Time is simultaneously one of the most illusive and familiar concepts out there. Familiar because we experience time in every instance of our waking life, illusive because it precludes every notion of common sense that we have ever had.

Time ticks at the same rate no matter where you are. Time can only move in the forward direction. Time moves at the same speed for you when you are moving, as it does for people who are stationary. These are all common beliefs about time in which science, specifically Einstein’s theory of relativity, have proven to be untrue.

Einstein started to think of time in terms of its roots of existence, as opposed to being a human made mechanism which ticks away from a clock. His discoveries explained to us that time is much more than our common experience tells us.

1) The Concept of “NOW” is Simply a Holographic Illusion.

One of Einstein’s key insights is that we experience time relative to light. When we look up at the sun, we are not technically seeing the sun as it is “now”. We are seeing light that was emitted from the sun over 8 minutes ago.

We perceive things as happening “now” only at the moment in which light has reflected off a certain object and reached our eyes. But there is no universal “state of now”. It all depends on where you are experiencing an event from.

sun from earthWhen we observe the stars, we are seeing light from some stars which do not exist anymore. We are observing light which has been traveling for millions of years, but since the light is arriving at our eyes at this instance, we perceive the star as existing in the now. It is possible that if you could instantaneously see the origin of the light, that there would be nothing there.

Imagine if we were in a different location, one which is another 100 light years away from Earth and the given star. We would not experience that star as existing until another 100 years have passed and the light has finally reached us. This implies that our universe acts like a giant hologram, and that is why Einstein and other physicists believe that the concepts of past, present and future are illusory.

2) The Faster you Travel, the Slower that Time Passes.

This is not to say that the faster you are travelling, the slower that you perceive time passing. This means that time itself actually passes slower, including the physical seconds that tick on a clock.

This is a cesium atomic clock located in Boulder, CO.
This is a cesium atomic clock located in Boulder, CO.

How do we know this happens? In 1971, an atomic clock was flown on a jet and compared to a similar clock which stayed on the ground. An atomic clock is the most accurate clock invented by humans to date. This clock operates on the natural frequency of a cesium atom, an atom which oscillates, or “ticks” at over 9 billion cycles per second. This allows us to measure and compare extremely small intervals of time.

The results of this experiment were exactly what Einstein’s theory had predicted. The clock on the jet and the clock on the ground no longer displayed the same time after the flight. The difference was small as it was only measurable in nanoseconds. The effect was measured in every trial of the experiment. Einstein’s theory stood up to the test.

3) As Time and Space Warps, so Does Our Perception of Physical Objects.

The faster an object is traveling, the smaller it appears to a body which is at rest, or traveling slower.

This diagram helps to visualize such an effect in action. V stands for velocity, or speed. and C stands for the speed of light. The speed of light is measured at 186,000 miles per second (mps). The diagram states V = 0.3C, which means that the blue sphere is traveling at 30 percent of the speed of light (55,800 mps).

Lorentz length contraction

Notice how there is a minor difference in contraction between 0 and 0.3C, while there is a huge difference between 0.6C and 0.9C. The speed of the ball has increased by the same amount, but the length of the ball has contracted significantly more from 0.6C to 0.9C. That is because the closer an object accelerates towards the speed of light, the more the size of the object will contract for each mile per hour gained.

Most of us have not traveled faster than a Boeing 747 jet, which reaches speeds of around 567 mph (0.1575 mps). The speed of light travels over 1,180,952 times faster than this. Because we travel so slow, we cannot notice this effect. But it does happen, and it is more proof that the way our universe works is not what our common perception tells us.

4) Time Travel is not Impossible, and we Have All Done it to Some Degree.

There are many people in the scientific world who regard time travel as “unscientific” or “impossible”, and it is neither. We travel in time everyday. Maybe not to other dimensions or other timelines, but Einstein’s theory lets us understand that the rate in which time passes changes with respect to our speed.

So whenever we displace ourselves, we slow the amount of time which passes in our frame of reference, as compared to our surroundings. This effect actually moves us into the future, as the video below will explain.

Also, Einstein’s and other physicist’s equations which comprise the Theory of Relativity work just as well moving forward in time as they do moving backward in time. These facts certainly lay a theoretical basis for making time travel research a worthwhile scientific endeavor.

In this video, Stephen Hawking explains how time travel into the future is possible, simply by traveling close to the speed of light.

5) Einstein’s Scientific Discoveries take us Closer to Ancient Wisdom.

It is common to see a dichotomous division between science and ancient philosophy, but Einstein’s theory actually helps to unite our understanding of time with some sacred principles of Buddhism.

Einstein was the first modern scientist to think of space and time as being intrinsically connected. He renamed the plane in which we exist as “4-dimensional space-time”. However, this is not a new idea.

An ancient concept of Buddhist philosophy is that of “being-time” (u-ji). “Being” represents our existence in the three spatial dimensions, while time represents the fourth dimension.

There was also a recognition of the illusory nature of time. The Buddhist concept of “zero time” explores how there is no distinction between past, present, and future. According to this philosophy, everything that we experience is just a series of present moments, meaning that one time exists within all times. This is very comparable to Einstein’s ideas that time is just an illusion, and that what is happening “now” is relative to where you experience an event from.

This leads us to more philosophical questions about our existence.

Since time was understood so deeply by Buddhist philosophy, what other forms of ancient wisdom can help us extend our understanding of the nature of reality?

With such a major discovery proving that our personal experience of time tells us nothing about its true nature, how else does our reality and our perception of common sense deceive us?

Learn more about time and how we perceive it by watching the documentary, “The Illusion of Time”, by Brian Greene and PBS Nova.

NOVA The Fabric of the Cosmos The illusion of Time

Sources:
Buddhist and Zen philosophy
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Relativity
Cover Image
Atomic Clock
Lorentz Contraction