TIME! What Are Ye?

Despite conjectures among mathematicians that “Time” may not actually be a thing… it continues to taunt me.

Photo by Ivan Diaz on Unsplash

Albert Einstein, the discoverer of the Theory of Relativity, and Kurt Gödel, the father of the Theory of Incompleteness, were buddies. They are purported to have had fascinating conversations, according to some writers, “beautiful,” “aesthetic” journeys to the “edge of thought.” I can’t vouch for that. I don’t know exactly how those conversations would have gone, based largely, or entirely, on mathematical symbols. If you can understand Einstein and Gödel, you are way ahead of me. Math and I have never had a good relationship… and we are totally estranged these days.

“Spacetime” is central to Einstein’s theories. From what I can glean, Gödel wasn’t so sure about “time.” He produced a mathematical equation that suggested that one could travel in a big circle through the Universe and arrive back at your starting point before you left! This seemed to suggest that time doesn’t exist at all.

These mathematical “truths” are an unintelligible language to me. But, unless the universe is an illusion (which some religions and philosophies claim it is), then there is an observable — over vast spans of “time” — process ongoing. Here on Earth, we have not only the direct personal experience of our own lives from hour to hour, day to day, year to year, lifetime to lifetime as measurable scale of “time” — but also the geological “time” clock that we can clearly read in the rocks, trees, ice caps, etc.

If all of the “reality” that we perceive actually is an illusion, it is one heck of a complex and intricate conspiracy amongst the myriad forces and materials of the observable universe. And for what reason — except to mess with the human mind, which is one of the most recent inventions of “time” — I cannot fathom. A cosmic mind trick which took billions of years to set up, just to stump some stupid and selfish life form on a tiny planet drifting somewhere in the limitless Universe? Now that takes a leap of “faith” as nutty as most religions.

“Time” may be weird, but it seems to possess dependable characteristics. Despite the possibility asserted by Gödel’s theory, this strange thing called “time” only seems to run in one direction: ever, incessantly, unstoppably forward. It never flows backwards. It’s rather like a waterfall in a way… despite the many amazing properties of water, it never manages to flow back up the waterfall. Until someone is proven to arrive somewhere before they left, I’m sticking with that practical observation.

Time seems ever predictable in its ticking. Until it doesn’t. As a kid I used to think of 70 years old as ancient… now I’m nearly there, and it all seems like a flash. I used to think of the Civil War as sooooo long ago… when, back in the 1960s it was just ONE lifetime previous. Today, as I’m keenly aware of the utter dash of YEARS arriving and disappearing, each drawing me closer to that final hour, it seems wholly unbelievable that it has only been 1500 of these speed racers since the days of KING ARTHUR!!! Just 2022 or so since JESUS!!! Just a paltry 5400 since WRITING was invented!!!

Then we might consider the not-so-vast depths of time. 4.5 BILLION years since the formation of the Earth and our Solar System. Fourteen BILLION years since the formation of the Universe. Really? Fourteen billion? What’s that, at the breakneck speed “time” in my own experience wants to elapse? In dollars, that’s a cheap American war! What was the Universe doing during that ETERNITY before 14 billion years ago?

Sometimes it seems, I’ve lived a billion years. Sometimes my childhood seems like last week. My memory recalls events when I was three years old, and forgets what I had for brekky yesterday.

Something very strange is going on here.

I guess the philosophical-spiritual way to coexist with this crazy “time” thing — whatever it is mathematically — is to accept it as a process, each moment begetting the next, which is what allows other processes to unfold: like star and planet formation, the emergence of life, evolution of species, survival against all odds for what would become a spindly, naked ape, and then the trials and tribulations of this wondrous/terrible life form called humans.

Somehow, someway, “time” along with “space” is the framework upon which the Universe creates and destroys, bequeaths and takes away existence. All things must pass.

Except electrons and photons and neutrinos and quarks and the four fundamental forces and dark matter and dark energy.

And how to explain them? Oh no… more mathematics!

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