We can distil the variety of dictionary definitions of time down to two core meanings:-
- The Dimension (the measure). The use of time to refer to an abstract framework – also known as a dimension – for referencing events and calibrating (measuring) periods (duration and intervals) seems well covered in the dictionaries (i.e. the t in maths/physics). Though what is measuring and what is being measured is often confused. Can time measure time? We will address this.
- The Flow. We intuitively perceive a ‘flow’ of Time. That comes through in many of the uses of the word Time. As mentioned, the only empirical evidence of ‘Time passing’ is change. If we stand by a river, we will both identify the river as a single unit (the river) and simultaneously we see it as a changing stream of water (the flow). We accept these two essentially different natures together under the single name river. Whereas in truth, it is fundamentally, a chaotic tumult of individual molecules of water being energised by gravity to head downhill. River becomes a collective noun for a particular body of water. And time is similar; we see time (as a single unit), we perceive a flow, but essentially it is a collective noun for the chaotic tumult of zillions of individual change events tumbling down the hill of entropy.
That’s makes time a subtle, slippery thing – it has two root meanings that appear very similar, and are easily confused and interchanged.
However, the significance of this is that time is wholly explainable outside of itself – we can get our hands around it and it hence becomes redundant (other than as shorthand). It is therefore, not a fundamental word or phenomenon.
And, as a bonus, time (definition 1) can measure or calibrate time (definition 2); which relieves that timeless conundrum – can time measure time. Yes, it can, sort of.
To think beyond time, think (quantum) change.