The Idea of Time

It will be about Time I write first for it all began here. My realization about time has  changed my understanding of scientific concepts and my philosophy of life, of my existence. Today, I write about the concept of time as defined by science.

The following is a modified excerpt of an answer I had written on Quora, in response to a question about the ‘beginning of time’ –

I thought about this long and hard for many, many months before it became clear to me.

Time is man-made and therefore, asking for the start of time is actually irrelevant. What we call time is just a marking system. We made a marking system by observing patterns in our sky (sun, stars etc.) That in turn, led us to predict in some sense what was to come next. Well, that is the point of observing patterns, isn’t it?

We defined 24 hours, with 60 minutes and 60 seconds in each, yes? What happens in a second, really? The earth moves a certain distance around the sun, the sun moves a certain distance around the galactic core, the galaxy moves around in some orbit or even in a non-circular path, it doesn’t matter. As well as light moves too, though at light speed. So for every inch that earth moves, light moves 3 * 10^8 kms. This happens repeatedly with no change ‘perceived’ in a significant way by Earthlings.

(For the next part – for simplicity of calculation, I will use some example numbers which are nowhere near the actual numbers.)

From the moment of conception of the universe, assuming the big bang as our reference point and the formation of the sun, let’s say the sun has revolved around the galactic core so far 10,000 times. During it’s 2000th revolution, Earth was formed. Since then, Earth has made some 40000 revolutions around the sun. Man evolved during its 36000th revolution and he first observed the Sun’s rise and set during 38000.5th revolution of the earth around the sun and started to record TIME. So what we are saying now is the first ever RECORDED calendar day, the first ever RECORDED second was during the 38000.5th revolution of earth around the 2000th revolution of the sun around its galactic core which has moved 365478 billion kilometers (linear) or 96000 revolutions(circular) around whatever it is revolving.

How on earth was primitive man supposed to know it was the 38000.5th revolution of earth around the 2000th revolution of the sun around its galaxy core which has moved 365478 billion kilometers (linear) or 96000 revolutions(circular) around whatever it is revolving? We didn’t. So we started from 1 using the concept of local time. According to us, we observed the first rotation of earth on its axis, the first revolution of earth around the sun etc.

(Inserting approximate numbers for the next part)

However with the discovery of atoms and radioactivity, the advent of atomic clocks, methods to calculate how far other galaxies are from us using light, mass, radiation etc. , we know what a second is made of – exactly how many cycles of radiation a Cesium atom has to give out between energy states to make one second (9,192,631,770 cycles) .

We know that the calculated age of the universe is approximately 15 billion years i.e 9,192,631,770 * 15,000,000,000*365.25*24*60*60 cycles of a Cesium atom has to give out between energy states old. That, my friends is what we call time. Every second we add 9,192,631,770 to this number and if we didn’t invent hours, minutes, seconds and clocks, if we ever had to meet at an agreed upon ‘time’, without using the concept of ‘time’,  I would say I would like to meet you at some A =(9,192,631,770 * 15,000,000,000*365.25*24*60*60+(9,192,631,770*n)) cycles where n is a positive, real number and A has not yet occurred. Good luck figuring that out.

All this is to say that the ‘start’ of time is when the Cesium atom made its first repetitive motion. Or The first pattern of anything that ever occurred in the universe like an atom’s spin or a quark’s vibration. A movement, a change from the initial state of which some part became a repetition. It is when the concept of time gained the ability to make sense. The first repetition of something was the second occurrence of that same thing, thus making counting a thing of sense.

So given we are at (9,192,631,770 * 15,000,000,000*365.25*24*60*60+some x) cycles down from the start, it all started at 1. When is 1 ?

Does it make sense to ask that? It makes sense to ask which cycle we are in at the moment, given things started at 1 or (9,192,631,770 * 15,000,000,000*365.25*24*60*60+some x) ago. That’s why asking what is the start of time is, is irrelevant. Because we would always say ‘x many cycles ago from the present moment’ and no matter what, its relative and absolute value will always be 1.

On a side note: Imagine living in a universe with no patterns. No single event would ever repeat itself, there is nothing common or associable about events happening now and events happening in the next moment. I could be in my bedroom this moment, drowning in the ocean the next, taking care of a pet the next and playing with my toy as a child in the next and in everyone of those moments, I am not the same person with the same qualities, I don’t look or resemble my self in the previous moment. Like I said, nothing common.  Without an observer from the outside, there are no moments. Would this universe have ‘time’ ? There is no concept of  I or you, because nothing is actually persistent except the quality of non-persistence.  More on this later.

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