Comments on P Muller 'Now'

I hope this is useful and relevant...

In response to Professor Muller’s answer to,

“What are some of Richard Muller's all-time favorite academic papers?”



I’m very glad that one of Professor Muller’s favourite papers is “Annalen der Physik”, otherwise know in translation as 'On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies'.


This paper as the professor points out is at the heart of “Relativity”, which opens up a tremendous understanding of various aspects of the universe with many very practical applications. Perhaps most significant to many people is the workings of GPS positioning systems, which without applying the fundamental realisations of Relativity simply would not work.

I am amazed at how many people comment on Relativity without being familiar with 'On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies', but I am equally amazed how many professional physicists do not seem, in my opinion, to have interpreted the paper fully objectively, including with respect Professor Muller.

Moreover, many people seem to take the paper as in some way ‘proving’ (in the loose sense) or at least confirming the idea of ‘time’.

As the professor puts it, here on quora...

                “Einstein gave physics the gift of time."

However, I have to disagree strongly with Professor Muller’s opinion here re the gift of time.

And I think this statement may show that the professor is interpreting the paper with the assumption ‘time’ exists, and likewise the paper is written with the unsubstantiated assumption that a thing called time exists, while the paper itself contains no actual reason to assume anything more than matter and motion exist, and can be fully and sensibly interpreted in terms of matter and motion in 3 “dimensions” only.

Although the essence of Relativity is of course correct, I can see no reason why logically, it’s deeper findings can be usefully interpreted fully In terms only of an expanding universe, of matter, gravity, warpable space, and dilated rates of change, but without ‘time’*.


( And that this simpler interpretation may resolve apparent ‘time travel / temporal paradoxes’ while maintaining Relativities core integrity, as per …

YouTube Video


YouTube Video


(* frustratingly, almost all of the comments and opinions I find about ‘time’ don’t contain a clear testable definition of what each author means by the word – so I assume here the professor means  something like

Time – “The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future” (OED)


Or at least

Time – Something that “flows” and is related to movement and change.



The quoted sentence, and a possible problem with “simultaneous”.


[We have to take into account that all our judgments in which time plays a part are always judgments of simultaneous events]

“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.”

Comes from “Section 1 –Kinematics”, of OEMB in which the author describes some suggested aspects or properties of ‘time’. 

But if we examine the statement,

“The pointing of the small hand of my watch to 7 and the arrival of the train are simultaneous events.”

,objectively I think it can be seen that ‘time’ is nether described or needed by the observations made.

Consider fundamentally what a ‘watch’ is. Any typical watch will consist of one or more driven hands rotating on a numbered dial, typically designed to rotate at a fixed multiple of the speed of the Earths own rotation for human convenience.

(For simplicity we could replace Einstein’s ‘watch hand’ with a dense disc on near perfect bearings pushed so at to be rotating. With little energy adding to or being lost from the system the disc effectively rotates at a constant speed).

So consider actually making the observation suggested, sitting near a railway track with a rotating pointer and nearby train.

Looking at the pointer we only ‘actually’ observe that the pointer exists and can be rotating or stopped.

Likewise observing the train we only actually observe that the train itself exists and can be moving or stopped.

Fundamentally, and objectively, in my opinion, as either object is moving or stationary we do not seem to observe...

-any object also ‘heading into a temporal future’

-any object ‘leaving a temporal past behind it’

Nor do we observe

- a ‘future’ arriving, nor

- a ‘past’ receding,

Or any variation of these ideas – all we seem to observe is the same collection of matter changing in simple physical directions (including some of the matter in our own minds forming images etc).


So all that seems to be observed is that objects exist, and can be moving or stationary.

It is only if we overlay on to what we observe, the  ‘idea’ (we are typically given by others), that there is also a thing called ‘time’ that is in some way flowing, that we accept the idea that the rotating hand in some way can be used to indicate or measure this ‘passing’ may be plausible.

The sentence also contains the leading term “simultaneous”, implying that things can be happening “at the same time”, which itself implies a thing called 'time' exists, and that “different times” in some way exist.

But in fact the above does not seem to be born out by observation. Look around you, what do actually observe? As you are seeing something moving, do you just see it moving, or do you also see some evidence that a ‘future’ is arriving, or that a ‘past’ is being created? or that a thing called ‘time’ is flowing ‘through’ what you see, or flowing “into” this “past”?

In other words, despite your assumptions and ideas, do you see any evidence at all that “other times exist”, and if so can you construct an experiment, as per the scientific method, to confirm what you suggest?

Consider the rotating hand and the train. It seems to me that the “hand” is always just somewhere doing something, and likewise the train seems always to only just be somewhere doing something.

Whatever either are doing,(like all matter/energy in the universe) , neither seems to be doing anything at a “different time”.


Therefore it seems sensible that anyone studying 'On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies' should perhaps consider the paper from two points of view,

1-that there is a thing called time that flows and is in someway involved in motion etc, and

2-that perhaps, as actually, and only observed, matter just exists and can be moving of stationary.


Failing to consider possibility 2 may be a bit like seeing a naked emperor and ‘only’ considering and trying to prove the possibility that he must be wearing an invisible robe.


If it is the case that matter only exists moves ( and interacts etc ) , then the term “simultaneous” may be moot. i.e there being no time, and thus no ‘different times’.


Testing a possibility rather than just contesting it.


To test the possibility that perhaps all we can observed could be explained in terms of only matter/energy and movement, one needs only to look at the world and ask oneself some questions to test ones adopted assumptions, e.g.

Ask ones self


1-      “if the matter in the universe just exists moves and interacts, and we are completely wrong from the outset to assume the existence of an extra thing called ‘time’ how would the universe seem ?”

And critically,

2 -  “if the matter in the universe just exists moves and interacts, how different would it look to a world where ‘time’ also existed ?”

I think that if case 1 is correct then the universe would seem just as it does, and If you can’t find anything in your actual observations that should appear different if statement 2 is the case then it seem worth at least considering the possibility we may be wrong to assume time.

One may insist, as seems to here...


That “travel [movement/change] requires time”.

But simply “stating” this without an experiment to confirm it hold no weight ( no matter how many people may agree without consideration ) or in Feynman’s words...


“It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong”.




What might we actually be measuring where we say we are Measuring “time” ?

It may seem counterintuitive that things could just move (as they seem to),  because for example we could say we can use the watch to measure “how much time” it takes the a train to travel between two bridges.

But consider what is happening if you are performing such an experiment. You are observing a moving train, and a moving hand. Let’s say the bridges are 100 metres apart, and the circumference of the dial is precisely 60cm.

Now the train is moving at a particular speed, and likewise so is the hand. That is all you actually observe, and no matter what mathematics you employ all you can in fact do is compare the speed of the train to the speed of the hand.

So you can conclude the train moves 1000x the speed of the (tip of) the rotating hand etc.

The problem is that in your mathematics most people will almost certainly rename the simple physical location of the hand (say 10 cm from the top of the dial) into 10 “seconds”.

In other words observing the distance of the train from one bridge and describing it as a distance, while observing the distance of the hand from some arbitrary point, failing to consider it is just another object moving in a circle,  and failing to describe this for what it is. This is of course mathematically very useful, but one should confuse the usefulness of the ‘idea’ of seconds with being confirmation they exist. (perhaps much like we would be foolish to start searching for actual ‘dollars’ because we find the idea of them useful).


What is a ‘dimension’, and do we observe one called ‘time’?

Relativity is heralded as demonstrating that time can be seen as an extra, or fourth “dimension”. Leading to the idea of “four dimensional space time”.

But if you consider the above example , and the term dimension, carefully things may be far simpler than we assume.

“dimension”  comes from the latin “dimensionem”, “dimetri” – “to measure out”.


To measure anything one compares an arbitrary unit of one thing to another. E.g the distance between two trees may be 50x the length of your arm. Or the power through a cable may be 500x that of a basic electrical cell, the mass of a car may be 200x that of a house brick etc.

In the case of comparing the motion of a train to that of a rotating hand, we ‘say’ we compare the trains speed to the “passing of time”, as shown by the rotating hand, but in fact all we seem to observe is the movement of the train, and that of the hand, and thus the only two things we are comparing are the “motion” or “speed” of the hand to that of the train.

And thus the only “dimension” – “measurable quantity” observed and used, seems not to be the “invisible passing of a thing called time, ‘through’ the present, between and invisible ‘future’ and ‘past’”, but to be the speed of the simple physical movement of one thing in a simple physical direction ( the hand) to that of another thing, (the train).

Thus renaming for convenience the movement of the hand into ‘time’, (and seeing the maths work)  may lead us to incorrectly conjure up “the dimension of time”, when all we see is the dimension (measurable, comparable quantity) of simple physical movement/speed.



Surely ‘time dilation’ (as in GPS oscillators) confirms time?.

Of course, most people reading this ( hopefully professor Muller himself ) may assume it is all moot because relativity demonstrates “time dilation” (as well as warped space, mass increase at speed etc etc), as I say myself, incorporating this into our GPS systems etc is essential)

And for proven time dilation to be valid “time” must exist ( it could be dilated if it didn’t)


But consider very carefully indeed what Einstein's light clocks do , and do not actually show us ( yes I know I use the word “actually” a lot : )

A photon trapped between two mirrors shows us that matter/energy can be in the form of photons and mirrors. And the moving photon shows us light can be moving and reflecting.

But a photon between two mirrors

-does not in itself demonstrate that for a photon to move a thing called time must also exist

-does not demonstrate there is a ‘past’, and

-does not demonstrate there is a ‘future’.


For reasons very well explained in 'On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies' Einstein's work shows us that a body moving at speed relative to a “stationary” body must inherently “be” changing “more slowly” than the stationary body.

In simple terms this seems to me to be because...

- ‘c’ is the fasted speed of interaction in the universe, any change in an object can only happen at up to ‘c’

-if the body itself is already travelling at some fraction of ‘c’

-then this change of position, plus the change within the object cannot exceed ‘c.


Thus it is wholly agreed that a simple moving “oscillator” such as a photon trapped between 2 mirrors “will be” oscillating “more slowly” than its stationary counterpart.

(and this seems likely to be true for all moving things)


In other words, unless some actual experiment , as per the scientific method,  is cited to show there is a “future” and or a “past”, and a thing called time that must exist and flow for things to exist and move, then it seems sensible only to assume that Relativity does not show “time dilation” – or that time exists, or that there is an extra mysterious dimension to the universe, but only “rate of change dilation”, i.e. that “moving things –are- changing more slowly than stationary ones”

Thus it seems sensible that any changing thing – e.g. the oscillating caesium atoms in a GPS satellite,  or body of a human twin, will indeed “be” “changing/moving” more slowly than their stationary sibling – but – there seems no reason to suspect the moving thing is in anyway experiencing, or demonstrating, the passing of a thing called ‘time’ more slowly, nor “sinking into a temporal past”, or “surging into a temporal future” in any way at all.

(thus if one brings to earth a GPS satellite I don’t think one would be touching something that is “in a different time” – because it is time dilated).

(If one wishes to claim this is because a thing called ‘time’ is dilated, one needs to prove by experiment that things are not just as observed, i.e. one must demonstrate , as per the scientific method, that ‘time’ exists, and is dilated, causing the reduced rate of change. As opposed to just citing any number of other people who agree with the idea of time, because they can cite others who do (see Feynman quote)  ).

To see how this idea of time dilation may arise, and seem logical , but possibly be explained more simply re ‘time travel’ see...



Ill be honest , I'm posting this response to Professor Muller’s answer because I know he is preparing his book “Now”, about the apparent flow of ‘time’. And I respect the professors work ( of course... look at his achievements...seriously), and I know the professor promotes “Now”, here on Quora, so I think it is valid to mention my own opposing thought on the idea of time.

(specifically as in "A Brief History of Timelessness"

And I assume the professor is interested in getting closer to the truth, but from his posts I suspect he is only considering one point of view, and trying to prove this, as opposed to testing it against other possibilities. Specifically I am suggesting ( asking if he is considering, and can logically dismiss ) the following possibility...


“consider carefully the possibility that IF the expanding universe is just filled with matter/energy, motion, and warped space, in which all relativistic effects are “just” happening, but not “over” a thing called time – would this be enough to mislead us into wrongly assuming a thing called time also exists?”  

In all my research I have found no one asking this specific question, and in my carefully considered opinion this possibility may allow the essence of Relativity to be correct, while also simplifying an eliminating all apparent “temporal paradoxes and confusion”

(see “ Timeless Time-Travel answers to Prof Cox's"Science of Dr WHO". )


If I am correct, I think “Now” will probably contain a lot of references to the ideas of ‘time’, ‘the’ ‘past’, and ‘the’ ‘future’, but no scientifically testable definitions of these things, that (under the principle of Occam’s razor) could more easily be explained, if matter in fact just exists moves and interacts.

I mention this because in many of Professor Muller’s post’s here on (the excellent) QUORA point out that most, if not all, statements of definitions on time seem to be circular logic, and in science and logic as far as I can tell circular reasoning typically suggests one is on the wrong track. But in science ‘time’ seems to be the one area where physicists etc seem intent on perusing and defending one specific idea, ‘time’, which seems to me to be like an elephant in the room wearing the emperors invisible robe.  



Matthew Marsden

Auth "A Brief History of Timelessness"


See for related videos.

e.g “Does Time exist? What is Time? +What does Einstein's Relativity seem to confirm and not confirm?