∆ 1 What do 'clocks' actually measure P1?

“Time is that which clocks measure". Albert Einstein.


The hands on a 'clock' essentially show us a simple example of steady rotation.

We assume the rotating hands on a simple clock tell us something about the passing of a thing called 'Time', so where a hand points relates to 'now', and as it rotates it heads into the future. Lets break this down and consider a much simpler 'example of steady rotation', or 'clock'.

Einstein famously said “Time is that which clocks measure".

This is terribly circular statement (excuse the pun) from the great man. It's a bit like saying 'magic is that which happens in front of a 'wand'.

Einstein also said he thought the distinctions between 'the past' present and 'the future' are persistent illusions -

So,If "the distinctions between 'the past' present and 'the future' are persistent illusions", then what are clocks really, and what do they really 'measure' ?


To simplify this question, ask yourself "what do rulers measure"?

you may think that rulers measure distance, but logically, and factually this is incorrect. A "ruler" alone, does nothing, and measures nothing.

typically a ruler is a length of material, marked at equal intervals along its length. And, you can "use" a ruler to measure length.

so a ruler provides a useful example of length, that we can compare to other lengths.

So, what is a clock, and what can a clock be used to measure? Most people would agree, casually, and without much thought, that "A clock measures 'time' ".

Now if this is true, then "time" must exist, so problem solved... "time must exist", and everything I say throughout "A Brief History of Timelessness" must be seriously flawed... but check your facts more carefully.

look very closely at a typical "clock" hand. And all you will see is that hand "moving" at a steady speed. If you look very carefully indeed you will see no evidence at all that the hand "moves into a temporal future", and no evidence at all that the hand "leaves a temporal past behind it", and it is extremely unscientific to deduce from a  piece of metal or plastic, clearly just rotating on a flat (2d) plane, that, there is also an invisible, intangible thing called time, "passing" in a "fourth dimension". 

In other words,

"IF a thing called time exists, THEN a "clock" may be said to show its passing.

BUT a hand rotating on a dial does not in any way at all prove there is a "4th dimensional ting called time".

so all a "clock " is , is something that displays a useful example of "motion", and a "clock" alone does not measure anything at all... but, just as a ruler can be usefully compared to any other length, the example of motion provided by such a rotating hand can be "usefully compared" to some other example of motion we wish to understand or measure better.

So, Wherever you think you see someone using a "stopwatch" to "time" something ( e.g. a runner), look carefully, objectively, and without the "confirmation bias" of just blindly assuming a thing called "time" exists, and you will observe that all you see is things exists, and moving (the runner, and a rotating hand ), and one example of motion being compared to another.

and ultimately if you boil down the mathematic of any speed calculation, you will find it will only tell you how much faster than the rotating hand is the runner, and the displacement of the rotating hand from some arbitrary start point ( e.g. the top of the dial) to the displacement of the runner form some arbitrary start point.

how you can set an alarm clock... even if there is no 'future'.

Surely something as complex in function as an alarm clock shows us that time... and the future exist. 
How else could you set a clock for 8 hours in the future so you can get up in time for work? 

Well, Here's another, simpler, way of looking at it.

First consider that a clock is just a useful example of something rotating at a steady rate. Then consider that a large heavy disk, on good bearings, could be made to spin at a fairly steady rate, no matter how slowly. So,

Fig: It's easy to imagine a large slowly spinning disk, though perhaps not one as large as the Earth itself.

Now consider what it proves and does not prove as something rotates...

- the ability to create something we might call an alarm 'clock' does not necessarily prove the existence of 'Time' (with its flow, direction, Past and Future etc)

Consider making a large heavy mass, free to rotate on good bearings.  We attach a small 'arm' so it sticks out from the mass at one location. 

Then we set the mass spinning... any steady speed will do,  but a speed matching the rotation of the Earth will be simplest.  

With this set up one could place a 'bell' at any point around the spinning object, such that the protruding arm will strike and ring the bell where the two meet.

Now if for simplicity we do set the mass to spin at the same rate the Earth happens to be spinning at, then in Time terms, putting the bell 15 degrees on from where the protruding arm is, will effectively make an alarm clock, that is set to go off in 'one hour'.

But now look from fundamentals at just what this set up actually shows and does not show

  • the spinning mass shows that objects can exist, rotate, and have inertia...
  • that energy can be put into an object, and
  • that energy is needed for objects to move
  • the protruding arm shows that a moving thing can be heading for other things, (the bell in this case)

But the device does not prove that....

  • as things move they leave or create a 'temporal past' behind them, or that
  • ahead of moving things there is a 'temporal future', or that
  • moving things head into a temporal future, or that
  • a temporal future is constantly arriving, passing through an infinitely thin present, and into a 'past'.
  • or that, as well as 'energy' things need a thing called 'time' to be existing and flowing.
In other words, while the language of time is familiar and undoubtedly useful, and we might say 'things move over time', or 'time exists', or that 'the future is ahead of us' etc. All we actually, directly, observe is that things can exist, move, and interact where energy is present - 'now' so to speak. (though 'now' can be misleading because its familiar use implies there is other than now).

As we see things move and interact, we just see things move and interact... Extra to matter, energy, motion etc, we do not (it seems to me) observe another thing, or an 'enmeshed' thing i.e. 'Time' also existing and playing a part - 'flowing' from a future to a past etc. 
And we do not actually see the existence of, or need, or purpose of, either a 'past' or a 'future'.

Therefore even an 'alarm clock' set for one 'hour' does not prove the existence of time or any of its apparent components. 

This section might cause some irritation as you read it, but we should not assume that 'If we are feeling  irritated - this is a scientific proof that our currently held views are correct, and those views that irritate us are incorrect'. (in fact often the opposite is true 'feeling irritated' can be a sign that we are not being scientific).

Furthermore it is worth considering that the concept of an alarm clock may 'seem to confirm' the existence of time - if it is looked at 'as if time exists' - but if it is looked at as if 'just matter and motion exist' then this simpler* view will also seem to be confirmed.

 *Simpler because it doesn't call on the existence of an invisible past, invisible future, the 'unpowered' flow of an invisible thing called time - through an 'infinitely thin' present.

we can also note that of course this set up - a heavy spinning mass - is just mimicking the spin of the Earth. So the sun being directly overhead of us is similar to the arm hitting the bell, and thus the spinning Earth shows, and does not show, basically the same points as the experiment. i.e the motion of the sun in the sky doesn't necessarily prove the existence of past, future + time etc.

And note that if our device is made to spin at a fixed rate not as a result of its own simple inertial but thru some driving mechanism, e.g. a spring etc, nothing fundamental has changed in the set up.(see below) 


I think the only thing clocks measure is the oscillation of their components, or  flow of energy through their mechanisms. To see what the consequences of this are consider the two following views...

  • Things move and change.
  • Things move and change - over Time.

Both statements might at first seem to be true. The difference between them may seem to be only one of completeness or semantics. But the difference is that the second statement adds the words ‘over time’ to the first, and so suggests the existence and need of an extra ‘thing’ called Time in the world. Or it at least suggests that the word ‘Time’ relates to some real functioning or aspect of nature.

Either this, or the second assumption is suggesting that ‘things changing’ and ‘Time’ are basically the same thing by a different name. So some people may claim that ‘Time’ is the word we use to generally talk about all the movement and change we see around us. Thus the word ‘Time’ is synonymous to the word ‘change’ and any confusion about this is our first example of rhetorical or semantic errors.

Making rhetorical confusion tangible.

Figure:One device claims only to show the steady passing of energy from its battery (as a handy example of 'change happening').
While the other device claims to show this, and  the passing of a thing called 'Time'.
Is this just a semantic problem? Or does this machine really indicate that 'Time', the future, and the past really exist?

We can make the question of time more tangible and clearly defined if we imagine building two machines each designed to prove a particular point of view (timelessness or Time) is the correct one.

To support the Timeless view we build a machine designed only to display and measure the steady release of some energy stored in some mechanism or object, say an electrical battery, or rather ‘cell’. If we make the machine such that as the cell is discharging it’s released energy makes the machine move a pair of hands around a marked dial to show how much energy has been released. This then is the device marked ‘1’ as shown above.

Device 1 might be made so that as soon as the cell is inserted the hands are driven around the display as fast as possible, depleting its energy very quickly. In this case the hands may at first rotate very rapidly, then slow down to various lower speeds depending on the characteristics of the electrical cell. Alternatively the device may have a system designed so that the energy is released gradually and steadily – thus the hands move at a regular rate if the cell has any charge in it.

The problem here is that if we choose the ‘regular rate ’ design, someone supporting the idea that ‘Time exists’ may see device ‘1’ and call it a ‘Clock’, or make their own identical copy and call this (device ‘2’) a Clock.

This may not seem to be a problem until we reconsider Einstein's famous definition that ‘Time is that which clocks measure’.  The dilemma here is that most people including professional scientists will be happy to take that definition of what Time is – effectively also being a definition of what a ‘Clock’ is -  as some part of a proof of, or reason to believe in, the existence of time.

What does each device actually do?

Now if the question is ‘what do the identical devices actually do, and what do they actually prove?’ then given that the two devices are identical any difference in biased descriptions of them should clearly expose where any possible confusion lies.

If we first consider device 1, we can see that it does in fact at least prove what it was built to prove. In that it does ‘measure and display how much electrical energy has passed through its own mechanism’. If a supply of energy, i.e. fully charged electrical cell, is put in this device the hands may complete a few hundred, or thousand revolutions as the cell drains. Here, seeing the hands move only if the cell is inserted, and always stop if it is removed, would be proof that the energy in the cell is what caused the hands to move. The total number of revolutions the hands might make as a fully charged cell drains would be a clear indication of how much charge the cell had. And of course a virtually flat battery may only make the hands revolve a few times as it drains, again showing how much charge it had released. So we can be fairly sure that the first device does proves…

  • Objects can exist - the device and the electrical cell.
  • Energy can be stored in physical objects e.g. the cell.
  • Energy can flow ‘out from’ physical objects ‘in to’ the surroundings – the cell can discharge[1].
  • Objects can move where energy is flowing – i.e. the hands on the device rotate if a charged cell is in place.

If someone looks at the second, identical, device they will probably agree that it too demonstrates or proves the above points. But if they assume that Time exists then they may choose to call the second device a ‘clock’. In doing so they are then implicitly suggesting that the device demonstrates or proves more than I have claimed device 1 does. I.e. that it proves the following …

  • Objects can exist - the device and the electrical cell.
  • Energy can be stored in physical objects e.g. the cell.
  • Energy can flow ‘out from’ physical objects ‘in to’ the surroundings – the cell can discharge.
  • Objects can move where energy is flowing – i.e. the hands on the device rotate.


  • A thing called ‘Time’ exists.
  • The passing or flow of time Time is measured and displayed by such a device.
  • Time flows steadily and flows in one direction – as the device demonstrates.
  • Time flows from a thing called ‘the future’ to a thing called ‘the past’.
  • Time is needed for things to move.
  • And ‘Time is that which clocks measure’.

So here we have added at least six more assumptions about what the device does to the original list, and introduced a number of new terms, Time, flow, the future, the past, and the suggestion that time is needed or fundamental for movement and change to happen.

It makes sense to say that it is in these now exposed extra assumptions about what the second device is claimed to actually prove that our rhetoric or semantic errors may exist. Though whether the rhetorical errors and confusion weaken the Timeless or the Time based view has not been shown.

The timeless view makes no extra claims about what the device does. So the error may be that the view is incomplete and has failed to point out all of the things the device does, or that its description of the device includes a proof of Time that has been overlooked by the author semantically or rhetorically failing to see the full meaning and implications of the words used.

The Time based view however clearly contains a handful of extra words and claims. These are easier to consider and test. So if we take the word ‘rhetoric’ as referring to ‘empty or meaningless talk’ then before giving these extra terms any real credibility we should check they are not the empty or meaningless rhetorical or semantic errors. To do this we should be able to scientifically show…

1 - Why we first made the assumption that a thing called Time exists, and,

2- Why we assume that along with energy flowing from a charged electrical cell through the mechanism to the outside world – ‘Time’ also has to exist and flow - from a thing or place called the ‘future’ through the present and into a thing called the ‘past’. Or any variation of this.

The ultimate, simplest, and most unambiguous  'clock' may be the 'reference photon'.

Step one, exposing where the rhetoric and semantic errors may lie.

 If we can show that these words, Time, the flow of time, Future, Past and the assumptions about them do refer to things that really exist, then we have shown that the Timeless view is incomplete. And that where it makes claims that only energy is needed for things to move and change it is making the sin of omission by failing to mention that time is also needed. Also, if words like Time etc are not empty, then where the timeless view suggests that there is only ‘change’ (and not Time) then it is making the semantic error of not seeing that the word ‘change’ is synonymous with the word ‘Time’ and ignoring that for change to happen time must exist, and that because change happens, this proves that time exists.

Conversely of course if we can show that the words Time, the flow of time, Future, Past etc to be false or empty and meaningless words that add nothing to our knowledge of the world, and only re-explain the four claims that the timeless view made. Then we will have shown that matter just does just exist, move, change and interact, and that the semantic and rhetorical errors exist entirely in the extra claims and additional words that exist in the vocabulary of the Time based view.

The time based explanation of the device/clock.

Question 1 above, ‘why do we initially even assume time exists?’, is usually answered by a statement such as ‘Time exists because it’s obvious that it does’, which is not a scientific proof. Deeper thought might tie the two questions together, so we might say

 - It’s obvious that ‘things happen’. And things that have happened can be in a sense seen, but not reached or changed. It is this feature of the universe that we call the past.  So we observe that ’the past’ exists, or happened, and recedes from us constantly. And ‘time’ is the word for the mechanism that makes this happen.


- It seems as if the future exists, or constantly arrives – and ‘Time’ is again the word we give to this constant one way flow of events that we perceive.


We may go on to add that one property or feature of ‘the past’ is that we cannot change it. And that a feature of ‘the future’ is that we cannot see or predict it. Also the opposite seems to be true, we can see the past and we may be able to change the future.

Given that these two ‘things’, the past and the future, both seem to have tangible attributes then it seems to make sense to assume that they really do exist in some way. (For a thing have characteristics is usually a good indication that it ‘exists’, as in to stand out, or be separate from other things). And given that the past and the future seem to have distinctly different attributes then it seems to makes sense to say they are different things, or distinctly different parts of the same thing. 

So it seems that we have shown that time exists and flows. And therefore that we have made a device that does show and measure the release of energy, and that also shows and measures the passing of a thing called time that we have carefully deduced exists, and has particular features or properties.

The timeless explanation of the device/clock.

In the timeless description of the device we consider that…

- we only ever see that energy can make things move, and that things are either moving or not moving, and this moving or not moving is always only ever seen to be happening ‘now’.


The above is not empty rhetoric. It is in fact a straight forward account of what is directly observed in a simple, repeatable experiment. 

We also observe that,

Energy from the cell flows from the cell through the mechanism and out into the surroundings (as heat and sound) as the hands on the device rotate. Which they do only if there is energy available.


But we do not observe in the machine,

 ‘A past that is constantly accumulating’ – or ‘A future that is constantly arriving’.


By glancing at the device several times while it runs we may well create and ‘see in our heads or minds’ an accumulating set of images of the device. Images with the hands in different positions if a charged cell is in place. And if there is a charged cell in the device we will see the hands constantly and steadily pass the marks on the dial as they endlessly rotate. Heading constantly towards the marks in front of them, so as to constantly be in different positions, the hands also constantly leave other dial marks ‘behind’ themselves.

Given that observations like this may be the origin of ideas such as – an accumulating past is constantly created ‘behind us’, or time constantly passes, or new events constantly arrive from the future ‘ahead of us’, it makes sense to carefully compare any such notions that are never seen but just assumed, with directly observed facts. As in the following table…


Unseen assumptions about Times nature.

Directly observed facts of the universe.

Time exists and is needed for things to move.

Energy exists and is needed for things to move.

Time exists and constantly passes or flows.

Energy exists and can flow in the right circumstances.

Time flows in one fixed direction – from the future to the past.

Energy flows in whatever simple easiest physical direction is available to it. (e.g. the path of least resistance -wires and motors in the device).

The past exists and steadily accumulates.

If the device is running we can steadily accumulate different images of it in our minds.

We can see but not change the past.

We can see the images in our minds and add changes to them – but we may not change the original image.

The present exists, and is a ‘thin slice’ of constantly flowing time.

The present exists, and is just as it appears, filled with 3 dimensional objects that can move and interact in all available directions. 

The future constantly arrives.

If there is a charged cell in the device the hands will constantly move to new positions.

 (see > ∆ Timeless v.Time distinctions (Rhetoric and Semantics). for an expanded version of this table.)

Conclusion; The time based view holds the empty rhetoric.

The critical point here is that all of the observations on the right hand column above only require matter to exist, move and change etc here and now, and make no claim, or show no requirement for time to exist.

If the time based claim is ‘yes but time is still needed to exist and flow for all of this to happen’ then whoever is claiming this needs to look closer at how the observations re-explaining what may be seen as the future and the past actually show. This is because if time is said to exist and flow it is generally said to exist and flow between the future and the past.

The direct observation that we can accumulate mental images as we watch some moving or changing thing – is not rhetorical or semantic confusion. Also the direct observation that we can see a hand steadily progress around a dial if it has energy available is not rhetoric. These two observations run parallel to the ideas that the past exists and accumulates, and that the future exists and steadily arrives.

But what are these two words ‘past’ and ‘future’? They are clearly taken from the simple observations of movement ‘now’. But the user of them insists they are also to do with a real and existing thing called ‘time’.

Words of course are arbitrary, we could use a different language here and all the words would change – or even make up our own words for device, hands, electrical cell, movement and so on. These would just be arbitrary sounds and squiggles – but they would still relate to real and tangible things that we could point to and see directly – or directly see or feel the effects of, in the case of energy. (If you run the current from a low voltage cell or battery through the tip of your tongue you can very tangibly and directly sense that the energy is a real, existing, thing that is either flowing ‘now’, or not flowing ‘now’).

The words ‘past’, ‘future’ and ‘time’ however are also ‘made up’ but the problem is that they claim to refer to things that cannot be seen in any way and that are ‘extra’ to the simple objects and motion that is actually observed. And they are extra to the simply and actually observed ‘accumulating mental images’[2]. So at best the words ‘past’ and ‘future’ can be said to be re-labels and over extrapolations of ‘accumulating internal mental images’ (here now), and ‘seeing a hand on a device move or rotate’ (here now).

What do clocks Measure? P2

>> ∆ 2 Kilometres yes, Hours no..

[1] In this case the energy from the cell becomes sound or heat as it forces the mechanism in the device to move. There will be a very small amount of sound and heat released at a very slow rate hence the cell will discharge very slowly.

[2] Note, here I am obviously and clumsily avoiding the word ‘memories’ to avoid another rhetorical trap. The word ‘memories’ directly relates to things that actually exist here and now physically in one’s own brain, but language suggest that they also relate to some other unseen ‘thing’ – this being the ‘temporal past’. If the existence of the temporal past can be shown in some other way then we can agree that ‘memories’ relate to it. But this is not valid in reverse.