The Now that keeps on ticking.

Between the Tick and the Tock hides the elusive now. Jorge Luis Borges once wrote beautifully: “Time is the substance from which I am made”. Human experience indeed seems to be defined by our perception of time and yet there is very little unanimous consensus as to what it actually is. As Einstein points out: “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it's longer than any hour. That's relativity”. Time can certainly be funny that way. We tend to measure it with more precision and frequency then any other dimension and yet in our daily lives it can prove to be elastic and subjective. It is our very own perception of past, present and future that shapes our human identity. But what if this movement is merely an illusion? Could modern science provide us with the key to unlocking time? Let’s take a look...

Chronology Vs. Eternity.

Both quantum mechanics and relativity observe our world and the physical laws that is govern by. For a long time now however, there seems to be a disconnect between these two schools. But how can that be? How come the physical laws seem to work one way for the microscopic, but not for the macroscopic and the other way around? Should physical laws not have the same properties no matter what the scale? Julian Barbour, an English theoretical physicist might have the answer. What he proposes is to take out the time factor from these equations all together. The elimination of time would indeed solve a lot of sciences dilemmas, including what is known as the Wheeler - DeWitt equation. 

According to his view, the universe is completely still. No motion of any kind exists, no past, no future, just an infinite number of eternal, unchanging "Now"s. His theory is based on two parts. First, Barbour points out that time is nothing but a mere measurement of changing positions of objects in relationship to each other. He then takes this a step further by hypothesizing that each given now exists independently from any other, like an eternal snapshot of that particular instant. Perhaps the easiest way of thinking about this is through a film analogy. When we watch a movie in the theatre and are half way through the movie, we say that the opening credits “are now in the past”. It would also be normal to assume that the final scenes “are still in the future” as we have not yet seen them. But as far as the physical strip of film itself is concerned we know that each frame none the less exists. Even though they might not be part of our present perceptual experience, the movies’ still frames have always had its own independent existence in reality, just slightly hidden from our subjective movie-watcher view. 

Barbour proposes that our own reality functions in a similar manner. Every possible now (and we are talking infinite possibilities here) exists side by side, like an everlasting or unchanging snapshots beside every other. Each instant is eternally captured in some configuration of the incredible vast universe. Assuming that Barbour’s view is true, somewhere out there there is a fixed “now” with me being born, one “now” with me dying and one “now” with me typing these words; all of them frozen forever alongside each other. If it is true that they always were, are and will be, the mystery still remains, however, as to how human consciousness ties into this whole static universe.  And what about freedom vs. determinism?

Stopping Time And The Eternal Stillness

"Time is very slow for those who wait, very fast for those who are scared, very long for those who lament, very short for those who celebrate.  But for those who love time is eternal” - William Shakespeare