Does Time measure or is it the thing being measured?

I asserted earlier that, based on the dual core meaning of the word Time, then we can consider that Time (the abstract framework) can be used to measure Time (the non-specifc set of events). This is worth investigating further…what actually is being ‘measured’.

So, before I stated that this dual meaning of time overcomes the conundrum of Time measuring Time, step back to your initial understanding. And, I think  it’s fair to say that we all assumed that time is what was being measured (that’s what clocks do isn’t it?).

But is time measured? If you don’t know what time is (and you didn’t until I told you) , how can you possibly measure it? (Particularly if you assume it to be an abstract – how can you measure an abstract?)

I repeat this to reinforce its significance. If we don’t know what time is (and that was our starting point) how then can we measure it? How can we possibly measure something that we can’t define? This is so fundamental, and yet is just glossed over (including by eminent academics!)

However, we can assert that it is a measurer, because we have defined it as the abstract framework which we know we use to measure, for example, our own age.

If time is the measurer what does it measure? Well, it measures the gap between two events – what else is there? Sometimes the ‘event’ is notional (like ‘now’) but in all other conditions, in all other ways we use time in its measurement context to measure the gap between two events.

This highlights another misunderstood principle – that time is specific to a closed set of an event, a gap and another event. If it measures, then it can only be a measure for this simple, closed set. In the same way that distance only measure from one point to another point.

This then brings us to another very important understanding – if time is specific to a single set, in isolation this set only has its own time reference – there isn’t a universal reference. As an example, suppose we have regard to a specific static (isolated) object. And say an event happens to that object, and then nothing (a gap), and then another event. The value of the gap is wholly irrelevant to the static, unchanging, isolated object – be it 1 second or 1 million years. If the object is unchanging you could say it’s timeless. Any value attributed to the ‘gap’ has no intrinsic meaning to the object itself; it is only an externally inputted value arrived at by reference to an external arbitrary calibration (e.g. a continual event series such as the earth’s rotation or the ticking of a clock).

Without reference to an external event-series, time doesn’t ‘pass’ for this simple set. So a clock might measure the ‘gap’, but that gap isn’t time, it is simply a static unchanging (timeless) object –  time is the measurer not the measured. It is irrelevant to a single isolated set (event, gap, event).

The framework that we have constructed based on an event-series to measure (calibrate) periods is one of our definitions of time; and time can’t measure time unless we are giving time two distinct definitions.

Time measures duration, periods, intervals doesn’t it?

This idea of time being irrelevant to an isolated set is hard to grasp when all around us we apparently see ‘time passing’. If I want to know how long my daily jog is, I start my stop-watch at the beginning of my jog, and stop my stop-watch when I finish. And this tells me how much time have I taken to complete my jog.

So is time measuring the period of my jog? Or am I measuring the time taken for my jog? Or do we use time to measure the time of my jog? I think we use time in different ways, and it can mean both the period being measured and the unit of measurement.

As we’ve already argued, time can’t measure time. Isn’t this rather confusing? It’s certainly unhelpful when trying to consider what time is. Maybe we should say “I am measuring the duration of my run using a unit of calibration based on a regular event-series”, which keeps time out of it.

But does it? Duration is a reference to time? Duration, period and interval are all amounts of time. Duration is “the length of time something continues or exists” according to A period has several references to time in its different definitions, including an interval of time, and a round of time by which time is measured. And interval is an intervening period of time (we’ve already mentioned that circularity is a problem in defining time, but there is something about each of these words constituting an amount of time).

Again we have a reference to an amount of time. Doesn’t that edge us closer to the idea that time IS a thing, a concrete noun, something tangible?

Well, if only the self-same dictionary could offer us a more fulsome explanation to what this ‘time’ that duration, period and interval are an amount of actually is. To offer a definition of something (period) in terms of something else (time) that is so inadequately described, is not helpful.

But as we have broken down the meaning of time as used in a variety of dictionaries ourselves, let’s use our own definitions. We have the two definitions; a framework and a collective of events:-

  1. Can period be referring to the abstract framework definition of time? Is period an amount of the abstract framework? Well, it’s an abstract, so how can anything be an amount of it.
  1. So, period being an amount of time must be referring to the use of time as a mass noun – a collective term for a non-specific set of events. Period is actually giving us a subset of events. Could period be referring to a non-specific set of events?

This makes sense. The period from the beginning of my jog to the end of my jog is specified by the events of me starting my jog and me finishing my jog. And it is calibrated by reference to the earth’s motion during my run. The earth rotated for 1/48th of a complete cycle if I did a 30 minute jog.

So period, duration and interval are therefore calibrated by reference to an (external) event-series; hence can they be explained without the need for time? It’s worth taking a closer look, as this is important.