Glenn Stok has a Master of Science degree. He enjoys studying the nature of time and reviewing theories of the space-time continuum.
We perceive reality as a sequence of events, and we assign the concept of time to it. But is that merely an illusion?
If time does exist, when did it begin? Theorists propose all sorts of conclusions, such as:
- Time is infinite, which means it had no beginning and will never end.
- Time is cyclic, which also avoids the notion of a beginning and ending.
- Time is a concept we invented, which helps us get through life on a schedule.
- Time is an illusion caused by our observation of events passing through space.
Even if time is an illusion, there is still so much more to it than a figment of our imagination. Let's examine this in more detail.
Why Do We Have a Concept of Time?
We humans, living in a civilized society, need to assign a schedule for our daily lives.
I would think that animals never consider time. They function instinctively based on their circadian rhythm, which is quite reliable.
However, humans evolved with the need to measure anything we deal with, especially with describing when events in our lives would occur or have occurred. I would say we created the concept of time for the sake of our sanity.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics requires that time is a real property of the universe. Physicists rely on it for analyzing physical processes. But does that mean it’s real?
It still is only a concept—a dependable concept that we base on mathematical formulas to measure and analyze our physical world in four dimensions.
Even though we can define time mathematically, our concept of time is faulty and unreliable.
Different Concepts of Time
Physicists describe the passage of time as a sequence of chronons, which are hypothetical particles of time. You can think of it as the frames of a movie. But that implies it's an illusion.1
The theoretical physicist, Carlo Rovelli, says that time is an illusion. He explains that our perceived reality is a sequence of events (past, present, and future), and we assign the concept of time to that sequence.2
Time is not a material thing. You can’t handle it and move it around as you can with any object at your disposal. You can’t hold on to it. It will just slip away.
We are all familiar that Einstein proved time is relative. It’s just a concept that we use to measure a sequence of events and their duration that we imagine based on our observation.
That concept of time is a figment of our imagination. It’s an illusion. We made it so real in our minds that we try to measure it. We even try to envision a beginning and end to time.
Neil Turok, a physicist at the University of Cambridge, said, "There doesn't have to be a beginning of time. According to our theory, the universe may be infinitely old and infinitely large." 3
If we can accept that time doesn’t exist, then Professor Turok's statement is even more plausible. We don’t have to try to pinpoint a beginning or an end. Remember, it’s merely a concept that we imagine.
How We Perceive the Duration of Time
Time seems to go by faster as we get older. However, that doesn’t mean that time is speeding up. It’s merely a feeling we have because as we get older, the proportion of the length of events that we experience in our present life seems smaller than all the events in our past.
The reason why this occurs is due to the ratio of time sequences. When we were ten years old, a year was 10% of our entire life. But at the age of 50, a year is only one-fifth of our life. And it keeps seeming smaller as we age for that exact reason.
Michael Stevens explains this well in the following video:
How Do We Accurately Measure Time?
Even though we only imagine the concept of time, we do use it for a purpose, and we need to measure it accurately.
Einstein explained how the passage of time fluctuates for an observer based on mass and motion.4
That fluctuation is known as time dilation. It causes misconceptions when conducting scientific measurements that require accuracy.
We need to keep a precise view of time. For this reason, Atomic clocks use the cesium atom to attain a more accurate measurement of time as far as we are concerned.
We have always based our concept of time on the rotation of the Earth. These measurements need to be corrected continuously due to fluctuations in the Earth’s rotation. It’s so unreliable that we need to adjust for changes.
We have two scientific measurements of time.5
- UT1 – A time scale measured by the rotation of the Earth.
- UTC - A uniform time scale measured by the difference between the Earth and a specific astronomical point in space.
Since we base our measurement of time on the Earth's rotation, we continuously need to make adjustments. Due to the slowing of its rotation, we need to add a day every four years (leap year), except every hundred years. And that’s still not precise.6
We also need to add seconds every so often (leap seconds). The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) schedules this as an extra second added at the stroke of midnight on the last day of June or December.7
The Endless Passage of Time
Even if time is an imagined concept, we get involved with defining its pattern nevertheless. That leaves us with two theories that I listed at the beginning of this article. Time is either of two things: Infinite or cyclic.
- If time is infinite, then it goes on forever—possibly evolving with endless possibilities.
- If time is cyclic, it repeats itself, either with the same pattern or in an infinite number of ways.
If time is indeed infinite, then we can assume that everything will eventually occur in some way in some place at some time.
If time is cyclic, then all physical phenomena will repeat forever and ever. Moreover, if events do have minor differences in each repetition, then even cyclic time offers the opportunity for every possible occurrence that's imaginable to happen eventually.
Everything in the space-time continuum will repeat itself forever with endlessly varying possibilities. Each repetition would be a different existence, and there would be an infinite number of realities.
Either way, infinite or cyclic, there would never be an end to this. Time would never cease to exist.
The Big Bang Is a Paradox
If time doesn't have a beginning or an end, can anything have existed before the Big Bang?
The latest scientific findings support the Big Bang Theory, based on the present knowledge of physics. That implies there was a beginning. That, in turn, means that there must be an end. One might say that everything that starts at some point will eventually end.
We run into trouble when we try to impose a finite measure on the timeline of the universe to a future that eventually ends. It brings up questions of what exists beyond the end, which is a paradox because it implies the existence of the universe goes on into infinity.
It's easier for the human mind to comprehend time with a starting point and an ending point. Infinity is somewhat incomprehensible. However, if we want to consider that there is a beginning and ending to time, then we have to describe it somehow.
Here's where we run into trouble.
- If we insist on having a beginning, then what came before that?
- If we insist on having an end, then the question is: "What comes next?"
Our thinking makes the concept of time a paradox.
Time Is a Paradox
If the end is final, then is there nothing left?
If what comes after the end is void of all matter, how long does that void last? That very question implies that "time" still exists!
If time still exists, then we indeed haven't reached the end yet. Therefore we might say that matter still exists in the universe.
If matter becomes non-existent due to being sucked into a black hole, for example, then time also ceases to exist. There is nothing left to measure it.
Just think for a moment: If time continues to tick away after all matter is sucked into a black hole, then the universe has a chance to recycle—to start over. That defies the idea of an absolute end. Hence, the paradox.
Our comprehension of endless space and time is limited due to our inability to imagine a changing universe without time.
Change keeps occurring, possibly until everything is equal. The end of the evolving universe would be total equilibrium. It all becomes balanced, and there's nothing left to evolve.
Once that balance occurs, nothing remains that would continue to change. Therefore space and time become insignificant, possibly as it has always been, as an illusion.
- Paul Davies. (October 24, 2014). “Time’s Passage is Probably an Illusion.” Scientific American
- Andrew Jaffe. (April 16, 2018). “The Illusion of Time.” Nature.com
- James Randerson. (May 5, 2006). “One Big Bang, or were there many?” The Guardian
- Fraser Cain. (July 1, 2016). “What is Time Dilation?” - UniverseToday.com
- “What is Earth Orientation?” - U.S. Naval Observatory, Earth Orientation Department
- “The Algorithmic-Rule for Leap Years and Leap Seconds” - Owlcation.com
- “Leap second and UT1-UTC information” - NIST.gov
© 2019 Glenn Stok
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 10, 2019:
Venkatachari - Thanks for your clear interpretation of why we possibly created the concept of time for our benefit.
Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on October 10, 2019:
Very interesting and intelligent discussion. It's true that time is a creation of man for his own advantage. With the help of time, he can study past history or geographical and astronomical events. He can plan and manage the time available with him for reaching out to his ultimate goals.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge of it all.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 09, 2019:
Heidi Thorne - I saw that same documentary. In addition, there are local regions, even in the United States, where they choose not to switch from Daylight Time to Standard Time. That's another issue for travelers.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on October 09, 2019:
We all think we know what time is. But the more you get into theoretical physics, the more you realize we can't be so sure!
One of the most interesting things I saw on a documentary was how the railroads really helped create the time zones we're so familiar with. Every region had their own time system. Good God, I can't imagine what a nightmare that was before time zones were set. And I think it really points out how we use time to synchronize and organize our lives and relationships.
Great discussion, as usual!
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 09, 2019:
Pamela - It is indeed difficult to consider our lives and the world without time. That might explain why we need to imagine it. Thanks for your thoughts on this topic.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 09, 2019:
Vladimir - That’s an interesting analysis you described. Causation between events is a topic I have also researched.
I also find your interpretation of universal consciousness intriguing, leading to only an illusion. Our experience of reality indeed may be virtual.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 09, 2019:
It is a difficult to think of our lives and our world with the absence of time. We plan our days and special occasions based on dates and time, yet it makes perfect sense that time is an illusion. This well-written article definitely makes you think.
Val Karas from Canada on October 09, 2019:
Glenn-- In one of my articles (won't advertise) I used a metaphor with oxygen and hydrogen -- two gases -- as they become water, in order to hint at different laws within the quantum and material realities.
Applied to the question of time, my metaphor would hint at time only making sense within material aspect of reality, whereas in quantum field it doesn't, simply because there is no causality present there.
For an illustration, our organs communicate via nervous system, but also through the system of chakras, i.e.energetic centers where everything happens simultaneously, not requiring the time for signals to travel via cellular synapses.
And two electrons in some way related -- if separated by cosmic distances, will simultaneously be activated into the same pattern of behavior.
However, once that they are a part of a material structure, they behave within the laws of material world. Like oxygen and hydrogen POTENTIALLY being water, behave as gases, but put together into a molecular configuration, they behave as a liquid.
So, both is true -- time IS real, and it is NOT, depending on the aspect of reality we are talking about. By the Newtonian laws governing over material world, which are real, as long as matter is "real", time is surely involved to make sense of causation between two events.
But then, of course, now we could start questioning if matter is real, or everything is merely a universal playground of consciousness in one colossal virtual reality.
In that case, we, the personalized extensions of the universal consciousness just keep collapsing some quantum waves into an illusion of the material world -- and doing a lousy job, if we are to judge it by the general condition of life on this virtual planet of ours. LOL.