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Rob Sheldon’s thoughts on physicists’ “warped” view of time

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Further to Carlo Rovelli’s views on time travel (only a technological problem, not a scientific one) and the order of time in general,  views, as set out in The Order of Time, our color commentator Rob Sheldon offers,

File:Wooden hourglass 3.jpg
a passage of time, imaged/S. Sepp

If I can speculate about what goes on in physicist’s heads, this issue about time is an attempt to force symmetry on the universe. Sorta like the 2-yr old who wants to regularize irregular verbs. “Mommy not home; she goed to the store.”

Einstein’s Special Relativity (SR) argued that time was a fourth dimension and should not be treated any differently than height, width, and length. To get the units right, one only needed to multiply time by the speed of light–c*t. Only it was a negative dimension, so if distances are measured by r = sqrt(x^2 + y^2 + z^2), then SR distances were s = sqrt[r^2 – (c*t)^2].

Just to add some pizzazz, we can use that remarkable little constant “i” defined to be “sqrt(-1)”, and write this as: s = sqrt[r^2 + (ict)^2], so now it looks like

a normal distance (Eulerian measure).

But what does it mean?

No one has a clue. But it looks neat and tidy. And it makes physicists believe that time is just another coordinate like space once it is multiplied by “ic”. And since space can go from -infinity–>+infinity, then why can’t time do the same thing? So if there isn’t any “flow” to space, why should there be any “flow” to time?

Just for starters, if you multiplied length by i, and talked about “imaginary length” would anybody have a clue what it meant? So why should “imaginary time” have any more relation to length than “imaginary length” has to time?

In addition, if you don’t allow time to flow, if it is static, then it destroys causality. This has to do with how modellers try to put “tetrads” of 4-D spacetime together and derive physical laws from it. It is absolutely essential that time “flow” for laws to exist, for causality to work, for thermodynamics to make sense, for Newton’s laws of motion to work. Therefore it is sheer nonsense to say that “flowing time” is an illusion–because if it is, all of physics is an illusion too. Just crazy talk. Like “Mommy goed to the store.”

Here is the opening paragraph of chapter 6 from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:

THE real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait. I give one coarse instance of what I mean. Suppose some mathematical creature from the moon were to reckon up the human body; he would at once see that the essential thing about it was that it was duplicate. A man is two men, he on the right exactly resembling him on the left. Having noted that there was an arm on the right and one on the left, a leg on the right and one on the left, he might go further and still find on each side the same number of fingers, the same number of toes, twin eyes, twin ears, twin nostrils, and even twin lobes of the brain. At last he would take it as a law; and then, where he found a heart on one side, would deduce that there was another heart on the other. And just then, where he most felt he was right, he would be wrong.

Rob Sheldon is the author of Genesis: The Long Ascent

See also: Carlo Rovelli: Future time travel only a technological problem, not a scientific one. Rovelli: A starship could wait [near a black hole ] for half an hour and then move away from the black hole, and find itself millennia in the future.

13 Replies to “Rob Sheldon’s thoughts on physicists’ “warped” view of time

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    News, RS is fundamentally right. Time is intimately tied to causal succession. KF

  2. 2
    ScuzzaMan says:

    If I can speculate about what goes on in physicist’s heads, this issue about time is an attempt to force symmetry on the universe.

    Mmmm. I see it more like the difference between Newtonian mechanics and quantum mechanics.

    Except we don’t have a quantum mechanics equivalent model of time yet, so we’re stuck using the simpler model and associated maths of our newtonian mechanics model of time.

    And we all know there are intractable problems with every theory we currently hold and use, because we all know our knowledge is incomplete. But they’re what we have.

    And when people take these frailties and push the model beyond its useful range, that is exactly when its inaccuracy is most obvious.

    Like the precession of the moon; you cannot extrapolate it backwards indefinitely or you get a moon revolving around the surface of the earth just above your head … and similar absurdities abound. Even if it is true that the universe is expanding (I personally am not convinced but who cares), you cannot take 50 years of measurements and extrapolate backwards 15 billion years.

    No statistician would except such nonsense except for one thing;

    It’s the best we’ve got.

    Tomorrow, next week, next decade, it doesn’t matter; sooner or later the current model will be displaced by a marginally less inaccurate model that will imply some equally absurd consequence when you push the numbers to absurd lengths.

  3. 3
    PeterA says:


    “No statistician would except such nonsense except for one thing”


  4. 4
    ScuzzaMan says:

    Being charitable:

    It’s the best we’ve got.

    Other interpretations are, of course, possible.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    As to the claim of time travel supposedly being “only a technological problem, not a scientific one”,,, Gödel understood his working out of time travel being possible in Einstein’s space-time to ‘undermine the Einsteinian worldview from within’.

    The God of the Mathematicians – The religious beliefs that guided Kurt Gödel’s revolutionary Ideas – by David P. Goldman – August 2010
    Excerpt: In a Festschrift for Einstein’s seventieth birthday in 1949, Gödel demonstrated the possibility of a special case in which, as Palle Yourgrau described the result, “the large-scale geometry of the world is so warped that there exist space-time curves that bend back on themselves so far that they close; that is, they return to their starting point.” This means that “a highly accelerated spaceship journey along such a closed path, or world line, could only be described as time travel.” In fact, “Gödel worked out the length and time for the journey, as well as the exact speed and fuel requirements.”
    Gödel, of course, did not actually believe in time travel, but he understood his paper to undermine the Einsteinian worldview from within.

    As well, the following study, (in a fairly ingenious thought experiment that looked at the differences between ‘photon clocks’ and ‘atomic clocks’), challenged the assumption of length contraction as being valid for ‘photon clocks’. In doing so, they cleared up some loose ends in relativity concerning time’s relation to space. Loose ends that had been ample fodder for much of the speculation of time travel being possible in relativity: As the following researchers commented, “Our research confirms Gödel’s vision: time is not a physical dimension of space through which one could travel into the past or future.”

    Physicists continue work to abolish time as fourth dimension of space – April 2012
    Excerpt: “The rate of photon clocks in faster inertial systems will not slow down with regard to the photon clocks in a rest inertial system because the speed of light is constant in all inertial systems,” he said. “The rate of atom clocks will slow down because the ‘relativity’ of physical phenomena starts at the scale of pi mesons.”
    He also explained that, without length contraction, time dilation exists but in a different way than usually thought. “Time dilatation exists not in the sense that time as a fourth dimension of space dilates and as a result the clock rate is slower,” he explained. “Time dilatation simply means that, in a faster inertial system, the velocity of change slows down and this is valid for all observers.,, “Our research confirms Gödel’s vision: time is not a physical dimension of space through which one could travel into the past or future.”

    As to Einstein’s original thought experiment that gave him his breakthrough insight into “Special Relativity’, Einstein’s original thought experiment was when he imagined moving away from the face of a clock at the speed of light.

    Einstein: Einstein’s Miracle Year (‘Insight into Eternity’ – Thought Experiment 55 second mark) – video

    Would not the hands on the clock stay stationary as you moved away from the face of the clock at the speed of light? This whole ‘time, as we understand it, coming to a complete stop at the speed of light’, (despite whatever philosophical objections some may have against the reality of a ‘timeless existence’), is now confirmed to be true by experimental evidence.

    “Recent experiments have confirmed, to within one part in one hundred million billion (10^17), that the speed of light does not change when an observer is in motion.”
    Douglas Ell – “Counting To God” – pg. 41 – 2014

    Experiment with speeding ions verifies relativistic time dilation to new level of precision – Sept. 19, 2014
    Excerpt: A team of researchers,, have conducted an experiment using ions pushed to 40 percent of the speed of light to verify time dilation to a new level of precision.,,
    the team describes how their experiment was conducted and how it allowed them to validate the time dilation prediction to just a few parts per billion.,,,
    The experiment allowed for measuring the shift in laser frequencies relative to what the transition frequencies would be for ions that had not been accelerated. By combining the two frequency shifts, uncertainties could be eliminated making it possible to validate time dilation predictions to an order of precision much higher than previous limits,,

    “The laws of relativity have changed timeless existence from a theological claim to a physical reality. Light, you see, is outside of time, a fact of nature proven in thousands of experiments at hundreds of universities. I don’t pretend to know how tomorrow can exist simultaneously with today and yesterday. But at the speed of light they actually and rigorously do. Time does not pass.”
    Dr. Richard Swenson – More Than Meets The Eye, Chpt. 11

    That time, as we understand it comes to a complete stop at the speed of light, and yet light moves from point A to point B in our universe, and thus light is obviously not ‘frozen within time, has some fairly profound implications.

    The only way it is possible for time not to pass for light, and yet for light to move from point A to point B in our universe, is if light is of a higher dimensional value of time than the temporal time we are currently living in. Otherwise light would simply be ‘frozen within time’ to our temporal frame of reference.

    One way for us to more easily understand this higher dimensional framework for time that light exist in is to visualize what would happen if a hypothetical observer approached the speed of light.
    In the following video clip, which was made by two Australian University Physics Professors, we find that the 3-Dimensional world ‘folds and collapses’ into a tunnel shape as a ‘hypothetical’ observer approaches the ‘higher dimension’ of the speed of light.

    Optical Effects of Special Relativity – video

    It is also very interesting to note that many of the characteristics found in Near Death Experience testimonies are exactly what we would expect to see from what we now know about Special Relativity (and General Relativity): For instance, many people who have had a Near Death Experience mention that their perception of time was radically altered:

    ‘Earthly time has no meaning in the spirit realm. There is no concept of before or after. Everything – past, present, future – exists simultaneously.’
    – Kimberly Clark Sharp – Near Death Experiencer

    ‘There is no way to tell whether minutes, hours or years go by. Existence is the only reality and it is inseparable from the eternal now.’
    – John Star – NDE Experiencer

    As well, Near Death Experiencers also frequently mention going through a tunnel to a higher heavenly dimension:

    Ask the Experts: What Is a Near-Death Experience (NDE)? – article with video
    Excerpt: “Very often as they’re moving through the tunnel, there’s a very bright mystical light … not like a light we’re used to in our earthly lives. People call this mystical light, brilliant like a million times a million suns…”
    – Jeffrey Long M.D. – has studied NDE’s extensively

    “I started to move toward the light. The way I moved, the physics, was completely different than it is here on Earth. It was something I had never felt before and never felt since. It was a whole different sensation of motion. I obviously wasn’t walking or skipping or crawling. I was not floating. I was flowing. I was flowing toward the light. I was accelerating and I knew I was accelerating, but then again, I didn’t really feel the acceleration. I just knew I was accelerating toward the light. Again, the physics was different – the physics of motion of time, space, travel. It was completely different in that tunnel, than it is here on Earth. I came out into the light and when I came out into the light, I realized that I was in heaven.”
    Barbara Springer – Near Death Experience – The Tunnel – video

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    And in the following quotes, Mary Neal and John Burke both testify that they firmly believed that they were in a higher dimension that is above this three-dimensional world and that the reason that they have a very difficult time explaining what their Near Death Experiences felt like is because we simply don’t currently have the words to properly describe that higher dimension:

    “Regardless, it is impossible for me to adequately describe what I saw and felt. When I try to recount my experiences now, the description feels very pale. I feel as though I’m trying to describe a three-dimensional experience while living in a two-dimensional world. The appropriate words, descriptions and concepts don’t even exist in our current language. I have subsequently read the accounts of other people’s near-death experiences and their portrayals of heaven and I able to see the same limitations in their descriptions and vocabulary that I see in my own.”
    Mary C. Neal, MD – To Heaven And Back pg. 71

    “Well, when I was taking geometry, they always told me there were only three dimensions, and I always just accepted that. But they were wrong. There are more… And that is why so hard for me to tell you this. I have to describe with words that are three-dimensional. That’s as close as I can get to it, but it’s really not adequate.”
    John Burke – Imagine Heaven pg. 51 – quoting a Near Death Experiencer

    It is also important to note that although hypothetically traveling at the speed of light in this universe would be instantaneous travel for the person going at the speed of light, this ‘timeless’ travel is still not completely instantaneous to our temporal framework of time. And is therefore not completely transcendent to our temporal framework.
    That is to say, speed of light travel, to our temporal frame of reference, is still not completely transcendent of our framework since light still appears to take time to travel from point A to point B from our temporal perspective. Yet, in quantum mechanics, instantaneous travel is not only achieved for the speed of light framework but instantaneous travel is also achieved in our temporal framework.

    Quantum Physicists Confirm Spooky Instant Correlations – Giulio Prisco – August 28th, 2015
    Excerpt: Researchers in the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK have confirmed in the lab that the weird instant correlations between remote “entangled” particles are real. The experimental result has important implications for both fundamental physics and future cryptography.,,

    Looking beyond space and time to cope with quantum theory – 29 October 2012
    Excerpt: “Our result gives weight to the idea that quantum correlations somehow arise from outside spacetime, in the sense that no story in space and time can describe them,”

    That is to say, the instantaneous travel of quantum information is instantaneous to both our temporal framework and the speed of light framework, not just the speed of light framework.
    Quantum correlations are not limited by time, nor space, in any way, shape or form, in any frame of reference, as light is seemingly limited to us in this temporal framework. Quantum correlations are truly instantaneous.

    Of particular interest to all this is that this discrepancy between what Einstein termed the ‘physical time’ of relativity and what philosophers termed ‘The Now’ of the mind is one of the primary reasons why Einstein never received a Nobel prize for Special Relativity.
    In fact, Einstein went so far as to say that “The time of the philosophers did not exist.”,,

    Einstein vs Bergson, science vs philosophy and the meaning of time – Wednesday 24 June 2015
    Excerpt:,, Einstein said: “The time of the philosophers did not exist.”,,
    Bergson was outraged, but the philosopher did not take it lying down. A few months later Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the law of photoelectric effect, an area of science that Canales noted, ‘hardly jolted the public’s imagination’. In truth, Einstein coveted recognition for his work on relativity.
    ,,, In 1922, the jury was still out on the correct interpretation of time.,,,
    Just when Einstein thought he had it worked out, along came the discovery of quantum theory,,,
    Some supporters went as far as to say that Bergson’s earlier work anticipated the quantum revolution of Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg by four decades or more.,,,
    Was Bergson right after all? Time will tell.

    In fact, Einstein also stated to a philosopher that “The experience of ‘the now’ cannot be turned into an object of physical measurement, it can never be a part of physics.”

    “The experience of ‘the now’ cannot be turned into an object of physical measurement, it can never be a part of physics.”
    – Einstein

    Quote was taken from the last few minutes of this following video.
    Stanley L. Jaki: “The Mind and Its Now”

    Yet, contrary to what Einstein thought was possible for experimental physics, ‘the experience of the now’ is now found to be very much a part of physical measurement.

    As the following researcher stated, “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,”,,, “The atoms did not travel from A to B. It was only when they were measured at the end of the journey that their wave-like or particle-like behavior was brought into existence,”

    New Mind-blowing Experiment Confirms That Reality Doesn’t Exist If You Are Not Looking at It – June 3, 2015
    Excerpt: The results of the Australian scientists’ experiment, which were published in the journal Nature Physics, show that this choice is determined by the way the object is measured, which is in accordance with what quantum theory predicts.
    “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,” said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Truscott in a press release.,,,
    “The atoms did not travel from A to B. It was only when they were measured at the end of the journey that their wave-like or particle-like behavior was brought into existence,” he said.
    Thus, this experiment adds to the validity of the quantum theory and provides new evidence to the idea that reality doesn’t exist without an observer.

    Many more experiments from quantum mechanics confirming ‘the experience of the now’ to be primary for ‘measurement’ are touched upon in the following video.

    Albert Einstein vs. Quantum Mechanics and His Own Mind – video

    Thus, contrary to what Einstein thought was possible for experimental physics, ‘the experience of the now’ is found to be very much a part of physical measurement.

    As the following researcher stated: We must explain space and time as somehow emerging from fundamentally spaceless and timeless physics.

    LIVING IN A QUANTUM WORLD – Vlatko Vedral – 2011
    Excerpt: Thus, the fact that quantum mechanics applies on all scales forces us to confront the theory’s deepest mysteries. We cannot simply write them off as mere details that matter only on the very smallest scales. For instance, space and time are two of the most fundamental classical concepts, but according to quantum mechanics they are secondary. The entanglements are primary. They interconnect quantum systems without reference to space and time. If there were a dividing line between the quantum and the classical worlds, we could use the space and time of the classical world to provide a framework for describing quantum processes. But without such a dividing line—and, indeed, without a truly classical world—we lose this framework. We must explain space and time (4D space-time) as somehow emerging from fundamentally spaceless and timeless physics.

  7. 7
    bornagain77 says:

    One final note: As to the concerns that have been voiced about ’cause and effect’ being undermined with temporal time being regulated to, basically, being an illusion, It should be noted that all of this evidence from relativity and quantum mechanics fits hand in glove with what we should a-priorily expect from a Christian perspective,,

    Quantum Mechanics, Special Relativity, General Relativity and Christianity – video

    As well as fitting hand in glove into what was ‘predicted’ by Aristotle and Aquinas concerning the ‘first mover’:

    What Is Matter? The Aristotelian Perspective – Michael Egnor – July 21, 2017
    Excerpt: Heisenberg, almost alone among the great physicists of the quantum revolution, understood that the Aristotelian concept of potency and act was beautifully confirmed by quantum theory and evidence.,,,
    Heisenberg wrote:
    ,,,The probability wave of Bohr, Kramers, Slater… was a quantitative version of the old concept of “potentia” in Aristotelian philosophy. It introduced something standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between possibility and reality…The probability function combines objective and subjective elements,,,
    Thus, the existence of potential quantum states described by Schrodinger’s equation (which is a probability function) are the potency (the “matter”) of the system, and the collapse of the quantum waveform is the reduction of potency to act. To an Aristotelian (like Heisenberg), quantum mechanics isn’t strange at all.

    Here is a technical explanation and video of Aquinas’ First way argument for God where you can, at your leisure, see just how well the argument from motion dovetails into what we are seeing in quantum mechanics

    Aquinas’ First Way
    1) Change in nature is elevation of potency to act.
    2) Potency cannot actualize itself, because it does not exist actually.
    3) Potency must be actualized by another, which is itself in act.
    4) Essentially ordered series of causes (elevations of potency to act) exist in nature.
    5) An essentially ordered series of elevations from potency to act cannot be in infinite regress, because the series must be actualized by something that is itself in act without the need for elevation from potency.
    6) The ground of an essentially ordered series of elevations from potency to act must be pure act with respect to the casual series.
    7) This Pure Act– Prime Mover– is what we call God.

    Aquinas’ First Way – (The First Mover – Unmoved Mover) – video

    Or to put Aquinas’ argument much more simply “The ‘First Mover’ is necessary for change occurring at each moment.”:

    “The ‘First Mover’ is necessary for change occurring at each moment.”
    Michael Egnor – Aquinas’ First Way

    The validity of this ancient ‘first mover’ argument is beautifully confirmed to be true in the ‘simple’ double slit experiment.

    Double Slit, Quantum-Electrodynamics, and Christian Theism- video


    Acts 17:28
    ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

  8. 8
    PeterA says:


    “No statistician would except such nonsense except for one thing”




  9. 9
  10. 10
    ScuzzaMan says:

    Peter A

    Huh. I completely missed that.


    Thanks for pointing it out.


  11. 11
    FourFaces says:

    Time travel in any direction is nonsense. The speed of motion in time would have to be given as v = dt/dt = 1, which is nonsensical since 1 is not a speed. And no, it is not 1 second per second. It is 1 and it’s nonsense.

    There is a reason that Karl Popper called spacetime “a block universe in which nothing happens.” The reason is that time travel is nonsense. Spacetime is a fiction.

    There is only the present, the every changing present.

  12. 12
    Fasteddious says:

    I’ve always liked Augustine’s discussion about time (an excerpt):

    “For what is time? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who even in thought can comprehend it, even to the pronouncing of a word concerning it? But what in speaking do we refer to more familiarly and knowingly than time? And certainly we understand when we speak of it; we understand also when we hear it spoken of by another. What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not. Yet I say with confidence, that I know that if nothing passed away, there would not be past time; and if nothing were coming, there would not be future time; and if nothing were, there would not be present time. Those two times, therefore, past and future, how are they, when even the past now is not; and the future is not as yet? But should the present be always present, and should it not pass into time past, time truly it could not be, but eternity. If, then, time present — if it be time — only comes into existence because it passes into time past, how do we say that even this is, whose cause of being is that it shall not be — namely, so that we cannot truly say that time is, unless because it tends not to be?”
    —Augustine of Hippo, Confessiones lib xi, cap xiv, sec 17 (ca. 400 CE)

    Physicists haven’t done much to improve on that in the intervening centuries.

  13. 13
    FourFaces says:

    Fasteddious @12,

    Thank you for that inspiring Augustine quote. It reminds me that it’s always a good idea to think of everything from a yin-yang perspective. That is, everything comes in complementary pairs and this include the ‘present’. In this light, the present consists of two things, the immediate past (P) and the immediate future (F). At every instant, two things happen simultaneously:

    1. F changes into P.
    2. P becomes F and is born anew.

    This is why some of us believe that the entire physical universe is continually being destroyed and created. This is a Christian idea. Of course, the idea of time as a line along which we are moving in one direction or another is a conceptual disaster.

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