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My Thoughts on Time

What is time?

By Mohammed DarasiPublished 10 months ago 6 min read
My Thoughts on Time
Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

What is time?

Time is a difficult concept to grasp. Whenever we try to explain a certain concept, we usually use other existing things to try and create a clearer picture of that concept, for example: most people would describe distance as the amount of space between two points. While it’s not exactly an accurate description, it does allow us to visualise and understand what distance is because we linked it to the concept of space, which is something that is visible and measurable.

Now, what would happen if we asked someone to describe time? Of course, scientists would be able to give a more accurate description, but I’m looking at the view of normal people like myself.

Most would say it’s how long it takes to do something. Is that truly a correct description? Most definitions include words like “period”, “duration” or “how long” in the answer, but isn’t that flawed? The words themselves are related to time, so how can we use it to describe time? It’s like saying something like “distance is the distance between two places”. Does that answer what distance is? No, because there needs to be something else subjective that you can use to describe distance, like above when I used “amount of space between two points”. An equivalent question and response about time would be someone asking what a clock is, and the answer is “its a device that measures time”. “Space” and “time” are the fundamental concepts in the sub-concepts of “distance” and “a clock” in these examples.

Technically, in terms of understanding them anyway, space and time are sub-concepts of the universe. There must be something out there in the universe that we can use to describe time, right?

Well, so far, as far as I know, there hasn’t really been a true definition of time. We have come a long way of course in measuring it and standardising it to some level, but not to the truth of time itself. In 1967, the definition of a second was set based on how long it takes for an electron in a cesium 133 atom to change from one state to another. Because of the relative consistency in this change, it was safe to use this to standardise how time is measured. This is what atomic clocks use to measure time (they’re the most accurate clocks, and I’m sure some of you would have heard of that term).

Despite being able to standardise our measurement of time, we are still unable to describe what time is.

I talked with a friend about this particularly interesting question before and came up with interesting thoughts. We even wrote an article about it previously, but I wanted to further refine my understanding.

Keep in mind that I am not a physicist, nor related to science in anyway. I am simply fascinated by questions like this and the interesting avenues they can take my thinking.

What if time is related to motion?

Motion in within everything. Just like the cesium 133 atom I mentioned above, all atoms are in constant motion. Of course, atoms make up everything, therefore, everything is in constant motion; atoms in rocks are constantly moving, just as atoms in a human are constantly moving.

We can see that motion is constant through decay. Everything decays overtime. Let’s look at old buildings for example: if an exact replica of the White House was built, it would be identical to the old one in every way; the position of windows, doors and even position of every brick. However, the existing one is not the same as the newly built replica, because it was in "motion" for longer, meaning some parts of it have worn out because of decay. Everything in existence decays, but they decay at different rates based on what their atoms make up (humans and plants decay faster than a rock would, for example).

Think about this for a second: if aliens existed and were made of different materials than humans and had more knowledge, would they measure time differently? if nothing decayed, would time have a meaning? If humans didn’t decay, we would be immortal, thus never die. Time would be meaningless then. If planets and stars didn’t decay, then they wouldn’t disappear... doesn’t that make time meaningless?

If you think about it like this, time feels like simply a thing that we use for measuring decay, or measuring change, if you want to look at it in a more positive light. It doesn’t feel as mysterious as it feels now.

The constant decay/change is a by-product of life. Atoms need to move to exist, and everything around needs atoms to exist. Does that mean time is a concept we use to appreciate life?

Can we stop time?

In contrary to what I said above, atoms are not always in motion. There is a theoretical concept in science called Absolute Zero. This is a temperature that, if reached, would render all atoms motionless. This temperature is 0 Kelvin (minus 273.15 celsius, or minus 459.67). This temperature is impossible to reach, as the energy needed to reach it is infinite, however, it is theorised that if this temperature is reached, all atoms would be motionless.

Now think about it, if atoms are motionless, that means there is no decay or change. If what I said above about time being a measure of decay/change is correct, would this mean that absolute zero stops time?

I’m sure many of you heard the term “cryogenics” before. This is a process where temperature is set so low so that metabolic processes in the body are reduced. While it is not scientifically proven, nor has it worked before, it is useful to talk about in this article as a theory. What if it is possible to cryogenically freeze someone and then bring them back later? I think this would technically constitute time travel, because time has stopped for that person, but not for everything else around them.

Let’s give the rate of decay a random value to help with this explanation: let’s say decay was 10 when the person was frozen. He was part of the world until then, so his decay value is also 10. His body was then no longer in motion, so his rate of decay would remain 10 until he is unfrozen. Everything around him continued to decay, and let’s say the rate by the time he was unfrozen was 20. His own decay would resume from 10 while everything else is now 20. He time travelled.

A larger scale?

What if we use cryogenics (true freezing at absolute zero) in a larger scale. What if we use it on the entire universe?

Would time be stopped? Because time is a concept appreciated by the whole universe, and now everything is frozen in a state where nothing is decaying or changing.

The problem with this theory is that there is no way to find out. Even assuming such a feat is possible, no one would be able to tell if time had stopped, because everything is frozen and there is nothing in the universe to obverse the results of this experiment.

If time is the measurement of decay and change as I said earlier, does this mean time wouldn’t exist in this frozen state?

Is this experiment even useful? The value in thinking of time as the measurement of decay and change is meaningless if everything is the same relative to each other after freezing and unfreezing the universe. It would be as if we simply hit pause and un-pause on existence. This idea would only be useful if we could step out of time. The universe would continue to decay and change, but we are watching from outside of time at life ongoing.

I hope this article is somewhat interesting, and that it gets you thinking about what time is and our perception of life. I would be really interested in hearing your ideas on this in the comments.


About the Creator

Mohammed Darasi

I write fiction, poetry and occasional articles about interesting topics. I recently created a website (just because) which I will be posting my writing in (among other things). it would be great if you check it out.

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Comments (2)

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  • Lamar Wiggins10 months ago

    Interesting, Mohammed. I’ve pondered about this on occasion and actually started writing an article about it that sits in my drafts. In the article I try and tackle the concept of “now”. Where time is thought to be simultaneous. We only use time for our own form of measurement. Because everything that has ever happened and will happen happens now. Life is Like one gargantuan now moment. Obviously there are issues with the concept that needs tweaking, like time dilation. But one can theorize that is time can slow down relative to everything else it doesn’t change the fact that it still happens within the now and only affects the observers perspective of the passage of time. Anyway this is a very deep topic which gets me going lol. Thank you for taking the “time” to craft it.

  • Dana Crandell10 months ago

    Another very interesting article, Mohammed and an enjoyable read. I'm pretty sure I came up with a perfect definition of time at a party in the 70's, but I couldn't remember it the next morning. 🤣 Seriously, I enjoyed your thought process in this. I don't think I've found a better explanation than yours based on decay, but like all the others, it leaves me thinking, "but what if..."

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