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    Thread: Is time an illusion?

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      Is time an illusion?

      I've never been sure what people mean when they say that time is an illusion. I understand that units of time are illusions. Seconds, minutes and hours are concepts we've made up. But that seems so trivial it isn't worth mentioning, so I've always felt that something more than that is meant.

      As far as I can tell, time exists as much as distance does. It may be necessary, or at least it seems so, although perhaps it's so ingrained in our minds we simply can't imagine it not existing due to limitations on our minds. I mean if there were no time, what would that even look like? All I can imagine is that everything would stay still. But even the idea of stillness involves time throughout which the thing must remain still. A sub-question to this thread might be, is time a necessary intrinsic feature of existence? Or does it only seem that way because our minds can only work in that way?

      If you think time is an illusion, what exactly do you mean by that? If you don't, what do you think other people mean by it, and why do you disagree? Is it simply meant that units of time are illusions, or that we take it too seriously? That we forget that it's a necessary property of the universe, and that in labeling it we've given ourselves the misconception that it's some substantial thing which might be slowed down or sped up or traveled through? Or is it meant that our entire concept of it is flawed? That everything is really timeless? Is the timelessness assertion something attained through philosophical pondering or through scientific analysis?

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      If life is a dream, time may be an illusion. Or if we have eternity ahead of us (for those of us who believe in an afterlife), the urgency of time or its limits may be an illusion. Maybe we have all the time in the world after all, or rather all the time outside of this world?

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      Eckhart Tolle talks about something he calls clock-time, which is an addictive type of attitude wherein we are never here but are instead constantly paying attention to the passage of time. With clock-time, you're never present, your mind fixates on the past and future. This is a state most of us in this society are typically in all the time, only leaving it for very brief periods. Even when we get off work, we still focus more on our schedule of relaxation than on the actions within the schedule.

      I'm sure this concept is simple enough, when you do something, stop thinking about what you're going to do next. Take things one at a time. But it goes deeper than that.

      Consider that existence is infinite. Think about what this means, that existence will continue occurring forever. Even if the universe implodes, something will continue. Even if that something isn't reality at all and nothing exists within it. The way we consider time, we cannot consider what that would be. But if time is truly infinite, then given enough time every single activity possible will occur. Not only that, but each possible activity will occur an infinite number of times. There will be, eventually, an exact replica of you doing exactly the same things you do in exactly the same way. There already was, over and over again.

      When you truly contemplate infinity, time ceases to exist at all.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Original Poster View Post
      Consider that existence is infinite. Think about what this means, that existence will continue occurring forever. Even if the universe implodes, something will continue. Even if that something isn't reality at all and nothing exists within it. The way we consider time, we cannot consider what that would be. But if time is truly infinite, then given enough time every single activity possible will occur. Not only that, but each possible activity will occur an infinite number of times. There will be, eventually, an exact replica of you doing exactly the same things you do in exactly the same way. There already was, over and over again.
      We don't know that existence is infinite though. Maybe it does end. Of course we can't really comprehend that, since our minds consider time to be something that must exist, but that doesn't mean it's necessary.

      It's actually the opposite thought, that time may be finite, which helps me comprehend that it may not exist at all in the form we know it. If it has an ending, or a beginning, then that means our brains are obviously not seeing 'time' as it really is, since it seems to us that it can't have an ending. Even the idea of time 'stopping' seems to imply paradoxically that it must keep going, since for something to stop, there must be a time at which it stops, and then some duration after it's stopped through which it's in a 'stopped' state. Considering time itself, the idea of it ever ceasing just doesn't make sense to us. Maybe time is just a static thing. But that we, for some reason, experience it linearly, one moment at a time. Now that I think about it, from a perspective of outside of time, the idea of time would not even be describable. Idk. I've been thinking about this more than I have before while writing it.

      One more point I have in response is that something being infinite doesn't necessarily mean it will ever repeat. Unless I've neglected to consider some aspect of this, if something goes on into infinity, either it is chaotic and repeats, or follows some pattern, which may repeat or may not. Consider numbers. 0, 1, 2, 3.... A number is never repeated, even though they go on into infinity.

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      Time is an illusion in the same way that colours (what we perceive, not the literal wavelengths of light per se) are an illusion, or that there is such a thing as "solid" objects (rather than repulsive electrical charge), or what we perceive sound to be (rather than simple vibrations or displacement of particles, matter, etc., in the atmosphere). Time is a useful shortcut used by the brain to comprehend existence. It exists in the sense that it can be perceived and used as a cognitive tool, but beyond the scope of human experience it becomes irrelevant--much like colour, sound, smell, or any of the other human senses. This doesn't mean it doesn't exist, just that if you are discussing a subject not directly pertaining to or limited by human perception, it doesn't really matter or really even make sense to take into consideration.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Dianeva View Post
      We don't know that existence is infinite though. Maybe it does end. Of course we can't really comprehend that, since our minds consider time to be something that must exist, but that doesn't mean it's necessary.

      It's actually the opposite thought, that time may be finite, which helps me comprehend that it may not exist at all in the form we know it. If it has an ending, or a beginning, then that means our brains are obviously not seeing 'time' as it really is, since it seems to us that it can't have an ending. Even the idea of time 'stopping' seems to imply paradoxically that it must keep going, since for something to stop, there must be a time at which it stops, and then some duration after it's stopped through which it's in a 'stopped' state. Considering time itself, the idea of it ever ceasing just doesn't make sense to us. Maybe time is just a static thing. But that we, for some reason, experience it linearly, one moment at a time. Now that I think about it, from a perspective of outside of time, the idea of time would not even be describable. Idk. I've been thinking about this more than I have before while writing it.

      One more point I have in response is that something being infinite doesn't necessarily mean it will ever repeat. Unless I've neglected to consider some aspect of this, if something goes on into infinity, either it is chaotic and repeats, or follows some pattern, which may repeat or may not. Consider numbers. 0, 1, 2, 3.... A number is never repeated, even though they go on into infinity.
      Existence has to be infinite, logically. And numbers are abstract values, while technically 19 never repeats, there is a 1919, and a 19191919. You can't really use numbers to argue that experiences cannot repeat themselves exactly. Granted, it seems obvious to me that just like there is infinite time and infinite space, there is also infinite variety.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Original Poster View Post
      Existence has to be infinite, logically. And numbers are abstract values, while technically 19 never repeats, there is a 1919, and a 19191919. You can't really use numbers to argue that experiences cannot repeat themselves exactly. Granted, it seems obvious to me that just like there is infinite time and infinite space, there is also infinite variety.
      Why does time have to be infinite logically? I've never heard an argument for this except that we couldn't comprehend it.

      Numbers can translate to physical states. For example if two objects in the universe are moving farther apart gradually and never stop, then they'll never be the same distance apart twice, so the same universe could never repeat.

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      Dianeva

      Such a good subject for philosophy

      Time by it's nature seems psychological. What if idea's were real? Then how would that effect time.

      It just so happens that ideas are bullet proof.


      In this world time goes in one direction, forward. There could be other worlds were you can go in different directions such as backward, forward, and to even create your own loops like groundhog day.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Dianeva View Post
      Why does time have to be infinite logically? I've never heard an argument for this except that we couldn't comprehend it.

      Numbers can translate to physical states. For example if two objects in the universe are moving farther apart gradually and never stop, then they'll never be the same distance apart twice, so the same universe could never repeat.
      If it exists it all, it must be. This appears to be a basic postulate. I'm not really sure how to explain it, suffice to say that there's no possible way time could be limited. Granted. there's also no possible way time can exist at all.
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      In the book I am reading "Metaphors We Live By" there are several metaphors mentioned that we routinely use for time in our culture which shape how we understand time.

      One of the metaphors is "time is money" or "time is a valuable commodity", which also implies that we are likely to run out of time, that time is very finite. If we instead lived in a culture that used the metaphor of time as priceless that would shape a very different cultural conception of time.

      Also time is often discribed in directional terms, for example the future is ahead of us. Why ahead of us, well because we generally face where we are going. However, wouldn't a metaphor that the future is behind us also make a different kind of sense, since we cannot see that which is behind us, while we can clearly see ahead of us most of the time. So if the future were ahead of us, shouldn't we all be able to clearly see the future?

      Interesting metaphors about time, and since our culture has such metaphors which we routinely use when speaking about time, so as a result our understandings of time are biased by these metaphors, whereas if we lived in a society with an understanding of priceless time with a future that is behind us, we might understand some ideas about time better which are now hidden from us.

      Those of us who are Christian believe that God is outside of time and space, so we assume he has a perception of time outside of our three space plus one time dimension, and is able to have a non-linear view of events. Interestingly, we speak of three space and only one time dimension: is that because time is less complex than space or just that our perception of time is less complex because we have a limited understanding of time whereas we understand space much better?
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      Quote Originally Posted by JoannaB View Post
      Interestingly, we speak of three space and only one time dimension: is that because time is less complex than space or just that our perception of time is less complex because we have a limited understanding of time whereas we understand space much better?
      It's because 3 axes describe a static space perfectly well, but in order to understand a universe with movement we need one more dimension - the dimension of time. Time is the 4th dimension needed to complete the static 3-dimensional model of the universe. You can accurately describe a box using only depth, width and height, but if the box moves then that's not enough.

      Very cool thoughts about the metaphors.

      As for the main question - I think before we can really talk about whether time is an illusion we need to very clearly define exactly what we mean by time. There are several theories about what it is, but no real consensus, and I think people sometimes mean different things when they say 'time'. Some people are referring to the calendar time OP mentioned, some people are thinking about a theoretical line with an arrow or whatever. These are human conceptions of time. As far as I'm concerned, all time really is is simply the fact that things can move. In a universe with time there can be movement and thus there can be organic life. In a universe without movement there could be no life unless you're theorizing disembodied life.

      My 2 anyway.

      ** Edit

      ... Which brings up the question - if there is no movement in the universe, would time exist? Sort of a tree/sound question, only it actually makes more sense. Let's say all life has long since died and entropy has done it's thing and nothing is moving anymore. Probably a scientific impossibility, but this is a thought experiment. Nothing moves, and there's no living thing to measure the fact. Does time exist?

      I wonder if it's even possible in this universe for nothing to move? Ok then, lets postulate a universe where nothing does move. Does time exist there?
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 05-26-2013 at 03:50 AM.
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      Did you know that time passes differently depending on where you are at? In fact this is observable with satalites. On the ground we can use atomic clocks to record time to a very exact level. Yet, it appears that time is experienced different in orbit. Satalites must have their clocks routinely adjusted to keep them in sync with ground based clocks.

      Picture if this reality can be viewed as a form of advanced dream. You know E=MC2, matter is an apparent state, but energy is actually all there is? OK, let's pretend we are a god like creator. We are basically forced to establish ground rules (physical law) to create anything substancle. If you create a few things and they can not ever change, then it is too limiting. If they can change, we require a forth dimension, just to keep things tidy. I can not change a ocean into a mountain, and have it still also be an ocean. I need a concept like "it is now no longer an ocean" thus time is as helpful to a creator as gravity or the concept of a vector. Honestly gravity can not exist without time, nor can any other vector (directional force) because for anything to change a frame work of before and after must exist. However, it is only required in an area such a creator wishes to keep very neat and tidy. It becomes unimportant if time changes from setting to setting or in relation to big pictures. it is just a nice tool for keeping creation orderly.
      Last edited by sivason; 05-26-2013 at 03:48 AM.
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      ^ The idea of local time and local space has always fascinated me.

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      Is not all time a unit of measurement?

      To me, saying that time exists is like saying that the equator of the Earth exist.

      I think that to we humans, time exists as a figment of our minds. To the universe, I believe that time cannot be applied.
      Last edited by SpaceCowboyDave; 06-03-2013 at 11:26 AM.
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      I forgot about this thread. :/
      Quote Originally Posted by Original Poster View Post
      If it exists it all, it must be. This appears to be a basic postulate. I'm not really sure how to explain it, suffice to say that there's no possible way time could be limited. Granted. there's also no possible way time can exist at all.
      If you don't know how to explain it you've given no reason why I should accept it. It seems you just think time must be infinite because you can't comprehend it not existing. Similar to how we can't comprehend ourselves not existing, which is obviously flawed thinking as we never existed before conception. There's no logical reason why time shouldn't end.

      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      ... Which brings up the question - if there is no movement in the universe, would time exist? Sort of a tree/sound question, only it actually makes more sense. Let's say all life has long since died and entropy has done it's thing and nothing is moving anymore. Probably a scientific impossibility, but this is a thought experiment. Nothing moves, and there's no living thing to measure the fact. Does time exist?

      I wonder if it's even possible in this universe for nothing to move? Ok then, lets postulate a universe where nothing does move. Does time exist there?
      This came to mind too after reading the first part of your post, and the idea sounds familiar. Perhaps time really is just the measurement of movement. That thought experiment seems to back up the claim that time is the measurement of movement. If everything stayed still, including our minds, there would be no use for the concept of time. However, maybe that's just because we'd have no way to measure it. Maybe time is a real thing, and ceasing all movement would just mean there was no way to measure it. Like how, if suddenly everything turned green, there would be no such thing as color... but would that mean that color no longer exists, or just that everything happens to be green so we can no longer comprehend a difference?

      Quote Originally Posted by SpaceCowboyDave View Post
      Is not all time a unit of measurement?

      To me, saying that time exists is like saying that the equator of the Earth exist.

      I think that to we humans, time exists as a figment of our minds. To the universe, I believe that time cannot be applied.
      But aren't we still basing it on something? I'm sure other animals have concepts of time, yet they have no units of measurement. perhaps movement is the measurement... I guess the main question is whether time exists on its own and would exist apart from change, or if it's just the measurement of change itself. Is there any way we might ever know which it is?

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      Quote Originally Posted by Dianeva View Post
      If everything stayed still, including our minds, there would be no use for the concept of time. However, maybe that's just because we'd have no way to measure it. Maybe time is a real thing, and ceasing all movement would just mean there was no way to measure it. Like how, if suddenly everything turned green, there would be no such thing as color... but would that mean that color no longer exists, or just that everything happens to be green so we can no longer comprehend a difference?
      This made me smile and reminded me of a scene in one of my favorite books Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. This site replicates the scene I am thinking of: The Electric Monk
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      But I'm not the only one
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      I think a universe where nothing moves would be fundamentally very different from ours - if atoms couldn't move there would be nothing like molecules, elements etc. Not that this really has any bearing on the theoretical ideas, just thought it was a cool idea.

      @ Joanna - thanks for posting that! Some very good satirical writing. Reminds me a lot of Terry Pratchett.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 06-13-2013 at 01:13 AM.

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      If time breaks down in the theory of relativity then quantumn mechanics tears it up. Subatomic particles simply don't give a fuck about time or space. When observing particles we can only know position or momentum not both, uncertainty principle. Particles pop in and out of existence to account for energy in the past. Our sensory data is so inadequately equipped to perceive how reality actually operates. To say that it time is an illusion does not require any metaphysic at all really, just the acceptance that our senses do not accurately reflect reality.
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      Quote Originally Posted by JoannaB View Post
      Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
      Oh! It's the guy who wrote Hitchiker's Guide!!

      But back on topic - here's an article that does a pretty god job of explaining the idea of time being an illusion and then dispels it: Time Really Passes
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 06-13-2013 at 06:40 AM.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Dianeva View Post
      I've never been sure what people mean when they say that time is an illusion. I understand that units of time are illusions. Seconds, minutes and hours are concepts we've made up. But that seems so trivial it isn't worth mentioning, so I've always felt that something more than that is meant. ...
      In eastern philosophy the illusion of time is pointed out by the fact that it is always now. All experience is created and experienced in the immediate moment, reborn again and again in all it's entirety out of nothing, now... and now... and now... and now... this includes the experience of concepts of time, like imagination of past and future, so now is not the result of a past, but the past is an experience that you have now.

      I believe that the confusion about time comes from one important property of all experiences: change is the only constant. If something was not changing, it would not be experienceable in the same sense that if ALL your field of vision was green, you would not be able to perceive it, because it only exists in relation and contrast to something. Or in music, if there were one single tone only (i.e. no time/change) you would not be able to hear it, the perception comes from the intervals in rhythm and tones. So no change means no illusion of time, but also no experience and non-experience (or non-existence) is not an experience.

      PS: glad I ended up between people who are interested in life and therefore ask relevant questions about it, instead of worrying and discussing dumb culture/mass-media/politics/fear-based concepts. Nice to read the interesting perspectives about what actually IS from all of you.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Nelzi View Post
      In eastern philosophy the illusion of time is pointed out by the fact that it is always now. All experience is created and experienced in the immediate moment, reborn again and again in all it's entirety out of nothing, now... and now... and now... and now... this includes the experience of concepts of time, like imagination of past and future, so now is not the result of a past, but the past is an experience that you have now.
      This is something I've thought of too. If it's always now, and the past only exists in memories, then time can't exist as a "thing", it's just a concept, which would mean it's an illusion. But at the same time, how can anything change if time isn't passing?

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      When people say, "Time is an illusion," they mean they think it is not an actual property of the Universe. You can't go back in time because there is no actual time to go back in. Gravity does not bend time because there is no actual time to bend. Time is a concept created by our pathetic mortal minds in order to comprehend the world around us. One of my favorite quotes: "Time is an illusion that serves a purpose."

      Not everyone holds this view, however.
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      time is a concept to keep monkeys on time
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      This is always something I've pondered, and especially the elasticity of it all! Quantum ideas really do feel like they shatter my thoughts about it. It's strange how the seemingly chaotic perception of then and now in the quantum world no longer plays as strong of a role when it is on such a large scale as the molecule, where there's stability amongst such unstable scaffolding. I wonder if that same elasticity seems to happen as things scale down due to things moving at such a rate that time really CAN'T be contained within it, even more spacial interaction or something.

      Either way I think time is as defined as 1cm, 1km, 1mg, are all frames of reference that makes it easier for us to grasp, and it seems to have some consistency. If you try to measure a true centimeter, you'll be going down to planck length before reaching something close to exactly that, and by then your measurement tools will probably have too much of a gradient to do a good job. Same thing might go with time because of what it fizzles down to, but I guess that's just for measurement, not the concept itself...

    25. #25
      Member TheSilverWolf's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Original Poster View Post
      Existence has to be infinite, logically. And numbers are abstract values, while technically 19 never repeats, there is a 1919, and a 19191919. You can't really use numbers to argue that experiences cannot repeat themselves exactly. Granted, it seems obvious to me that just like there is infinite time and infinite space, there is also infinite variety.
      Why can't we use numbers to exemplify the point? Numbers, mathematics, are supposed to be the "language of the universe." Mathematics, ie numbers, are supposedly a fundamental part of the universe, so far as we know, so I disagree with you here--I think numbers can be used to argue whether or not experiences can or cannot be repeated. As you so pointed out, 19 never repeats as the number 19--but there are an infinite number of 9's and 1's, because numbers go on forever. What is more interesting, is look at a number line. Specifically, between whole numbers, such as the fractions between 1 and 2. Theoretically, there is an infinite number of numbers between those two points on the numerical scale. As our math teacher explained it, if you have a piece of pie, and you vow to only eat half of what is left at once, there's always something left.

      As a Christian, I believe that "time" is limitless, that there will always be something in the universe. Science seems to prove this as well, because one of the known laws of physics is that energy cannot be created or destroyed. As such, even if the entire universe were to suddenly vanish, all the energy IN this universe would still exist, just in a different form. If that is true, then there can really be no end to the universe perse: only a change in form as energy transforms from one thing to another. Take a fire burning a log. As the log burns, it doesn't really go away, it just transforms into ash, and CO2, and other gasses and chemicals--the log as we think of it is gone, but the matter that makes up the log is still there, in another form. Therefore, how could our universe ever end?

      What is funny to think about though, is...if time is an illusion created by man, then if we were to cease to exist, would time cease to exist, or would it continue to pass? Our perception of time may well be an illusion, but it is hard to imagine that if humans went extinct, time itself would somehow not be. Our perception of time, THAT I can buy as being illusory in nature--but the idea of time, it seems, would have to exist on some level.
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