Saturday, January 2, 2010

Thoughts on the Nature of Time

  1. Evidently, Kurt Gödel showed in 1949 (in his essay contributed to Schilpp’s volume on Einstein) that the truth of General Relativity Theory (GRT) implied that time (as traditionally isolated and understood) was not an essential physical parameter of the universe.
  2. He did so by showing that there were solutions to the equations of GRT which implied the existence of universes in which “time travel” was possible. But if it is possible to travel in time as we understand it, then the “past” and the “future” exist simultaneously along with the “present”, and so “time” itself is not an inherent parameter of the universe.
  3. So my question: What if “time” were something that is inherent with the “observer”? What if, in short, we (the participants/observers) have “time” built-in to ourselves as a means of being able to participate in/observe the physical universe?
  4. The perception of “time” would then come as a feature (or a bug?) of the instrument that does the perceiving/participating.
  5. Let us see if we can construct an analogy. If a Flatlander (a 2-dimensional being occupying a portion of a plane) were to observe a three-dimensional sphere as it passed through his area of the plane, he would see at first just a point, then a line which increased in length up to the diameter d of the sphere, and which then shrank back to just a single point, and disappeared.
  6. The Flatlander’s manner of observing the sphere would not be inaccurate, but would be limited (and characterized) by the nature of his existence as a two-dimensional observer.
  7. Thus, what if our perception of “three-dimensional reality” is just an illusion created by our own limitations as human participants/observers? Reality would be infinitely more complex than we could perceive -- and the illusion of time would come along with our ability to perceive/take part in that reality. (In the same way, a Flatlander would have to invent “time” in order to be able to connect his successive two-dimensional perceptions of a three-dimensional sphere into the comprehension of them as a single object.)
  8. Yes, we are (see ourselves as) born from our mothers, growing old, and then dying and decaying back to dust. But what if those were only changing physical embodiments of what is in reality one thing -- just as a Flatlander would perceive the changing physical embodiments of a three-dimensional sphere passing through his area of the two-dimensional plane? (This may explain why we have no “memory” of how it was before we were born.)
  9. “Time travel” is then indeed possible, but not in the sense that is ordinarily understood. That is, it would do no good for us (three-dimensional beings) to learn how to travel in time, any more than it would enable a Flatlander to understand reality by physically transporting him back to the point when the sphere began to appear in his plane. Our own inherent (three-dimensional) time-perceptions would prevent us from understanding or comprehending what we would see if we could travel in time.
  10. It is the very act of entering into/participating in this physical universe that limits our ability to perceive the true nature of reality, or to grasp the significance in context of our “entrance” onto the stage. We become thereby “time-bound”, as it were, and able to perceive/participate in reality only insofar as we manufacture time in order to make sense of what we can grasp of the reality in which we participate.

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