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At Nautilus, a science writer muses on efforts to grapple with time — the universe’s odd dimension


Odd because it goes in one direction only.

Annaka Harris, author of Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind, offers

“I think the flow of time is not part of the fundamental structure of reality,” theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli tells me. He is currently working on a theory of quantum gravity in which the variable of time plays no part. And throughout our conversation, I’m trying to get my mind around the idea that even though the universe is made up of “events,” as Carlo explains, a single interval between two events can have different values. There is no central clock, its hands ticking a steady beat for the universe to march along to, moving in one direction from the past into the future.

The prospect that our experience of time may not correspond to an underlying reality has fascinated me for as long as I can remember, as the idea connects two of the most intriguing topics—time and consciousness. Inspired by my recent conversations with Carlo and others in the production of my podcast documentary series, I’ve been thinking more about where the two phenomena overlap.

The more closely we observe the present moment, the more amorphous it becomes. It vanishes as we reach out to touch it, transforming into the next moment, and the next … When we look out at the ocean, we naturally perceive the waves while understanding (both intellectually and intuitively) that there is no real “thing” that is a wave. The concept is useful shorthand for a dynamic phenomenon that occurs in nature. So too with the human brain, which is an ever-changing symphony of electrical firing among billions of neurons.

Annaka Harris, “What Is Time?” at Nautilus (May 12, 2022)

Sadly, time is a very real concept, as is the present moment — as we all realize when we are running out of time.

You may also wish to read: Even if a time machine didn’t kill you, it wouldn’t change much. Here are some interesting reflections by science buffs on time machines, as seen in the movies. Are they even possible? If time machines that would take us any distance into the past or future are possible, they would suggest that we live in a fatalistic universe.

There’s no central wave
Already off topic but what is a wave? I know the term is used constantly but I have never actually seen one. What I have seen is physical particles in some repetitive spatial sequences that are then called waves. jerry
I've been writing lately in other venues the past week about the relationship of time and memory from the perspective that memory is entirely a means of consciousness framing its experience as a continuing being. I'm exploring the idea that memories are an alterable, self-identifying mental frame of reference, that there is no "actual" past, rather just thoughts consciousness "in the now" identifies categorically and experiences as "memory." William J Murray
“Time, is what keeps everything from happening at once.” Ray Cummings "The Girl in the Golden Atom" 1919 Latemarch
There's no central wave, but there are an infinite number of fairly steady waves. We can phase-lock with any of them for any reason. We unlock in dreams. polistra

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