If I could save time in a (magnetic) bottle…




The question for this essay is – what is time – really?


Albert Einstein opened wider the mathematical door to understanding time more completely and yet he commented that time is what you measure with a clock. He showed mathematically, that even with perfectly synchronized clocks, time is totally subjective and is completely related to movement. That is a terribly important concept. Take two clocks in perfect sync. If one remains stationary and the other begins to move away from it, they will no longer measure the same passage of time in relation to each other. The moving clock will actually seem to run more slowly than the stationary clock. The faster the moving clock is in relation to the stationary clock, the slower time for the moving clock will seem to the stationary clock. See the relationship? The higher the speed differential, the slower the speeding clock will seem to be. There is a balance in mathematical terms. The beauty is that subjectively, time is the same for both clocks. Objectively (that is MEASURABLY) the two clocks will not agree as to the passage of time. The fast moving clock will seem to be operating normally from its own viewpoint and by comparison, the stationary clock will seem to be running more quickly. So how can this be?


Is it not a similar subjective movement of time we feel when waiting FOREVER in the doctor’s office? There is no easy answer but there is a surprising one. The subjectivity of time passing between an impatient patient and one engrossed in a good book will be entirely different but if those patients had perfectly synced clocks, those clocks would remain more or less synced. So it seems we have a second kind of subjectivity. The beauty is that while subjective time for the individuals involved is different, clock time remains the same – so we still have balance. This balance is similar to the previous example where the clocks are moving in relation to each other but time seems to be passing at the same rate for each individual clock – just not in relation to each other. There is a balance in both examples but in the first case the physical relationship between the clocks is in flux while in the second the perception of time is in flux.


So, we are back to the same question – kind of. Maybe the question should be – is time real? By that I mean does time exist without mathematics to define it or movement, equipment and intellect to objectify it? Even if we apply all four of these things to time, each can give us a different subjective result.


Long before the advent of mechanical devices to measure time, mankind measured time in the passage of seasons. As our conceptual abilities expanded we began recording the passage of moon phases and days. As our ability to record the passage of time improved, our ability to further refine time into smaller bits continually improved. What began as a stick in the ground measuring the movement of a shadow has now become a cesium atomic clock cooled to within a few millionths of a degree of absolute zero (the conceptual point where all atomic movement stops). It now turns out that absolute zero is a concept too. The closer we get to it the slower atoms move but really, scientists have now come to believe atoms will never freeze to a stop completely – ever. This means as our ability to cool atoms further improves, we might eventually chop time into infinitely smaller bits but are we any further ahead than when we measured time as spring or fall?


Atomic clocks are so accurate today we can easily measure the difference in synchronicity between a stationary clock and one moving even slowly in relation to it. Our ability to measure time reinforces Einstein’s theory that the closer to the speed of light a clock approaches, the slower the moving clock will appear in relation to a syncronized but stationary one. At the speed of light, time on the moving clock will appear to stop in relation to time on the stationary clock.


We have also observed that photons, the particles of which light is composed and which we know can be either particles or waves, can appear to travel faster than light. In the new world of quantum physics, we can show that a photon which is behaving as a particle can “tunnel” through a quantum barrier and appear on the other side of that barrier instantaneously – apparently traveling faster than light. We have also observed that two photons from the same source but which are distant from each other can influence one another’s behavior in a manner which can be described as instantaneous and therefore faster than light. It’s beginning to look like time is a bit more complex than looking at our watches.


Then we have theoretical evidence of the existence of particles called tachyons which can move faster than light. In our search for these and other esoteric particles we have built larger and ever more powerful machines called colliders. The current king of colliders is the Large Hadron Collider in Europe and the initial goal of this machine is to find the only particle in the Standard Model (describing the basic building blocks of our universe) which we have yet to find. That particle is the Higgs boson. One of my favorite people and one of the brightest I know (although a bit of a Ludite) despairs over “watching the boffins do jigs over giant machines” while people are starving in Africa. She is right of course but if the boffins are successful we might find that our perception (there is that word again) of the universe is so limited as to be almost blind to reality. We might compare it to the difference between what our eyes are capable of seeing and what is truly visible if we are capable of viewing the universe in all wavelengths (such as infrared, x-ray and microwave radiation). So why should we care if our perception is limited?


The simple answer is that just as we first poked a stick in the ground to get a better idea of the passage of time, we need to continue to build on our understanding of the universe. Finding this final particle in the standard model will show us that we are not completely full of crap so far as current theory goes and that we are on the right track to better understanding “the way things work”. It may also show us an entirely new way of seeing our universe. There is a suggestion that if we can find the elusive Higgs boson, we will also find that we live in an ocean of bosons in which we move like a spaceship would move in intergalactic space – that is to say in a vast emptiness where the nearest stars are millions of light years away but in a universe where there are uncountable stars. In fact, if Higgs bosons are shown to exist, we are likely to find that bosons are the REAL bulk of matter in the universe. Theorists postulate the density of Higgs bosons is actually so great that for every particle of matter we can perceive, there are uncountable billions or trillions or more of Higgs bosons, although we currently have no way of perceiving them. So, WHY SHOULD WE CARE you ask again? Well it turns out that the Higgs boson is theoretically related to an effect called the Higgs field which is in turn responsible for an effect which imparts mass to otherwise massless particles and these particles – once they have mass imparted to them become photons, quarks, gluons, leptons and (W+, W-, Z) bosons which are the basic building blocks of all matter.


So why did we end up here? Were we not discussing time? Well, it turns out we still are discussing time. If we live in a universe where the vast majority of particles are currently invisible to us no wonder time is confusing. This is even truer if these currently invisible particles are intimately related to an effect which allows time to exist by giving otherwise massless (therefore predictably faster than light) and hence timeless particles the ability to take on mass and then form into clumps of things we can perceive in both time and space. If you didn’t get that, read it again, it’s important.


If large numbers of particles in the universe can exist in a massless and timeless state no wonder time is subjective to us. We might be trying to understand reality from the same standpoint as a bacterium trying to read and understand Homer’s Iliad.


OK, here is the kicker. If we exist in a largely invisible (to us) universe, is it not possible that our very awareness as humans springs from this invisible universe? It might explain a great deal. Since the human race became capable of stringing two thoughts together we have created a mythology of life after (and sometimes before) death. If our consciousness is rooted outside time and space then we really are immortal in the truest sense and when our physical bodies die, we simply ditch the part which is limited by time and space.  


WAIT A MINUTE! How do we get to the point where consciousness is outside time and space? Well, does consciousness have mass? Do we not – each and every one of us – experience timelessness every night when we sleep? Do we not have a racial mythos of life after death and a huge body of near-death and return-from-death tales? Can we not have effect on our time sense through meditation or drug use or mood or attitude? Never mind the damned atomic clocks which we know will never perfectly agree with each other.


And don’t get me started on memory or dreams!


All these things are possible if our consciousness is structured by and rooted in particles which we assume exist outside “normal” time and space. A structure of tachyons is an interesting possibility but the Higgs boson is looking like a better bet in the short term.


Unless we continue to expand our understanding of how the universe really works we are just wandering around in the dark. It has been a fun trip for the human race so far but I believe we are trying to formulate opinions without enough information. I am not certain finding the Higgs boson will give us a better understanding of consciousness but it is a lead pipe cinch it will not make us more ignorant and maybe, just maybe, will take us further down the road to figuring out who we really are and why we experience the universe the way we do. Possibly, it will give us a much better understanding of time and if it really has any importance in our existence. We may just find that time is a construct which allows us to objectify mass and therefore create our own reality.


I have personally found myself standing at the door to timeless existence and while I do not feel able to explain what I experienced, one thing has become perfectly clear. One does not need ANY particular belief to experience that which I experienced. One simply needs to be capable of experiencing without prejudice. Time may currently be a mystery but that is not to say it will always be so. We may very soon discover that time is no more mysterious than heat from a fire. We just have yet to see the fire.






One Response to “If I could save time in a (magnetic) bottle…”

  1. ceo Says:

    YOu almost lost me after “Albert Einstein opened the mathematical door ” but in perceived reality, you trappoed me into reading and, thinking. I hate when that happens. If I only had the reserve grey matter of 30 years ago I sould have an instent retort to this scientific meandering. But, alas, I don not. I will however, return to this disertation and ponder further, when I have the , wait for it, time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: