(Another) Meditation on time

This past week. I posted a comment in a Physics forum on LinkedIn, expressing my personal concern with the concept of time as it is used in modern physics. That  post was promptly challenged, as I might have expected, with the orthodox understanding of time in General Relativity and other places in the accepted physics literature. I am not surprised, because I believe that the orthodox sources have got it wrong. I am convinced that time as used in modern physics has been incorrectly objectified and given substance it does not possess. All expressions of its nature in the standard literature are really only metaphors, either conceptual or mathematical. So here is my argument.

Time, in every scientific sense, cannot be said to have objective substance. it cannot be separated out, identified in nature or in the laboratory. It cannot be described except in metaphorical ways. Time cannot be seen, felt, tasted, smelled or heard. Being non-substantive, it cannot be stretched, curved, bent, warped, or broken. You cannot go forward or backward in time, except in your thoughts, all science fiction fantasies to the contrary. Time’s existence is, and only is, as a conceptual construct, expressible in language and/or mathematics, both of which are also only human mental constructs. The units of what we call time, also made up by us, are what we use as metrics (minutes, seconds, hours, eons) for the persistence or duration of events, things, phenomena. It can be sensed and described only in the mind, on paper or here on this keyboard.

The sense of the flow of time past us or of our movement through time are only metaphors convenient in communication. I know of no experiments, in the laboratory or in thought that have shown or can show that time has a substantive existence. As I have said before, Einstein’s only mistake may have been to grant or attribute substance to something that has never been shown in any way to have any.

Sad to say, it seems that only those who have become convinced that mathematics is reality, as many modern physicists seem to have done, can honestly believe that time also has substance.

All of this has been, it is true, discussed for a very long time, as has been pointed out. Lucretius in De Rerum Natura talks of it as a mystery.  In 387 CE, St. Augustine in his Confessions, Book 11, says, “I think I understand what time is, until someone asks me to explain it.” Most people today will probably second him on this. And Newton allowed that, in another way, time might also be  called duration.

I, personally, am about to celebrate my  82nd birthday. Many, even my friends, will suggest that I  have suffered the ravages of time. Not so. Time itself has done nothing directly to me. It cannot. Only chemicals inside and out, cell decay, tears and breaks, general wearing out of belts and pulleys, all the ills that flesh is heir to, have made me what I am today. Time, in its very real nonexistence, had nothing to do with it. Absolve te.


About Charles Scurlock

Charles is a recently retired architect/planner and generalist problem-solver with a lifelong interest in science, physics, and cosmology, and the workings of the human mind. He has started this blog in the interest of sharing his ideas with others of like-(or not so like) minds.
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