General Question

Besafe's avatar

When is now - can you measure it?

Asked by Besafe (441points) March 18th, 2008

This post is not intended to be about relgion or faith – but rather about reality and the different views of the measurement of time. However, since things I post are often judged to have an agenda I include the following warning:

“Warning this post may contain referances to God, Church, Christianity, Salvation, the Bible or other related topics you might consider proystelizing or bible thumping or may otherwise be hazardous to your desire to avoid thinking abou these topics—read beyond this point at your own risk” Thank You

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38 Answers

Thesilvertiger's avatar

yea I know when IT is, Tuesday the 18 5:32:20,21,22,23,.................. Don’t worry I don’t think your those things you said above.

Besafe's avatar

But that is a time interval not the instant we refer to as NOW

Zaku's avatar

I don’t know what you might mean by “measure it” – so no, I’d say not. Now refers to the present in whatever context you use it. It’s constantly falling through time. It doesn’t have width on the time line, it doesn’t stop. Everything happens in the present.

Besafe's avatar

Measure means measure it in a physical sense—like we measure when events occur.

bulbatron9's avatar

Zaku perfectly answered your question, in my opinion.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Yea i second that thought zaku answered it perfectly.

Zaku's avatar

Besafe, as you’ve described it so far, I’d say no, “now” isn’t something it makes sense to measure.

oneye1's avatar

no you you can’t measure it because by the time you finsh measuring it will be then

zephyrstarfields's avatar

“Now” can be described as a consistently moving point on the timeline.

In the traditionsal sense, it cannot be measured as it has no mass, length, width, depth or force. It doesn’t exist as anything more than an experience. Further, the human brain is not even fast enough to experience “now” at the moment it happens because electro-chemical impulses are not instantaneous. They occur over a period of time, which we have already established “now” is not. Much like a point on a triangle or graph cannot be measured (only located and defined) “now” can only be pinpointed, and then only after it has already passed.

Beyond that, my head starts to explode, but it’s possible that quantum and/or string theory may provide more answers.

zephyrstarfields's avatar

However, in terms of human experience, we often refer to “now” as the period of time in which we experience a specific, short-term occurrence, such as “tea time” or “closing time”.

In this case, “now” generally refers to the starting point of that “period” of time, rather than the whole of said activity or occurrence.

8lightminutesaway's avatar

According to some theories (which combine relativity, gravity, and quantum physics) that are still in the works, they predict that there IS a smallest time interval, which they refer to as the Plank interval, or event. I think its supposed to be around 10^-99 second, which of course is ridiculously small. The same theories also predict a smallest unit of length, and therefore area and volume. Funky stuff, and many years away from being able to test or prove.

Besafe's avatar

Some of you, in my opinion, seem to be on target. It is a good exercise in attempting to think at a first principles level and helps us realize the universe we live in and even simple laws of physics are pretty much beyond our ability to fully understand. We only know in part how and why things work the way they do. I will leave you to ponder why it is that way. To me there are a lot of mysteries and they are fun to ponder. Keeps my simple mind from going dumb as I age.

Besafe's avatar

Oh from a philosophical view if now is always in the future—a moving point on a time line. Does that mean we only exist in the past? Oh no another mystery!

oneye1's avatar

we only exist in the now not the past or future every breath we take in the now could be the last

zephyrstarfields's avatar

Actually, my understanding has always been that we exist only in the now, but can only perceive ourselves in the past. However, if 8lightminutesaway’s statement about Plank intervals becomes proof rather than theory, then that could be incorrect. Except I’m pretty sure that we STILL wouldn’t be able to experience now due to our electro-chemical response time, but now we’re just quibbling over picoseconds.

Also, completely off-topic, but you should watch “The Big Bang Theory” for your weekly dose of over-your-head science talk.

Besafe's avatar

@Z———not gonna try to type that one – grin

Watch what—based on your profile name you must be into astronomy – right or wrong?

I once was hooked on it (decades ago due to my work) and just recently decided to pick it back up—lots of new theories and observations and the tools used these days are mind boggling.

eambos's avatar

Time is relative (twilight zone music fades in)

zephyrstarfields's avatar

You can shorten it to Zeph if you’d like.

I was saying you should watch “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS. And yes I was mildly into astronomy when I was younger, but grew up in a small town with no one to teach me anything about it. So most of what I know about it these days is spotty at best.

Zaku's avatar

@Besafe – I’m afraid I don’t see much mystery about what “now” means, even if we postulate that there are finite segments of it and of distance. Changing the definition of “now” to say it’s always in the future, seems no more interesting to me than declaring zero to be a negative number. It doesn’t illuminate anything unless I can make interesting observations and see patterns about the set of negatives plus zero. That is, it just changes the meaning of a word, and makes me want another word for the concept of the present, which defines what past and future mean.

bulbatron9's avatar

Zaku, I like the way you think!

Besafe's avatar

The mystery is why things are the way they are—remember as a kid we kept asking why. What a shame we stopped asking it very often once we became adults. To me it is like we learned what some professors taught us and stopped asking why. Why and What questions in my opinion if followed to their end can help us understand what the truth is.

Remember – think a first principal level, seek the truth, follow the evidence where ever it leads. This is the pattern followed by great minds like Einstein.

gorillapaws's avatar

If you’re seriously interested in answering these types of questions (and willing to put some time and energy into it as opposed to just a casual “what if”), I would highly recomend reading this book on metaphysics. It was one of the texts that we used in my metaphysics class. It is very well written and is written clearly enough so that someone with no prior metaphysical education can keep up.

Essentially, you’re asking metaphysical questions, ones to which there are different theories/approaches to answering, but none of which are free from problems. I think your statement that “the universe we live in and even simple laws of physics are pretty much beyond our ability to fully understand” is incorrect for the following reason: just because we don’t have the answers to a given question now, doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t capable of arriving at the answer with further study/debate/science at some point in the future. It seems premature to abandon all hope at solving metaphysical questions simply because the answer was not obvious to us doesn’t it?

You seem to be hinting at the idea that God somehow plays a role as a solution to these types of philosophical puzzles. I would caution you though on that type of thinking for these types of questions. Using the “God of the gaps” explanation is typically though of as a lazy person’s answer to things which have much better explanations.

I believe you said you were an engineer so let me try to explain what I’m saying in those terms. Let’s say a child asks what holds all the weight of that bridge up dad? Dad could say “God,” which technically would be correct assuming God exists, since he would have created the laws of physics and the properties of matter upon which the engineers based their theories and calculations for the construction of the bridge. Also, along those lines it could be said that God created the people who constructed the bridge and the matter from which it was built. But isn’t there a more practical answer to this question than God? or to put it another way, isn’t saying “God is why the bridge stays up” somewhat misleading, and incomplete? Wouldn’t explaining how arches work and how they distribute the weight into the keystone etc. be a better answer and more directly address what the child is actually wondering about?

To my earlier point about how easy it is to use God to explain away unknowns, if a man from a culture who had never seen an arch before came upon a large one spanning a vast river, wouldn’t he likely assume that it was the deity he worshipped that was somehow responsible for keeping the structure up? If his culture grew up, always assuming that it was some “magical” divine force responsible for keeping the structure up, and never bothered to do the scientific/philosophical work required to investigate the principles involved with how to create bridges, it would be easy to see how they would be missing out.

Now apply the bridge example to metaphysics. Metaphysics is a subject that is quite difficult to understand, involves lots of mental energy to make progress and is similar to engineering in many respects. But if we always assumed that God was the explanation for these types of questions and never sought to try to answer them independently of a divine power, can you see how that might adversely hurt the field of study? That’s why I said “God of the gaps” thinking is dangerous, not because it’s not possible for God to be the answer, but because it is a quick answer to questions that really do warrant more investigation.

Besafe's avatar

@Zeph—lots of good stuff on the web—including NASA and JPL sites. Also check out iTunes U—can even follow some courses there. Big bang—lots of views on that—my question is where did matter and energy required for the big bang come from. If we say it always existed then why and how.

Besafe's avatar


I agree mostly with you and your right I might benefit from checking out metaphysics – I’d guess that like quantum theory it will make my head hurt and my mind go Hunh.

I am not suggesting that we stop trying to figure it out – just the opposite – and I for obvious reasons trying to steer clear the the spiritual aspects of a discussion like this. I believe that if we are willing to have an open mind and seek the truth that God can make Himself known.

What I have observed in my 68 years on this planet is that the more we learn, especially about physics and the Cosmos the more questions we have and the more complex our theories become. If I assume this will be a continuous progression (which seems rational) then it seems to me the conclusion is that we may lack the ability to full understand these things. Thanks for the book referance.

kapuerajam's avatar

Now doesn’t exist- it never will so you cant measure it: the very nano-second you say now it is over.

bulbatron9's avatar

This is a waste of thread!

zephyrstarfields's avatar

Actually the statement that the universe is beyond our capability to understand is neither right nor wrong, depending on your inferrence of the statement.

Currently, even our scientific proofs and facts are based on assumptions. Most of those assumptions seem blatantly obvious to a being with the same perceptions as ours. However, if we accept that the assumption of evolution is a fact, it is safe to assume that we may one day evolve a more accurate perception of the universe and reality itself.

Further, until such time as something is proven (either right or wrong) we believe something is true. The moment new evidence presents an alternate series of facts, what we perceive as truth changes.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Besafe you’re welcome for the book reference, and I’m pretty sure that someone smart enough to be an engineer is smart enough to learn metaphysics. The basics of metaphysics really aren’t all that difficult to understand, it’s just that those simple theories seem to have implications in so many different areas so they just keep going on and on. I’m guessing engineering is like that too. One might ask what keeps that tower erect? The simple answer might be support cables, but then you could go into what keeps those cables strong enough to hold the tower, and then what is it about the weaving structure of the cable that gives it strength, what types of alloys, how they are anchored etc. and so a simple question can have a long and involved answer as you keep following the progression ad infinitum.

Oh, and to give my answer to your original question: now is a point on the space-time continuum and cannot have a measurement since points have no dimensions (height, width, depth).

-If a point can actually exist or not is a metaphysical question about the ontology of concepts.

-If a point that is constantly changing is in fact the same point is a metaphysical question of identity (is that river the same river the next day, even though all of the water molecules of which it was composed are now in the ocean and no longer in the river?)

Here’s a link to a wikipedia article referencing these issues among others. I would encourage anyone interested in this kind of thing to check out that book I linked earlier, it really does do a good job of breaking down many of these complex problems into their simpler parts and is a good general overview of metaphysics.

Besafe's avatar

So would you mind if I asked a God related question—note this was not planned. The discussion seems to have gone in a direction that I think it would be interesting to get your view since yo obviously have studied metaphysics.

gorillapaws's avatar

Of course you can ask a God related question :) I’d be happy to give you the best answer I can.

Spargett's avatar

Now is right…... NOW!

It come right after before and after now.


P.S. God is an invention, just like time.

zephyrstarfields's avatar

ignoring the obvious flamebait

Time is not an invention. It can be experienced and measured. You might say our definition of time is a construct, designed to confine and understand the passage of time, but it is certainly existent of its own accord.

Besafe's avatar

@ gorillapaws Been a long long day away from the web – I need to go get some sleep since I have early morning meetings. So I will try to find time in the am to pose my question to you

Besafe's avatar

God related question. Assuming Jesus really rose from the dead (I believe He did) it is apparent from the bible that He took on a body similar to our earthly bodies but with out it’s space time limitations. According to the bible He would immediately appear in a room, passed through walls, and rose into heaven. My questions is – how is that possible, does He exist in all the NOWs that exist – in other words lives outside the space time continuum but can enter it at any time and place He chooses?

BTW for those who are interested there is a new iTunes U (free) podcast that has some good discussions of Einstein – his life and beliefs.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Besafe Hmmm, that’s a very complicated question because there’s a LOT of variables going on there, and what little information we do have still leaves many questions unanswered. I think direct quotes of the accounts of these events would be a good starting place. Then there are other theological issues here as well. Are you of the belief that the Bible is completely perfect? For example, what if an observer saw Jesus walk through a wall, when in reality it was an illusion of him walking out from behind a corner. The witness may never have intended to deceive us by claiming Jesus walked through the wall, but instead was a victim of an optical illusion. Do you feel that God would have somehow intervened to prevent such an honest mistake from being included in the Bible because it is necessarily flawless, or do you think it’s possible that there could be honest mistakes since it was written by people capable of error?

Do you believe that God has limitations on his power, or do you hold the traditional view that his power is limitless (could God violate the law of non-contradiction for example?). Furthermore, by extension would Jesus have unlimited power? if so, did he always have this power, or did he only receive it after the crucifixion?

When you say Jesus’ body was similar to our earthly bodies, do you really mean identical to his former body, but that he gained what amounts to superpowers? Or was there a physical difference to his body as in being a ghost, ethereal, or some other physically distinct property that would make it plainly apparent to an observer that he has changed or was somehow different? The reason this is such a complicated problem is because one would have to have a good understanding of their theological beliefs before even beginning to try to reconcile those with metaphysics and physics.

All I can say from what you’ve put forth is that there are many different ways to look at how this could be: everything from him being made of massless particles (i.e. similar to how light behaves as a particle at times though not actually having any mass), to having standard physical properties, but manipulating the world around him instantly so that the world accommodates him, as in making the molecules of the wall obliterate as he passes by and then instantly reconstruct behind him. Other possibilities might include him operating on a separate dimension and being able to interact with our dimensions at will by forcing his dimension and ours to intersect or something (I’m not a physicist and I don’t know if that would actually make any sense on a theoretical basis or not). Finally, you could get into things like after the crucifixion, Jesus showed himself to those he wanted by inserting himself into their perceptions somehow (like a forced hallucination or dream along the lines of the matrix or something) such that he was not physically there even though he appeared that way to those he wanted to.

And I’m no expert by the way, I’ve had a little study on some of these topics (more on the philosophy end than the theology), but I hope you can at least see why your question is such a complex one :).

If you wanted to try to work out some of your theological views, I would be willing to try to help you figure out some of the possible metaphysical/physical consequences.

Besafe's avatar

Wow that is a lot to get your mind around.

In regard to the bible I believe it was written by the Holy Spirit through men. It is free of errors in the original language – various translations into english come close but you need to know the different approaches to translation to sort them out. Some like the NASB are a word by word translation others like the NIV are phrase by phrase. Bottom line I rely on it to form my theology but not my science. In my experience the bible and science complement each other. Einstein said that he became a physics theorist because he wanted to learn what God was thinking when He made the universe.

I think we need to really contemplate what it means in the book of Genesis when it says God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. BW attempting to understand light and time is what led Einstein to his great discoveries. I believe that God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus (the trinity) is God. Therefore Since God created time and light He has to exist outside of time and thus can use the laws of physics He put in place in our world to interact with us in a physical form any place and any time He desires. Like you I am no expert on the physics nor theology but I enjoy pondering the mysteries and realize my limited mind may never understand until that day I am face to face with my Lord. Gee I can’t even get my mind around quantum mech. or worse yet string theory and I want to understand God—good luck.

gorillapaws's avatar

I’ve struggled with wrapping my head around those theories of modern theoretical physics as well and haven’t had much luck. I listened to the audiobook versions of Hawking’s “Universe in a Nutshell” and “Briefer History of Time,” trying to get a better understanding of those theories. I ended up with more questions than when I started—haha.

Since you believe the Bible to be free from error, that would likely rule out explanations such as Jesus inserting himself into peoples dreams/waking perceptions since those people claim he is there and those claims would probably be considered false/errors if Jesus wasn’t physically there but only there in the subject’s own perceptions (although I think this point may still be debatable if someone wanted to stretch things a bit).

Because God (and likewise Jesus) is totally omnipotent then that leaves open all of the physical possibilities I mentioned (and many more than what I came up with I’m sure). It’s hard to use physics to describe miracles which tend to be violations of those laws. Mayhap the best way to try to answer your question would be to put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. If you had the power to alter reality in any way you saw fit how would you want to walk through a wall? Would you alter your own particles in such a way that they wouldn’t be impeded by physical objects (but then you’d have to consciously keep yourself from falling through the floor too)? I’m thinking it would make things easier if you didn’t need to change yourself, but instead bent reality to suit your will (as in obliterating the wall molecules and then restoring them behind you as you passed).

The extra-dimensional stuff may make the most sense, but I honestly don’t know enough about how modern science views how all that stuff works to say much of anything intelligent about it, except to say that most (if not all) do allow (and some require if I’m not mistaken) for extra dimensions, so it may be the easiest way to explain these kinds of events without needing to violate the laws of physics. Furthermore, I would think that Jesus would likely not violate those laws that he created if he could achieve his goals without doing so which is why I’m leaning towards the multi-dimensional explanation, assuming it’s coherent/compatible with modern physical theories.

There are some appealing aspects to the massless particle angle, but that can get into complicated metaphysical puzzles (i.e. how could one see a person that has no mass?). Since something has no mass, it cannot reflect light and our vision is the mental processing of that reflected light that we interpret as objects/people etc in the world. I’m sure you can see how that would get tricky/messy to try to explain.

Of course nothing can be claimed for certain, but it’s an interesting mental exercise none-the-less. I’m impressed that a 68 year-old is asking these kinds of questions to be honest (most people that I’ve met that are over 50 kind of have that “I’m old enough to know everything worth knowing” attitude). I can only hope that I retain my sense of wonder and curiosity, not to mention the drive to pursue them as I grow older—thank you for the inspiration.

Besafe's avatar

Grow older—I refuse to get old – there is no future in it . LOL

We see things by the light reflected off it or radiated by it – Jesus said He is the light of the world—humm maybe there is more to that than our minds can grasp?

In my estimation God does not violate the physical laws He put in place—He uses them. So however Jesus could do it He would use the law. Our science and our minds just can’t grasp it yet.

I have been listening to the iTunes U interviews about Einstein the last couple of days (good break when my mind goes numb at work) and learned some interesting stuff about him and about more modern expansions to his discoveries. (check it out) I t was neat to learn he was a slow learner like I was – maybe that is why I still like to ponder the mysteries of life and God.

asking questions – it is the curse of my job—we are always searching to discover what we don’t know about a design that might make it unsafe and technology is moving so fast we need to stay knowledgeable of a broad array of science and technology —it has kept me interested for ovder 41 years of employment.

Remember – think at a first principals level, seek the truth, follow the evidence where ever it leads. Folks like Einstein did and look what they learned. Grin

Enjoyed the discussion a lot hope you have as well.

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