Time does not exist.
There I said it. It seems so obvious yet nobody ever says it.
Oh sure, there’s time as in “hours, minutes and seconds” but that’s just a tool. It’s a useful invention. There really isn’t any “years” passing by. That’s just an agreed upon marking of some change. The sun goes around and it’s a year. One degree of that motion is a day. Divide that up and you’ll get it all down to the nanosecond. Or measure the vibrations of a quartz crystal or some atom. The unspoken definition of time always hinges on the measurement of those barely perceptible changes. But what is it really being measured against?
It’s the fourth dimension. That’s what it measures one might argue, this 4th dimension. Length and width and depth are the other three dimensions and time is the fourth. That’s how the standard explanation goes. But I don’t think so. Yes, there are four dimensions and time is one of them but it is not the fourth. It is the first1. This rearrangement of the assignment of the dimensions makes a huge difference. Now, time is not another measurable plane it becomes the background against which everything else is measured.
Like the number line in mathematics, time is arbitrarily marked off. It is useful to think of it as a constant. It is useful to think of it as an infinite now. It is the only constant while everything else is change. There are several implications to this.
• If there is just an infinite now then there is no future or past. Remember, this doesn’t mean we can’t refer to the future or past; that’s a very useful thing to do. It’s also just as important not to completely forget that the ideas of past and future are just convenient conventions. We all talk about it and refer to it but there is no past. It isn’t stored anywhere. Time travel is impossible not because of some technical inability to go fast enough but because there is no time to travel through in the first place! It’s not that we can’t foretell the future – there is no future to perceive.
• If there is just an infinite now then it has no scale. This makes time totally relative and scales-less. That can explain why gravity distorts time in Einstein’s general theory of relativity. We’re no longer measuring time but the density or the rate of the changes. Consider: if there were no change then there would be no time. The gravity reflects that there is more stuff to change relative to the space next to it resulting in an apparent fluctuation of time.
What surprises me the most about all of this is not that time doesn’t exist – but that no one else ever explains it this way.
1 Originally I had time as the zeroth dimension but I was eventually led to believe that a zero dimension wouldn’t exist. I haven’t yet decided if that is a better description or to leave it as the first dimension.
The key concept is that time has no units of measurement itself.