- Zohreh Mohammadrezaee
Is time nothing but a human-made illusion? Our perception of time may be completely flawed.
Have you ever sensed that time felt weird in 2020 or that it speeds up as we get older?
We, human beings, are actually considered to have a naive perception of the flow of time. The way we think about time and its one-way direction flow, in fact, doesn’t correspond to physical reality. We believe that time is irreversible and the past can never be experienced again. We can feel its flow when the season changes, when the sun sets, and thereafter rises again, when we get older and when we are reminded of our memories. The past is a part of history. The present is the moment we live in. The future is the present that is yet to come, and will soon become a part of the past. However, the question that should be asked is whether these assumptions are actual realities of the physical world or created by the human mind. In fact, several studies show that our perception of time is unstable and prone to illusions.
Sometimes, we feel like years pass in a blink of an eye, or some memories from ten years ago seem very real to us that it makes it hard to believe that such a long period of time has actually passed. Other times, a minute can last forever while we are waiting for a light to turn green. In fact, Humans are likely to rely on their memory rather than their knowledge to recall the events occurring within their lifetime. However, one must consider that the memory distorts the perception of time, and affects the sense of when an event has actually taken place.
There is a theory, known as the “proportional theory”, which suggests that our perception of time is proportional to the length of our lifespan. This hypothesis states that as we age, our sense of present starts to feel relatively short in comparison to our entire lifespan.
It is also determined that how long a duration feels depends on how many events in it can be recalled. Therefore, when only a few special events happen in our personal life during a year, that year will relatively seem shorter to us compared to a year full of important events.
The Idea of Timeless Reality
According to the operational meaning, time is simply what a clock displays. Nevertheless, the scientific definition of time completely differs from what we have in mind. Physicist Victor J. Stenger, in the book “Timeless reality”, declares that, based on established principles of simplicity and symmetry, reality is literally timeless at its deepest level. Furthermore, he explains that time is actually reversible. In opposition to our basic sense of time, the fundamental reality of the phenomena occurring around us might be with no beginning, no end and no arrow of time.
In fact, the one-direction flow of time is not found in any of the laws of physics . All the basic physical phenomena are entirely or mostly time-symmetric and can occur in either direction of time. Therefore, if you watch a video of a physical process, you would not be able to tell if it is being played forwards or backwards, as both would be equally feasible. Specifically, when it comes to quantum phenomena and events on an atomic and subatomic level, no trace of time direction can be found.
Neuroscientist Abhijit Naskar, in his book “Love, God & Neurons”, argues that time is basically an illusion created by the mind to aid in our sense of temporal presence in the space. Furthermore, he mentions that there is no actual existence of the past and the future and all that there is, is the present. All we sense is the virtual perception of the past and the future which is created by our neurons, based on all our experiences.
Einstein’s Theory of relativity
Albert Einstein also showed that time is an illusion. According to his theory of relativity, not only there is no significance to the present moment but also all the other moments of life are equally real. Moreover, he suggests that simultaneity is relative. This argues that spatially separated events occurring at the same time is not an absolute fact. Distant simultaneity, in fact, depends on the observer’s reference frame.
Gravity and speed are two key factors of the observer’s reference frame in the concept of Relativity of simultaneity. As claimed by Einstein, the faster one moves through space, the slower they move through time. Also, the closer one is to a gravitational field of an object, such as the earth, the slower the time goes for them. For instance, time goes faster at the top of mount Everest due to lower gravity and higher rotational velocity compared to the sea level. If you were standing on the top of Mount Everest, it may feel as though the new year begins a few minutes earlier for you compared to people standing at the sea level.
All in all, although many things may seem real to us, they may be only the constructs of the human imagination and don’t correspond to the actual truth. Reality might completely differ from how we see and feel it. We might have been given wrong information all along our lives. So it’s good to doubt our knowledge once a while and ask yourselves questions. Why do we believe certain things? How do we feel a certain way about something? What is the science and logic behind the phenomena we are surrounded by? Even though definite answers might not be found for some questions, at least we will be one step closer to reality.