Nobody Understands Time
A brief overview of this largely unexplained insanity
By MARTIN REZNY
Thanks for the suggestion, time is one of my favourite topics, and not just because I’m a Doctor Who fan. Too bad that there’s no scientific theory explaining it. It seems like we do have one, like it must be at least as figured out as gravity or space, but it really isn’t. We’re not even sure if it is wibbly, wobbly, timey, or wimey. Or infinite. Or only going forward. That’s a biggie.
To Infinity and Beyond!
To answer your question first, as much as anyone can, the observable space of course is finite, but that’s because the speed of light is limited. Beyond that, the space can be any size and we wouldn’t be able to see it. But as far as the repetition of forms is concerned, it would only have to be a certain finite size that doesn’t even get over a google of anything for all possible forms to be exhausted.
It also wouldn’t need an infinite amount of time, trillions of years would definitely suffice. The limit is rooted in the number of variations that particles of energy and matter in the standard model of physics can take, and a limited number of particles with limited number of forces governing their interactions translate into a limited number of total variations. It’s rather simple that way.
What we don’t know is whether the universe actually is or can be infinite, either in space or in time. Now I am not a theoretical physicist and can’t do the math myself, so feel free to ignore or disbelieve anything I say on the matter, but I have obsessively hunted down everything that people who understand this best have said about the issue. What I would add is I fear it’s reductionist.
Before I delve into the crazy, I’d like to stress that I don’t intend to diss math or physics, I just personally find the act of doing them tedious, so I rely on mathematicians and physicists to explain the results of their fiddling with them to me. Especially the channels Numberphile and Sixty Symbols on Youtube are brilliant in this regard, as well as a number of popularizers.
Oh Time, Where Do You Come From, Where Do You Go?
First of all, there’s one really inconsistent aspect of time: That we only perceive it moving in one direction, when for instance in quantum physics, it could just as easily go both ways. All common sense simply breaks down. If you think that Big Bang was a beginning of time and therefore it’s clear where it’s coming from, well, it’s more like all of time emerged at that… Point-ish.
You see, Big Bang is not really a moment, because that would imply that time already existed at that… And here we go again. Our language fails us here. Time can be understood as a kind of space, which you could look at from a special vantage point in a higher dimension like you would look at a map of a place, entering or leaving it through any moment. Like it was visualized by the astronaut in a five-dimensional bookcase in Interstellar.
If that isn’t just a metaphor but a concrete reality, it could mean that in a sense, future already exists, exactly like all the places you haven’t been to yet already do exist. To make it even more complicated, there may not only be a single concrete future terrain already put in some kind of “place”, but a whole multiverse of them. Each time something uncertain happens, it could shift.
You could visualize it like a computer game. Every possible path through it from start to finish in a very concrete mathematical sense exists, but as you play the game, your choices or randomness navigate you through only one of all possible paths. Much like in real life, you can’t experience more than one timeline at once, and the direction is fixed from least complexity to most complexity.
It’s All in Your Mind, Or Is It?
But all that’s really quite simple, because that doesn’t even begin to touch the elefant in the room. We don’t understand how our mind works. The way we perceive time may be completely deceptive. Already, we could be actually making decisions based on causal input from the future, for which there seems to be mounting body of evidence. Then there’s the incomprehensible.
Time could be doing all sorts of wobblying and wimeying behind the backs of our mind, and we would never know. What if all of history was manufactured yesterday, including your memories of prior events? You wouldn’t know. What if god was pausing or rewinding time all the… Time, or whatever. You wouldn’t know. We can only experience time linearly and forward, that’s positively puny.
Even the basics are unclear, like the shortest amount of time during which anything can happen, a cosmic tick-tock, the Planck time. That may be just a limitation of our math, which is not reality. Close, but not quite. Not all math is physics. Or something even more banal, a smallest possible measurement. If universe is a game, we don’t even have any idea about its exact frame rate.
And continuing in that analogy, much like time in a game is nested in the natural time, it means that in between two instances in a simulation, an eternity of real time can take place. Similarly, another thing we would never know is whether our “real” time is not just a simulated one nested in what could be any number of higher dimensions of time. We only follow entropy.
Questioning Causality Has Consequences
The funniest thing about all of these funky possibilities, which are completely possible no matter how conservatively do respected scientists feel about them, is that they turn causality upside down and every which way around. Time really is causality, things happening after other things, so however time works, that is causality. If time isn’t linear and forward, so isn’t causality.
If time can go backwards without us noticing it, it allows for the information from the future to seep back into the past, typically our present. It could mean that we can be attracted towards a future just as much or more than we are pushed by the past. Even if that only happens on a quantum level, which it totally does, maybe it allows for some measure of precognition. Or it doesn’t.
What’s for sure is that this is the point where physicists and neurologists get very touchy. It seems like a magical quantum woo to them, because it must be, they’re sure, even though they don’t understand how consciousness works. Or time. I wouldn’t be so quick to rule it out, before all sorts of tests are performed. Those that are being performed seem to back it up at least a little.
Another big bad woo is synchronicity, but that would just be causality coming from in between time or sideways time, the other higher or parallel dimensions of time, which we couldn’t perceive if they exist. If you paused a game to issue a complex series of orders, whatever you’ve done would look like instantly causing a bunch of seemingly unrelated events to happen.
How You Test for the Impossible Fuckery of Time
As a social scientist, there are a whole lot of experiments that I’d personally love to do, but really cannot imagine doing at any institution in my country. But that doesn’t stop me from fantasizing. One of the big problems of social sciences is that they cannot manage to predict anything, at least not for long. As time changes, so do the rules, it appears, as if laws weren’t constant.
I believe that the problem may lie in the lack of certain experimental controls, accounting for when the experiment is conducted, or various aspects of its timing. For instance, if you make people respond to something happening, you generally don’t control for what they’re doing after the test that might be in some meaningful relation to the subject of the experiment. It can be done.
Similarly, you don’t normally conduct multiple tests simultaneously as well as in sequence, and compare the two. Maybe something in the “laws” governing some social phenomena has changed in between two points in time. In this sense, social “laws” may quite easily be more like habits, especially if any aspect of Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic resonance theory is even close to real.
And if any of you feel like this sounds like woo and not science, let me remind you what science is. It’s any hypothesis that is testable being tested, thoroughly and rigorously. You can’t reject all of this out of hand, and don’t hide behind “skepticism”. Skepticism is not an aversion to testing of what doesn’t feel right. I don’t know if any of it is true, but I can’t wait to find out.
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