A Question of Time: The Ultimate Paradox

A Question of Time The Ultimate Paradox, (Scientific American)

Amazon Kindle review, Matthew Marsden

(auth A Brief History of Timelessness)

“Is the elephant in the room wearing the emperor’s new robe?”

One of the biggest mistakes to make in science is to jump to a conclusion, and then try to make the observables fit your assumption. An even bigger error might be to assume your initial conclusion is so sound that you can ignore the scientific method  completely and just get on with describing what you think exists. This is ultimately the problem of confirmation bias, which I think runs strongly in each article in this Scientific American special “A Question of Time The Ultimate Paradox“. (And in all fairness throughout most article on the theory of time).

(For an excellent lesson on jumping to conclusions, and then applying confirmation bias see
“2,4,8 can you slove this?” by Veritasium, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKA4w2O61Xo )

Fundamentally, each contributor seems to have started from the position “a thing called time exists”, and no matter how conflicting the conclusions drawn from this theory become, each seems to plough forwards regardless, and (with respect), none seem to apply the scientific method, check their most basic observations and hypothesises, and produce experiments to confirm each suggested component of “time” (e.g. the existence of a “past” and or “future”, or “flow” or “direction” of time). Failure to methodically hypothesise, experiment, and modify ones hypotheses, while accepting ones general assumptions as in some way correct, will almost certainly lead to apparent “paradoxes”... which may be why SA thinks “time” is a paradox.

There are 17 sections to this book, each of which I think can be clarified and resolved throughout, if one carefully checks what we actually observe, without allowing conjecture to seep in unchecked. In other words if, in the interests of comprehensive science,  we consider not only

-the hypothesis... “that a thing called ‘time’ flows between an unobservable ‘future’ and an unobservable ‘past’ “ , but also,

-the antithesis... “that all we actually observe is matter existing moving and interacting in all physical directions”

(note: the suggested antithesis is not “Presentism”, “Eternalism”, “Relationism” or “substantivalism” etc, but just the suggestion that the world may be just as it seems, i.e. matter just existing and interacting (it makes sense to consider the most basic possibility before eliminating it) )

Re this I`ll just give a few examples from 3 of the articles.

--Introduction: What Time Is It? (the editors)

--Real Time by Gary Stix

--That Mysterious Flow. ( by Paul Davies )

--Is Time an Illusion? (by Craig Callender)

(my opinions...)
Introduction: What Time Is It? (the editors)

“Relativity dictates that, like a strange syrup, time flows slower on moving trains than in the stations and faster in the mountains than in the valleys. The time for our wristwatch is not exactly the same as the time for our head.”

This clearly starts with the assumption that a thing called time exists, and flow, and that Relativity suggests or confirms this. However

Though many people assume Einstein’s relativity in some way proves time exists (and is merged with space), in fact very few people seem to actually check the source paper “on the electrodynamics of moving bodies” itself.
If you do so, you may  find Relativity itself only actually observes that there is “movement”, and “assumes” there is “time”.

Specifically,  the (translated) paper in actual fact says...
"Electrodynamics" "section 1 Kinematics                                                                                                         
If we wish to describe the motion of a material point, we give the values of its co-ordinates as functions of the time...
If, for instance, I say, “That train arrives here at 7 o'clock,” I mean something like this:
“The pointing of the small hand of my watch to 7 and the arrival of the train are simultaneous events.”
This seems perfectly acceptable, unless you realise that the paper says we compare the co-ordinates ( location) of one thing to a thing called “time”,
But in fact the co-ordinates of one thing (a train) are only compared to the coordinates of another thing ( the location of a rotating pointer).
At this point you really have to think for yourself, logically

-IF a thing called time exists, THEN a rotating point is a useful indicator,

-a rotating pointer does NOT prove there is a past, a future, or a thing called time that flows etc.

The paper uses the term “simultaneous” which implies time, same times, and ‘different’ times exist, but nowhere is this actually observed, and no experiment to support this assumption is cited.

Therefore, all that is observed is that things (matter/energy), e.g. a train, or a rotating pointer, can be moving or stationary, and their  locations and velocities can be being compared. The idea the rotating pointer shows the current “time” is only valid if “time” is shown to exist in some other paper... and more importantly, any argument based on the assumption Relativity in some way proves time is thus invalid and circular.

Relativity does however show us that moving “oscillators”, (or oscillators in high gravity fields) do indeed run slower than stationary oscillators. But trapping a photon so as to reflect between opposing mirrors, (moving or stationary), in no way proves that extra to the photons motion, it is “heading into a future”, or “leaving a past behind it”, or that a thing called time is also “slowing”.

So, I would contest that “Relativity dictates that, like a strange syrup, time flows slower on moving trains than in the stations and faster in the mountains than in the valleys. The time for our wristwatch is not exactly the same as the time for our head”, and say instead “Relativity shows us that matter is moving and interacting in all directions more slowly on moving trains, and in areas of high gravity...but his in no way proves there is a also a thing called time that exists and ‘flow; more slowly”.

Real Time by Gary Stix

“By one definition, time is a continuum in which one event follows another from the past through to the future.”

This definition relies on the terms “the past” and “the future” being in some way valid. But no experiment , or scientific evidence is found to support these ideas. However, if one views the world with  the hypothesis in mind “that a thing called ‘time’ flows between an unobservable ‘future’ and an unobservable ‘past’ “ , then one will see no evidence to contradict this... but no evidence against, is not evidence for. ( just as we see no evidence to disprove invisible ghosts exist).

If one considers the antithesis... “that all we actually observe is matter existing moving and interacting in all physical directions”, then we can consider that objects around us *are* moving. Light from those objects *is* hitting our eyes, signal from our senses *are* affecting our brains, and we *are* reorganising some of the matter in-formation in our minds as this is happening.

We may bring to mind some of the patterns of matter information in our brains... and we ma “call” these “memories of ‘the past’ “, but in fact all they prove is that matter exists and can interact. And they do not prove that as matter exists and interact the universe also creates and stores a record of all events in a place or thing called “the past”.

Likewise we can observe a cloud moving and changing in the sky, and we can *be* running a model based on what we are seeing in our minds, but assuming that model is in some way about, or indicates the existence of a “future”, is invalid without supporting scientific evidence.

Therefore, the suggestion “... time is a continuum in which one event follows another from the past through to the future.” Relies on unobserved conjecture (the past, and the future), and without these things being proven there is no reason to conclude “events” follow each other, into ‘the future”.

As Mr Stix points out, St Augustine asks  in his Confessions.

“How , then, can these two kinds of time, the past and the future, be, when the past no longer is and the future as yet does not be?”

To which the logical answer seems to be “the past is not no longer”, we may be wrong from the outset to assume there is a “past” in any sense, and there is no “future yet to be”. All we observe is a massive set of matter, moving changing and interacting in special directions... misleading us into assuming “past” “future”, and thus “time” exist, and need understanding.

That Mysterious Flow. ( by Paul Davies )

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,/ Old time is still a-flying.” so wrote 17th-century English poet Robert Herrick, capturing the universal cliché that time flies. And who could doubt that it does? The passage of time is probably the most basic facet of human perception, for we feel time slipping by in our innermost selves in a manner that is altogether more intimate than our experience of, say, space or mass.”

Here, with respect, Professor Davies may be displaying confirmation bias. The idea “The passage of time is probably the most basic facet of human perception”, is highly questionable, and while apparently feeling something is a good basis for hypothesis and experiment, alone feelings are not sound scientific evidence.

Who could doubt that time flies? Well anyone who considered that we do not perceive a future or a past, but that we do perceive matter/energy existing, moving, changing, and interacting, in all physical directions within and around us.

And, we may perceive air moving in our out of our lungs, or blood flowing through our veins in obvious physical directions. We may perceive wrinkles forming in our skin where collagen is low, or joints aching where wear is high, and we may perceive an increased collection of information in our minds etc but to suggest we perceive an invisible intangible thing called time, flowing from an unobservable future, into an unobserved past (or vice versa), does not in fact seem to be observed.

“moment. According to the theory, simultaneity is relative. Two events that occur at the same moment if observed from one reference frame may occur at different moments if viewed from another.”

As per my comments on “Electrodynamics” above. It seems Relativity does not prove time exists and flows, but is only written “as if” time exists and flows. Thus moving objects may not be existing in different “times” or “nows”, but just existing, and experiencing simple physical change, within themselves at different rates.

Therefore, re “ during a future manned expedition to Mars, mission controllers back on Earth “I wonder what Commander Jones is doing at Alpha Base now.” Looking at their clock and seeing that it was 12: 00 p.m. on Mars, their answer might be “eating lunch.” But an astronaut zooming past Earth at near the speed of light at the same moment could, on looking at his clock, say that the time on Mars was earlier or later than 12: 00 p.m., depending on his direction of motion. That astronaut’s answer to the question about Commander Jones’s activities would be “cooking lunch” or “washing dishes.”

May be wholly invalid. Our own (scientifically testable) experience is that wherever we are we are always somewhere doing some (one) thing.  Thus we should assume the same is true for commander Jones on mars. “An astronaut zooming past earth at near the speed of light” may indeed be moving and changing more slowly than Jones, or Earths mission controllers, as may be the rotating hands on a numbered dial he looks at. But without scientific evidence to suggest otherwise, he, Jones, and the controllers are all just somewhere, doing something, at various rates.

“[the arrow of time] Events in the world undeniably form a unidirectional sequence. For instance, an egg dropped on the floor will smash into pieces, whereas the reverse process— a broken egg spontaneously assembling itself into an intact egg— is never witnessed.

It is agreed an egg can be falling, and breaking, and the reverse is not seen. But all this proves is that an egg can be falling and breaking, and that the odds are a large number of atoms will not fly up in specific directions to form any specific object.  If seen in the hypothesis that there is a thing called time that has a direction, this will “seem to be confirmed”, but a falling or breaking egg in no way proves there “is” a past, future or thing called time that passes. And failure to observe matter moving in some imagined way, in no way proves there is a thing called time, that exists and cannot be “reversed”... this may just be habitual application of confirmation bias,  combined with not testing (or even considering) any logical antithesis.

Is Time an Illusion? (by Craig Callender)

“. The present moment feels special. It is real. However much you may remember the past or anticipate the future, you live in the present. Of course, the moment during which you read that sentence is no longer happening.”

This seems to be another example of confirmation bias, and circular reasoning. If we assume there are “moments”, and that “moments pass”, then we conclude that there are “passing moments”.

Unless proved otherwise we do not remember “the past”, we are forming patterns in our minds, and we can bring certain patterns to consciousness, but this does not prove there “is” a “past” that we are remembering.

“the moment during which you read that sentence is no longer happening.”... is true, if there are moments, but all that is actually observed is that you, what you are reading, and the light carrying the text to your eyes, all exists, and all the components of that scene are always somewhere doing something. Just as you might watch a spiders web being formed, or a cigarette burning, nothing seems to come out of a future, or go into a past, so it seems wrong to assume moments, or instants of a thing called time are “passing”, or something is no longer “happening” to every bit of matter or energy in the universe, just because it is changing form or moving in special directions.

“The equations of physics do not tell us which events are occurring right now— they are like a map without the “you are here” symbol. The present moment does not exist in them, and therefore neither does the flow of time.”

This may be confused logic, if there is no past or future, then there is only “now” ( so to speak), so the equations of physics are what they are, useful understandings of how matter/energy can interact under various conditions, as it is doing so, everywhere. Hence “the present” may be all there is.

“neither does the flow of time.[exist in equations]”, possibly because there is no flow of time. All we ever do is compare one example of motion (e.g. Einstein’s train in “Electrodynamics”), to another example of motion (e.g. a rotating hand on a numbered dial)

“Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity suggest not only that there is no single special present but also that all moments are equally real. Fundamentally the future is no more open than the past”.

This seems based on the assumption that time exists, and that Einstein’s relativity in some way confirms this, (and thus that Minkowski’s (block/ growing bock) space time interpretation is correct). If however Relativity is interpreted as just showing that moving object ( or those in high gravity) *are* changing more slowly, then we may be wrong to conclude there are any “past” and/or “future” moments... instead all the matter in the universe may just be as it appears to be, existing, moving, changing, and interacting, at various rates, in all directions...”timelessly”.

I could comment on pretty much every other sections of the book, but I think I’ve made my possible interpretation ( and possible solution to all the “paradoxes” suggested) clear.

Basically, I think the articles in this book “A Question of Time The Ultimate Paradox”, may be flawed because they jump to the conclusion “time exists”, assume “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies” proves more than just that moving things are changing more slowly, and don’t consider that perhaps we are wrong to assume our “memories”  prove “the past” may exist, while they may only prove, just ,that matter exists, moves and interacts in spatial directions.

Ultimately, imo, the theory of time may “the elephant in the room wearing the emperor’s new robe”, because so many people seem to accept the theory without even having a clear definition of what is hypotheses, and ignoring the complete lack of experiments as per the scientific method (to show for example “the past” is a valid term), and the reliance of the theory on all observing only “matter existing and moving”, but accepting a conjectured, but unobservable “past”, unobservable “future”, and unobservable “flow of time”.

Matthew Marsden
(author “A Brief History of Timelessness” Amazon kindle)


For anyone interested, here’s a couple of videos that I think may explain the more complex issues of “time travel” discussed in “A Question of Time The Ultimate Paradox” Scientific American,  while still incorporating all our valid observations, and the essence of Relativity)

Considering 'time travel'
Time Travel,Timeless Answers to Prof Cox's Science of Dr Who:


more general aspects of 'time'
Does Time exist? How 'Time travel Paradoxes' can't happen without "the past".

Time travel, Worm hole, billiard ball' paradox, Timelessly. (re Paul Davies- New scientist article)

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