The REAL Reason Time Does Not Exist | Unveiled
VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
WRITTEN BY: Dylan Musselman
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In this video, Unveiled takes a closer look at one of the most mind-bending scientific theories ever - that TIME DOESN'T EXIST! It might sound like something that's too strange to actually be true... but there are many scientists that insist that it's real. Time really IS an illusion... and here's why!
The REAL Reason Time Doesn’t Exist
It’s often held that in science, we search for answers. For solid evidence only, to explain why things happen. As contradictory as it may seem, however, scientists also have their own murky structures and unidentifiable philosophies. And one thing that seems obvious in science but still might not be real… is time.
So, this is Unveiled and today we’re taking a closer look at the real reason that time doesn’t exist.
Even after centuries, the idea of time is still widely debated. Many different aspects of it are studied, but there isn’t yet a definite answer as to what may be the most important question of all: does time actually exist? Isaac Newton saw time as working independently of everything else, as though the universe within itself contained a universal clock as backdrop. But that somewhat vague idea was thrown into doubt when Albert Einstein showed that time and space are actually tied together… in spacetime. More than that, Einstein proved that time works differently according to the observer. In other words, it's all a matter of perspective. Einstein famously wrote, “the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”... and, even today, many scientists retain this assessment.
Yet this question of whether time exists isn’t only made tricky by the concept of time itself… but also by our definition of existence, as well. For example, take any common object or thing that you see everyday, such as cars, hats, chairs, or houses. Do these things actually exist? It might seem obvious that they do, since we see them all the time… but one argument against this is that they (themselves) aren’t included in any theories in science. No laws describe how a house or chair functions specifically. And when we zoom in on any of these objects to the very smallest level, we see that they’re actually just bunches of atoms grouped together. The atoms exist… and because they exist in such a way, we have objects. But the objects themselves are more a result of reality rather than a reason for it. But, still, most people, scientists included, know that objects like hats are real precisely because they can be explained away by the properties of the universe. Researchers know how atoms can stick together to form a car. They can explain, on a fundamental level, how a car comes about from random particles. They can explain why it is like it is. But this is the real problem with time… no one can explain how it exists in the first place.
Time isn’t something that emerges from any known law, equation, or theory. It’s not the result or reason for anything, it just (seemingly) is. Most everything else in the world can be explained by actual events or things we see in our reality. Take mass… for a while, physicists had wondered how mass could actually exist in the real world. During the Big Bang, most agreed that particles were massless… so, how could something (anything) with zero mass acquire it in the first place? The answer to this was theorized back in 1964 by one Peter Higgs and his colleagues; who devised the Higgs Boson particle. In short, via the Higgs mechanism involving the boson and something called a Higgs field, massless particles could interact… and gain mass. And this was later confirmed in a breakthrough experiment, although not until the year 2012 at the Large Hadron Collider. So, now, the mystery of mass is solved. Scientists know that mass is something that does actually exist because it has an equivalent particle in the real world to explain how it emerges from nothing. The thing is, there’s no Higgs Boson equivalent for time. There is no “time particle”.
Still, at least we’re not completely clueless. What’s sometimes called the arrow of time, or the fact that time only seems to move forward, is explainable. The theory of entropy is key, showing how all matter marches in one direction, away from order and toward chaos. Broadly speaking, this is why things are able to change at all, and why existence isn’t just a static, stagnant snapshot of essential nothingness. But, while that’s all well and good, there’s still nothing that researchers can see (or find) to satisfactorily explain how time is able to exist, period. Where does it come from? Ultimately, there isn’t really any evidence that points to it existing, despite it just seeming like an obvious function of the world. And that’s why many physicists seriously question whether time may not even be a real phenomenon. There is no real world equivalent that verifies it. So, if it can just “be there”... then it can also not “be there”, just as easily.
But, finally, might the nature of time also be tied up with the search for that other, all-encompassing dream of modern science; a theory of everything. Most of the forces of the universe can be tied together into a would-be theory, already. These forces include the weak and strong nuclear force and electromagnetism, but time itself never really features. Of course, gravity is famously the other force absent from all TOE proposals so far, but scientists know they need it in order for a true theory of everything to work. To craft such a thing, two other major theories have to be connected - general relativity and quantum mechanics. The worlds of the big and very small. What researchers are looking for, then, is a theory of quantum gravity.
Foremost among the proposals so far is the Loop Quantum Gravity Theory, which holds that our universe is actually formed out of tiny loops of spacetime. Something strange about loop quantum gravity, though, is that time itself doesn’t really feature. And, in fact, this is increasingly not that unusual. It’s often the case that “theory of everything” candidates don’t make any mention of time as a factor. Of course, it’s still possible that time does exist, it’s just that ideas on quantum gravity and all other physics don’t yet allow for it… and therefore those ideas will, again, never produce a theory of everything. But, on the other side of the coin, and with the entire world’s scientific knowledge (and history of) behind us… could it more simply be that time really isn’t there. The theoretical physicist, Carlo Rovelli, has written a book discussing the possibility, called “The Order of Time”. Within it he further argues that time is a creation, that it isn’t “fundamental”, and that the “arrow of time” is really only entropy doing its thing.
What’s your verdict on this mind-bending possibility? Have you really been watching this video for a few minutes now? Has time actually passed since that time in your past when you first pressed play? Or is all of that just a made up construct? An illusion to fool us all?
Time is certainly hard for us to see as real because, despite it being something that’s measurable, it could also be something that’s just a product of our brains. Einstein’s theory of relativity does dwell a lot on time. For one, it paints a picture of the universe known as a block universe, sometimes referred to as eternalism, which is a four dimensional structure where time basically acts like space does. It’s everywhere all at once, and there’s no separation.
The theoretical physicist Max Tegmark has previously said that if the universe really is how Einstein describes it, if it really does function in that way, then it’s also change that’s nothing more than an illusion… because concepts like the past, present, and future have no distinguishing features. They all exist at the exact same time, rather than at separate times. And following this, some theorize that causation might be the more crucial aspect of the universe, and not time as we tend to understand it. That the passing of “events” is what best explains how reality functions. As humans are unable to perceive all aspects of such a universe at once, we perhaps build the idea of time to try and make some kind of sense of it. The idea then is that if we could view the universe as it really is… time really wouldn’t be a part of it.
If your head’s spinning, then you’re not alone. The question of time remains unanswered even at the top tables of scientific thought. But with no “particles” of time to fall back on, with nothing else in our physical reality to confirm how it emerged, and with the knowledge that time (if it is there) is malleable (and not constant) depending on other factors like speed and gravity… the idea that it could all be an illusion (or a creation) is continually gathering pace. And that’s the real reason that time doesn’t exist.