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What is Time?

An Article by Dr. David Lewis Anderson

What is it that clocks are measuring?
When speaking of time perhaps the best place to begin is at the beginning with a definition of time.
What is time? What is it that clocks are measuring? They seem to measure some unseen medium that continues on with a constant and never-stopping force. In fact, time is often thought of as a river that flows in one direction and slows for no one, always sweeping everything and everyone along with it.

We certainly experience the passing of time. We are born and live our lives feeling as though we are constantly being pushed and pulled by this unseen phenomenon. So then what is time? Well one thing I do know is that time is a very curious thing.

Ask anyone on the street if they know what time is. They are sure to answer yes. But then, ask them to explain it to you and they will almost certainly be at a loss for words. Think about it. Something that dominates our language, our everyday thoughts and life but yet we can’t explain it nor do we understand it.

Time is the fire in which we burn
Perhaps in some ways we don’t want to understand time. People do often talk about time in a very negative way. Perhaps because in some ways it is linked to our own mortality. A very popular quote about time from the science fiction movie Star Trek Generations is “time is the fire in which we burn.”

Another is the famous quote from Hector Berlioz, a great 19th century composer who said “time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all it pupils.” But this still doesn’t explain what time is.

We seem to have a belief that time exists independently of us. But is it perhaps something that is only measured by our minds and body’s perceptions? We all seem to have biological clocks inside of us that work on a set schedule. And our minds perceive the passing of time in many different ways, even for people experiencing the exact same events.

Time varies greatly with culture
Time also seems to vary with culture. For instance in the language of the Navajo there is no past present and future tense like those of many languages. Events are talked about with regard to their quality of happening rather than their temporal quality. Is it possible then that time may not really exist but is just an illusion of our mind created by our own biological and cultural evolution?

So what is time? The answer is still close but very elusive. It hides right in front of us in our philosophy and our religion, in our science fiction and science fact, in our art and folklore, and in our mathematics and physics, even in our own human spirit and mind.

When did time begin? Was it when the universe began with a bang or was summoned into existence by some great force? Perhaps neither, or both. Will time have an end? Maybe we should travel to the future and find out.

Perhaps when speaking of time only one thing is certain, our journeys into time are just beginning. Thank you for joining us and exploring the possibilities of time travel. And who knows, perhaps we will meet again… yesterday?