Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What is Time?

Recently, I was thinking about time, and how we perceive it. What struck me as interesting was how many different ways people think about it. Some people think there are an infinite number of pre-determined timelines happening in parallel universes, some people believe that we are destined to follow one unaltering path, some believe that our one and only timeline is like a river that can divide and go off in any direction.

Interesting how different opinions can be about what is seemingly a simple subject. I began to think about it, and I came to a very simple conclusion.

Time doesn't exist. It's no accident that we call it a hypothetical construct. Of course we have to be able to count seconds and minutes, otherwise society would be very difficult to maintain. But the way in which we count or measure time is something one would think would be a good example of time at work.

Let's take an hourglass for example; one of the very first methods of measuring time. I can count how long it takes for the sand to go from one container to the other. But nothing else has changed. The sand has simply moved, and I can recall the process of it happening.

You see, that's where our perception of time comes from. Memories. If we had no memories, we would have no perception of any time passing. "Just a minute ago...", "Last year", "The other day". They all refer to us recalling a past memory. And we measure the distance between those memories based solely on the movement of celestial objects. If the sun didn't move, the Earth didn't rotate, and the moon didn't orbit, we would have almost no perception of time "passing by". But things simply... changing.

And sure we have clocks and such, that can count seconds passing without the need of a rotating, orbiting planet. But in reality, time is not changing, merely the things in our universe are. At first I thought: "It is not a line, a river, a bubble, a flowchart, or anything else. It's simply a dot." But it's not even that. It's simply perception.

It is of course a very abstract concept, and hard to understand simply by reading about it, but by doing some research, I discovered that Sir Isaac Newton and I share opinions on the matter.

He described the difference between relative and absolute measurements. Like space, colour, and sound. Things that we only perceive because that's just how we interpret information entering our brain in the form of photons, or vibrations.

There is no way of knowing that what I see to be red is what you see to be red. Perhaps what you see as being red is what I see as being green. All we know is that the signal simply comes from electromagnetic radiation, that at a certain wavelength, we call light. Thus, there is no absolute measurement of colour, because each one of us could see anything, without being able to compare it to each other.

That is unlikely of course, because we're all human and we all have eyes that are made the same way. But the concept is still applicable. In the same way that colour is relative to our own perception, so is time.

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