Time is malleable. Time is not malleable. Both statements are true. Which one is true for a given set of circumstances depends on context. For example, an hour has meaning on planet Earth, but that measurement is either meaningless or means something quite different on planet Jupiter. You and I base our common understanding of time on the relationship between the Sun and the Earth. A being on planet Jupiter would have no such understanding; or, the relationship between the Sun and Jupiter would define time differently. That is, time is malleable in those circumstances. But time is not malleable in the sense that we have no control over it, regardless of where we are.

Time is infinite. Time is not infinite. If we define time in a way that does not depend on the relationship between astronomical bodies or, in fact, any other relationships, then time can be said to be infinite. Time simply is, though how we define time in such a way is a little beyond me. But if time depends on those relationships, time will exist only as long as those relationships exist. Once the sun’s fuel is exhausted, time goes with it, at least as far as planet Earth is concerned.

A few years ago, I wrote that “time manifests itself physically in the changes that take place in entities subject to its passage.” I went on to suggest that we know time exists not because we can observe it but because we can observe its effects. I compared time to black holes; astronomers impute their existence not by seeing them, but by observing their influence on objects around them.  Later (or it may have been earlier…I’m too lazy to look), I wrote about time crystals, a newly-discovered form of matter that apparently exhibited a special form of perpetual motion.

It occurred to me just a while ago that I don’t recall ever having read the definition of time, so I looked it up in Merriam-Webster. Although there are many, many definitions assigned to the word, the two components of the first entry are closest to what I was looking for:

1: the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues : DURATION
2: a nonspatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another from past through present to future

Neither element of the definition satisfies me. The first one suggests measurement of…time. So, hidden inside the definition of the word is the concept I’m trying to define. The second one again relies on relationships that incorporate the concept of time: past, present, future. And it, too, indicates measurement which depends on what? Time.

I’ve reached the conclusion that time is an artificial construct designed to give sentient beings a way to bring a sense of order to an existence characterized by chaos. But, again, that sense of order relies on the concept of what happens first, what happens next, etc. And that implies before and after, concepts rooted in the understanding of time.

I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated with the concept of time. I’ve written about it often; probably a dozen or more posts devoted to the topic or, more likely devoted to something else but hijacked midstream by the unrelated concept of time.

Years ago, I was absolutely enchanted by science fiction books. But that interest has waned over the years. I feel it coming back, though. Not reading science fiction, but writing it. As I periodically delve into the concept of time, I find myself manufacturing ideas that would fit nowhere but else but science fiction. But, then, the concept of time crystals is not fiction but is a real idea from theoretical physics. Even before I came across time crystals, I had written an absurd fantasy piece about the physical attributes of time. Lately, as I contemplate time and its physical attributes 😉 I sense that I may want to climb inside a magical machine that will allow me to travel to the far side of time, giving me a good close-up look at the inner-workings of the enormous celestial clock that measures our days. It’s a time fixation, I guess, superimposed over a science fiction fantasy. Maybe involving a time-traveling linguist and his theoretical physicist girlfriend. Now, my question is this: is she theoretically a physicist girlfriend or a girlfriend who’s a theoretical physicist?

It’s time I stop writing before I make myself inconsolably sad.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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