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Time And Existence

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Greg M
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If time is existence, measured by means of a clock, which was chosen for its immutability and validated by reference to causality. This means that. Existence is what we measure by time. Measurement is the human process by which we identify time. A clock is the physical instrument of time measurement. The clock's immutability is a logical pre-condition of time measurement. Its immutability is validated by the principle of causality.

So, can time change? Based on the above definition it cannot. On the above principles, we can validly imagine sequences of standard clocks in different places, issuing their uniform ticks from everlasting unto everlasting. The ticks are all equal, every duration is measured by them, every event falls between some two of them. Time is universal, unique, and eternally uniform. We know it is because that's the way we made it. We had to make it that way in order to apply arithmetic; in order for our time units to possess identity.

So why is it that when a atomic clock is flown around that world at high speeds it runs slower than a stationary clock?

Something is slowing those clocks. What can it be???

Edited by Greg M
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Something is slowing those clocks. What can it be???
Nothing is 'slowing' it - the clock isnt running slower as such (there isnt anything physically dragging the hands back, and there will still be the same length of time between the ticks if you watch them). Its just that once you bring it back to earth, it will be measuring less time than a clock which hadnt flown around the world.

The universe is weird. This probably doesnt help though.

Time is universal, unique, and eternally uniform.
This is the part that isnt true. The clock experiment (amongst other things) disproves this classical conception of time. Edited by Hal
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Nothing is 'slowing' it - the clock isnt running slower as such (there isnt anything physically dragging the hands back, and there will still be the same length of time between the ticks if you watch them). Its just that once you bring it back to earth, it will be measuring less time than a clock which hadnt flown around the world.

The universe is weird. This probably doesnt help though.

This is the part that isnt true. The clock experiment (amongst other things) disproves this classical conception of time.

Something has to be slowing them. Things don't change without a cause.

Also wouldn’t any concept of time that isn’t universal, unique, and eternally uniform violate the Law of Identity?

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Something has to be slowing them. Things don't change without a cause.
Its not being slowed, and it isnt changing. There is no physical difference/change in the clock at any point in the experiment - if you interpret time dilation as saying that 'clocks run slower' in the sense that the hands are moving slower like they would if the batteries were running down, you miss the point. It would be more accurate to say that less time is passing in the reference frame of the clock thats orbitting the earth, but even this is slightly misleading.

Time dilation isnt a statement about clocks, its a statement about time.

edit:

To put it another way - imagine that you were in the capsule that was accelerating fast away from earth, then returning. Things would not be 'running slower' for you in any noticable sense - its not like objects would start moving in slow motion, or that yoour speeeech wooouuld slooooooooow doowwwn or anything like that. Everything would be perfectly normal at all times. Yet when you returned to earth, you could have (eg) aged 20 years less than the people who remained on the planet.

Also wouldn’t any concept of time that isn’t universal, unique, and eternally uniform violate the Law of Identity?

Why would it?

The universe is extremely strange and a lot of results are counter-intuitive, but strangeness doesnt necessarily involve a violation of identity.

Edited by Hal
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Its not being slowed, and it isnt changing. There is no physical difference/change in the clock at any point in the experiment - if you interpret time dilation as saying that 'clocks run slower' in the sense that the hands are moving slower like they would if the batteries were running down, you miss the point. It would be more accurate to say that less time is passing in the reference frame of the clock thats orbitting the earth, but even this is slightly misleading.

Time dilation isnt a statement about clocks, its a statement about time.

Why would it?

Ok if there is no physical change in the clocks then why does one clock come back to earth running behind another clock? I thought the whole point to the experiment is that the clocks do change?

It would violate the law of idenity because to count is to count something. No time standard exists in nature; a standard arises from a human choice. If the units chooses arent equal all knowledge of quantity is lost and arbitrary. To identify quantity, we require equal units.

The time standard must be immutable if you are to deal with time arithmetically; i.e., if you are to measure time. Why?

If different units of time are not equal, then no arithmetic operations on them are valid. To so much as add or subtract times, you must know that the units are equal. If the units are not equal, the arithmetic results are meaningless: 5 seconds plus 2 hours equals 7 what?

In fact, 1 plus 1 does not equal 2 unless both units are the same. If the units are not the same, arithmetic is useless.

To count is to count something. Every sum is a sum of something. A sum identifies only what is common to all the things counted. You must identify a unit which is common to the whole collection of things you wish to count in order to identify your sum. Counting, and therefore number and arithmetic in general, rest on the law of identity.

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Ok if there is no physical change in the clocks then why does one clock come back to earth running behind another clock? I thought the whole point to the experiment is that the clocks do change?
They change in the sense that less time has elapsed on one than the other. But this is a relative change. From the point of view of either one of the clocks, nothing has happened. No matter which clock you follow, its not going to suddenly speed up or slow down. They will both continue to tick at the same rate, and yet they will measure different amounts of time. Clock A isnt running slower in an absolute (non-relative) sense, but when you bring the clocks back together, it will show less time having elapsed than clock B. See my edit to the above post about what would happen if you went into orbit along with one of the clocks.

edit: This 'explanation' isnt meant to intuitive sense or anything - its not that theres something obvious here that you arent getting. Its that the results of special relativity are extremely extremely weird (far more so than quantum mechanics imo). But, they also seems to be true.

The time standard must be immutable if you are to deal with time arithmetically; i.e., if you are to measure time.
No, it mustnt. We deal with time quantitatively when doing special/general relativity, and can make extremely accurate predictions about what should happen to clocks in various experiments. None of this presupposes an immutable standard of time - in fact it denies that there is one.

edit: the idea of time being immutable encounters further difficulties when you consider that even the time ordering of 2 events can differ depending on the reference frame. If you snap your fingers on both hands at the same time, it will be possible to define a reference frame from which one hand will be seen to snap before the second, and another reference frame where the second will snap before the first. And its not that either of these reference frames are 'wrong' or that your fingers are 'really' snapping simultaneously, its that simultaneity itself, just like time duration, is entirely relative to where youre standing.

If different units of time are not equal, then no arithmetic operations on them are valid. To so much as add or subtract times, you must know that the units are equal. If the units are not equal, the arithmetic results are meaningless: 5 seconds plus 2 hours equals 7 what?
Its equal as long as youre in the same reference frame. 5 seconds plus 2 hours = 2 hours and 5 seconds in reference frame A, but to someone orbitting earth at a very high speed, only 10 minutes may have passed during this time (and again, this does not mean that things have slowed down for him in any way he could notice). Edited by Hal
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They change in the sense that less time has elapsed on one than the other. But this is a relative change. From the point of view of either one of the clocks, nothing has happened. No matter which clock you follow, its not going to suddenly speed up or slow down. They will both continue to tick at the same rate, and yet they will measure different amounts of time. Clock A isnt running slower in an absolute (non-relative) sense, but when you bring the clocks back together, it will show less time having elapsed than clock B. See my edit to the above post about what would happen if you went into orbit along with one of the clocks.

edit: This 'explanation' isnt meant to intuitive sense or anything - its not that theres something obvious here that you arent getting. Its that the results of special relativity are extremely extremely weird (far more so than quantum mechanics imo). But, they also seems to be true.

No, it mustnt. We deal with time quantitatively when doing special/general relativity, and can make extremely accurate predictions about what should happen to clocks in various experiments. None of this presupposes an immutable standard of time - in fact it denies that there is one.

edit: the idea of time being immutable encounters further difficulties when you consider that even the time ordering of 2 events can differ depending on the reference frame. If you snap your fingers on both hands at the same time, it will be possible to define a reference frame from which one hand will be seen to snap before the second, and another reference frame where the second will snap before the first. And its not that either of these reference frames are 'wrong' or that your fingers are 'really' snapping simultaneously, its that simultaneity itself, just like time duration, is entirely relative to where youre standing.

Its equal as long as youre in the same reference frame. 5 seconds plus 2 hours = 2 hours and 5 seconds in reference frame A, but to someone orbitting earth at a very high speed, only 10 minutes may have passed during this time (and again, this does not mean that things have slowed down for him in any way he could notice).

I don't buy it. I think the philosophy of objectivism validates absolute time. Time is universal, unique, and eternally uniform. We know it is because that's the way we made it. We had to make it that way in order to apply arithmetic; in order for our time units to possess identity. If we made it non-universal, non-unique or non-uniform, we would be fudging our units, and so would be unable to retain in our theories all the facts implicit in our perceptions.

Absolute time's anchor to reality is the law of causality, a corollary of the law of identity, the basic law of logic. As such, it is immune to experimental refutation.

I don't think the experiment results of the experiment with the clocks validates Einstein's notion of "time dilation". The experiments actually confirm a very different proposition, to wit that some moving clocks run slow! Those clocks really run slower. All one has to do is count the ticks.

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I think this discussion is rather pointless if you’re not familiar with the theory of relativity. If you’re that interested in relational frames of reference, you should probably read a book on relativity, as an online forum is not the place to learn it. I’m not qualified to recommend one, but Wikipedia might be.

I don’t think you understand what time is. To quote myself: "Time is just the relative degree of change between two sets of entities. (The entities used as the unit of measurement, and the entities being measured.)"

Your confusion about the nature of time is a separate topic from your ignorance of the theory of relativity, so you should probably restrict the discussion to a single issue.

And again, it’s unreasonable to ask for an explanation of relativity on an Objectivism forum. You should research this yourself.

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I agree with GreedyCapitalist, and I would recommend this as an excellent introduction to relativity (both special and general). It's an audio lecture course, and doesnt presuppose any math background.

But as for the claim about 'moving clocks running slower'. Bear in mind that both clocks are moving relative to one another. Its not that one is staying still while the other moves, because there is no absolute frame of rest (the Earth moves through space at X thousand miles per hour remember - you arent stationary in any absolute sense while you are sitting on your bed). In clock A's frame of reference, clock A is staying still and B is moving. But in B's frame of reference, B stays still and A moves. So if moving clocks ran slow, both clocks would end up running slow and theyd tell the same time (this is the idea behind the twin paradox). What actually happens though is slightly more complicated, and involves acceleration (which isnt reference frame dependent).

Edited by Hal
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I think the philosophy of objectivism validates absolute time. Time is universal, unique, and eternally uniform. We know it is because that's the way we made it. We had to make it that way in order to apply arithmetic; in order for our time units to possess identity. If we made it non-universal, non-unique or non-uniform, we would be fudging our units, and so would be unable to retain in our theories all the facts implicit in our perceptions.
We made time with reference to events that at first glance seem to have fixed value, just as we did with other measures such as the "foot" -- month, day and year are the obvious units. But that belief was mistaken: those units are not perceptually self-evident (for example, I invite you to determine what what the winter solstice falls on without using instruments or just looking it up on the calendar). I regret to say that your argument -- that the nature of reality must conform to the cognitive requirements of man -- is a classic primacy of consciousness argument. An argument for absolute time would have to be based on facts of reality, not consequences for cognition. You haven't given any perceptually-validated evidence that absolute time is necessitated by the concept of causality; so I don't see any reason to believe that time has to be absolute.
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There was another thread somewhere that had a point beautifully put. It went something like Time is a part of existence, existence is not a part of time. We created the concept of time as a unit of measurement. When we created it we did not perceive that time moved relative to every object instead of every object moving relative to time.

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I think this discussion is rather pointless if you’re not familiar with the theory of relativity. If you’re that interested in relational frames of reference, you should probably read a book on relativity, as an online forum is not the place to learn it. I’m not qualified to recommend one, but Wikipedia might be.

I don’t think you understand what time is. To quote myself: "Time is just the relative degree of change between two sets of entities. (The entities used as the unit of measurement, and the entities being measured.)"

Your confusion about the nature of time is a separate topic from your ignorance of the theory of relativity, so you should probably restrict the discussion to a single issue.

And again, it’s unreasonable to ask for an explanation of relativity on an Objectivism forum. You should research this yourself.

I have no confusion about the nature of time and I never asked for an explanation of relativity. I hold that relativity isnt the answer to the evidence provided by the clock experiment.

If as you say, "Time is just the relative degree of change between two sets of entities." Then time measures the quantities, qualities relations - and so on through every category -of those entities. In short, time is a measure of existence.

Time is a measure of existence, and measurement is a process carried out by human beings. Measurement is a kind of comparison of two existents.

But we only arrive at the concept of time by selecting one particular (kind of) existent, and using it to measure all the rest. When such an existent is selected, it becomes the time standard.

The standard is what gives time its uniqueness and universality: without a standard, we would have many "times," many different mutual relations between the durations of individual things. When we have a standard, we have one time which measures them all. Any other version of time devoides it of meaning.

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We made time with reference to events that at first glance seem to have fixed value, just as we did with other measures such as the "foot" -- month, day and year are the obvious units. But that belief was mistaken: those units are not perceptually self-evident (for example, I invite you to determine what what the winter solstice falls on without using instruments or just looking it up on the calendar). I regret to say that your argument -- that the nature of reality must conform to the cognitive requirements of man -- is a classic primacy of consciousness argument. An argument for absolute time would have to be based on facts of reality, not consequences for cognition. You haven't given any perceptually-validated evidence that absolute time is necessitated by the concept of causality; so I don't see any reason to believe that time has to be absolute.

We perceive a world of entities which come to be, move and change, and cease to be. These entities, changes and movements all exist, yet some exist, or last, or endure, more or less than others. Our identification of this more or less of existence - the "how long" of existence - is time.

Every existent whatever can be measured by time. For example, time measures entities: that man has existed for 50 years. And so, time measures the quantities, qualities relations - and so on through every category - of those entities. So, time is a measure of existence.

This is based on induction. I invite you to review all of existence, trying to find a single existent which you cannot measure by time. You will fail to find one. (Edit: Except of course existence as a whole.)

Commonsensically, by reference to the watch on your wrist you can measure the existence of anything within the range of your senses whether it moves or just sits there, e.g., that house across the street has been there for the last 5 minutes. Even a pre-school child knows that the answer to, "How long did that thing exist?," is always a number of time units.

In fact, if you wished to specify the aspect of a motion which is most fundamentally measured by time, you would have to say that time measures how long that motion exists.

This is compatible with Ayn Rand's remarks in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Ch. 6. "The measurements omitted from axiomatic concepts are all the measurements of all the existents they subsume; what is retained, metaphysically, is only a fundamental fact; what is retained, epistemologically, is only one category of measurement, omitting its particulars: time— i.e., the fundamental fact is retained independent of any particular moment of awareness."

Edited by Greg M
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You are not understanding the concept of time because time is a relationship between entities that exist within the universe, but the concept of time can NOT apply to the universe as such, because the universe is eternal and time does not apply to it, therefore no "universal, absolute" time can exist in reality.

Edited by EC
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You are not understanding the concept of time because time is a relationship between entities that exist within the universe, but the concept of time can NOT apply to the universe as such, because the universe is eternal and time does not apply to it, therefore no "universal, absolute" time can exist in reality.

I realize that time does not apply to existence as a whole because time is within existence. But in order for time as a concept to have identity doesn’t it have to be consistent? Isn’t an inch an inch everywhere? How is time different than any other sort of measurement?

What do you mean to "measure something by time"?

Exactly that.

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Exactly that.
Well, let me put this more bluntly: "measure something by time" has no objectively defined meaning. Only man can measure. Time cannot measure anything, because time is not conscious. Man measures specific things in terms of units -- and not all units are appropriate as measures of all things. Physical objects such as roses, cars and rocks can be measured in terms of "color", but it is meaningless to measure the color of an idea. It is also meaningless to measure the weight or length of an idea. Time is a relationship between events.
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Well, let me put this more bluntly: "measure something by time" has no objectively defined meaning. Only man can measure. Time cannot measure anything, because time is not conscious. Man measures specific things in terms of units -- and not all units are appropriate as measures of all things. Physical objects such as roses, cars and rocks can be measured in terms of "color", but it is meaningless to measure the color of an idea. It is also meaningless to measure the weight or length of an idea. Time is a relationship between events.

Well that's my point. Time has to be consistent because we made it that way. In order for time as a concept to have identity it has to be consistent. An inch an inch everywhere. An inch only has meaning because we are specific. How is time different than any other sort of measurement?

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Well that's my point. Time has to be consistent because we made it that way. In order for time as a concept to have identity it has to be consistent.
Okay, so you're saying that the standard of measuring time has to be consistent to be of any use. The classical "foot" was a lousy measurement because people had different sized feet and a proportion of the distance from the equator to the pole would be a better measurement since the shape of the earth doesn't change as much, and something in terms of light traveling in a vacuum is even better.

What I think you mean, then, is that time has to be consistent in the context of a particular method of measurement. For instance, a second used to be 1/86,400 of a mean solar day, but now it is 9,192,631,770 periods of radiation in cesium-133. The notion of "slowing down" then refers to "a decrease in the number of times X happens relative to the number of cesium-133 radiation periods", but obviously there is no slowing down in the atomic clocks aboard those speeding rockets (that would be a contradiction). Then the puzzle you raised comes down to the question of what fact of reality underlies the hyperfine structure transition frequency, and why that has something to do with frames in motion. I'll go with "the universe is wierd", though a physics guy can probably give a real answer.

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All our measurements are absolutely consistent...within a given frame of reference.

This is to say a measurement must be defined to include the motion of the measurer relative to the rest of the universe. There is no meaning to just a raw measurement. Meaning only accrues to a measurement made within a specified frame of reference (that is a specified motion of the measurer).

The complaint here is that the results very *between* two distinct frames of reference. If two people make the perform the same measurement process within the same frame of reference they will get the same result. If two people perform the same measurement process within different frames of reference they will likely get different results.

Why do results very between frames of reference? -> the universe is weird.

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Are you all joking about the universe is weird thing? The universe simply is what it is and I seriously don't see anyting "weird" about it.

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The universe simply is what it is and I seriously don't see anyting "weird" about it.
Weird is conceptual. And it's a fact that there is a lot of stuff about the universe that I don't understand which are even downright unintuitive. Notice that everything is what it is, so if werid meant something like "is what it isn't", then there would be no word "weird".
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Are you all joking about the universe is weird thing? The universe simply is what it is and I seriously don't see anyting "weird" about it.

"Weird" typically means little more than "counterintuitive". Our intuitions are based on our everyday experiences. The problem is that the intuitions based on these experiences don't really generalize much beyond the realm our everyday experiences occur in.

Besides...as a word "weird" is a zillion times more fun than "counterintuitive".

Edited by punk
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  • 1 month later...

All measurements are relative to a unit. The unit is defined for a purpose. If your planting crops you only need to know what month it is. If you have an appointment you need to know what hour it is. If you are

performing an experiment in a labratory you might need a laser frequency. The point is they are all

sufficient for the purpose. The choice depends on the expected duration of the activity. The closest consistent

periodic process we are aware of at present, is light transmission. Because light is fundamental to perception

of the world and energy exchange at the atomic level, it would seem to be a good choice as a reference for

measuring time, thus its involvement in relativity theory. As already mentioned, our common experiences

don't involve the extremely small ,or large, or fast. In our own ignorance of how the world really works,

we use trial and error methods until we gain some understanding. The tendency is to assign the common

properties of everyday experience by extrapolation to the unknown areas. As for the world being weird,

the world works the way it is supposed to work, it may be the properties that we assign to things that are

weird. As for the clocks, experiment proves they run slower. This is the result of comparing the motion of

the clock to the motion of a light photon.

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First off forgive my ignorance but there is something I don't understand about the validity of the clock experiment. It would seem, as far as I can perceive that there is a passage of time here on earth and that it affects all things in much the same way. I have never witnessed (or been able to witness) a slowing or speeding-up of time. Time would in this case seem like a universal and it makes sense to expect that it holds everywhere. Now enter the theoretical physicists. They use complex equations as opposed to empirical evidence to tell us all sorts of crazy things about our world that we do not perceive. So what about the most compelling piece of evidence the atomic clock? It is my understanding that the atomic clock works on the principle of molecular vibrations of atoms. If this is true, then the atomic clock experiment really proves nothing about time. The experiment demonstrates that at high speeds atoms vibrate slower but this does not necessarily translate into "time is passing slower."

If my characterization of the atomic clock is correct then where is the empirical evidence I have for believing that time can pass slower if you're going really really fast. On the one hand I have my own understand of the world based upon observation. The notion that time could affect me differently than everyone else is something I have never observed (and I don't think anyone else has observed.) On the other hand I have an assertion based upon nothing more than ridiculously complex mathematical equations that I would have to spend years learning about before I even understand (let alone use).

If I'm mischaracterizing something here let me know. It seems as though a better definition of time might be needed.

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