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Time's Paradigm

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Exploring just
how we perceive
the passage of time

Home | Destiny | Time | Infinity | Dimensions | Velocity | Travel

21 Frequently Asked Questions About Time

Answering all those nagging questions is, Al Graham "The Time Guy", one of today's most prolific authors on time and progress.

What is time? - Does time exist? - Is time the same as motion?
How does time flow? - Can we change our Destiny? - Can time flow backwards?
Is time travel possible? - Is time an illusion?
What is time's arrow? - Is time the fourth dimension?

photo of Alan R Graham captioned The Time Guy.

The answers to many of these frequently asked questions about time are still up for debate. In some cases there are no simple, straight forward answers about how time works. However, some questions about time do have absolute answers, which "The Time Guy" will lay out in clear and concise terms. No physics or math involved here, just plain old English for those wishing to understand time.

The Time Guy

What is time?

Time is our word to describe an abstract sense of passing from one moment to the next, from one set of circumstances to another. In order for time to exist there must be change. If the past and the future were the same then there would be no need for time, in other words: Time would not occur, and so would not therefore have been conceived. Time is intangible, it has no physical attributes, even though we often think about it like space, as if time had direction and went from one place to the next.
Dictionary Definition: A sequential and irreversible period between events.

Next most frequently asked question about time, in no particular order of relevance or importance.

Is time the same thing as motion?

In a sense, yes. Things have to change as we progress in time or there would be no point in existence. Change is motion, from tiny atomic particles to giant galaxies everything is on the move in our universe. When we travel from London to New York it takes time as well as distance to make the journey. We cannot move without time passing, however, that does not mean they are the same thing, exactly.
Space, time and motion are the three abstract manifestations of existence, like our three physical dimensions are the visible aspects. They need to be considered separately when examining how the universe works, but in essence, if we stand back and view existence objectively, it is all one big thing.

Does time exist in its entirety?

Time is not being made up as we go along, nor is it being disassembled once we have passed through. Time exists as a solid tenseless block from ancient history to fantastic future. This will not please some people, who believe that only the present moment exists. Tough. One thing cannot exist on its own, that's a simple fact. One thing has to relate to another in order to be valid. If the future isn't out there and the past has dissolved then the present moment we seem to live in would have no viability floating about in a void all by itself.
The future is created by the past, not the present. Entire time provides consistency in an otherwise chaotic system; we watch as the future evolves from seemingly random events and yet a fractal expression develops that is bound by iterations and a sense of prophetic purpose. The future is supposed to be.

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More frequently asked questions about time.

How does time flow?

Big question with many inferences. First, are we sure time flows at all? The consensus is that it is we that are flowing through time and that time does not go anywhere. Secondly, if time flowed it would presumably have direction, which we would logically expect to be from somewhere to somewhere else.
If you believe that the past and the future exist all at once then time does not flow, it is we that perceive change and so make up the notion of time's passage. On the other hand, if you believe that the past and future do not exist, only the present moment is real, then time flows from nowhere to nowhere -- a rather absurd scenario.

Can we change our Destiny?

That's an oxymoron. Still, we have choices in life, which suggests that destiny does not exist. We have free will to plan our own futures and make decisions as to our outcome, which pretty much says we make it up a we go along. What would be the point in free will if we couldn't change anything? Apparently the future does accept our proposals and nice things happen. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
There is chance, chaos and synchronicity to contend with, all of which tell us that we are not in control. Besides, the likelihood that a bunch of conscious beings on a tiny rock out there in the middle of the universe could possibly manipulate time and make a difference to the future is a little far fetched. Added to which, if the past and future already exist then our fate is sealed. Too bad.

Part 2. From Rock-stars to Multi-worlds
Button link to Destiny page.

Can time flow backwards?

Here's a frequently asked question about time. To agree to this, first we must accept that time flows (see above). Now, the biggest problem with time flowing backwards is the philosophical conundrum that we are accepting of a concept called "forwards". Time has direction; it is not gender specific. In essence, time does flow backwards if we relate our forward progress through time which is flowing towards us from the future to the past.
But let's get serious. If by forwards we mean our clocks and watches are advancing as normal through the hours of the day, then backwards might mean the opposite. But would we be walking and talking backwards? There's a reason why we have eyes in the front of our heads. How would a plane fly backwards, aeronautically speaking?
This idea of time flowing backwards was probably spawned from science fiction and has absolutely no bases in physics or philosophy. To reverse flow means time would first have to slow down, then stop... and then head back. Some tech junkies are convinced that if the universe were to cease expanding and began to collapse that time would then tick backwards. Why? A balloon doesn't deflate in reverse -- we don't live in a movie where we can hit rewind.

Will time go on forever?

Yes. Apocalyptic endings make for a great novel but there is no bases in fact. Nothing ends, energy exists and transforms, it does not magically disappear. Lifeforms die and change state, their earlier physical appearance alters -- this is not an end of existence, it is a transition. Time is abstract, it could only end if nothing further happened, if nothing changed, which is highly unlikely because we would first have to consider how time started in the first place. And if it didn't, well, there you go.
As has been noted, if time has existed infinitely it would probably have ended an infinite time ago. If we do away with infinities by accepting that time cycles as opposed to having a flat, linear progression, then forever is seasonal and contained, kind of like an Easter egg.

apocalyptic prophecy foretells of our dire destiny
There Was A Time
(by the same author)

Is time travel possible?

I am a firm believer in time travel, by that I mean a transference dislocation from the present moment. So in answering this frequently asked question about time, first consider: We are all time travelers, of course, but how to slip from our present state of awareness to another is complex. Physically, time travel is beset with problems, however, mental transference, slipping through time subconsciously, has tremendous potential and is the subject of chronosthesia.
Physically speaking we may find that testing relativity to the limits at the speed of light may open up the prospect of an alternative to time dilation. Relativity is the realm of physics, robots and mechanical things, whereas cognitive science is only now beginning to become involved with how the human mind will cope with space travel... thanks to our upcoming explorations to Mars.

Button link to Time Traveler's Guide page.

What is the Time Continuum paradox?

There are those who love to create paradoxes, kind of like conspiricy theorists. Suggesting that a time traveler can visit the past because it's there and exists so now the present, where they just came from, is the future and can thus be altered, is ludicrous. Who on Earth came up with this crazy idea? That's the Time Continuum paradox: Going back in time and killing your grandfather which now means you were never born. Either, all of time exists throughout, or none of it exists.
Picking and choosing which bits are real and which are not is what we do in the present moment, simply because it seems possible -- the future is unknown. We are conditioned to feel the need for change and so naturally assume we can go off and alter the past, as well. The past and present are, however, undeniable fact. Get used to it.

How do we perceive time?

There are many wonderful proposals. My own view is this: Because we are unaware of the limits of our existence we are capable of experiencing the illusion of progress. It is called the Kalahari Effect. Besides that rather aesthetic explanation, consider this:
We create motion when it does not exist. We watch 24 still frames per second of film, and it looks like real life action. Our brains make up the feeling of time's flow. We do not experience time in our subconscious or while we are dreaming, why..? Well, because it is sensory input that drives our consciousness forwards.
If we cannot see, smell, feel or hear, we cannot contemplate the present moment or sense the passage of time. Hence the rather stagnant settings in dreams that are concocted from within our minds and devoid of external input. Called sensory deprivation, much of the process involves simple, biological reflexes, and it is only conscious lifeforms that perceive time. If humans and animals did not exist on this planet time would still pass, except there would be no one to witness it... Or would it?

Does the present moment exist?

No, it does not, by itself. How could it? When does 11:59 become midnight? There can be no singular expression of movement through time or space; unless the present moment has width or size which would be most peculiar. Quantum Mechanics explains this idiosyncrasy perfectly: If we know something is moving we cannot say where it is, and vice versa. It's called the Uncertainty Principle. Moreover, if the past and present do not exist, how could the present? Or, if you prefer the alternative we can say that the present is the future's past, all then existing at the same time, i.e. one big thing.

However, just to infuriate you still further: The present moment is all there is! We make it; we slow down time between the past and the future with our minds -- otherwise it would all be over at once.

Button link to Time and Infinities page.

Why are we all together in time?

Good question... More on this subject of the present moment -- that defies explanation. We could be aware yesterday or tomorrow and yet here we all are stuck in today. But are we? If the past and the future exist all at once, as many consider the only reasonable explanation for time, then we are aware all through time. That makes time travel a distinct possibility. Tomorrow we will wake up in today, it's just the getting there that is a bit confusing for us right now because we cannot grasp the notion that it's actually happening at this moment, too.
A universal clock keeping us all together has been suggested but it flies in the face of Einstein's theories concluding that all our clocks and watches tick along at different speeds depending on how fast we are actually moving through space. It is because we are all stuck together on this planet that we are all stuck together in time. But we're not really.
If we were not conscious throughout our timelines we might easily end up out of sync with everyone else by a few seconds, in a time where no one else was aware -- bizarre!

Does time stop at the speed of light?

No, clocks stop at the speed of light -- time is something else; time is perceived by consciousness. Light is buzzing around this universe and not causing any problems. The speed of light is a barrier imposed by physics and will no doubt soon be realized to be unrealistic. In order to reach light speed one needs an infinite amount of mass/energy which, clearly, ain't happening. So time will never stop.
And on the other side of light speed, no! sorry, time will not run backwards. In cyclical time, light-speed and no-speed are attributes of the same event, there is no beginning and no end... of anything.

Is time an illusion?

What is an illusion? Another frequently asked question. Forgive me for being pedantic but isn't everything we perceive an illusion? From a distance a red and white striped shirt appears to be pink. Our bodies are made up of atoms and molecules yet we see human shape and form. Our subjective contemplation of time is bound to be flawed. The past evolves into the future and even though it may not be a physical process that we are familiar with, it is our means of coming to terms with a manifestation so utterly amazing we can only describe it with our limited abilities. Two thousand years ago the Earth was flat... an illusion?

Button link to Fourth Dimensions web page.

Was the Big Bang the beginning of time?

This question has just as many arguments for as against. From the outset time has the potential of being a recurring cyclical process, not necessarily a linear model, a self-perpetuating principle with no beginning or end. Furthermore, many argue that something must have been going on before the Big Bang. There are those who argue that existence comes and goes in a soup of quantum foam and that there are probably billions of Big Bangs happening all over the place.
Others suggest that there might have been another Big Bang just yesterday but a few thousand light years away somewhere else in the universe, a spectacle that we have not observed yet because it takes light so long to get here. Who knows? That the Big Bang was the beginning of time is a bit lame.

What is time's arrow?

One view of temporal progression is entropy, or Time's Arrow. Things break but they do not un-break. There is only one direction and that is towards chaos. Quantum mechanics might disagree, as it likes to argue that sub-atomic particles may wish to do things in reverse; but on a macro scale we don't seem to be heading for birth. So, entropy is the redistribution of energy in time. It is described by the second law of Thermodynamics as the passing of energy from useful levels to ever less useful levels, in decline. The arrow of time is a quaint way of saying time only flows forwards, which is unfortunate because (as mentioned above) it gets people thinking that perhaps time can flow backwards. It can't.

Do multiple universes of time exist?

An alternative theory for those who support free will rather than destiny is that the future does indeed exist, and that every possible direction we might take is already out there, but we can choose which path we wish to follow: An infinite number of parallel universes all written down and waiting for us to experience whatever decision we make. While it satisfies the sense of control we crave and at the same time allows us autonomy, there are two problems with this theory. (MWI, as it is known, is a Quantum theory that may not work in the real world).
The first is logical, the second statistical: Saying that every possible outcome is already out there, suggests multiple avenues from a single event, all of which would have had the same past; or what, exactly? And statistically, well, a chicken could lay a thousand eggs in one night! Hmmm.
You see, to slip across into another reality where you are comfortable and none the wiser, requires that all your memories be intact. So all these parallel universes would have to have the same past. And, as the present moment continually flows forwards..?

Button link to Where is Time Going.

Does time go round in cycles?

Most likely. All progressive systems in our universe are cyclical. Solar systems, galaxies and atomic structures, all rotate as a necessary function of continuity. Cycles are everywhere, from nature's nitrogen cycles and weather related phenomena to whirlpools, wheels and electric circuits. Many eastern philosophies subscribe to such teachings, it is only in the west that we seem to be playing catch-up with this idea. Cyclical time upholds the laws of thermodynamics while doing away with infinities and forevers, those awful things that clutter our minds when contemplating time as a linear process.

Is time the fourth dimension?

If one had a need to describe time in a tangible, physical sense then time as a fourth dimension would be the way to go. Although Einstein consider time an integral part of space, so too are the other three dimensions we have created in order to understand existence -- so why not time? An object cannot exist in only one dimension, it needs the others to become whole, likewise time is a necessary component in becoming viable.
However, if you asked this question thinking that we might be able to step into a magical fourth dimension in order to escape our known three, I think you are barking up the wrong tree.

Button link to Table of Contents below.

Why does time speed up as we get older?

When we are young we perceive time to crawl along from one year to the next; our teenage life seems to drag on forever. But when we get into our 50s, suddenly five years goes by in a flash. Five years, when we are ten years old, is fifty per cent of our entire existence, but only ten per cent of our life experience at age 50. It's just a matter of time.

Why does time fly when we're having fun?

Shutting down our sense of time is like living without it, unaware of its passage or flow. That is what we do when we concentrate on things besides our present predicament. No longer are there spaces between moments, hours or seconds when we dislocate from the present. All of time now exists all at once, as it should. We lose track at, say, 10 o'clock and re-awaken at 11, as if not a minute has passed. We do the same thing when reading a book, watching a movie or going to sleep; we leave reality and input behind... But when we are in the movie that we are watching and not transported from it, then we experience its flow. We have to watch time tick by, aware of every second.

Here are links up to
The most frequently asked questions about time:

What is Time?
How does time flow?
Is Time Travel Possible?
Is Time an Illusion?

More frequently asked questions about time will be added shortly. Thanks for dropping by.

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