Time is then both the dimension of change and the ‘flow’ of change, depending on the context of its use.
That means it is no longer a mystery. Time can be fully explained outside of itself.
That time is an abstract, be it with two distinct core meanings, does have consequences for some of the assumptions and (mis)understanding that people have for time. For instance: –
- Well, even if it doesn’t cause ageing, it allows ageing…without time what do we age into?
- Time is universal; there is only one time across the whole universe, right?
- Don’t the past present and future all exist?
- But we can travel in time, just as soon as we invent the time machine.
- Time has to be eternal, right?
Time ‘allows’ ageing?
What else then might people mean when they assert that time causes ageing?
What some people mean (I think) is that time allows ageing. If something ages, they say, it has to have the ‘time-space’ in which to perform this ageing. Time-space being never quite defined, but meaning new time in which to exist, as if time is like a carpet being continually rolled out just in front of our ever-forwarding steps. (This is similar to the idea of persistence, as already looked at). The misconception then is that time creates this time-space where the ageing occurs. So they think this therefore gives time another ‘dimensional property’.
[Again, unfortunately, the idea that dimensions are all spatial does create some peculiar baggage that comes with borrowing from the three-spatial dimension word-toolbox.]
So, to clear up this misconception. If something has just changed, yes it now occupies a new form (and you can calibrate this change from old form to new form using time); but equally well it’s lost its old form – that’s now overwritten. Time isn’t some on-going extension – or at least if it is, then the past shrinks as quickly as the future extends – so there is a net nothing. We simply exist in a momentary instant of a particular universal configuration, which changes continually to a next configuration. All individual objects have their own event (time) series. They are unsynchronised (at least there seems to be no evidence that they are synchronised). There is no universal frame by frame advance, just merely unsynchronised quantum events happening individually.
In other words, Time has no depth or dimensional properties. We exist in the merest slither of ‘time’ which changes (advances) only as events happen. And events overwrite what previously existed in the slither, so the slither never need have any depth (and “depth” is just an approximation caused by the observer’s de-minimis limitations). The slither of time is as small as the observer can make it – limited only by the ‘instantaneous-ness’ of quantum events.
And the real truth is that as there are zillions of events happening all the time and they are unsynchronised, there probably isn’t a ‘moment’ when there isn’t something happening in the universe somewhere. So an ‘instant in time’ probably never actually occurs.
But Time is universal, surely
We’ve seen that change happens and is independent of time. In fact time is dependent on change.
But change events are unique to every object. Indeed, if a specific object is in a static state, it isn’t experiencing ‘time’ (other than as a measurement relative to external objects – see ‘Interval‘). There is no universal time, unless you called the aggregate of all events, i.e. the universal set of events, time. But that, as a compound set, has no specificity, so can’t be calibrated against anyway.
No two objects will experience the same event-series, every quantum particle (indeed, every composite object) is unique in it’s spatial existence, and hence its energy influences. Hence time can’t be an absolute, because change is not an absolute.
So, there is no “universal” time; time is specific to each quantum event.
But time ticks the same everywhere?
This shouldn’t be confused with time as a calibration. Of course, if you have a standard calibration system, then it is universal (for example, the metric system could be considered universal). So your measurement of change rate is standard.
This comes back again to which time is being referred to – the standard calibration framework, or some aggregation of unsynchronised, specific change events (i.e. the mass noun).
Units of time – frame by frame?
A ball rolls (or the earth spins) does it roll, stop, roll, stop in unperceivably small units of time. frame by frame? Quite simply, no. Each fundamental particle that makes up the whole ball will operate according to its own unique, independent event-series.
However, the ball is a composite of the billions of individual event-series occurring to the individual particles that makes up the ball. They, as a whole, will have a composite change stream, but not necessarily synchronised, hence the ball, as a whole, won’t be passing through any single “unit” of time.
So the idea that time is like a movie picture with hundreds of frames per second etc. can’t hold. Each quantum particle will have its own event-series. Whether or not an individual event-series operates in the “frame by frame” manner is debatable.
As we’ve already noted, there’s no evidence that these event series are synchronised (they might have dependencies, but that’s not the same as synchronisation). The frame is not a universal frame. It is a frame (if there is such a thing) for this quantum particle alone – unique and independent.
Think of time as progressing individual quantum event by individual quantum event rather than frame by frame.
The past, the present and the future
If time is about change, then we must consider that an instant in time is a snapshot of everything (the universe) in a specific (non-changing) state. An instant in time can’t have any change occurring in it (else it isn’t an instant in time). Every object (composite or quantum) is unchanging. That is an instant in time. It has no intrinsic value; it is just a gap between all events.
It is important to re-affirm that it is not that time stands still (time doesn’t do anything) which causes events to cease. It is that events cease (albeit momentarily) and hence we have an instant in time. The distinction may seem unnecessary, but is actually pivotal.
So we might have a hypothetical instant when nothing in the whole universe is changing, and then something changes (we have an event). It might only be one quantum particle in the whole universe that changes. But as soon as it has changed, the universal instant has gone and a new instant has arrived. Time has passed, we might say.
And as already noted, this probably doesn’t ever occur – there are just too may unsynchronised events occurring for there ever to be a moment of universal stillness!
This change from one configuration of the universe to another (although not in discrete frames) does lead to an obvious explanation of the past and the future. The past is a previous configuration of the universe – all quantum particles; the present a current configuration of all quantum particles, and the future a configuration of all quantum particles that will occur.
[We ought to say the past could also be called a configuration of all quantum particles that might have existed, and the future could also be called a configuration of quantum particles that might exist – but that’s just highlighting the issue of the certainty or not of your knowledge of the configuration and the event-series that links one to configuration to another.]
Time Travel…not so fast Doctor Who.
To travel in time would need you to recall and re-create an entire past configuration of the universe, or forecast and create an entire future configuration of the universe.
If you only partially re-create the configuration, then its not the same ‘moment in time’.
Apart from the obvious practical issues of re-creating an entire configuration of every quantum particle in the universe, the mere fact that you are there to witness this (i.e. you are time travelling) renders any attempt as futile (your very presence contaminates the configuration, hence it isn’t a pure re-creation, hence it is invalid).
Not to mention that both memory and forecasting (which are what essentially differentiate the past from the future) are both imbued with serious amounts of inaccuracy.
The beginning and the end of time
The conundrum about when did time begin goes away too using our definitions of time. If time is merely a register or a collective for events, then time “begins” at the first event (the Big Bang maybe, who knows) and ends at the last event (a small whimper perhaps). There is no conundrum about “what happened before the universe began”. Time is irrelevant UNTIL an event happens. If there are no events, there is no time, it serves no purpose.