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The Philosophy of Time

Feb 13, 2013 ,


By Dheeraj Shukla

In this paper I'll discuss the various aspects of time. Specially what the time means? And how do we perceive the time and its nature, treating in a philosophical way? At last I'll conclude certain unnoticed aspects of time which are new in the sense that we rarely mind them. But irrespective of this, these aspects are beautifully interplayed in nature. Before starting I would like to address certain questions relevant to our discussion. These are:

What do we mean by time?
Why do we need time?
How to perceive the time?
Does the time really exist?
If it exists , then is it fundamental or emergent?

Now I'll try to answer the questions one by one. First is that “what do we mean by time?” In our basic books we often read about the fundamental physical entities and their definitions, such as the definitions of 1 meter, 1 kilogram and so on. All these are related to certain physical quantities such as distance, mass and so on. We have good definitions for mass, definitions for temperature, definitions for the length in geometry but we often remain silent on the definitions of time. In case of time we define certain intervals of certain processes such as the oscillation of a pendulum or that of light or vibration of some atoms and so on. The answer is implicit. Many ofthe philosophers consider time to be real including a major community of physicists while many think of time as mere a construct of the mind and hence existing hypothetically. Some physicist consider time to be fundamental while few consider it to be emergent and a consequence of something more fundamental. Few think the geometry of time a circle while few other consider it to be linear. But irrespective of all these, here the main question is that “how to define time”? For this we need to

know what does time actually mean? The time is always associated with certain processes of interest. In general the perception of a process actually causes the time to hail the mind. In a process, we find that there is a sequence of impressions which we perceive and preserve in our minds. Once we have something in memory we can then compare the entry reckoned in mind by observing the process. And the analytical brain just sorts the impressions in a sequence. The ordering of the sequence of impressions on mind gives us a feeling of time. The pace or rate of the process is the one which actually shows the nature of the time. For example when we observe a rocket moving through space, we neither observe the distance it

covered nor we note the time taken to cover the distance. What actually we perceive is the motion, which is more fundamental than either of any space or time. An another example is that of a pendulum. The pendulum oscillates to and fro in space with respect to a fixed point, called the middle point. Now the quantity which we perceive when it swings is nothing but the swung of the pendulum and the time appears as a consequence of the swung of pendulum in our mind by a succession of impressions.
Now I come to the next question: “ why do we need the time? '' The answer is not as simple as it seems to be. Time is mainly needed to describe the nature of processes of interest. Although the changes themselves cause the time to have a meaning of being but it asks back for its description. When we observe some process, we are often interested to know the rate of that. As we know that in measuring something, we actually compare it with something exactly like that in nature and defining it to be the scale for that. For example if we want to measure the mass of some object, we don't look for a thermometer, rather we look for some massive bulk which we presume to be our standard for that quantity, say kilogram.

Similarly here we actually don't measure the time but rather we measure the rate ofthe process. The standard process with which we compare may be swung of pendulum or something vibrating. In general a process repeating itself and so which can be used repeatedly. What we need for our unit is its reliability and its intact nature everywhere. We rely on that process better which doesn't depend on the locality. Likewise we need a microscope to probe the small space intervals between two points in space, similarly we need to have a microscopically fast process to check the time interval better. Now a natural question arises what we mean by a fast process? Fast with respect to what ? Do we have some process to compare with?

Yes, indeed we have. If the process accumulates the impressions on our mind such that our mind is unable to distinguish the separation between the impressions. Then the brain skips many of them and receives the snapshots of its convenience and thus it misses a trail of the impressions and observe a sudden jump in the impressions and we perceive it as the process is fast. We argue that for each process, there is a local time attached with it. We find with that process, the time varies accordingly. So how can we standardize the time for the physical processes? For this we look for a standard change which does not alter its nature throughout the whole process. Such a process in local terrace can be oscillation of a frictionless pendulum or the vibration of atom in atomic clock or falling of a certain amount of the sand from one lobe to another, in a sandwatch. Once we standardize the time , we can compare the local time of a particular process with our standard time. Hence we become able to measure the change or more generally, rate of change of that process.

Now the next question is : how to understand the time?'' This is also a very fundamental problem. In order to understand the time, we need to accept that all the feeling of time is associated with certain processes. And conversely each change which causes time to emerge, associates its own time. But why do we feel the time?

The answer is simple. Since we are conscious beings and have many complicated biochemical processes in our body likewise the heartbeat, pulses and our breathe,the eyelid movement, the perception and so on. These processes offer a standard scale to measure the various processes we have been interested in. Hence our body has as an average a number of changes in which certain are very precise and therefore give a precise biological clock for us. So what we do, we compareeverything we feel with our bio clocks and thus understand the time in our own way. But as we mentioned that these all are local bio clocks which can differ from one person to another. And this is no way relevant for physical purposes , so we look for those processes which are identical in a given frame at least. For the daily purposes the pendulum clock is good for a regional terrace. This is mechanical counterpart of our sensuous feeling for time. We impose our consciousness to the mechanical system and thus observe a process on its behalf. This is a two step procedure. We first compare our sensuous clock with that of mechanical one to calibrate it and implement the mechanical clock against the process of interest. We find a measure of the time with this. And now we can take the data back to our brain. Thus we can say that to understand the time is actually a mental task.




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