Can time really exists? The answer to this may appear self-evident. Of course, it does! Take a peek at a clock or a calendar.
However, recent advances in physics show that the non-existence of time is a viable option that we need to consider. How possible is it, and what does it imply? It’ll take a long time to explain, but don’t be alarmed. Our lives will go on as usual, even if time never exists.
A crisis in physics
Physics is in a state of emergency. For the past few centuries, two physical theories have been used to understand the universe: general relativity and quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is a branch of physics that explains how things work in the minuscule universe of particles and particle interactions. The theory of general relativity explains the big picture of gravity and how things move.
Both hypotheses are quite effective in their own right, yet they are described as incompatible. Though the nature of the dispute is debatable, scientists agree that a new, broader general theory should replace both theories.
Physicists hope to develop a “quantum gravity” theory that will replace both quantum mechanics and general relativity while gaining remarkable success. A hypothesis like this would explain how gravity’s large picture operates at the particle’s miniature scale.
Time in quantum gravity
Developing a quantum gravity theory turns out to be really tough. One approach to resolving the disagreement between the two ideas is the String theory. It replaces strings vibrating up to 11 dimensions for particles.
String theory, on the other hand, faces a further challenge. It offers a variety of models for describing a world that is broadly similar to ours. Still, they don’t make any concrete predictions that experiments can verify to determine the right model.
Many physicists felt disillusioned with string theory in the 1980s and 1990s and developed various other mathematical approaches to quantum gravity.
One of the most well-known is loop quantum gravity. It suggests that space and time fabric consist of a network of incredibly small discrete chunks, or “loops.” One of the most striking features of loop quantum gravity is that it appears to eradicate time. Loop quantum gravity isn’t the only strategy that appears to eliminate time as a fundamental component of reality; several other theories also seem to do so.
So we understand that a new physical theory is required to describe the universe and that this theory may or may not include time. Let’s say this theory proves to be right. Can it be true that time does not exist?
It’s very complicated since it all depends on how we define the term “exist.”
We agree that tables, chairs, and people exist even though no tables, chairs, or people appear in physics theories. Why? We believe that such phenomena exist at a level greater than that defined by physics.
For instance, Tables are said to “emerge” from a fundamental physics of particles flying about the universe. However, we have a clear notion of how a table is made from fundamental particles. We have no idea how time is built up of something more fundamental. So it’s not obvious that we can simply assume time exists until we can come up with a sensible account of how time originates. At some levels, time may not exist.
Time and agency
To suggest that time does not exist at any level is like claiming that there are no tables. Getting by in a world without tables may be difficult, but surviving in a world without time appears to be just impossible. In light of what we understand about the past, we make plans for the future. We hold people responsible for their previous conduct in the hopes of reprimanding them in the future. We consider ourselves to be agents (entities with the ability to act) partly because we may plan to operate in a manner that will result in future changes.
But what is the point of working to effect change in the future when there is no future to act for in the first place? What good does it do to reprimand someone for a previous deed if there is no past and thus no such action?
The knowledge that there is no such thing as time would appear to bring the entire world to a halt. There would be no reason for us to get up from bed.
Business as usual
There is a way to get out of this situation. While physics appears to eliminate time, it appears to have left causality intact – the idea that one thing can lead to another.
Maybe physics is telling us that causation, rather than time, is the fundamental aspect of our universe. If that’s the case, the agency can still exist since a sense of agency can be totally reconstructed in causal terms.
At least, that’s what the new book, written by Jonathan Tallant, Kristie Miller, and Samuel Baron argue about. Even as it launches physics into a new age, the finding that time does not exist may have no immediate influence on our lives.