I’ve been thinking a lot about time recently since re-watching the hit TV series Cosmos. Neil DeGrasse Tyson did a wonderful job hosting the serious originally made possible by Carl Sagan. Second thought; perhaps it was an episode of Star Talk I was watching. I can’t remember. Regardless, Dr. Tyson mentions that Albert Einstein could never wrap his head around time and its properties as they relate to Physics. While Einstein was brilliant, and I mean a f***ing genius, he wasn’t quite as “outside the box” in his flow of logic as others such as Michael Faraday. Not to say that one was more genius than the other, simply that different experiences in life shape different minds in different ways. Thus, allowing the right mind in the right place at the right time to see something no one else could have possibly discovered. In retrospect these discoveries seem to stem from an “outside the box” flow of logic or, perhaps, some godlike sense of notion. Whatever the reason, time is the one thing that escaped Einstein in his quest to understand all properties of our physical world. The sentence you just read is what prompted me to consider the following possibility.
It dawned on me while I was laying on the couch and drifting off in thought. My eyes were open yet unfixed on any given object. Above me, the ceiling fan faithfully rotated its blades and performed its duties. I wasn’t thinking about time at all but the words spoken by Dr. Tyson had remained lodged in my mind for some unknown reason. That is when it hit me. I remained staring up from my position on the couch but now transfixed on the rotation of the ceiling fan. My mind raced through thoughts of everything that rotates in the physical realm; all the way down to the almighty electron. Then I said the words to myself, “causality is a myth and time does not exist.”
Let’s take a quick look at what Einstein thought regarding time and motion. In Special Relativity and Quantum Field Theory the notions of space, time and causality become tangled together, with temporal orders of causations becoming dependent on who is observing them. In Albert Einstein's original pedagogical treatment, it is based on two postulates: 1) The laws of physics are identical in all inertial systems (non-accelerating frames of reference). 2) The speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers, regardless of the motion of the light source. Special Relativity was originally proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies." Special relativity corrects the mechanics of previous endeavors to handle situations involving motions nearing the speed of light. As of today, special relativity is the most accurate model of motion at any speed.
There are a couple of things worth noting here in regards to Special Relativity. The first being the idea that space, time, and causality become tangled together. The second being the notion that temporal orders of causations are dependent on who is observing them. There are other concepts in Special Relativity that are worth mentioning in this discussion. One being that time and space cannot be defined separately from each other. Rather space and time are interwoven into a single continuum known as spacetime. Events that occur at the same time for one observer can occur at different times for another.
The point I’m trying to make here is rather simple. Time is not a component of our natural physical world. Rather, it is simply how our minds process motion. Albert Einstein focused so much on trying to make the equations work that the (potentially) obvious answer escaped him. The reason that space, time, and causality seem to be interwoven is because our minds process motion in a homogeneous continuum. Everything we observe is linear, thus we naturally are inclined to believe the physical world operates in the same manner. But what if it doesn’t? What if the concept of time is relative not because of gravity and other forces, but simply because it only exists in our midbrain. We know quite a bit about Time Perception in human beings. We even understand now that disorders such as Parkinson’s and ADHD affect an individual’s ability to perceive time. One interesting side note, individuals with ADHD consistently possess a higher IQ than the average human being. Perhaps their sub-conscience has already figured out that time is irrelevant.
Imagine yourself surrounded by space; no light, no sound, and no motion. When you open your eyes all you see is the blackness of empty space devoid of all light. When you listen, it is so quiet that you can hear your own heart beating and the blood flowing through your brain. You cannot move and there is only nothingness. No family, no job, no Earth.. nothing. You exist but that is all. In this situation, would you have a need for time?
As a species we learned early on in Mesopotamia the advantages of forming a civilization and living under a uniformed code of work and discipline. For the first time in history we came together in the interest of agriculture and survival. Humans have not changed much since then and we still strive to be in sync as a species because it is advantageous for us to do so. Clocks help us organize our day and more efficiently use the daylight hours. As such, the concept of time is useful to us. In a more primitive retrospect, time perception serves as an invaluable survival instinct as it allows us to gauge the attack of a wild animal or dodge an incoming object. I believe this is why time perception is so deeply rooted into a human’s core function and, thus, why we are inclined to see the physical world as being linear and homogeneous. In addition to these things, human beings have always had a need to find meaning in life; to find a "theory of everything" to tie it all together. Maybe we have that need because our sub-conscience knows that the natural world is 180 degrees opposite to the way we perceive it.
What if I am right? What if time is only in our heads and that is why the very idea of it caused Einstein such a fit in his equations? For starters, causality and the concept of spacetime has to be thrown right out the window. Causality states, quite simply, that one process (the cause) is understood to be partly responsible for the second (the effect), and the second is dependent on the first. If time is simply the human mind’s comprehension of motion and the physical world is not tied together by it, then one can make certain assumptions. If a marble (Event A) is rolled down an incline towards a line of dominoes, it should strike the dominoes causing a chain reaction (Event B). In our minds we perceive the direction of the marble in our linear scope of motion and see no other outcome. In fact, however, there is an endless number of possible outcomes. There is an entire branch of mathematics that focuses on this concept. Made popular by Hollywood in the film Jurassic Park, Chaos Theory is an actual concept in higher mathematics. This theory defines chaos as: when the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future. You can keep going into other similar concepts in various fields, but the point I’m trying to make is that there is never an absolute guarantee of Event A causing Event B. Instead, think of every event that takes place in our physical world as being unique unto itself and independent. It is true that Event A may set certain conditions that make Event B possible, but that is the end of their relation to one another. The laws regarding the Conservation of Energy keep the mass of the marble rolling down the incline, but it is still very susceptible to other unforeseen forces acting upon it. Causality is a myth and time does not exist.
You can go further into time perception and human brain, as well, since there has been a ton of research into the subject. The following are some excerpts from a WikiPedia page on Time Perception.....
Although the perception of time is not associated with a specific sensory system, psychologists and neuroscientists suggest that humans do have a system, or several complementary systems, governing the perception of time. Time perception is handled by a highly distributed system involving the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and basal ganglia. One particular component, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, is responsible for the circadian (or daily) rhythm, while other cell clusters appear to be capable of shorter-range (ultradian) timekeeping. There is some evidence that very short (millisecond) durations are processed by dedicated neurons in early sensory parts of the brain.
Professor Warren Meck devised a physiological model for measuring the passage of time. He found the representation of time to be generated by the oscillatory activity of cells in the upper cortex. The frequency of these cells' activity is detected by cells in the dorsal striatum at the base of the forebrain. His model separated explicit timing and implicit timing. Explicit timing is used in estimating the duration of a stimulus. Implicit timing is used to gauge the amount of time separating one from an impending event that is expected to occur in the near future. These two estimations of time do not involve the same neuroanatomical areas. For example, implicit timing often occurs to achieve a motor task, involving the cerebellum, left parietal cortex, and left premotor cortex. Explicit timing often involves the supplementary motor area and the right prefrontal cortex.
Two visual stimuli, inside someone's field of view, can be successfully regarded as simultaneous down to five milliseconds.
In the popular essay "Brain Time", by David Eagleman, he explains that different types of sensory information (auditory, tactile, visual, etc.) are processed at different speeds by different neural architectures. The brain must learn how to overcome these speed disparities if it is to create a temporally unified representation of the external world: "if the visual brain wants to get events correct timewise, it may have only one choice: wait for the slowest information to arrive. To accomplish this, it must wait about a tenth of a second.
In the early days of television broadcasting, engineers worried about the problem of keeping audio and video signals synchronized. Then they accidentally discovered that they had around a hundred milliseconds of slop: If the signals arrived within this window, viewers' brains would automatically resynchronize the signals". He goes on to say that "This brief waiting period allows the visual system to discount the various delays imposed by the early stages; however, it has the disadvantage of pushing perception into the past. There is a distinct survival advantage to operating as close to the present as possible; an animal does not want to live too far in the past. Therefore, the tenth-of- a-second window may be the smallest delay that allows higher areas of the brain to account for the delays created in the first stages of the system while still operating near the border of the present. This window of delay means that awareness is postdictive, incorporating data from a window of time after an event and delivering a retrospective interpretation of what happened."
A temporal illusion is a distortion in the perception of time, which occurs when the time interval between two or more events is very narrow (typically less than a second). In such cases, a person may momentarily perceive time as slowing down, stopping, speeding up, or running backwards. Additionally, a person may misperceive the temporal order of these events.
Depression may increase one's ability to perceive time accurately. One study assessed this concept by asking subjects to estimate the amount of time that passed during intervals ranging from 3 seconds to 65 seconds. Results indicated that depressed subjects more accurately estimated the amount of time that had passed than non-depressed patients; non-depressed subjects overestimated the passing of time. This difference was hypothesized to be because depressed subjects focused less on external factors that may skew their judgement of time. The authors termed this hypothesized phenomenon "depressive realism."
Stimulants produce overestimates of time duration, whereas depressants and anesthetics produce underestimates of time duration. Psychoactive drugs can alter the judgement of time. These include traditional psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline as well as the dissociative class of psychedelics such as PCP, ketamine and dextromethorphan. At higher doses time may appear to slow down, speed up or seem out of sequence.
In a 2007 study, psilocybin was found to significantly impair the ability to reproduce interval durations longer than 2.5 seconds, significantly impair synchronizing motor actions (taps on a computer keyboard) to regularly occurring tones, and impair the ability to keep tempo when asked to tap on a key at a self-paced but consistent interval. In 1955, British MP Christopher Mayhew took mescaline hydrochloride in an experiment under the guidance of his friend, Dr Humphry Osmond. On the BBC documentary, The Beyond Within, he described that half a dozen times during the experiment, he had "a period of time that didn't end for [him]".
Stimulants can lead both humans and rats to overestimate time intervals, while depressants can have the opposite effect. The level of activity in the brain of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine may be the reason for this. Dopamine has a particularly strong connection with one's perception of time. Drugs that activate dopamine receptors speed up one's perception of time, while dopamine antagonists cause one to feel that time is passing slowly.
Numerous experimental findings suggest that temporal order judgments of actions preceding effects can be reversed under special circumstances. Experiments have shown that sensory simultaneity judgments can be manipulated by repeated exposure to non-simultaneous stimuli.
In an experiment conducted by David Eagleman, a temporal order judgment reversal was induced in subjects by exposing them to delayed motor consequences. In the experiment, subjects played various forms of video games. Unknown to the subjects, the experimenters introduced a fixed delay between the mouse movements and the subsequent sensory feedback. For example, a subject may not see a movement register on the screen until 150 milliseconds after the mouse had moved. Participants playing the game quickly adapted to the delay and felt as though there was less delay between their mouse movement and the sensory feedback. Shortly after the experimenters removed the delay, the subjects commonly felt as though the effect on the screen happened just before they commanded it. This work addresses how the perceived timing of effects is modulated by expectations, and the extent to which such predictions are quickly modifiable.
In an experiment conducted by Haggard and colleagues in 2002, participants pressed a button that triggered a flash of light - at a distance - after a slight delay of 100 milliseconds. By repeatedly engaging in this act, participants had adapted to the delay (i.e., they experienced a gradual shortening in the perceived time interval between pressing the button and seeing the flash of light). The experimenters then showed the flash of light instantly after the button was pressed. In response, subjects often thought that the flash (the effect) had occurred before the button was pressed (the cause). Additionally, when the experimenters slightly reduced the delay, and shortened the spatial distance between the button and the flash of light, participants had often claimed again to have experienced the effect before the cause.
Several experiments also suggest that temporal order judgement of a pair of tactile stimuli, delivered in rapid succession, one to each hand, is noticeably impaired (i.e., misreported) by crossing the hands over the midline. However, congenitally blind subjects showed no trace of temporal order judgement reversal after crossing the arms. These results suggest that tactile signals taken in by the congenitally blind are ordered in time without being referred to a visuo-spatial representation. Unlike the congenitally blind subjects, the temporal order judgements of the late-onset blind subjects were impaired when crossing the arms to a similar extent as non-blind subjects. These results suggest that the associations between tactile signals and visuo-spatial representation is maintained once it is accomplished during infancy. Some research studies have also found that the subjects showed reduced deficit in tactile temporal order judgements when the arms were crossed behind their back than when they were crossed in front.
Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have been linked to abnormalities in dopamine levels in the brain as well as to noticeable impairments in time perception. Neuropharmacological research indicates that the internal clock, used to time durations in the seconds-to-minutes range, is linked to dopamine function in the basal ganglia. Studies in which children with ADHD are given time estimation tasks shows that time passes very slowly for them. Children with Tourette’s Syndrome, for example, who need to use the pre-frontal cortex just behind the forehead to help them control their tics, are better at estimating intervals of time just over a second than other children.
Parkinson's disease, a degenerative condition causing tremor and motor impairment, is caused by a loss of dopamine-secreting neurons in an area of the midbrain called the substantia nigra. Its metabolic precursor L-DOPA can be manufactured, and in its pure form marketed as Levodopa is the most widely used treatment for the condition. In his book "Awakenings", Oliver Sacks discusses how patients with Parkinson's disease experience deficits in their awareness of time and tempo. For example, Mr E, when asked to clap his hands steadily and regularly did so for the first few claps before clapping faster and irregularly; culminating in an apparent freezing of motion. When he finished, Mr E asked if his observers were glad he did it correctly to which they replied "no". Mr E was offended by this because to him, his claps were regular and steady. When given L-DOPA, these deficits are lessened or subside entirely depending on the dose. This case not only shows that Parkinson's disease is related to time perception deficits but it also demonstrates how dopamine is involved.
Restless legs syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are associated with decreased dopamine activity. Dopaminergic stimulants can be addictive in high doses, but some are used at lower doses to treat ADHD. Specifically, dopaminergic systems are involved in working memory and inhibitory processes, both of which are believed central to ADHD pathology. Children with ADHD have also been found to be significantly impaired on time discrimination tasks (telling the difference between two stimuli of different temporal lengths) and respond earlier on time reproduction tasks (duplicating the duration of a presented stimulus) than controls.
There is evidence that schizophrenia involves altered levels of dopamine activity, and most antipsychotic drugs used to treat this are dopamine antagonists which reduce dopamine activity. Along with other perceptual abnormalities, it has been noted by psychologists that schizophrenia patients have an altered sense of time. This was first described in psychology by Minkowski in 1927. Many schizophrenic patients stop perceiving time as a flow of causally linked events. It has been suggested that there is usually a delay in time perception in schizophrenic patients compared to normal subjects.
These defects in time perception may play a part in the hallucinations and delusions experienced by schizophrenic patients per some studies. Some researchers suggest that "abnormal timing judgment leads to a deficit in action attribution and action perception."