General Question

interalex's avatar

Does Time Exist?

Asked by interalex (130 points ) November 28th, 2010

Is there time absolute, relative, or per se?
Does time exist where there is no matter?
Is time a consequence, dimension and measurement of movement and activity (kinesis), and change?
Is time a need of the observer’s mind to perceive the sequence of phenomena and/or actions? To distinguish first (prior, former) and second (next, posterior) etc?
How is time comprehended (felt) by inhabitants on different planets, or in space? For example 10 hours on Earth are the same on Mars, longer or shorter?

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34 Answers

boffin's avatar

“What, then, is time?
If no one asks me, I know.
If I wish to explain it to one that asketh,
I know not.”

- St. Augustine of Hippo

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Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

I believe time is a construct of man. Used to better understand the cyclic nature of life and the universe.

ragingloli's avatar

Yes. It is one of the 4 dimensions that we can perceive.
The other 7 dimensions elude us still.

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Ltryptophan's avatar

Here is my perception of time: I have never exited the present moment. It is always now. As such time seems to not exist except as a record of the way things are in the now.

So the question I think most important is do things change, or is change imaginary.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, time is a man made construct.

Prior to mans invention of time the universe just was, simply existing in a space of timelessness.

I refer to time as we know it as ‘clock time.’

Out external world runs on clock time but clock time is outside the eternal timelessness of the universe.

MeinTeil's avatar

It does. Just not as it appears to you.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Yes it exists. We make it. I made some just a moment ago in order to answer your question. I could not have done so without making the time to do so.

kess's avatar

Where ever darkness and light coexist there is Time.

To us as conscious being it is also the coexistence of knowledge and ignorance.
So it can be described as a slice of knowledge.

And since darkess and and matter are synonymous then it cannot exist without matter.

It matters not which age, as long as there is light and darkness in coexistence there is time.

Where ever Time is, then that thing is in a temporal state of being.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Time is an illusion, albiet a very persistent one. : )

LostInParadise's avatar

Time has attracted attention for quite some time, but in a way it is no more mysterious than the other spacial dimensions. According to relativity, time and space are properties of the Universe. This raises some obvious questions. Do time and space exist outside of our universe? Is there in fact an outside to the universe? How could the universe have been created if there was no time or space in which to create it? I have no idea what the answers are. My head starts to hurt whenever I think of them.

CaptainHarley's avatar

LOL! @LostInParadise

I know how you feel. I read about the theory that the “Big Bang” which began our universe resulted from a collision between the “brane” of our universe and the “brane” of another, parallel universe, and I have to take an aspirin! Heh!

Ivan's avatar

Spacetime exists.

Scooby's avatar

Time or motion?? time is a concept of motion, I think there is just the here & now.. :-/

gasman's avatar

You may be interested in a previous discussion in February here at Fluther: Is Time an Illusion?. Allow me to copy & paste—since it’s Sunday & I’m too lazy to write a better answer…

The short answer is, Nobody knows. It’s a deep question beyond limits of our understanding of physics and consciousness.

Here’s a good article from a reputable source: Is time an illusion – 19 January 2008 – New Scientist

I would add that if time is considered a dimension, the analogy with spatial dimensions doesn’t quite hold. That’s because, according to equations of relativity, space-time ‘distance’ is the square root of x^2 + y^2 + z^2 – t^2. That final minus sign—rather than the usual plus sign in Euclidean 4-space—makes time into an ‘imaginary’ dimension in the mathematical sense. Very weird.

Coloma's avatar

@Scooby

Here, here, now, now! ;-)

Hobbes's avatar

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

- Ford Prefect, The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

MeinTeil's avatar

^ Heck. Beat me to it.

Time is a thing, an object if you will.

It is a component in a product of the big bang known as space-time.

LostInParadise's avatar

One thing that has come up on Fluther before is not whether time is illusory but whether the passage of time is illusory. What if everything that is going to happen has already happened? Imagine some 5 dimensional being looking at our four dimensional universe, looking back and forth through time in the same way as looking back and forth along any of the other dimensions.

Again, I have no idea if this is true or if it even makes sense. Now my head is really starting to hurt. I am having enough difficulty planning for my retirement.

Fred931's avatar

Man “made” time to use as an organizational tool the same way man created the months, seasons, and years. Time is more of a concept than a given dimension, as time was never really “there” in prehistoric times, when such complicated thinking could not have existed (Or, hell, who knows, maybe dino’s could tell time). To prove that the concept of time never existed, we have prehistory.

ETpro's avatar

@interalex Welcome to Fluther. You have a great question, there. Not an easy one to answer. My short answer is yes, time does exist. Much of the theory we use to describe the observed Universe is time independent. In other words, if you know the precise initial condition, then Newtonian physics, Relativity and quantum mechanics all work just as well in reverse as they do moving forward. So none of them are able to give us time’s apparent arrow ever moving forward. But the Laws of Thermodynamics come to the rescue. The 2nd Law, the Law of Entropy, provides a clear arrow of time that only travels in one direction over extended periods of time.

Entropy can be temporarily frustrated. By pushing a chaotic dynamical system far enough out of equilibrium, order begins to magically emerge out of the previous chaos. But left to its own devices, when the pushing stops, the system proceeds right back toward complete entropy. So I disagree with those who say that time is strictly a human construct. Entropy was at work long before man came along to observe it doing its thing.

Time isn’t absolute, at least to individual observers. To us, it is clearly relative. If there is absolute time controlling the pulse of the Universe, we are as yet unable to observe it. But it definitely exists, and it definitely has an overall direction. It moves from near infinite order toward infinite chaos.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Do not confuse “time” and “entropy.” Two entirely different things.

albert_e's avatar

While I cannot offer a definitive answer, here’s some interesting way to explore this question—

(Have been reading about higher dimensions lately. ‘Hyperspace’ by Michio Kaku is the source for most of this.)

To understand why we humans cannot perceive dimensions higher than three, the following example is given—

Imagine a set of creatures that live only in 2 dimensions—on the surface of a pond, let’s say. They can move left, right, forward, backward on the surface of the pond but cannot move up/down, they cannot see anything that is not on the surface, they cannot even perceive, or imagine the other dimension.

Now imagine a spherical ball floating on the surface. This will be seen as a “circle” by these 2D creatures. if the sphere is dropped from a height into the pond, they would first see a spot appear suddenly out of nowhere, grow in size, and then shrink to nothing.

So they are seeing two-dimensional slices of the 3-dimensional object, arranged as a sequence of images along the time dimension. At any point in time, what they see is the INTERSECTION between the object and their plane of existence.

Now let us see if we can use the same thought experiment to understand how we perceive time.

Assuming time is actually not a one-directional “flow”, but all of it exists in a timeless eternal manner,...

We have to imagine a 4-dimensional spacetime where we poor creatures can only see/perceive 3 dimensions at a glance.

So when we see things move around or change is shape, what we are seeing is the 3-dimensional cross sections of a 4-dimensional object.

Lets imagine a balloon that is blown up till it bursts. If we imagine time as static, the balloon should be a conical blob that starts small, gradually grows in volume till it reaches its maximum size and then vanishes.

If you drift along the time dimension and take a series of 3D snapshots of the 4D blob, you will see the balloon expand and burst.

Guess this is analogous to sitting in a train carriage and watching the power lines suspended on electric poles along side the railway track. You perceive the wires as wiggling up and down in place.

Can you use this analogy and convince yourself that we are looking at “cross-sections” and assume it is the passage of time and causality?

LostInParadise's avatar

I am not sure that your analogy applies. We can both perceive time and measure it. We sense time as a fourth dimension, but we perceive it as moving in one direction.

ETpro's avatar

@CaptainHarley I hope nobody thought I was trying to conflate time and entropy. But they are related. An ordered system, if isolated, increases in entropy over time. That is why the 2nd Law points to an arrow of time that does not work in reverse as readily as it does in forward.

albert_e's avatar

@LostInParadise Yes what you say is valid – we are not fully blind to the fourth dimension, we can perceive time but only as a unidirectional flow.

Conversely, if we were able to see all time at once rather than one slice at a time, and in a single direction, how different would things be?!

Now my head hurts as well but I guess this is worth some thought.

I am planning to read the following books to explore some of these ideas and hopefully understand 4D & 10D better:

- Geometry, Relativity and the Fourth Dimension
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

mattbrowne's avatar

An identical twin living on Mars ages just a little bit more quickly.

Hobbes's avatar

@albert_e – That’s almost exactly how I like to think of it, except that I don’t think a 4th Dimensional balloon would look like a conical blob. I actually don’t think it would be possible to perceive at all in terms of what we normally think of sight, since the process of interpreting light hitting the eye is one that takes place over time. To actually perceive an object in the fourth dimension, we would have to perceive the entire universe simultaneously. It’s not really possible to wrap one’s mind around what that would be like, but I personally think it’s more or less what happens when we die. Without a mind to filter things into manageable cross-sections, all of everything is perceived all at once.

kritiper's avatar

Only man can conceive of the concept of time. It exists as an event, not a thing. At this precise moment, time does not exist. Animals don’t experience time, only now.

ETpro's avatar

@kritiper I submit we don’t know how animals experience time and that it’s probably different depending on which animal species we are referring to. But it’s clear that numerous species order their lives around time. Species as different as elephants and migratory birds both know when it is time to migrate. Bears not only know when it is time to hibernate, they know that time is coming, and prepare for it by gorging themselves to build up the necessary fat reserves that let them survive their long winter nap.

Elephants live long lives and clearly have great memories. It’s hard to conceive how one could have memories of 50 years of past events cataloged in the order in which they occurred and yet have no concept of time.

It was a lognstanding human conceit that animals had no understanding of anything except the present, but research into animal perception of time is changing that.

kritiper's avatar

@ETpro – True, but animals don’t think about it, and are not aware of it’s passing. As an instinct, they merely react.

LostInParadise's avatar

I would also question whether animals perceive the passage of time. Suppose, for example, a predator is hiding in a certain spot to ambush some prey and nothing comes by for a considerable amount of time. I don’t see the predator thinking, I have been waiting for quite a while; I better try elsewhere. More likely there is some chemical reaction that is time dependent which causes to the predator to try elsewhere.

There was a similar theory related to geographical perception. A lot of people thought that animals carried a cognitive map in their brains, but experiments indicate that is not the case. They respond to their immediate surroundings.

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