Most people live their lives in a race against time, but how real are those seconds on the clock?

The ticking clock never stops. The minutes and seconds drift away constantly and there’s not a thing anyone can do about. Time is a quantifiable measurement that dictates every event in our lives. In today’s modern society, it’s often said that there’s not enough time to get things done or there’s too much time to wait in between certain anticipated events.

But is time real or is it completely made up so that humans can measure the length of their lives a little more easily? We’ll examine a number of theories of time to see if we can determine whether it is, in fact, physically real or if it is simply a construct of the human mind.

What is time?

Time is generally deduced to the measurable sequence of events that occur over the course of one’s life, or in the world overall. These measurements are irreversible and linear, thus making time appear as though it happens in a straight line.

The past, present, and future all measure different moments in time that make up the “conscious experience.” In some scientific communities, time is referred to as the fourth dimension in reality that is our existence.

Man Sitting Down Looking at Watch
Shamim Nakhaei / Unsplash

Is it physically measurable?

According to Einstien’s theory of relativity, time is indeed a part of the physical world. There are two theories of relativity. The special theory of relativity is the correlation between the entire known universe and the phenomena that occur when there is no gravity. The theory of general relativity is the way the universe and its gravitation reacts to the curvature of space and time.

Einstein argued that time was a part of space-time, thus it was a part of the overall physical make-up of the universe. His theory even goes so far as to say that time can actually be warped by other masses–making it a very physical thing.

According to some other physicists though, including a philosophy professor at Cambridge University, time is nothing more than a part of our mental state. What this means is that all points of time, whether it be the past, present, or future, exist simultaneously because they are all part of a block universe.

What is the block universe?

The block universe also stems from Einstien’s theory of relativity. In terms of the general theory, the block universe is described as a block made up of three spatial dimensions and the fourth dimension. This four-dimensional universe theory makes up the block universe and is recognized as the universe, everything it houses, and the space-time in between.

The theory of this block-universe cannot be tested but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

The theory of block universes can’t be tested, but there are reasons for this. Some theorize that it can’t be tested because the human race is not able to recognize a dimension far enough outside the block universe to step out onto. As a result, it is impossible to obtain a full picture of the four dimensions that make up our world.

The cultural differences between time events

It is interesting to note that the way different societies react to time, and the changes that are perceived with new information, vary significantly. These two different systems are called monochronic and polychronic.

Individuals who live in Europe and the United States follow the monochronic system more strictly. This system is more “fixed and unchanging” than its cultural time-keeping counterparts. In polychronic-timed societies, such as Asia and Latin America, things move a lot slower and aren’t as fixed. The reason for the difference in the perception of time appears to be a result of how people who live there perceive the changes in their realities.

Not all time is felt the same

In terms of the way humans feel time, there are some serious discrepancies. When someone is impatiently awaiting an event such as the concert of their favorite artist, days and hours might seem to drag on slowly.  On the other hand, that same concert lasting two hours could feel like mere minutes when one is enjoying themself and in the present moment. Why is that? It could be down to one simple factor: how much attention we’re paying to that clock on the wall.

When someone is focused on other activities with a particular goal in mind, they don’t suffer the same perception of the minutes lagging because they’re not watching the clock as closely.

How does this work? When someone is checking their watch constantly, their knowledge of what time it is creates the illusion that time is going slower, but when one is focused on other activities with a particular goal in mind, they don’t suffer the same perception of the minutes lagging because they’re not concerned with it at all.

Time and memory

The perception of time is often accompanied by the number of memories a person makes. When we make new memories, the brain has more new information to process. This causes time to feel slower than it did when we were creating those memories.

For example, when you’re a child, you’re learning so many new things constantly. This makes time feel as though it’s much longer because when the brain actually takes a break to process what’s happening, the time spent processing those memories seems longer than the time spent making them.

The brain stores memories to help us process events that have happened and that memory storage could also have a lot of pull on whether or not time is a construct. The past, for example, would not exist at all without the lengthy storage of previous experiences. It’s also been argued that time is nothing more than an “external parameter,” designed to help with the study of motion. Time then disappears completely when it’s not being paid any attention.

Do other living beings feel time?

It has been argued that time is a construct, and the perception of time depends heavily on a society’s reality and way of life. According to one study done in Animal Behavior, it depends entirely on the type of animal. Different animals feel time in different ways, and because of different factors.

To prove this point, the study looked at how the animal’s nervous system reacted to flashing lights. During the study, it was found that the perception of time in animals depends entirely on their ability to take in sensory information from their environment. Thus, animals can perceive time, but not in the same way that humans do. Some animals see time sped up, while others see it slowed down.

Changes have a big impact

The way things change is also an indicator of how people will feel time in their personal lives. It is easy to see how this might work if you imagine a life where no changes occur. The sun stays in the same place, nothing moves, and no work happens. In this case, if you stood still in one place looking at the same wall for your whole life, you would have absolutely no perception of time at all.

 Some experts believe that time only passes because the differences that continuously occur tells the brain it has. .

Because change is so relative and differs so greatly from person to person, their perception of time is also different from those around them. As a result, some believe that that time only passes because the differences in a person’s life continuously occur tells the brain that time has passed.

The ‘time’ debate rages on

Isaac Newton maintained that time would pass regardless of whether or not the brain percieved it. He said that “absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external.” If Newton is correct, that means that even if everything in the universe were to be stripped away to nothing, the clock would tick on, so to speak.

New studies and theories on whether or not time is a construct have been making the rounds in recent years, however. In light of them, physicists remain as divided as ever when it comes to whether or not time is real, or whether we’ve made it up to process the events that occur in our lives.

One thing is clear, however. Time is one of the biggest mysteries of the universe. Due to the fact that time is perceived differently depending on the person, it could very well be a personalized construct designed to shape one’s own reality.

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