For some reason scientists (physicists mostly) think only they have the right to answer “What is Time?” They are blinkered either by the unquestioned assumption that it’s a science problem, or maybe by the limits of their own cognitive envelope.
In Time Reborn ((2013, all) Professor Lee Smolin struggles to make sense of the destination science has achieved with time – it doesn’t add up – science has failed.
Space-time seems to be a sticking point, particularly for scientists. Einstein showed that space and time are connected. And he did this, did he not, without a full understanding of what time is. (He actually said that he had no idea if time really existed or was an invention of man).
So breaking down time does impact on what we think we understand space-time to be. But the starting point to that has to be to understand time itself.
Why is the question of “what is time” a science problem? Time makes no causal impact, it has no outcomes, it doesn’t do anything; there’s nothing to evidence it has an existence – you can’t see it, hear it, smell it or touch it (all we observe are events). It’s not like speculating about say, gravity – where the effects of gravity can be seen, proved and hypothesized. Time causes nothing, affects nothing and produces nothing. How can it be a science problem then?
[“Doesn’t time cause ageing?” I hear you cry. Well, no. You age because of the complex bio-chemistry happening in your body – time is merely a measure of the results of that process. Time measures, it doesn’t cause (see ‘Time as a force?’)]
With no evidence to suggest is has a separate existence, time is then just a word, a badly defined one at that. Until we (scientists included) have agreed what the word’s definition is, we can’t speculate about its nature nor make assertions about what it can or can’t do.
So “what is time” is first and foremost a semantic problem. We must define the word first – what do we collectively mean by time?
This website defines the two core dictionary derived meanings of time. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, from these definitions, and a little logical analysis, time is wholly explainable; simply and succinctly (and not a scientist in sight).
Science ain’t working here; time for change.
Below are the three notions that, together, show time is merely an intermediary word – an abstract, or a shorthand – and is hence very simple to explain:-
- There are TWO root dictionary definitions of time:-
a) as an abstract framework (a scale – aka a dimension) for measuring, referencing and indexing events (i.e. the t in science); and
b) as a non-specific collective (or set, or group) of events (‘Time’ is to events like ‘Traffic’ is to vehicles).
(where an event is an occurrence of [quantum] change – change of state OR change of position i.e. motion)
These definitions are subtly but crucially different, and are explained more fully later.
2. The ONLY evidence we have of ‘time passing’ is (change) events – quantum motion maybe and/or compound events. Zillions and Zillions of them. Change events happen. Time doesn’t cause them.
3. Period (or interval or duration) appears to justify the existence of time; after all period is defined as a division of time. Here we show that period and interval are definable in terms of events only. (For some people it’s “persistence” that is the sticking point…it expresses the same condition as interval, and is also deconstructed below – see persistence) And once you have defined period in terms of events, time itself becomes redundant. This is the tricky, slippery, but crucial piece to understand; but it wiles away time.
The above three points, taken together, determine that time can always be expressed explicitly in terms of something else – events (or happenings, or change, or motion at the quantum level if you prefer); and hence time ceases to be a necessary concept – it’s a useful abstract. Everything can be explained outside of the need for the word time [and so ‘puff’ – time disappears!].
For what else other than events (change) is there to indicate time? Without events there is no time.
As we shall see, time is very simply just about things happening – “Events, dear boy, events”