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Grisaille's avatar

How can time be manipulated when it is only a measurement?

Asked by Grisaille (12048points) May 21st, 2009

I’m no scientist by any means, so please – keep it in terms I can understand, haha.

I can’t wrap my head around “freezing time” or “going back in time”. My very basic understanding is that time is a measurement – a tool created by us humans to know when to plant seeds and prepare for the winter; without humans, time (and our perception of it) would not exist.

My reason for asking is that I recently heard of an experiment where scientists took two atomic clocks, synced them, left one in a controlled environment and put the other on a supersonic jet.

The results showed that the atomic clock (after flying around for a while) on the plane was off in comparison to that of the controlled-enviro one.

I understand that, in theory, time is relative to speed – in crude terms, if you go faster, your personal time is slower than everyone else. I just don’t get why.

So, anyone out there willing to help out?

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42 Answers

FrankHebusSmith's avatar

I forget the exact scientific formula behind it (it’s in most college intro physics books though, speed of light stuff, quantum mechanics stuff), BUT the faster you go the faster time travels for you. The caveat here is that in order to have a noticeable difference you need to be going VERY fast (like 1/4 or more the speed of light). I would assume they used atomic clocks for that reason, they can pick up tiny differences.

ALSO, they know that concentrations of gravity slow time (no clue why though). They have done similar tests by placing clocks in a low subterranean basement and another at the top of a mountain, and found the one on the mountain (further from the gravity source) went faster by a tiny amount.

This gravity concept is what lead to the Einstein time travel idea. THEORETICALLY we know how to time travel. You would create a black hole somewhere in space (which is a massive gravity pull), and you would create a wormhole. You would place one end of the wormhole at the black hole, and the other some great distance away in empty space (or simply an area with a much lower gravity pull). Time would travel slower at the black hole side (significantly so), so if you went into the wormhole at the other end and came out at the black hole side, you would have gone back in time. The only limits would be you could only go as far back as the black hole was made (that and you have to make a black hole, worm hole, space ship, etc) ....

ubersiren's avatar

It seems to me that you cannot manipulate “time” but only motion, or the order in which things happen. Not that you can do that either, but in sci-fi land… Time is only a measurement, but the nature of an objects physics happen at a certain “rate” which is measured by our established “time table.” When we say that gravity “slows time” what we mean is that the object’s rate or speed is slowed. I am a stupid, stupid person and am positive what I said doesn’t include correct terminology, but that’s what I think anyway. I could be way off, mind you. I’m an arts person, not a sciences person.

Tobotron's avatar

This is probably good reading… one theory behind why gravity effects time is because time and space are essentially the same thing…for example as we look at the stars were actually looking way into the past, the sun in the sky is how it was 8 minutes ago, and those rays took 1000 years to get the the center of the sun to the surface! So imagine aliens looking at our planet from far away, we wouldn’t even be here it would seem to them…mind mending stuff!

Ivan's avatar

It’s special relativity. Unfortunately I don’t have time right now to explain it, but there are tons of good youtube videos about it and a good wiki article too.

Grisaille's avatar

@westy81585 With regards to the gravity theory- that confuses the hell outta me. If time IS a measurement and nothing more, why is it a variable used in physics other than to calculate action? Why do scientists believe we can control it when it is constantly in motion?

I can’t wrap my head around why we assume we can manipulate time when it is not something tangible. We constantly speak of space-time and how they affect one another, yet time (in my mind) is an independent variable. I think of it like this, physical actions can take place without time (as it is a perceived item), and “time” runs continuously without action taking place, as we’ve created it that way.

Maybe I’m thinking of this incorrectly. Can someone point me in the right direction?

@ubersiren Yep, exactly my thinking. Since you cannot control every stimuli in existence, you cannot control time.

@tobotron Great stuff, indeed! Thanks.

wildpotato's avatar

Time is not only a measurement, and manipulating time is what the human mind does. We create time as we live ‘in’ it, says Heidegger. “Being and Time” is a book about existence, and the question is, What is Being? Drumroll: it’s Time. I.e., the meaning of the existence of the creatures that we are is that we are temporal – we live in a current situation, concerned with things in the world. We create our future in anticipation, which allows the character of “having been” to arise (the future is always in the process of having been). Past, present, and future generate one another, and this is the basic structure of the Being of Dasein (the ‘essence of humanity’, if you will).

This is demonstrated in Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” (or “Remembrances of Things Past”). Proust’s novel shows that we possess our whole lives in memory – which is a recreative and not a reproductive process. The final sentence: “Therefore, if enough time was left to me to complete my work, my first concern would be to describe the people in it, even at the risk of making them seem colossal and unnatural creatures, as occupying a place far larger than the very limited one reserved for them in space, a place in fact almost infinitely extended, since they are in simultaneous contact, like giants immersed in the years, with such distant periods of their lives, between which so many days have taken up their place – in Time.”

steve6's avatar

velocity manipulates time

Tobotron's avatar

@westy81585 I think scientist in experiments refer to time as a measurement because its a theory which suits science at the level we need it to suit. Basically its solid and does the job…its when you get into this advanced stuff that previous solid ‘laws’ start falling apart and science creates new theories to try to patch these discrepancies…science will eventually answer everything but in the mean time time is one of those tricky ones ;)

Grisaille's avatar

@wildpotato Excellent, and that approaches my current mindset that time is merely perceptive (as is everything that is assigned a meaning – without human thought, everything would be purely reactive). Your response is a bit more philosophical than I originally intended the question to invoke, but it helps my argument. We DO live in our memory, as we can only see the present, forming reality on previously experienced stimuli.

But hey, I’m going way off topic, haha.

@steve6 Yep. But can you explain why? I’m tryin’ to rewrite my brain here, man!

I love this site.

Ivan's avatar

watch those videos

steve6's avatar

Theory of Special Relativity

steve6's avatar

times slows down as you approach the speed of light.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Time dilation is a result of Relativity (primarily Special, but it is a subset of General). The basis of Relativity is that light travels at a constant speed, relative to all observers, all the time. Now imagine that you and I are standing together, and we let off a pulse of light that spreads out in a ring around us. I decide to follow the light, and run off in a particular direction. But since light travels at a constant speed of c (~300,000,000 m/s), I am always the same distance from all of the light, and so are you. To resolve this apparent contradiction, we must perform a Lorentz Transformation to correct time, distance and mass to fit these requirements. At your request, I won’t go into the maths of the Lorentz Transformation. Time dilation is a result of this transformation.
As the clock in the supersonic jet is travelling at a relative velocity, time slows down, and therefore less time passes for that clock. But you might well ask, isn’t the one on the ground travelling at a velocity relative to the one in the plane? Well yes, but the one in the plane must undergo acceleration to reach that velocity and deceleration to return to the ground clock’s frame of reference.
Hope that helps.

quarkquarkquark's avatar

Everything is a measurement. Equations used to describe physical phenomena—numbers—transform given alterations in the environment.

ubersiren's avatar

I’ll listen to any scientific explanation from a guy/gal whose username is @quarkquarkquark.

Grisaille's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Actually, it kinda does. The last paragraph in particular. Unfortunately, I still don’t understand the reasoning behind why an object moving at a particular speed results in “time” slowing down. I get that (with regards to the jet experiment) time is affected during the acceleration/deceleration – I just have trouble understanding why. It seems like such a ephemeral thing, time. It is constantly in motion, does not stop, and seems so independent to all other “dimensions” that it only seems logical to me that it can’t be manipulated as it is a man-made concept (i.e. not appearing naturally in nature). Time to me is the rate at which something happens; the hands of the clock move at a particular rate, as does the Earth’s orbit around the sun. When someone speaks of “time slowing down” for an object because of its speed, I try to put it into a real-world perspective.

For example, if you took two atoms that decay at the same rate (let’s say one day for it to become unstable, trying to keep it simple here as it’s reaching the limits of my knowledge) and put one on a vessel capable of traveling the speed of light or so. The other one was here on Earth, in a controlled environment. If you flew that vessel in a circular orbit around the Earth, stopped it abruptly exactly 24 hours from the starting point and checked the status of both atoms, why would that atom on the ship still be stable? I’m probably wording this wrong, but it’s the same concept, right?

Regardless, I understand slowing down time is possible (in a slippery sense – personal time can be affected, nothing more) even to the point of appearing to stop it (say an individual was able to move fast enough to make the world appear as if it were standing still, disregarding the physical hurdles we’d have to cross; object + speed = mass, energy concerns, physiological issues etc etc), but wasn’t there a theory in there that explained “going back in time”? How does gravity (or anything else, for that matter) make an object go back to a particular point in time? I understand time-space folds upon itself in particular instances of massive influence (high speeds, superheavy gravity), but if time is just a measurement (you guys have proven me wrong on this, in a way), and is a rate of which a reaction happens, how can it be affected to the point in which everything reverts back to a particular state (or I suppose making YOU go back to a particular state of the universe)?

This is approaching campy sci-fi, I know. Chances are the answer is in front of me and I’m not putting two and two together. Or mayhap my mind is too simple to understand such concepts, as I’ve already explained, I’m no scientist. :P

Just a layman trying to understand what makes reality tic. Har har.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

There are a few points I would like to draw out of that. First, I am not sure how to explain the why without going into the maths, which I cannot do here because text fields are not kind to equations. I understand your view of time, but it is Newtonian rather than Relativistic. In his book “A Brief History of Time” (which I highly recommend), Stephen Hawking says that if you transform all the spatial dimensions and time into the complex number set, each behave the same way. Time is no different to any other dimension, except in how we perceive it.
I have heard a proposition that time should be measured as the progression of Entropy – a Thermodynamic concept which describes the order of things. As a system tends to disorder, time progresses. This may or may not be helpful.
One thing it is vital to remember, is that with this experiment we are not tampering with the clocks, and we ignore any mechanical effects. Clocks measure time, and the clocks only slow down because time itself slows down when a velocity is present.
I do not believe time can ever stop, progress faster, or go backwards. Calculations show that wormholes collapse if a single particle passes through, as it creates disturbances in the space-time bridge.
Back to the slowing of time though. There are two things that affect the rate at which time progresses, velocity and acceleration. Special Relativity says that the presence of velocity results in the slowing of time. But if you imagine from both frames of reference, each observes time slowing in the other’s frame of reference, but progressing at a normal rate in their own. General Relativity says that a gravitational field also slows time, so time is slower on Earth than on the moon. It also says that a gravitational field is indistinguishable from an acceleration, in fact they are the same thing (hence warped space-time being the explanation of gravity). Therefore when the aeroplane accelerates and decelerates, it slows time as it places the clock in an apparent gravitational field. Both effects contribute to the time difference.
A brilliant physics resource can be found here. The section on time dilation is here

Grisaille's avatar

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere!

Quick note:

I’m under the assumption that an object + velocity = mass (or larger mass). And a larger mass = larger gravitational influence.

If a vessel is traveling the speed of light, that vessel must must have a larger mass and therefore a larger gravitational pull than if the vessel is stationary, correct? Is this what is meant when you say that a gravitational field is indistinguishable from acceleration?

Moving on, “stopping” time seems impossible, as time is constantly in motion, and although we can record a moment in time (an object’s state at a particular moment in time, at least), we cannot stop every reaction in the universe. I (now, haha) believe we can slow down time to the point in which it travels slow enough (say, one Earth second to your year), but assuming it can be stopped is assuming that we can take a snapshot of the universe. Time always flows, I figure.

As for going faster, can’t we just travel to a point in the universe (instantaneously, for the sake of this argument) where it is nearly free of stimuli (gravity, acceleration) and not move? Isn’t it the same idea, but backwards?

When you return to the planet, shouldn’t time have moved much faster for you, making you years older than those on Earth?

As for backwards, yeah. No idea there.

Seriously, thanks. This is good stuff, and it’s nice to talk to people that knows their shit.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Glad to hear it!

Your first statement may or may not be correct, I can’t be sure. I can’t do the General Relativity maths, which I would need to if I were to find out for sure.

What I meant by saying a gravitational field is indistinguishable from acceleration is they are the same thing. If you step into an elevator in empty space, which proceeds to accelerate in the direction you are standing at 9.8m/s/s (the acceleration of gravity on Earth) you could be excused for thinking you were standing in a stationary elevator on Earth, because you would be experiencing exactly the same thing. Because of Earth’s mass, space-time is warped around it to the degree where everything falls to Earth at that rate. However the Earth itself exerts an equal but opposite force on our feet to keep us (for our purposes) stationary. This force exerted on us by the Earth is exactly the same as that applied by our elevator. You could walk, jump and break dance in the elevator just as you could on Earth, because it would be the same.

NB: We use an elevator, because obviously if you looked out the window you could tell whether you were on Earth or not. Relativity is based around the concept that you cannot tell if you are moving or stationary, as whether or not you are ‘moving’ rests on the frame of reference you choose. Light comes into this because in Newtonian physics, you can travel at the speed of light, therefore know your speed because you would never see yourself in a mirror.

Buttonstc's avatar

All I can do is to remember the words of Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway (ST Voyager)——“Temporal Mechanics always gives me a
splitting headache.”

mattbrowne's avatar

Why? Because of special relativity. Why is there special relativity? Hmm. There’s also general relativity and maybe it’s a little easier to imagine the concept of “freezing time” for that. Keep in mind it only makes sense if you consider outside observers. Time slows down near heavy objects. Suppose you’re in a spaceship observing a very heavy neutron star from a safe distance. Spectacular sight. One of your astronauts decides to go for a space walk, but she makes a careless move and gets drawn towards the neutron star. She panics and starts waving her arms. After a while her movements begin to slow and eventually they almost freeze.

Why? Not because she is dead (we assume she’s still alive at this point in our thought experiment). The real reason is: time has slowed down for the astronaut, however from her point of view everything is normal (except for the fact she will soon crash onto the neutron star, ouch). When she looks at her watch, the second hand keeps turning normally. But when she looks at the spaceship, she realizes it’s moving away fast (they have given up obviously). But not only that. The star constellations are changing. Almost all stars begin to move. Faster and faster. Now suppose she’s actually close to a black hole. The stars would move around like when Starship Enterprise travels at warp speed. Before she hits the event horizon the whole galaxy around her is spinning like crazy…

Does this help?

quarkquarkquark's avatar

Two words.

Time Tunnel.

pikipupiba's avatar

@mattbrowne Could you give me sme sources to read on what you just described?

pikipupiba's avatar

Sweet! thanks!

Grisaille's avatar

My very first question!

Brought back from the dead!

trader131313's avatar

creating a wormhole bends space not time. you can get some where faster but your not slowing time.

trader131313's avatar

the clocks in the experiment are at different tmes because they function differently at different ground levels. time doesn’t function different in that experiment the clocks do. the clocks are positioned differently so they function differently. as far as not seeing something that has happened many light years away, that is because the viewer is demented to the fact it happened he/she is in another demension, the viewer percieves it didn’t happen but it did they just can’t see it. your just like the clock.

trader131313's avatar

when lighting flashes who ever is closer to the lighting strike sees it first. the strike is still happening to someone else far far far away. and hasn’t happened yet to someone even farther. that statement will be true for all of time. light travels through space, long distances, so it can be seen at different times who ever is further from the source sees it later. wormholes bend space so light can travels somewhere faster through a wormhole.

trader131313's avatar

the clocks in the experiment are at different times because they function differently at different ground levels. time doesn’t function different in that experiment the clocks do. the clocks are positioned differently so they function differently. as far as not seeing something that has happened many light years away, that is because the viewer is demented to the fact it happened he/she is in another demension, the viewer percieves it didn’t happen but it did they just can’t see it yet. your just like the clocks.

trader131313's avatar

something traveling faster than the speed of light can’t be seen from behind because light from behind is too slow to illuminate it. thats why if you look in a black whole you can’t see anything. if your in front of the object creating the black by the time you see it it will actually be well past you. it went past you before the light reflected of it could hit your eyes. just like a super sonic jet is creating a new noise when you are hearing an old one.

trader131313's avatar

something traveling faster than the speed of light can’t be seen from behind because light from behind is too slow to illuminate it. thats why if you look in a black whole you can’t see anything. if your in front of the object creating the blackhole by the time you see it it will actually be well past you. it went past you before the light reflected off it could hit your eyes. just like a super sonic jet is creating a new noise when you are hearing an old one.

trader131313's avatar

neither people see the object one just sees the light reflect off the object. if something, traveling faster than the speed of light, is traveling towards you you will never actually see it you will just see the reflected light. once it pasts you light can’t even catch it to reflect off of it and travel back to your eyes.

trader131313's avatar

a blackhole is just some big ass object traveling away from you. it looks black because it emits no light, from your perspective, like i said if your in front of it thats another story. the fact that the object looks black is just an illusion, your illusion.

quarkquarkquark's avatar

couldn’t you have said that all at once?

Nullo's avatar

No physicist here, but time measures something. Might we manipulate that?

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Nullo Time, indirectly speaking, measures the progression of Entropy, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The only way we can change that is to alter the rate of expansion of the universe, which is far beyond our understanding or capabilities.

Arthur's avatar

The faster you go the slower time is perceived. If you were to travel at 99.9% the speed of light (the fastest matter or information can travel) we would see you as if you were in slow motion and from your view point we would be in slow mo. now lets say you did this for twenty years at that speed. when you stopped from your perspective only a week would have passed while the rest or us are 20 years older. Gravity also effects time. The larger the mass the slower time moves.

Arthur's avatar

The problem most of you are having is you are conditioned to see time as a measurement when its really a force, like gravity or electromagnetism. you may have heard the term space and time? well its really space/time the 2 can not be separated. So when you see time in the terms of a force, then like the other forces can be manipulated, when you learn the laws that govern its existence.

Falwyr's avatar

!!Warning! The following will get you in trouble with many school-taught science minds, so be especially reserved in how you use it for academic purposes!!

Instead of giving you the classroom answer that we are taught, consider what you think the real answer is. Rest assured that I respect Newton’s & Einstein’s genius accomplishments as much as they most certainly deserve. But the more complicated we try to make it and the more confusion that is injected because of the complexity of theory, the less we stay grounded in reality. By all means, reach for the stars; return NASA’s objective to space exploration instead of the current primary objective of Muslim Outreach; and lets continue to try to prove the theory that we can accelerate through time. I want and wish I were describing things wrong. Yet just because we love Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and yearn for the imagination to be limitless, the truth is still the truth.

It is the attempt to use unproven theory based on unproven theory upon more unproven theory to establish equations that spawn such fantasy (albeit thought-provoking and fun to explore) questions. Only because the modern day science community (and certainly the academia who staff schools and labs) foster unproven theories do we have seemingly sound mathematical concepts that contradict each other. The Big Bang theory is a basis for the Ever-expanding Universe Theory and both are basis for the Diminished Size theory (that we should be able to look at distant light to backtrace what has supposedly already expanded). So the resulting math “errors” that are compensated for are laughable by those of us with common sense. Getting started on this line of research we could chalk up unanswered & incomplete math like this to unproven but probably true ideas, miscommunication, comprehension issues, and specific terminology, but that is not the heart of this seemingly impossible question. Does Time really change at Speed? Look past the bias of the centuries old individuals who have collectively built a would-be brick house with many blocks of plastic on a foundation of rock solid basic math and there is little to the mystery. The reason we discuss Time passing faster/slower based off velocity is because of Relativity and prematurely accepting that C (the speed of light) truly is a precise constant.

I suggest to you that:
SA) Timeline is the prevailing constant, NOT the Speed of light.
SB) Timeline can be defined as “the total series of happenings from all time throughout all eternity in whatever order the events of matter truly unfold”.
SC) Assigning Timeline as the constant that [has unfolded/is unfolding/will unfold] regardless of what is perceived by every potential observer and observation point as a synonym to “Time” for discussions such as these.
SD) Then logical reason prevails that “Light” is a variable that we simply lack the tools to fully, accurately measure and travels at differing velocities based on some factor of power/intensity/presently undefined photon measurement as far as prevailing scientific community is willing to acknowledge.
SE) The foundation of math still works and the very evasive unrealized Time-travel is just a fantasy like your intrinsic common sense tries to provide as an answer to all of us.

Some points of Reasoning to consider:
RA) If true Time really did vary as Velocity increased, then we can simply get in a hydroplane or racecar and max out the throttle until the fuel needs replenished to add time to your life compared to those who prefer to walk. We know that to be ridiculous but we still assume that Time alters instead of the Speed of Light?
RB) We do not have time paradoxes propping up daily for aircraft pilots and flight crews that presumably have calculably advanced life expectancies relative to their supposedly slower aging friends & family.
RC) Taking transcontinental flights back to back on a regular schedule for decades of longevity treatments compared to individuals in who stay in their home states their whole lives without advanced velocity experiences do not increase their relative life expectancy.
RD) For the sake of discussion, IF (very big IF) man attains the technology for light speed comparative human travel, then someone traveling away from Earth at say .1 times C for 10 years would have traveled 1 light year distance. Then returning to origin at exact same acceleration to .1 times C for 10 more years, the occupant(s) would have aged 20 years. But guess what, the friends & family would ALSO have experienced 20 years of Timeline.
RE) The same .1 times C vehicle used to circle the earth for 10 years would result in the occupant(s) aging 10 years and when they land, their friends & family would still ALSO have experienced 10 years of Timeline. So the theory math describes it differently at 10 times faster speed just as it does at a fraction of that speed. Do you really think any measured velocity changes your Timeline. If so, start a longevity business, be sure to charge a premium profit on the equipment & fuel costs and good luck to you! 

quarkquarkquark's avatar

@Falwyr, a couple things.

Firstly, you treat time as an entity in and of itself. For mathematical purposes, it is a measurement with appreciable calculative utility, but rest assured its only real value to human beings is that, when positive, it denotes an increase in the total entropy of the universe, and when negative, it denotes a decrease.

Secondly, you seem to have a rather simplistic view of relativity (and that is indeed the key word). The “world-shattering” claim is not that time itself expands or contracts, but rather that the perception of time changes. The math supports this and, eminently, experimentation supports the math.

Contradiction between theories or between different facets of a reasoning system does not automatically indicate fallacy or fuzzy logic. In the case of science, as you seem to be aware (although you misrepresent it), contradiction nearly always indicates a lurking variable.

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