The Mass Illusion of Time


"If we abstract our inner intuition and take objects as they are in themselves then Time is nothing. We deny to Time all claim to absolute reality." - Immanuel Kant

"Past, present and future are only illusions, however persistent."
- Albert Einstein

"Time is an illusion. Lunch time doubly so."
- Douglas Adams, English humorist and sci-fi writer

One of the greatest deluders of mankind, Time has puzzled everyone from philosophers and poets to the modern day scientist. However examining the concept of Time under pure logical thought and without any preconceived baggage clouding our brains we are led to the irresistible conclusion that: "Time is an imaginary and illusionary concept invented by man to measure Change. It has no real existence in the physical world. Only Change is real and Time is merely an imaginary concept invented to measure and compare Change.” 

Time is the conscious awareness of change.

In order to test this thought we can perform an interesting thought experiment. Let us imagine a Universe where there is only one utterly unchanging piece of rock and absolutely nothing else beyond it. In this system there is no Change. The rock stays as it is forever. Curiously we also notice that in such a Universe Time has no meaning or relevance! Even if we substitute the single piece of rock with multiple galaxies which however do not change at all in any way, still the concept of Time is understood emphatically as meaningless.

Thus we see clearly that Time cannot stand on its own legs without the crutches of Change. Change alone is Real. The concept of Cosmic Time, real and flowing forever from past to future, independent of everything else is nothing but one of the greatest of mass illusions affecting mankind! If Time is understood to be an illusion, then the concepts of Past, Present and Future are also nothing but illusions and we should feel sorry for those dreamy folk who invest much thought and even money to invent a Time Machine! Needless to say it will always remain in their brains as a fantasy.

Here we have to be clear that though the imaginary concept of Time is useful to us as a way of measuring changes in our daily life, it becomes counterproductive and downright dangerous when we accept it as one of the basic units of Physics. In Albert Einstein's theory of Relativity, Time is treated as a real though relative entity. It combines with three dimensional space to form four dimensional space-time. In Einstein's Universe Time can expand, contract and perform other curious gymnastics. The very fact that it is relative indicates its non absolute and illusory nature and is the first step towards understanding it as a man made concept with no existence in the actual physical Universe.

The Concept of Time originated as a result of man's comparison of all observed processes and changes to the rotation of the Earth on its axis (Day), the revolution of Earth around the Sun (Year), and the phases of the moon (Month) in some cultures. Other entities such as Hours, minutes and seconds were obtained by arbitrarily subdividing the Day.

The ever present consciousness of his mortality and the observance of ever changing nature gradually led man to submit more and more to the tyranny of Time. He started to fear his own Frankenstinian creation and began to regard this child of his mind as the ultimate reality of the Universe!

The Real physical concept of Change stands on the solid legs of the Second law of Thermodynamics which states, "All forms of Energy spontaneously tend to flow from a higher energy state to a lower energy state." The Second law is one of the most universal and powerful ideas in Science which explains why boiling cups of tea cool down after some time, why mountains wear down, glasses get broken, Boeings become junk and why people walk inexorably to their graves!

Thus the concept of Change signifies nothing but the everlasting kaleidoscopic dance of Energy in the Universe. The phantom of Time arose from the seemingly never ending sequence of cause and effect which we see in our world. The movement and transformation of Energy and matter is the ultimate cause of all changes in the Universe.

In essence Time is the Conscious awareness of Change. For us to perceive the flow of Time, both consciousness and change are absolutely necessary. Does a dead body or an inert stone perceive time? On the other hand, the more conscious we are in a situation, more acutely is felt the passage of Time. Now we can understand why a watched kettle boils slowly!

The sand mass provides an excellent example of how an actual physical entity like mass can be used instead of invented concepts like Time to measure and compare events. For example we can say that Mr. X walks a distance of 10m while 10 grams of sand fell in the sand mass. His speed thus works out to be 1 m/g instead of the traditional m/s. What we see here is that our world can be explained by actual physical entities without the help of artificial constructs like Time.

What is the great intellectual leap and practical benefits in destroying the mass illusion of Time. First of all, we may advance to a much more real understanding of our world by accepting and thoroughly analyzing the role of Energy and ultimately Consciousness as the fundamental principles of the Universe.

Another area where this new thinking can be of immense practical use is the problem of Aging. Medicine now knows that biological age is not always synchronous with chronological age. The bodies of two different sixty year olds may differ widely in signs of aging. Treating Time merely as a subjective phenomenon means that we can control, delay or even reverse the process of aging in our bodies. Aging has to be understood as just another process or Change involving Energy flow and transformation obeying the second law of Thermodynamics. But unlike the imaginary flow of Time, the flow and direction of Energy changes can be altered by us!

We can purposefully thwart the operation of the second law in our bodies. There is no scientific reason that a person cannot live for two hundred years (or even more!) and enjoy his or her youth much longer. The fact that the vast majority of people age and die before hundred years may be nothing more than the outcome of a collective mechanistic mental conditioning.

We may continue to use Time for all practical purposes in the world without forgetting the essential and elemental fact that Time is a creation of Man and not of Nature. Time lives in us, not we in Time.  


More by :  Dr. Madhu Guptan

Top | Perspective

Views: 3365      Comments: 3

Comment Shorn of all metaphysical obfuscations, confusions and word jugglery what is "Time"
but the reality of ever present " Change" filtering down into human consciousness.
This phantom of Time then splits into Past, Present and Future. What indeed is this
" Past" but a collection of memories in the human brain about events which have already occured. What is the " Present" but any action we are doing or experiencing and what is the " Future" but our imaginations about events yet to happen or actions we have yet to perform. Reality exists only in the actions or events taking place. The Future is as resolved as the effect of any cause may be said to be resolved. For a deeper understanding of the Universe we will have to rise above the prison of our own perceptions!

Dr Madhu Guptan
02-Oct-2012 04:24 AM

Comment Well conceived and analyzed. 'Change' is perceivable and gives rise to imaginary existence of time.

Mahesh chandra Dewedy
01-Oct-2012 21:50 PM

Comment Time may be considered an illusion, but it's a practical one. It pinpoints events in what would otherwise be chaotic. In our realising faculty, we distinguish present, past and future, but always from the present, where past and future remain, the past as actuality, the future as potentiality. In fact the present is elusive, it is both always here and never here! - it indicates the conceptualising of states that are actually one continuum; the 'present' is as much the past and the future. Our mental comprehension of a state of now, fringed by past and future, defines the present; in like manner, the conceptual states of past and the future are fringed with the present .They are all of them conceptual entities extracted from a continuum. The distinction in our minds between the three states of present, past and future is in truth that of one state - so that the present and the past could not be without the future as integral; which proves that the future is as resolved as the present and the past we realise. Even our will to control the future is within the continuum that unfolds, since we are products of it.

01-Oct-2012 11:02 AM

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