2. Time: the ‘flow’

The confusion of ‘Time Passing’

‘Time going by’ or ‘time passing’ – are two very common terms that we all use and understand – or think we understand. And they infer the notion of time as a universal thing (a flow, or a presence maybe) and it is continually flowing, passing, by.

But if we don’t know what time is, how can we assert that it ‘passes’? We know the clock is going round, we know that day is turning to night; we know that we are getting older. But these are actually independent change event-series happening. They don’t need some universal umbrella called time wrapped around them. They all happen because of (complex and intricate) events and event-series caused by, essentially, energy differential. Time doesn’t impact these. They all just happen independently (energy differential, remember).

When we see the clock going round, all we know for certain is that the clock is going round. We can’t assert from that that a universal phenomenon (time passing) is occurring [unless we have conclusively identified what time is, and can prove the control it is exerting over the clock’s mechanism].

Can we assert that time passes unless you can explain what it is that is actually passing. Do we know? No, else we would have defined time in terms of something that could ‘pass’.

All we know, for certain, is that change-events happen. Is time then, in this context, merely a collective term for an unspecified set of change-events happening. To apply the verb ‘passing’ to it is probably strictly speaking incorrect; we use this as a figure of speech – time seems to pass. Anyway, we all sort of know what we mean by it.

But what we perceive and the actual evidence don’t match. We perceive time ‘passing’, we can only evidence change happening

Mass nouns.

What are mass nouns? There are a number of definitions, a quick check on google gives two that seem helpful: a non-specific collection or set of something, or an uncountable thing.

‘Traffic’ is a good example of a mass noun. We know traffic exists, don’t we, because we all get stuck in it every day, surely?

Traffic refers to a non-specific set of vehicles. When we talk of traffic we might be referring to three vehicles, or three million, or the universal set of vehicles.

Traffic flows, it moves, it stops, it starts, it builds up, it disperses. Traffic can be free-flowing, it can be slow-moving, or even at a standstill.

Traffic has all these physical attributes attached to it. And yet…fundamentally does traffic actually exist as a tangible thing?

Traffic doesn’t have any specific dimensions. As we said, it could be three, three million or an unspecified number of vehicles – it’s a non-specific set (of vehicles).

Without vehicles, there is no traffic. Is this a truism? Well, in one sense yes, of course with no vehicles the roads are empty…hurrah. But it’s also the case that traffic, being a non-specific collection of vehicles, can only be spoken about, can only be relevant, when there are vehicles.

So, yes traffic does exist…as long as there are vehicles. Traffic’s not fundamentally tangible – the vehicles are the underlying tangible things. Traffic is only really a short-hand word. We could say “sorry I’m late, but the non-specific collection of vehicles was bad” or “I must dash, I don’t what to get caught up in the non-specific collection of vehicles”. Much easier to use a shorthand word…“I got caught up in traffic”.

The underlying fundamental then is vehicles. The word traffic references vehicles. Without vehicles, traffic doesn’t exist. Traffic is abstract.

We have identified that Time is a mass noun. Mass nouns are non-specific sets or collectives of an underlying objective, as already mentioned. And the collective that the mass noun Time refers to are change-events.

Time of to Change what Traffic is to vehicles. We ‘perceive’ Time as a flow, when what is ‘flowing’ are the underlying change-events happening. Time is a non-specific set of change-events. Without Change there is no ‘flow’ of Time. Time, in this context, is the, flow of change.

Its big. It could be a collective term applied to every quantum event since the first (the Big Bang?) to the last (the small whimper). That’s a lot of change-events.  Or it could be applied to just the time passed since breakfast this morning – not quite such a big collective. It all depends on context.

The Illusion of time – the river of change.

There are two continual change streams that are intimately wrapped into our every awareness causing us to believe in the notion that ‘time passes’. Firstly, the earth spinning and orbiting the sun frames our lives tightly into days and years. And secondly, we are organic life-forms – our bodies must change constantly, that is life. We breathe, hearts pound, blood flows…change or die.

So we find it difficult to let go of the idea that time isn’t its own real thing – it must be, it’s happening all the time; we experience change continually, which adds to the ‘time passing therefore Time is real’ misconception being hardwired in us.

This is the same illusion that allows us to treat a river as a single, unchanging entity. It’s not, it’s an ever-changing collection of individual water molecules chaotically tumbling downhill. The objective reality is the individual water molecules. River is just an abstract collective noun, that never stops changing.