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What Is Time?

Author, Alan R Graham, discusses the existence of time and how we perceive the present moment, in this philosophical introduction to his book, Time's Paradigm.

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TIME'S PARADIGM – Prologue

One of the most enduring questions of our time: What is it?

Time is an ethereal sensation of progress, unlike physical motion, which often obliges us to dismiss time as imagined due to our practical minds. We demand that time be like space, when it is not. Neither are moments the same as mountains, though we wish they were. Unlike space, time has no course, nay, no dimensions we may call upon to devise a direction.

Time is form. It is an expansion of circumstance holding eternity to account, pushing the past and future apart and stretching eventuality. This perceived reality, our present moment, is our making, without us nothing would be.

Time is dynamic in the moment, as if the first breath of a newborn. It is a bubble in the soup of eternity that by revelation determines the meaning of everything. Unwittingly, we call it all, time: that which has been done and will be done. But therein lies the fallacy. Time is only the present moment; it defines the ambiguities of history and of destiny alone, by being present – nothing more.

Events in history are subjective interpretations of a time, they are past peculiarities, mere memories of what may or may not have happened. The future, equally, a truthless, projected dream. Before and after are thus a nonsense.

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Revised edition, 2020.
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Time's Paradigm book cover.

Time does not pass anywhere but in the present moment. With such a passage and its consequent proposal for period and space – hence causality – existence assumes form. Nowhere else. The past and the future are in a state of solid suspension, a whole unto themselves, a single, spaceless entity with potential. They (it) have all the ingredients to fluoresce but lack a need or purpose.

Time is nothing without the past and future and nothing but the present moment. A bubble that is not supposed to be, yet exists, under pressure, as it were, from a past connected to a future that does not require momentum. Time is a necessary inconvenience created by conscious lifeforms whose purpose it is to sense change where none actually need occur.

An illustration of cyclical time with the heading, TIME

The bubble of time is an observance of reality akin to examining a slide under a microscope. It is a layer of existence requiring separation by refraction for it to be revealed. The more powerful the magnification the wider apart episodes of change appear.

Were it not for our minds, movement would not be perceived, the past would be linked to the future without incidence. We make time. Time is now! It is as much an illusion as is the distance between New York and Beijing. Neither really exists – we create them in their present form – so do they?

Time can form anywhere throughout eternity; whether it does depends upon the need for it to do so. It flows sequentially and thus positively simply because of conscious consideration, and has a rate dependent on that consideration.

We make time, it was not created for us.

A marriage proposal, then, between the “Block Universe” model and. “Presentism” to dispense with that unnecessary debate... because both theories have equal merit.

In aesthetic terms, the meaning of time can be expressed as progress, based on our subjective notion of movement through the universe in an ethereal context where consciousness is the driving force. We do not need to move physically to experience time, although obviously we all are. However, scientifically speaking, time is often stated as a consequence of space and, as such, is irrelevant due to its relative variance dependent on velocity. Surprisingly, further chapters will reveal just how closely these two references are related.

Consciousness Creates Time
Our minds make the present moment to separate the past from the future,
then slow down time to a manageable pace – otherwise it would all be over at once.
Button link to Time page.

Foremost, time does not flow in the sense that it has speed; how could it? We would need 'another time' in order to measure its passing. It's all in the mind. On the whole, we see time existing in an abstract form, so the meaning of time is elusive. And yet we don't ask: "Does Space Exist?"

Surely, space is an equally intangible manifestation. Nevertheless, we are fine with space, we can visualize movement from one place to the next and accept its purpose and relevance. But moving through time throws up a paradox. We cannot perceive either the past or the future so the void in between moments does not exist in our minds.

Moreover, we are apparently not in control of our passage through time, a very important incentive for concluding relevance. It is far easier to assert that time has no meaning other than for practical value; time has no function within reality..!

Indeed, "Time is merely a concept we made up for the purpose of measuring," many argue. They have a point, time is a necessary tool for aiding in navigation, farming, trading and the drying of paint... that appears to be all. However, the sun rises and sets, the space between those two events having a continuum of presence of which we are conscious. Just because we can't see it does not mean it doesn't exist. We can't see in the dark..? Yes, time may be tricky but it certainly has relevance to our lives.

So what is time, exactly?

(See dictionary definitions in chapter 2. Time)

The growth of a giant acacia tree, captioned: testament to the passage of time.

How Time Works

Fundamentally, time is about change. There is a difference between the past and the future. From one minute to the next, things are altering their position, their form and their state, be they great celestial bodies or tiny atomic particles. Without change there is no need for time. In other words, if the past and the future are identical, existence does not occur, because there is no purpose nor reason for it being, and no place for it to be.

... Like cutting a cake and finding two identical faces either side of the knife.

Space, it seems, is a prerequisite for time, because motion needs a playground in which to roam. These three phenomena are the cornerstones of existence; like our three physical dimensions, one cannot exist without the other two. But that does not mean they should not be deserving of their own identities.

Time needs a past and a future to propagate, so every moment must be preceded by and followed by another... and another, eternally. A single moment with a past but no future, would not exist, creating a cascading domino effect where time would unwind.

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The Author Chats

Time can have neither a beginning nor an end, everything must be connected to something else. What is time, if by itself... what good is it?

To get something started requires purpose, potential and impetus. However, in a state of non-existence, 'before time', it is unlikely these three players could have operated. Change is energetic, and to suggest that energy magically starts or suddenly stops is a tad far fetched; it goes against the very fundamentals of our Laws of Physics.

So instead, we ended up many centuries ago with a conclusion that the universe must have been around for an infinitely long time and will go on indefinitely. This view was refuted by Emmanuel Kant and other philosophers of the era in favour of Finitism. 20th century physicists, for their part, added that if the universe has existed forever it would logically have ended an infinite time ago.

Meme reads: The Kalahari Effect, because we cannot relate to an infinite horizon we are presented with the illusion of progress. How consciousness creates the flow of time by the presumption that we are never diverging with limits, we are always in the middle - of everything.

The "Big Bang" has since been adopted and the majority of scientists now agree that both Time and Space began in that explosive instance; existence was thus born and the meaning of time became apparent. But there is another scenario that only rarely surfaces for debate: Time defined as a Cyclical Progression; a giant, revolving process that has no beginning and no end. It satisfies both parties in this debate while upholding thermodynamic principles. Scientist, Sir Roger Penrose, is a leading proponent of such theories.

Einstein, himself, also contemplated for a while the concept of a cosmological cycle for time, purportedly citing that a contracting universe would be unequivocally the same as his theories of Relativity.

Ever wondered why clocks and compasses are round? Cycles: Nature's little engines... whether powered by fluid dynamics, gravity or chemistry; they are contained and independent entities with perpetual drive.

Does Time Exist?

"The present moment is just an illusion." Well, yes, of course. That's what our brains do. They interpret the world around us using senses – eyes, ears, nose, etc – and make up a scene for us in which to act. We have evolved to function within the constraints imposed upon us, and our perception of existence is likewise constrained by such idiosyncrasies.

Here we are in "The Present", which we define as our moment of awareness, our sense of change. If conscious, living beings such as ourselves were absent from this universe, time (eternity) would still exist, would it not? But would the present?

Meme of cartoon mouse on raft going over a waterfall.

Subjectivity is our Achilles heal when considering, what is time! We are too involved in the illusion to come to an informed decision. Ask yourself: If our destiny is already predetermined, why do choices in life exist? What if, as some academics argue, there is no past or future, we in this present moment are merely a raft adrift on an ocean of emptiness..? apparently, with no oars!

Yes, we make stuff up, so trying to sieve through the lies and misconceptions in order to find a truth or two somewhere at the bottom of the bowl is reserved for the likes of those with enormous patience and optimism – gold prospectors and fishermen come to mind. Not surprising, then, that we can happily bob our way through life thinking we are flowing downstream on a current of fidelity, secure in the contradiction that we can determine our own fate.

The present moment may appear to be a clever illusion, because we are simple organisms with limitations, but that doesn't mean time does not exist. It means we have evolved without the need to understand it.

Aerial photo of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

QUICK LINKS – On This Page:

The Meaning of Time
Does Time Exist?
What Is Time?
How Time Works

The question of whether time cycles as in a giant, revolving story whose constitution is thus an intimate ensemble; whether time is a solid block of cheese that exists all at once and this movement malarkey is just an illusion; or whether, adversely, time is an infinite, one dimensional journey that began nowhere, exists only in the present moment and disappears into forever, is at the heart of this book's debacle.

The paradigm of time is a century in the making. It is a stagnant model, time having been resigned to a dusty shelf by the invariant speed of light. Unless the disciplines of science come together we will never fully comprehend the meaning of time, its precise definition will always allude us. Time is about more than maths and formulas, it is about cognitive awareness and our perception, be it real or illusory, that somehow we make progress.

We have unwittingly created a landscape for time, with past and future camps and a path between them upon which we allegedly travel. Clocks glare at us from microwave ovens, televisions, skyscrapers and smart phones, reminding us constantly that we are aware – of what, exactly, no one is quite sure!

Alan R Graham

Button link to top of page –- Button link to Destiny page.

TIME'S PARADIGM, the ebook
now available free to view
or download from this site
Revised edition, 2020.
for desktops, Kindles, readers.

book cover, Time's Paradigm, and our perception of time unraveled.

TABLE OF CONTENTS - Large favicon image logo for this website
chapters and summaries below

Part 1. Destiny is a light, philosophical debate between the theories of 'Presentism' and 'The Block Model', where the romanticism of Free Will is questioned, as is our ability to decide our own fate if the future already exists. Schrödinger's Cat cat emoji also makes a brief appearance.

Part 2. Time lays the foundation for the argument that time is a cyclical, contained progression, rather than a meandering voyage into infinity. It states that consciousness creates the present moment, and asks whether 'now' is a cosmological standard for all conscious beings.

Part 3. Infinity argues that defined points in time and space prohibit progress in linear models. Thus Zeno's Paradox is resolved and the speed of light held to account. Temporal awareness, it concludes, is the result of uncertain horizons – our perception of 'now' thus given freedom.

Part 4. Dimensions takes the bold step of asking us to consider a tangible dimension of time, represented by a fractal collapse through our three, known spatial dimensions. Chaos Theory and our relative position in time confirming the proposal that consciousness creates the present moment.

Part 5. Velocity asks whether our universe is expanding or contracting. It considers the simple physics of bodies contracting in a fourth dimension of time, and how that marries with standard scientific models such as Special Relativity, followed by the assertion that Zero Velocity and The Speed of Light are attributes of the same event in Cyclical Space-Time.

Part 6. Travel involves us in the more complex aspects of relativistic velocities, the conundrum of negative acceleration, a universal clock caused by time dilation and, ultimately, astronauts in the future with the alluring prospect of slipping through layers of parallel time.

Part 7. Nutshell to wrap up, succinctly crams everything above into just a few pages, and does not cover arguments in any great detail. A heavy read served up at blistering pace.

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TIME'S PARADIGM

Philosophy of Science Proposal
(Educational, Non-profit Enterprise). Copyright protected: A. Graham, ©1988 - 2021

No unauthorised use of the material published or the concepts described herein is permitted.