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Is Time Real Or Made Up?

Psychologist and author Alan R Graham discusses his views on how time works and debunks the notion that time is just an illusion, in this lighthearted introduction to his book, Time's Paradigm.


Time flows, they say, and we are at the mercy of its passage. To quote Shakespeare: "Injurious shifting time, be guilty of my death, since of my crime." But, as Einstein pointed out, our clocks don't all tick at the same speed, so that kind of says "poof" to the whole notion of us all flowing along together under the guidance of time.

Okay, hang on! So why do we need time to go from point A to point B..? If the past does not exist -- it is just a memory -- and the future is yet to be, realistically, then, we must be getting about without time. Moreover, as the argument goes, "it is we that move and flow, not time at all." We created it, we gave it a name and now the cheeky thing demands the right to be relevant..?

a dog and a bicycle resting in Devon by a country five bar gate

Time is a non-entity, it does not exist, it is an impostor -- a fake. Time and existence are but the same thing: Were it not for a moment, nothing could take place... and, likewise, without an event to witness, time would not pass. It is a necessary tool for aiding in navigation, farming, trading and the drying of paint... that is all. Let's face it, time is an imaginary concept of no substance.

Ah, but if this metaphysics conundrum were only that simple. The problem is, we cannot dismiss time for being insubstantial because it is, in fact, tangible. Time is flexible, it is ambiguous, whereas made up things usually aren't. Just ask your four year old daughter if her teddy bear can talk. It's only because we are all parked together on this planet that it seems like time flows with unwavering consistency... Well, it doesn't, so, yes, time may actually be a physical phenomenon after all.

Time is not just that ity-bity thing we perceive to be the present moment supposedly flowing along, it encompasses all of existence throughout universal history and all episodes yet to be. From the past to the future and from A to B. We don't ask: "Does Space Exist?" and yet it is equally abstract, so why question time?

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

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 point nor reason for it being, and no place for it to be.

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 dimensions, one cannot exist without the other two.

Having said that... Space is the stuff in between things, it starts somewhere and concludes upon reaching something else, superficially speaking. Does Time..?

Everything you ever wanted to know About Time!

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The Author Chats

There is no beginning nor end of time. How could there be?

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 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, have added that if the universe has existed forever it would logically have ended an infinite time ago.

Animated meme reading: NOW, The Great Debate of our Time.

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. But there is another scenario that only rarely surfaces for debate: Cyclical Time; a giant, revolving process that has no beginning and no end. It satisfies both parties in this debate, demanding that time flow in only one direction while upholding thermodynamic principles. Scientist Sir Roger Penrose is a leading proponent of such theories which, in reality, argue that time has existed forever.

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

Unfortunately, Relativity is based on linear models for time and space, which impede progress by creating those awful infinities. Ever wondered why clocks and compasses are round? Cycles: Nature's little engines... whether powered by fluid dynamics, gravity or biological demands. Contained and independent entities with purpose and perpetual drive.

Is The Present Moment Just An Illusion?

Well, yes. That's what our brains do. They interpret the world around us by means of senses -- eyes, ears, nose, etc -- and make up a scene for us in which to act. We perceive "Now" by means of biological stimulus and associative intuition. Colour pigments are mixed by proximity to make varying shades that don't really exist; molecules are all stuck together to form clumps of recognizable shape depending on how close or far away we are. Red and white become pink, trees become mountains, and the moon is a dime in our mind's eye. It's all a confabulation -- Isn't everything?

We have evolved to function within the constraints imposed, not the other way around.

Here we are in "The Present", which is our moment of awareness, our sense of change. If conscious, living beings such as ourselves were absent from this universe, time would still exist, would it not? But would the present? What makes "Now" exist at only one point in time coincidentally experienced by all of us simultaneously? Could the present not be at any moment anywhere in time -- why are we all stuck together?

This bombshell begs us to consider whether time exists all along its path in continuity from the past to the future like a block of cheese or if, in fact, as some philosophers will argue (the A-Theorists), there is no past behind us and no future ahead of us, we in this present moment are merely a raft adrift on an ocean of timelessness... apparently with no oars!

Well, to be honest, those who disagree with this above hypothesis, have themselves put forward arguments that are equally shocking. Renown psychologist Carl Jung proclaimed that the future was awash with meaningful coincidences; Einstein pronounced that time and space were the same thing. And then the cherry on top: "If our destiny is already predetermined, why do choices in life exist?"

Fair enough. Clearly, subjective consideration of time from our human perspective is bound to be flawed. We should be considering time from an objective point of view. Here goes:

Diagram of two planets orbiting each other.

Imagine peering down from outside the universe at two planets, one in orbit around the other, in an otherwise empty universe where there are no relative celestial bodies, or stars, as backdrop. The inhabitants of both planets argue that the other is orbiting them and that they are still. We, on the other hand, can clearly see that both planets are in motion, the centre of rotation being in between them.

Furthermore, if neither planet had spin with respect to the other as they orbited, and always showed the same face to the other, then from the point of view of the inhabitants of both, this mobile, binary system would, in essence, be stationary -- in other words timeless. However, we outside observers would disagree. Meaning, we just imposed our consideration of time on a universe where time supposedly does not exist...

Hardly objective! And that's one of the first problems encountered when trying to understand time: we are too involved in the illusion to come to an informed decision. The second nuance is mental mayhem. That was the problem for the inhabitants of those two planets. Motion is a product of time and they are very hard to tell apart. They are conjoined, as it were. Progress "in space" must also be "in time" -- simultaneously -- or so it seems.

Motion is relative, the absolute truth of it dependent on things our minds may not be aware of. Like sitting on a train in a station and assuming, on spying movement through the window, that your train is finally departing so you reach to steady your cup... when actually you are not going anywhere, it is just that the train next to yours is quietly shuttling forwards. Sudden, shocking realisation that your trusted world view of reality has turned out to be a monstrous lie, creates a peculiar feeling of trepidation and awe. Some folks' stomachs may do a weird vertigo flip in response to being fooled by reality. It can be quite scary -- a "Matrix" moment.

Time is forever playing tricks on us. We think we are passing through time from one day to the next because there are markers we are aware of like sunsets and a rising tide. However, relatively speaking, everyone appears to be flowing down the river with you, and one day looks pretty much like the next, so are we actually going anywhere?

Am I making this whole thing up?

A magician waves his hand about and the audience sees four fingers when really there were only three visible; the Mickey Mouse illusion. It is a common fact that humans will create reality if things don't add up or a key element is missing -- we apparently need to make sense of madness... it's a comfort thing. Klaus Conrad conceived the term Apophenia to describe the necessary human trait of seeing meaning in things that really aren't valid, er... like, Mother Teresa's face on a muffin. Yes, as many psychologists will point out, to some extent we actually invent the world around us.

So not surprising then that we can happily amble our way through life thinking we are flowing downstream aboard a life raft called "the present" (that doesn't really exist)... on a mighty river called Time (that is actually frozen solid)... no worries!


Technology trumps destiny, There Was A Time, author's prophetic vision

Aerial photo of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Let's be thankful for Cycles. They are everywhere -- from cosmic to atomic -- including the cycle of life-giving water on our planet to which rivers are an integral part. Moisture is drawn up from the oceans and forms clouds that pass high over land and deposit their load in the form of rain in the mountains. So why not time?

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 that exists all at once in its entirety and all 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.

How Does Time Flow?

meme intro of desert landscape saying, we are aware - where we are.A humorous philosophical anecdote using identical meme with additional words in the middle reading, because we don't know!

Here's the crux: Infinities lead to and away from designated points. Without points there would be no infinities. We are, we believe, in an identified location in both time and space and for this reason it is we that are unwittingly creating infinities -- that shouldn't really exist.

So what exactly is the problem with infinities?

Infinities deny us the possibility of progress, in time and space. To put it bluntly, if we don't know where we are we can move. While infinities imply the never-ending, they effectively extrapolate finites and thus conflict with the prospect of continuity. Welcome to Calculus.

Like other abstract phenomena, time is an illustrative platform that can be plotted with points: Moments of the day; minutes, seconds and hours, through which time passes. If these fictitious points in time actually did exist then time would cease to flow.

A reliance on mathematical formulas alone for a sense of reality and truth is misguided, especially when they are prone to regurgitating countless infinities. Equations do not express reality, they express functions. They do not paint a picture of how life is and are not supposed to. We do the world building on the back of their determinations.

Achilles, the hare -- of tortoise and hare fame -- is a great example of such idiosyncrasy. Of course he can catch the tortoise, despite Zeno's Paradox and those ill conceived equations insisting he can't. Ludicrous to assume in reality though it is; a clever conundrum, nevertheless. Answer: Simply by giving maths formulas the tools to see beyond the slow ploding tortoise, our young hare will soon overtake his rival, no problem.

Unless the disciplines of physics, psychology and philosophy come together we will never fully comprehend time. It is about more than maths, it is about cognitive awareness and our perception, be it real or illusory, that somehow there is space between things and we make progress. We have 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 toasters, televisions, towers and smart phones, reminding us constantly that we are aware -- of what, exactly, no one is quite sure!

One thing is, however, certain: Without finalities time and thus existence, is guaranteed.

For further reading, Crossing The Kalahari, from the author's journal.
A supplementary article Prime Numbers Busted for another math conundrum.
Cycles are everywhere Spinning Magnetic Fields vortices and revolutions

Is Time a Fourth Dimension?

the illusions of distance created by depth perception, with two animated trees changing size.

If we can only see life in two dimensions, like looking at a picture with no concept of depth, then two trees side by side is perceived to be just meters apart from the view point of one observer, whereas another observer, some distance to one side and forward of the first observer, might see that these two trees are actually tens of meters apart. A discrepancy arises between the observers over distance and the space between things.

Likewise, if we can only see life in three dimensions, as we believe we do, with no understanding of the implications of a fourth, then while a stationary observer might see his garage being 10 meters long, physics asserts that a passing observer travelling at near light speed might see the garage to be merely 5 meters in length. And a similar discrepancy arises.

We laugh at the first discrepancy, but this new one is no laughing matter -- why not? Shouldn't this second discrepancy have just as simple a solution?

It can be explained to the first two observers that there is actually a third dimension, a new direction that can be travelled, that is unwavering and equal to the other two dimensions, and with some mathematics called geometry all is revealed. But the second two observers are not given an extra dimension that can be explored, they are limited to their three. They are only told that 'time' is part of space, that it is flexible, that distances are, too, and simultaneous viewpoints do not occur. Now they must tackle equations that defy logic due to the presumed invariance of light speed.

The architect of this extraordinary set of circumstances was, of course, Albert Einstein. Clearly, Special Relativity is not in question; it is brilliant and it works, but is it necessarily engaging with reality?

What if we gave those two, confused observers a solid and comprehensive fourth dimension to play with? Rather than bending our cherished three dimensions to conform with mathematical dictum, what if we could begin again, and provide them with a framework that answers all their questions without driving them, and everyone else, nuts? Is there such a dimension? Time's Paradigm supports the hypothesis that there is: A real, physical dimension born of the other three, through which we pass and perceive the flow of time.

In which case, what's the prognosis for Time Travel? Well, if Achilles can catch up with that blasted tortoise then we, too, should be able to surpass the speed of light.

An illustration of the universe unfolding with a fractal expression of matter in contraction.

"Universal Contraction" is the core proposal of this publication. It says that the speed of light and zero velocity do not need to be invariant ends on a linear scale because they are in fact attributes of the same event. In other words, the space-time model is cyclical.

Existence is thus wrapped neatly up like a parcel, a perpetual embodiment. For if time progresed along an infinite, linenar path it would doubtless have never started or, at the very least, have already ended. Time is, however, a vast and complex beast, whose individual parts this publication discusses in much greater detail over several, sequential chapters. (See below)

Please Note. Revised edition, March 2020.

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book cover, Time's Paradigm, does time exist?

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 tackles existential perception, acausality, and asks whether the present moment 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 the Nth Dimension draw us to conclude that time can only flow as one ensemble.

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 Relativity.

Part 6. Travel involves us in the more complex aspects of relativistic velocities, the conundrum of Zero Velocity, a universal clock caused by time dilation and, ultimately, astronauts in the future with the prospect of superluminal, time dislocation.

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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