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Does Time Exist?

Updated on February 14, 2015

Time is Real

Our universe is expanding. We know this to be true because when we look out into space, we can observe the numerous galaxies drifting apart from each other. Now, when we project this drifting motion backwards in time we plot the galaxies drawing ever closer to each other, ultimately meeting at one point. This point in time is widely considered to be the moment of the so called "Big Bang" - the birth of the universe if you will. Our best estimate as to the age of the universe is 13.8 billion years, give or take. But if time doesn't exist, how can we speak of the age of the universe (or the age of anything for that matter)?

The speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 metres per second. That's fast! It takes light a mere 8 minutes and 20 seconds to complete its journey from the Sun to the Earth. But if time doesn't exist, how can we speak of the speed of light (or the speed of anything for that matter)?

Maybe I'm just being grumpy because I burnt my toast this morning. Serves me right for leaving it under the grill while I went to answer the phone. I was only away for about 5 minutes but that was enough time to ensure my toast was not fit for consumption but only fit for the bin. Time. Time. Time.

Is That the Time?

There is no question that time exists. Time is fundamental to the existence of everything in the universe. All events have taken place - or are yet to take place - somewhere in space, but also at some point in time.

I don't hear any debate over whether width, length, or height exist. Einstein theorised that space and time are not absolute but are relative. That is to say, things can only be measured in accordance to a frame of reference. If we don't share a common frame of reference in space-time then we can't agree on such aspects as size, distance, speed and age of things we observe. But if time doesn't even exist, then surely we're stumped from the very start. Although without time there is no start.

My point is we can have a sensible, meaningful debate over what time is. We can discuss the concept of time scientifically and philosophically. Indeed our impression of time is highly subjective. But to say that time doesn't exist at all; to say that time is an illusion? That's absurd.

What do you think?

Does time exist?

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    • Blune Doyle profile image
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      Blune Doyle 3 years ago from Streadgate, United Kingdom

      Hi Matt,

      I have indeed read several of your references, not all of them admittedly, but there is rather a lot.

      It's not that I don't consider your point of view, it's simply that I don't agree with it. Sooner or later, we can't escape from the word "time" in our language to describe events. A fast thing finishes *sooner* or *earlier* than a slow thing, and what does "sooner/earlier" mean? Answer: less *time*. From reading various arguments on the idea of time not existing, there are too many inconsistencies that creep in.

      I'll stick with my own opinion, but it's a fascinating subject and it's always interesting to hear of other points of view.

    • Blune Doyle profile image
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      Blune Doyle 3 years ago from Streadgate, United Kingdom

      Describing time as "invisible" and "intangible" is somewhat flawed. It makes no sense to describe time as "invisible"; it's not a solid object after all, it is merely a dimension. It's not as if light is going to somehow bounce off it and form an impression on the back if our retinas. This is an example of arguing about a totally different concept of time. I totally agree that your particular concept of time (like a unicorn) does not exist. But in reality, time is a crucial part of spacetime. Time shows itself in so many ways. If time is an illusion, so is space.

    • Blune Doyle profile image
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      Blune Doyle 3 years ago from Streadgate, United Kingdom

      There's a fascinating Horizon episode on the BBC iPlayer, entitled "Do You Know What Time It Is?" presented by Professor Brian Cox. During the programme various scientists give their views of what time actually is. There are many theories explored, but the question of time existing (or not) doesn't feature. There are some references to Einstein's theory of what time is. If the programme is accurate then it seems Einstein certainly did have a concept of time, a real existing time. There are also some brief references to concepts such as the Planck Time and the Shapiro Time Delay. There is an interesting theory of time from a string theorist concerning "branes", the notion being that time has always existed (it didn't spring out of the big bang). Atomic clocks are explained and the measurement of time is explored. One scientist even suggested that time may be granular.

      The overall theme of the programme is, how time is *defined*. This is exactly my point on this forum.

      It seems there are many scientists who most definitely hold the view that time exists. Einstein himself (if the programme is accurate) viewed time as a dimension. An interesting point made (if I remember correctly), is that everything moves through *time* at the speed of light (of course nothing can move through *space* at the speed of light - except light itself).

      I feel there were many points made in the programme that you will strongly disagree with. But I feel it highly persuasive that time does exist. These are the views of respected doctors and professors.

    • Blune Doyle profile image
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      Blune Doyle 3 years ago from Streadgate, United Kingdom

      The problem for me is I find it a contradiction to talk about movement or motion outside the context of time. We know something has moved because at time A it is here and at time B it is there. I also don't understand how we can measure speed without time. When something moves between point A and point B the speed is determined by how much time elapsed in between.

      So, if we leave time out of the equation, what is the correct way to describe speed? We can't use the speed of light because even light needs time (in our frame of reference/perspective), hence c being based on seconds.

      Sorry I am struggling with the ideas, but when I read the material about time being an illusion, much of it seems contradictory.

      Without accepting that time exists how can I plan for the future? How can a drummer play a steady beat without good timing? There is too much that the alternative idea doesn't explain properly.

    • Blune Doyle profile image
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      Blune Doyle 3 years ago from Streadgate, United Kingdom

      Proving that the past or future exist is irrelevant. The terms "past" and "future" merely describe "what has been" and "what is to be". It doesn't mean they have to "exist" in the physical sense. After all, the past has gone. Where has it gone? Well the past isn't anywhere, it's not something that goes in a "place", the past isn't an object. When I use the phrase "it's in the past" it is a figure of speech meaning "it's no more".

      The proof that time exists doesn't lie in trying to prove the past (which describes that which has happened) exists or the future (which describes that which will happen) exists. Time exists for more obvious reasons.

      Questions:

      1) A tortoise and a hare have a race. Which one crosses the finishing line first?

      2) A time bomb in the room has 30 seconds on the clock and is counting down. Do you leave in a hurry? Would you be in as much of a hurry if there were 8 hours on the clock?

      3) How long can you hold your breath?

      4) I want one soft boiled egg and one hard boiled egg. How should I differ the cooking process of each egg?

      5) Two atomic clocks are syncronised on Earth. One is then taken up into space. Do the clocks remain syncronised?

      6) What is your pulse rate?

      7) Play a vinyl record at the wrong speed, how does it sound?

      8) How much sleep do you need?

      9) Two sunbathers. One stays in the sun for 3 minutes, the other 3 hours. Which one gets burnt?

      10) What's the half life of plutonium?

    • Blune Doyle profile image
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      Blune Doyle 3 years ago from Streadgate, United Kingdom

      But we don't need to prove that a car needs time to move. Movement *is* changing of position across time.

      Staying with cars, imagine a single car park space. There is only room for one car *at a time*. However, countless thousands of cars can all occupy that same space as long as they take it in turns, ie, they park there at *different times*.

      We can prove this with an experiment: Try parking your car in a space already occupied by another car, it won't work; your car will collide with the other car. However, try parking your car in a space that is empty now, yet was occupied by another car earlier (and will be occupied by another car later). Success! Time is equally as crucial as space if you want to park your car. Get either wrong and you come a cropper.

    • Blune Doyle profile image
      Author

      Blune Doyle 3 years ago from Streadgate, United Kingdom

      We are still at cross purposes. We are both holding different concepts of time - it's apples and oranges again.

      Allow me to describe the concept of "time" that I have no doubt exists.

      But first let's take "distance" (or "width" / "length") for example. Specifically, let's think about a metre stick. The stick itself is not the metre, because a "metre" is not a concrete object. The metre (in this case) is a property value of the stick (the property being "length"). On its own, the metre is quite abstract. You can't hold a metre, you can't see a metre. But an object can have a length of a metre (and remember, humans created the metre but not the length). So now hopefully you can understand that "length" is abstract - but we can nevertheless divide it into our own convenient man-made units (metres). It doesn't mean length doesn't exist or that length is a human induced illusion. Length exists but, critically, it only exists as a PROPERTY of concrete objects (or indeed, a gap between concrete objects).

      So we can draw parallels with "time" (or "age" / "duration"). On its own, it is purely abstract. Duration is a property, also of something concrete; not objects, but EVENTS (or indeed, a gap between events).

      Whilst the "hour", "minute" and "second" are human creations (convenient units), time itself is not a human creation.

      So, when the clock hand revolves, we can use it to MEASURE duration, in just the same way as we can use a stick to MEASURE length.

      Object (Stick) {Length:1 metre}

      Event (Clock_Hand_Revolution) {Duration:1 hour}

      In both of the above "classes", neither Length nor Duration are concrete and do not exist concretely. EACH EXIST as PROPERTIES.

      Perhaps that's what you mean when you say time "doesn't exist"? You mean specifically "concretely"?

      By the way, the national speed limit is 70 miles per hour :)

    • Blune Doyle profile image
      Author

      Blune Doyle 3 years ago from Streadgate, United Kingdom

      Ok. Answer one question. What's the national speed limit on British motorways?

    • Blune Doyle profile image
      Author

      Blune Doyle 3 years ago from Streadgate, United Kingdom

      Another point, time is a key component of many equations. (Not least, speed = distance / time).

      Frequency = number of occurrences / time. When something vibrates, it does so at a certain frequency. So you can't quantify vibration without a time component. Vibration doesn't exist?

      Whatever your argument for time not existing, you simply can't escape the reality of time. It's fundamental.

    • Blune Doyle profile image
      Author

      Blune Doyle 3 years ago from Streadgate, United Kingdom

      Hi Matthew,

      Well, this is difficult. My intention is not to provide evidence that time exists, although maybe it should have been. But I'm not that good.

      If you want to say there is no evidence for a past or a future, well, again it depends how you define it, but OK, I won't argue with that.

      This doesn't mean time doesn't exist. The problem with this debate is, your version of "time" (which you say doesn't exist) is not the same as my version of "time". Time is much more simple (at a basic level). When things move, we can plot their coordinates against "time". If a police officer knocks on your door and asks you what you were doing at half past 11 last night, you will likely give a different answer than if he asks you what you were doing at 2 o'clock yesterday afternoon. If you say to the police officer "I refuse to answer your question because it doesn't make sense, given that time doesn't exist" the officer may just handcuff you and say "you're nicked". You then end up doing "time" for the burglary in the jewellery store (stolen time pieces) that took place last night which had nothing to do with you (probably).

      Time really is that simple (to me). It's a measurement. It is NOT a "place" where things come from or disappear into. Time is an attribute. A number. Much like we have an x, y and z to plot 3 dimensions of space, let's also have t for time so we can describe objects which may occupy the same space at different times, or the speed of something in motion relative to something else.

      Of course, time can be described at a much deeper level. Einstein most certainly had a concept of time, specifically space time. But I'm not that clever so I'll stick with my basic low level concept - time as a dimension/number/measurement.

      The matter that is moving about in the universe (in your scenario), how fast is it moving? How do you know it even is moving, i.e. what do you observe? What's your frame of reference?

      Clearly we are both talking about entirely different concepts of "time". If I say that apples exist, it isn't an argument for you to say oranges don't exist.

      Feel free to call me David, it sounds better than Blune :)

    • Blune Doyle profile image
      Author

      Blune Doyle 3 years ago from Streadgate, United Kingdom

      The problem with the argument that there is no evidence for time is the notion of time itself. Time is a dimension. Time is not a force and it is not matter. If your notion of time is a force or entity then I would totally agree, it doesn't exist. But time does exist for what it is - a dimension (or, a "property" if you like). Let me put it another way.

      My hometown is separated from the next town by 23 kilometers of distance. We don't struggle with this concept. We don't say "distance doesn't exist" just because distance in itself isn't matter or a force etc.

      Similarly, my grandfather's birth is separated from his death by 78 years of time. Just as with the example of distance, time is a physical dimension. To overcomplicate the notion is to muddy the water.

      If we are to debate the existence of time, we have to agree on what the notion of time is. Otherwise the argument is moot on both sides.

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