IS time an illusion?

I have tried thought experiment after TE and quite frankly I can't find any instance where time is defined wholly on its own. It is always a measurement of the interim between to events. We "see" it but it has no form... sounds like the definition of illusion.

Is it possible that we live in an "infinite now" and time is simply an effect rather than a dimension?


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  • $\begingroup$ Could you give a reference to where you learned that "light slows near the same" ? I do believe that the cornerstone of relativity is the mysterious consistency of the speed of light. $\endgroup$ – Arturo don Juan Apr 17 '15 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ Light always moves at c in a vacuum. $\endgroup$ – Jiminion Apr 17 '15 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ Related: physics.stackexchange.com/q/71823/17609 $\endgroup$ – Keep these mind Apr 20 '15 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ My opinion is that time is not a linear dimension as it is dealt with in our currently valid theories $-$ probably it hops between different events / interactions / wavefunction collapses, while our experience of the passage of time is somehow averaged... One day we will know what's under the hood. $\endgroup$ – gox Jul 22 '15 at 19:45

Is time an illusion?

No. I think it's best to think of it as something like heat. You know what heat is, especially if you put your hand on a stove: szzz aaargh! Heat is definitely not some illusion. However it is an "emergent property". Think about the kinetic theory of gases. The temperature of a hot gas is something like a measure of the average kinetic energy of the gas molecules. The faster they're moving, the hotter the gas. But if you examined one gas molecule, it has no property of heat or temperature, it just has its mass and motion.

enter image description here GNUFDL image by Greg L, see Wikipedia

Time is something similar, but IMHO it's more like a cumulative measure of motion than an average measure of motion. And it definitely isn't an illusion, because a hundred years will kill you just as surely as a hundred degrees C.

Relativity tells us that time " slows" near a gravitational source. But we also know that light slows near the same. Is it possible that we live in an "infinite now" and the way we experience time is simply an effect of how fast light travels in our particular region of space?

I think so. Check out what Einstein said about the speed of light, and guys like Irwin Shapiro. And of course see A World without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Godel and Einstein. The blurb for that book suggests that time does not exist, but IMHO it would be better to say time isn't what some people say it is. It's a dimension in the sense of measure, but not in the sense of freedom of motion. I can hop forward a metre, but you can't hop forward a second. You can suffer time dilation, but I can watch you every moment while you do. You don't disappear from the present and end up in the middle of next week. You just experience less local motion. It's like you're in slow-motion mode for a while. It isn't time travel, despite what you can read in the popscience articles.

  • $\begingroup$ Funny that you use heat as the example. Heat is a measure of increase in enthalpy ( I think the terminology is correct, its been a while since I looked at a text) but thats just it, it is a measure. Similarly, we measure some increment between events and we call it time. I have yet to see a definition of time that is not written that way. Lets say I slap a ball across a table. Plainly, the ball has moved in space. And there is an interlude between when the ball starts moving and when it crosses point X. We call that interlude $t$ seconds. Cont... $\endgroup$ – user33995 Apr 18 '15 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ But time, the measurement of that interlude need not be a dimension. In fact it need be nothing more than a construct to measure the interlude between actions.... an illusion. "Stubbornly persistent" as Einstein put it, but an illusion none the less. It is true that a hundred years will kill you just the same as one hundred degrees. But it could be that you only lived for an interim of events that was measured to be one hundred years by some third party. $\endgroup$ – user33995 Apr 18 '15 at 3:27
  • $\begingroup$ I think it's fair enough to call time a construct. And I'd agree that the passage of time is an illusion, and the flow of time is an illusion, and moving through time is an illusion. But IMHO time isn't, because it's a cumulative measure of some regular cyclical local motion, and that's no illusion. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Apr 18 '15 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ But isn't "the passage of time/ the flow of time" what we talk about when we talk about when we talk about time. I mean sure, chemical processes run their course in an interval. My fingers move through 3-space to type this. And I am aware that they do so at a certain "rate" but I imagine I could do this without a temporal dimension. Even the apparent longer interim at 'c' can be explained through as a product of two interims , (the local) and the global. cont.. $\endgroup$ – user33995 Apr 20 '15 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ All points agreed. But I'll tell you something for nothing: it's very difficult to persuade people to not believe in something they've grown up with, even though there's no scientific evidence whatsoever, and even though they're scientific-minded. People want to believe in things, even when they aren't religious, because people are convictional. And shifting conviction is like shifting a tooth. $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Apr 20 '15 at 18:35

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