∆-1 A Cautionary Tale. Do Drongos exist?

Above - An 'artists' impression of the legendary 2 headed 3 legged 4 winged Drongo. Can you prove it doesn't exist?

Would you finance a expedition to find one?

Before we set out to ask the seemingly innocent question ‘does Time exist?’ It may be sensible to first consider the following cautionary tale…

We use the word ‘Time’ so much, that this alone seems to count as proof that time must be more than just a human notion, if only because it seems statistically unlikely that so many people could have mistakenly thought that Time really exists as more than just a useful idea. But to see how any number of people can be mistaken, and how this needn't count as proof of some theory, consider how confusion and logical errors arise in the following fictional tale;

Two adventurers, Anne and Ben, are heading towards a newly discovered, previously unexplored island in the middle of a distant ocean... 

On route they are speculating about what undiscovered creatures they might find there, to bring them fame and fortune on return. Perhaps, says Ben, we will find a highly camouflaged, two headed, three legged, four winged ‘Drongo’! 

Do things called Drongos really exist asks Ann? Who knows? says Ben, My mum used to tell me stories about them at bed time. Perhaps they never did exist, perhaps they did - but are now are extinct, or perhaps they still do !  I've got an open mind, we’ll have to try and find out.

On arrival Anne meets a native islander, and through noises, pictures and hand gestures, she asks if there actually are any highly camouflaged, two headed, three legged, four winged ‘Drongos’ on the island. I don’t know, communicates the local, I've never seen one. Aha, says Anne, but do you have any proof that there aren't any on the island? No, comes the thoughtful reply.

Back at base, Anne tells Ben she met a natural born islander who couldn't say that Drongos were extinct. Next, Ben meets another islander, and excitedly asks about the possible existence of exceptionally rare and thus extremely valuable ‘Drongos’. Umm, says the second islander. I heard about these ‘Drongos’ from a friend only yesterday, but I've personally never seen one… So we’re planning to search the island for them, you’re welcome to join us.

On his return to camp, Ben hurriedly shares this news with Anne, whose initial skepticism now seems undermined, and together they meet up with the islanders to join a search party that is extremely excited, highly motivated and... completely pointless.

As you can imagine, unless at some point the group goes over its facts from the ground up, the more people involved in the hunt the more complex yet seemingly real the myth they are chasing might become. In this book I am suggesting, very directly, that the most of the apparent mysteries of time have arisen in much the same way as the mysteries of the ‘Drongo’s existence’, and are based on similar ‘commonsense’ errors.

What went wrong? Errors of logic and reasoning.

In our fictional tale, the first error is that the initial reason for suspecting the mythical beast might exist was based entirely on ‘hearsay’, and not one single scrap of physical, or trace, evidence. As the story develops, the hearsay gets re-circulated, and actually seems to be well founded, while in fact what is happening is its false origins are actively becoming more and more obscured. The problem with hearsay, is that anyone can say anything for any reason – whether someone intends to mislead or not doesn't matter – what they say may still be unintentionally wrong.

The second error was when Anne asked the local if he had any evidence that Drongos do not exist, and then made the assumption that - ‘Not having any proof that the beast might not exist’ counts in any way at all towards ‘proof that it does’. In fact, the possible existence of the beast may even seem to explain previously confusing and unrecognized tracks and trails, and so seem to tie up a few loose ends very nicely. Seeming to add even more reality to everyone’s suspicions.

These errors seem to exist in the ‘theory’ of time because firstly we have a great deal of re-circulated hearsay, but we assume it all stems from actual physical evidence that other people have shown proves that Time exists. Our own personal experience in the west often starts when we hear a parent say ‘Bed Time!’, as they point towards a motorized hand on a numbered dial. As a kid we assume the word ‘time’ means more than just motion, and may not think much more of it, even as we are yelling ‘Bed Time!’ to our own kids.

But as I hope to explain, all of the evidence we have only really suggests ‘that matter exists, and moves’ – and not - that ‘matter exists, and moves, and a thing called Time also exists’.

 Secondly, with Time, it seems that many people are happy to assume that the mysterious and intangible ‘Time’, along with its invisible flow, invisible past, and invisible future, all exist unless proof can be give that they do not. In the case of the fictional Drongo, no evidence can ever be presented to prove that they do not exist, and, because no one has ever seen a Drongo, any unrecognized marks or trails found can always be logged as possible Drongo evidence - because they don't know what Drongo tracks 'do' look like.

In the search for time, this is like seeing all the mysteries and queries that the 'theory of time' presents, not as reasons to doubt the theory, but just automatically adding them to the 'proof of Time's mysterious nature' pile.

In the search for a non-existent beast one would have to directly observe the entire island in one go to be sure it was not there. In the case of time vs timelessness (for want of a better word), the reality of ‘Timelessness’ can also be proven very simply by direct observation. Just look around and make a note if anything around you is ever doing anything other than just existing, moving, and interacting, or if ‘it’ ever seems to not be ‘now’. 

This might sound superficial , and the more technically minded you are, the less satisfactory this straightforward explanation may seem at this point. But as we shall see, even the more exotic, and apparently tangible, properties that time seems to have, as revealed in theories such as relativity, can also be explained entirely in terms of unintuitive effects - in things like rates of change - but all still just happening 'now'.

A better way to explore the land.

The confusion over the existence of the Drongo started with Anne and Ben's raw speculation about what they might find, but it gained in unjustified substance when they ‘contaminated’ the islanders the idea that the beast might exist, while seeming to just ask whether it did or did not. Therefore, perhaps a better approach would be for Anne and Ben to arrive at the island and only ask ‘What creatures do you have here?’.

In the real word, when scientists send probes to distant planets in search of life, one of their most important tasks is to completely sterilize the entire space craft before launch. The reason for doing this is to avoid completely invalidating results beamed back from Mars, by finding that they have contaminated the thing they were exploring - in the very process of exploring it.

This is the critical point in the story, because many books about time at worse start by trying to explore the ‘nature and mysteries of Time’ and at best start by asking ‘whether or not Time exists?’.

Both approaches seem fine at first, but In each case there is an initial contamination. 

In the first, Time’s existence has been assumed, with no single first proof agreed by those discussing it. So, even if time does happen to exist, those discussing it may not even agree why they each think this is true, at best this may lead to unnecessary confusion down the line, at worse each person may not check their own proof because they think the others have.

In the second case, asking 'whether Time exists or not?', is much more rational – but may be making the same error as asking whether nonexistent beasts exist or not. 

The third approach therefore when trying to understand how the world, or universe around us works is to avoid contaminating the situation we are exploring, and to only ask…

‘What is needed to explain all that we observe?’

If you look around (and within) yourself while asking this question, I believe, you will find that at first, glance you will just see ‘large’, or simple 'objects', existing, moving, and interacting.

You may then see something like the growth rings exposed in a tree stump, and consider that these must be the result of more than just matter moving and interacting. But then we may conclude the rings could be formed as is, if smaller more intricate pieces of matter could be moving freely in some places, and be trapped or stabilized as it moves in more complicated ways, in other circumstances.

You may then consider your own internal mental patterns and impressions, or 'thoughts' and 'memories'. At first these may also seem to suggest that Time exists, and passes - because your memories of 'the past' seem to prove that 'the past' exists in some way. And that something fundamentally different, or extra to, just matter existing, moving, and interacting must exist. 

But, you may then see, that if considered logically and more deeply, even the physical contents of your own mind could just be the result of even more intricate pieces of ‘stuff’, just existing, moving and interacting in even more complicated ways - 'now'.

Looking around the world, you may also see some processes that are more likely to happen in one way than another. For example a cup hitting the floor is very likely to shatter, but fragments on the floor are very unlikely to fly up and form a cup. So you may see one thing, but not what you assume is its natural 'opposite'.

You may see that sand and silt in a glass of water separate naturally under the force of gravity. Or that a drop of dye in a glass of water spreads out evenly. But neither effect seems to happen in reverse of its own accord. 

In other words you may see many examples of matter moving and interacting with a ‘one way’ nature. But seeing that different types of reaction happen in the world, in directional, organised, or non-random ways,  is not the same as directly proving that events happen this way because they in some way follow the direction of a thing called time. Coming out of a future, ‘through’ the present, such that a record all events is created and stored in a thing called the temporal past.

Using the observation that, some things can be said to happen in a one way direction, and claiming this is a proof that time exists, and flows in one direction, because things happen in one direction, because time exists… – is an extremely circular, incestuous, and invalid argument.

If you can show elsewhere that time exists, then it may explain the one way motion that we do see, or the one way motion may confirm that time exists. 

But alone, seeing one way motion or reactions happen ‘now’, or looking at ‘memories’ of them, existing in your head ‘now’, can only scientifically be said to prove that one-way reactions can happen ‘now’. And not that a completely unseen future, past, and flow of time also exist.

So unless you can actually prove that the ‘temporal past’ does really exist in some way, and that there actually is a ‘temporal future’, and that a thing called time actually does exist and flow between them - it is a false conclusion to say that time exists.

Drongos, the conclusion  

Just as, by asking non leading questions, our explorers may have found everything on the island that was there, and need not have confused things by searching for, and mentioning the name of  things that don't exist, we too may be able to find every ‘thing’ and ‘rule’, that we need to explain all that we observe in the universe – without over complicating matters and sending ourselves on a wild Drongo chase, if we just ask the right kind of questions, and don't take assumptions as facts, or jump to conclusions too fast.


 So let's look at trap number 2...

>>  ∆-2 The Language of Time works.