, our only point of reference is how many 'events' happen in between two set temporal points — we're unable to then invoke a time-measurement again to measure the duration of any of these events, because the duration is always whatever we defined it to be. If time was moving 'fast', or 'slow', we wouldn't know.

    We feel time plodding along, but since we couldn't ever notice if the duration of the events composing a unit of one second changed, we have no reference points to judge it. Indeed, what would it mean for God to change the length of a second if the number of events that could happen in a second remained the same?

    Time is an extraordinarily peculiar phenomenon. Whenever I think about it, I take a moment to notice how old I am, and then I immediately feel thankful that the answer is still relatively young. The answer to the question of how old I am, on its own, is after all arbitrary — the answer could be any value within the range of 0 to however old I will happen to be when I die. I'm always pleased therefore when the answer turns out to be in the former half of the range,[4] because there's nothing that says it has to be. Many times when I ask the question, I expect that it won't be.

    1. Other major contributions included in special relativity are lightspeed as a fundamental physical constant and the equivalency between matter and energy (E=mc2). This formula, it should be noted, is not the complete version, which is unfortunately much more complicated.
    2. Zeno of Elea is generally credited with what are named "Zeno's paradoxes", and is thought to have lived between 490 and 430 BCE.
    3. René Descartes, when proposing his famous cogito ergo sum argument in what has now been termed 'Cartesian doubt', explained the scenario of a demon tricking one's senses. The modern-day equivalent of this would be the idea of being plugged into The Matrix, which doesn't seem so bad when one considers all the kung-fu.
    4. Of course, no one has the luxury of knowing when they're going to die, so I have to estimate. I also choose the word 'luxury' on purpose; while many people probably don't want to know when they're going to die, I have the idea in my head that it would probably be quite motivating.
    http://journalofinterest.com/essays/nature-of-time/
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    If time does not exist, all things around us stand still. People are not getting older, societies would not changing, nothing comes into being. But it is possible to influence time. Time may go by slowly or fast, according to whether you have fun or you are bored . From this perspective the lapse of time is a perception of ourselves.
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    I think time is real. It is going and we can measure it so I'm saying it's real! and this was my first post, so yay!
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    (Original post by teenqueen)
    I think time is real. It is going and we can measure it so I'm saying it's real! and this was my first post, so yay!
    All sorts of things can be measured by people. That is not the point. Time is just a word for measurement of moving things. But the fact that things are moving all the time is an evidence for the existence of time.
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    You cant go to future and past so , yeah it doesnt exist but, its a measurement of changes


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    (Original post by Metafiend)
    You cant go to future and past so , yeah it doesnt exist but, its a measurement of changes


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    Yes you can. It would take you time to get there, but theoretically, I could leave Earth and return 1,000 earth years later, having only aged days.
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    Yes time is a concept. We have time zones which where all things derived from some proffessuers!
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    (Original post by Metafiend)
    You cant go to future and past so , yeah it doesnt exist but, its a measurement of changes
    Precisely! your definition is a little bit better than my own one.

    (Original post by mikeyd85)
    Yes you can. It would take you time to get there, but theoretically, I could leave Earth and return 1,000 earth years later, having only aged days.
    Do you think about time dilation? Einstein gave an interesting example: as you know twins have the same age. One of them
    goes into a rocket and leave the earth. And although he was just few days on the way, fifty years has gone by on earth when the twin came back. That is to say the other twin was 50 years older in a flash!
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    (Original post by Kallisto)
    Do you think about time dilation? Einstein gave an interesting example: as you know twins have the same age. One of them goes into a rocket and leave the earth. And although he was just few days on the way, fifty years has gone by on earth when the twin came back. That is to say the other twin was 50 years older in a flash!
    Exactly! :yep:
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    (Original post by Farm_Ecology)
    Not really. It suggests that time is a dimension that can be warped, as with space.
    Exactly this. Could you not argue that space is a perception? Early physics experiments that preceded relativity tried to find the speed at which the Earth was moving relative to a constant universal field (Michelson-Morley). The experiment failed to show such a field which implies there isn't a fixed space upon which the universe happens. Ultimately all spatial positions and measurements are relative to artificially defined points.

    Its not shocking that the same is true in time. We can artificially define points in time and then talk about the "distance" or "speed" of getting from one point to another, just as we do space. As such I suppose you could say what we define as time is only valid as much as our perception of it, but the same events would occur in the same way regardless of our perception.
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    It seems that I'm the first to reply.
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    (Original post by HumanSupremacist)
    "Time does not exist; it is merely our perception."

    Discuss.
    Minkowski space time - time definitely exists but is perceived differently depending on tge speed of tge observer.

    Besides which, the way we measure time is totally arbitrary anyway
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    (Original post by Metafiend)
    You cant go to future and past so , yeah it doesnt exist but, its a measurement of changes
    Well that remains to be seen. Theoretically, both the past and future exist. Time isnt flowing, we are flowing through it. The idea of going to the past is more or less a technical problem than a theoretical one.
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    (Original post by mikeyd85)
    Exactly! :yep:
    If we are explaining the existence of time by Einstein's time dilation, then there must be spheres (intertial frames) in which the change last longer or shorter than on earth. That is to say that time has not the same duration everywhere. From that point of view I realize that time has an own law. That confirmed the existence of time. If we are able to prove this theory, we get the ultimate evidence that time is not a perception of ourselves.
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    I would simply draw your attention to this lengthy, multi-part documentary on the subject which not only confirms the existence of time, but explores its nature, including how it may be manipulated and the consequences were it to cease to exist: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006q2x0
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    (Original post by Kallisto)
    If we are explaining the existence of time by Einstein's time dilation, then there must be spheres (intertial frames) in which the change last longer or shorter than on earth. That is to say that time has not the same duration everywhere. From that point of view I realize that time has an own law. That confirmed the existence of time. If we are able to prove this theory, we get the ultimate evidence that time is not a perception of ourselves.
    It is probably the most confirmed 'fact' in the whole of science from both direct and indirect experimental evidence. Vast swathes of modern physics rely on special relativity being correct.
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    Time zones allow us to go back or forth in time; so technically, you've gained or lost hours, but haven't travelled back in time. Although you can contact your previous time zone and it will still be the same time there. In this sense, the abiliy to tell the time is a concept used to quantify it - a universal method, but is based on the position of the Earth relative to the Sun.

    However, perception of time seems to speed up as you get older. Is this because you are more aware of time passing?

    I'm neither a scientist nor a philosopher, and may have just confused myself more.
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    (Original post by Farm_Ecology)
    Well that remains to be seen. Theoretically, both the past and future exist. Time isnt flowing, we are flowing through it. The idea of going to the past is more or less a technical problem than a theoretical one.
    There is only now. Everything that happened and will be happening will be in now-David icke#makesense


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    (Original post by mikeyd85)
    Yes you can. It would take you time to get there, but theoretically, I could leave Earth and return 1,000 earth years later, having only aged days.
    How do you count that 1000 years?


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    (Original post by JayJay89)
    However, perception of time seems to speed up as you get older. Is this because you are more aware of time passing?
    I reckon this is because as you get older, a day becomes a smaller segment of your life.

    For example, when you're 10, a year is 10% of your life. When you get to 20, a year is only 5% so it feels incredibly short and insignificant compared to your life so far.
 
 
 
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