On the Nature of Time

The age old question is haunting me lately quite a bit, so I thought maybe I’m not alone. Here are few points on the nature of time I have to say. Well, more than few points it’s few questions.

I guess that the first thing we have to make clear is, what we’re talking about?.

Among many uses of the word “time” – meaning to differentiate events, meaning to put order upon events, “measure of causality”, etc., I wanna talk about the time per se, time as such.
[The scientific view of time would be worth a post for itself, so I’m not going to talk much about it (for now).]

There are typically mentioned 2 distinct views:
1) Newtonian time – time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe, it’s a dimension in which events occur in sequence.
2) Leibniz-Kant view – time is part of the fundamental intellectual structure, it does not refer to any kind of entity that “flows”, or a “container” for events; it cannot itself be measured.

Newtonian time “definition” is in the style that time is a “sequence of events”. This has 2 obvious flaws:
1) the word “sequence” is used without specifying in what is the sequence, what is the ordering of the sequence; obvious answer to this would be “time”, but that would give us a circular definition
2) what is considered to be an event? and what if no event occurs, then the time does not exist?

Leibniz-Kant view on the other hand, is simply continuation of what already St. Augustine said:

What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know.

We all have some our inner feeling/definition of time.

In my opinion, a better understanding (and proper definition) of time would allow us to better understand the universe itself. How are we supposed to understand development of universe in time, if we don’t know what time is?

Lets not forget how artificial the concept of time is in the physics and science! Even such an obvious property, as the natural direction of flow of time, has to be axiomatically introduced. This differentiates time most from the other dimensions of space-time.

And of course, any reasonable definition of time would probably be very complex. The definition has to deal also with all that is connected with time – past, presence, future, causality, direction of time, etc.

Yet, that again arises many more questions.
For one, what is past? Does past, as such, exist? If past is “part of the timeline that has already occurred”, where is it, and what is it?

This all then leads us to another question – how do we know (=can prove) that something has happened?

One possible answer is – past “lives” in memories; but then, what no one remembers, or no one witnessed, did not happen (is not part of past)? And even more – if there were no beings to remember past events, past (and even time) would not exist?

Another possible answer is – any action has reaction, i.e. results of what happened in past we can see now, via the link of reactions, and that way we know, that something has happened. But the problem I see in this is, that then past is in fact part of presence; what’s more, it does not exist outside of presence!

Another (in my opinion) very interesting question is, does time have start and end?

No one today seems to have any real problem with idea, that universe is finite. Some people even say to it “everything has to have it’s start and end”. Yet I so often hear the question “what was before Big Bang?”. Was Big Bang start of time?

I know I sound like I consider time to be simply only an abstract concept; that’s what most bothers me, and that’s why I’d like to hear what others have to say.

Even worse thing is, that very similar questions can be asked about nature of matter. Kind of scary, huh? Is all we live in, what makes our world, abstract? I don’t think so…

To finish with – few interesting links:
* On the Nature of Time
* Nature of Time and Space (PDF)
* The Nature of Time
* The Nature of Time

One response to “On the Nature of Time

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