Cosmology Intelligent Design

Asked at Aeon: What if time doesn’t have a direction?

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Befuddlement can be a way of life:

There are many different ways in which time might be thought to ‘have a direction’ but, to keep things simple, let’s work with the following idea: if time has a direction, then presumably it could have had the opposite direction; a universe just like this one but with the opposite direction of time would constitute a different universe to our own. Perhaps it is even possible that, contrary to our beliefs, our world actually runs from future to past. Such a backwards-in-time world, replete with its unlikely and unfamiliar processes, would surely be fundamentally unlike the one in which we think we live, and so our ordinary beliefs about time would be wildly mistaken. This is exactly what my preferred theory of time – what I call the ‘C-theory’ – rejects. According to the C-theory of time, it is not possible for this Universe to have run in the opposite direction of time, for there is no such thing as ‘the direction of time’ that could be reversed. This is the theory of time that I think fits best with our scientific understanding of the world. But before I can convince you, let’s first go through the ABCs of the philosophy of time.

Matt Farr, “The ABC of time” at Aeon

Can we add “Time has no direction” to the war on math stuff about how 2 + 2 does not equal 4? They seem to fit nicely together.

7 Replies to “Asked at Aeon: What if time doesn’t have a direction?

  1. 1
    Querius says:

    Gosh, what if space also ran in Reverse? You know, as in space-time. O.o


  2. 2
    DaRook says:

    Not only does time have a direction, but we are headed in that direction at the speed of light!
    See: Sabine Hossenfelder’s vid – “Do We Travel Through Time At The Speed of Light?”

  3. 3
    polistra says:

    Schizy wordsalad. Might be interesting as fantasy or a religious fable, but can’t even be “philosophy” let alone science.

  4. 4
    Viola Lee says:

    I have some familiarity with this topic, and I agree with Polistra that the article doesn’t seem to say anything very clear or engaging.

    However, I don’t understand the comment accompanying the quote:

    “Can we add “Time has no direction” to the war on math stuff about how 2 + 2 does not equal 4? They seem to fit nicely together.”

    This is the second time I’ve seen a reference here to a “war on math” that includes saying some claim that 2 + 2 doesn’t equal 4. I’ve seen other discussions with a few examples of applied math, like when you are rounding numbers, where a number rounded to 2 added to a number rounded to 2 would round up to 5, but that is not about pure mathematics. I teach my students about this issue when I teach applied math situations. But is there really anyone who is claiming that, as a matter of pure math, that 2 + 2 does not equal 4? Is there really a “war” about that?

    Second, whatever that “war” might be, it seems that speculation about things like the nature of space, time, gravity, reality, etc. would fall into a different category. How is this article, insignificant as it seems to me to be, connected to a “war on math”.

    I keep seeing this phrase and don’t understand: maybe someone here can tell me something about what this “war on math” is supposedly about?

  5. 5
  6. 6
    Viola Lee says:

    Thanks. I’ll look at those.

    I’m curious: since the Recent Comments column on this site doesn’t seem to work well my post didn’t show up there. Did you just also click on this topic because it interested you? Is the Recents Comments problem a long-standing bug, or will it be fixed sometime, I wonder?

  7. 7
    Querius says:

    Whatever is said about time also must apply to space for the reasons that Einstein gave us in his General Theory of Relativity, which has been experimentally confirmed.

    So, if we ask whether time is an illusion, we must also ask whether space is an illusion.

    We know that space-time can contract in some circumstances but it’s always greater than zero (or equal to zero at the Big Bang) in ALL directions.

    But if time can run backwards (negative time), then we must also ask whether space can run backwards (negative space).

    If you consider traveling inward into a black hole, you’re always moving in a positive direction toward the center. We could speculate that we exist in the equivalent of a time-based black hole . . . the stuff of science fiction.

    The closest analog to negative time is when you’re downloading something and the approximation of the time remaining continually decreases either at an accelerating rate or perhaps erratically with respect to real time:

    So for example, let’s say every minute we get the following reports: 20 minutes remaining. . . 18 minutes remaining. . . 25 minutes remaining (!) . . . 12 minutes remaining . . . 2 minutes remaining. . . 3 minutes remaining . . . and so on.


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