Have you ever noticed how slippery time truly is? It’s gone in the blink of an eye when we’re absorbed with something we love, but can drag on for an eternity when we’re doing something we hate. It is counted differently according to different cultural calendars and is sliced up into a pie of “time zones” so that everyone has a different time to follow. The notion of the passage of time is so intricately woven into most of our languages that clear communication would be near impossible without its reference. Yes indeed, time is a funny thing. Would it surprise you to learn that time really is as much of an illusion as it seems? Consider this:
Time Is Relative
Although Galileo is attributed as being the first to postulate the theory of relativity, it was Einstein who revealed that time itself was relative—meaning that time does not progress at the same rate for everyone, everywhere. There is no “master clock” for the entire universe. How fast time progresses is a matter of your individual frame of reference, or rather, how fast the clock measuring time is moving.
A second is not always a second. This has been proven over and over by taking two atomic clocks, keeping one on the ground and flying the other in a jet plane and then comparing their differences. The faster you go, the slower time passes. In theory, a spaceship that could travel near the speed of light would be a time machine. Five years spent at light speed would be approximately 36 years here on Earth!
Time and Space Are Intimately Connected
Furthermore, Einstein showed that space doesn’t exist independent of time. Three dimensional space is up and down, side to side and front and back. Space becomes four dimensional when you add time. As mentioned, there is a strong correlation between motion through space and the passage of time. In short, the more you have of one, the less you have of the other. Space and time cannot be thought of as separate things; they are fused together in what has become known as space-time. This model charts the universe as a space-time grid, in which every location in space and every moment in time exists and is all happening at once—from the big bang to you reading this article right now. Time is relative and flexible, and according to Einstein, “the distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Time Exists as a Series of “Nows”
Because every moment exists simultaneously, the most useful way to think of time is as a series of “Nows.” Now is described as all of the events that may be occurring at exactly this moment. For example, at the exact moment that you read these words, your dog may bark, a car may run out of gas, a meteor may strike a nearby planet and a star might explode in a far-off galaxy. They are all “Now.” From the perspective of the time-space continuum described above, where all things are happening at once, “Now” is a matter of which “slice” of events occurring at any given moment in time you choose to look at. Even at a slow speed, there can be a tremendous difference in our labeling of what is “Now” if we’re spread out far enough in space. From the perspective of classical physics, my “Now” could literally be your past or future. Mind-bending, isn’t it? If you’re a visual person, here’s a video that explains much of this information nicely.
Time Doesn’t Exist at All
In case your opinion of time isn’t warped enough, here is some more interesting information on the topic: Some phenomena in quantum mechanics suggest that time doesn’t exist at all. At the quantum level, particles can not only exist in two places at once, they can also bond with other particles in a process called quantum entanglement and transmit information instantaneously, no matter how far apart they are separated. The nature of reality and one’s experience with time gets seriously thrown into question here. From a quantum perspective, all realities exist and it is our interaction with them that forces things one way or the other. Take a quick trip down the rabbit hole on how this works with the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment:
You Bend Space-Time!
Anything with mass, be it matter or energy, bends the four-dimensional cosmic grid around it. This is called the ‘geodetic effect’ and is what is responsible for creating gravity. No, gravity is not a force of its own. It’s a consequence of the distortion of space and time. The strength of the gravitational pull depends on the size of the space-time warp. Now, you are obviously not going to warp space-time as much as the sun, but you are still bending space and time every moment you exist!
Time Is a State of Mind
So what’s the moral of all of this? We know from our personal experiences that our perception of time is subjective. We know from science that time really is an illusion in the grand scheme of things. The take-home point seems to be that how we handle time is up to us. We could choose to recognize that since time is subjective, you can slow down or speed up your perception of it as you will. We could choose to acknowledge that our bodies and our thoughts (matter and energy) warp space and time around us, and we are therefore very much creating our own realities. Or, we could simply look at the matter as the Buddhists have for centuries: “Be Here Now.” Now is the only time reality that matters!