We all know what time is . . . Don’t we?  Is it really the ticking of Big Ben, the whine of an alarm, or calendar on your wall? Is it a sold, fixed measurement that is solid as a rock?

In fact, the answer is a resounding NO…it’s a lot more squishy. Our calendars are actually quite imperfect, even the Mayan calendar! We even need a “leap day” to keep our calendars in sync with the seasons, but even then it will eventually get away from us. “If you feel there aren’t enough hours in a day, just wait,” says Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “In a few hundred million years, tidal friction will have slowed Earth’s rotation to make the day 25 hours long.”

If that doesn’t make your head spin, physicists are constantly arguing what time is; some believe it’s motion that alters time; in psychology, different stimuli alters our perception of time; and in philosophy, there’s disagreement on whether time is even real. “In terms of our inner lives, no time exists except for what is happening in the present moment,” says Joan Halifax Roshi, a Zen Buddhist teacher.

What time is it? How do you know? The question “What time is it now?” makes as much sense as asking “Where is the universe?” Even then,  physics equations may not even need a t in them!

The Concept

The concept of time as a way for humans to measure the duration of events and may not actually only be deeply intuitive, but actually plays an important role in mathematical descriptions of physical systems. For instance, we define an object’s speed as its displacement per a given period of time. But some researchers theorize that this Newtonian idea of time as an absolute quantity that flows on its own, along with the idea that time is the fourth dimension of space-time, are incorrect. Some physicists are even proposing to replace the concepts of time with a view that corresponds more accurately to the physical world: time as a measure of the numerical order of change that is relative to those experiencing that change…

In two recent papers (one published and one to be published) in Physics Essays, Amrit Sorli, Davide Fiscaletti, and Dusan Klinar from the Scientific Research Centre Bistra in Ptuj, Slovenia, have described in more detail what this means.

No Time Dimension

They begin by explaining how we usually assume that time is an absolute physical quantity that plays the role of the independent variable (time, t, is often the x-axis on graphs that show the evolution of a physical system). But, as they note, we never really measure t. What we do measure is an object’s frequency, speed, etc. In other words, what experimentally exists are the motion of an object and the tick of a clock, and we compare the object’s motion to the tick of a clock to measure the object’s frequency, speed, etc. By itself, t has only a mathematical value, and no primary physical existence.

This view doesn’t mean that time does not exist, but that time has more to do with space than with the idea of an absolute time. So while 4D spacetime is usually considered to consist of three dimensions of space and one dimension of time, the researchers’ view suggests that it’s more correct to imagine spacetime as four dimensions of space. In other words, as they say, the universe is “timeless.”

“Minkowski space is not 3D + T, it is 4D,” the scientists write in their most recent paper. “The point of view which considers time to be a physical entity in which material changes occur is here replaced with a more convenient view of time being merely the numerical order of material change. This view corresponds better to the physical world and has more explanatory power in describing immediate physical phenomena: gravity, electrostatic interaction, information transfer by EPR experiment are physical phenomena carried directly by the space in which physical phenomena occur.”

As the scientists added, the roots of this idea come from Einstein himself.

“Einstein said, ‘Time has no independent existence apart from the order of events by which we measure it,’” Sorli told PhysOrg.com. “Time is exactly the order of events: this is my conclusion.”

Even more confused So then NOW ask yourself, “What time is it…Really?”

What Time is it in Human Time?

What Time is it in Earth Time?

What Time is it in Cosmic Time?

What Time is it After the Earth Ends?

What Time is it When the Universe Ends?

Do YOU know what time it is?

Particle physicist Professor Brian Cox has also been asking, ‘What time is it?’ It’s a simple question and it sounds like it has a simple answer. But do we really know what it is that we’re asking?

Brian visits the ancient Mayan pyramids in Mexico where the Maya built temples to time. He finds out that a day is never 24 hours and meets Earth’s very own Director of Time. He journeys to the beginning of time, and goes beyond within the realms of string theory, and explores the very limit of time. He discovers that we not only travel through time at the speed of light, but the experience we feel as the passing of time could be an illusion.