Critical Thinking About Time in Special Relativity and Physics in General – Part 6


       While this article is in the Special Relativity section of ScienceWoke, it addresses a fundamental issue with much of physics. However, since it’s related to my other articles here (Parts 1 to 5), and it addresses a key flaw in relativity’s “spacetime” model, I’ve placed it in this section.

Critical Thinking

       Critical thinking means giving serious analysis to what you were taught or what you have unconsciously accepted. So let’s apply some critical thinking to “the nature of time.”

       As an aside, note that if one engages in critical thinking, one is NOT guaranteed to come up with the right answer. However, if science does NOT engage in critical thinking, that would be a serious obstacle to further progress and deeper understanding. In fact, often even if one goes down a “wrong” path in critical thinking, it’s still a catalyst to deeper understanding and progress. Hence, the best prescription is to have a group of independent critical thinkers who communicate with one another and who really listen to one another – the latter aspect being difficult to come by.

Psychological Time

       The concept of what I call “Psychological Time” is deeply imbedded in virtually every human’s brain from their earliest years onward and becomes increasingly more embedded. A child senses changes within his/her body and sees changes in his/her environment – objects change and things move. And he/she becomes aware of cycles (e.g., night follows day), The child’s job is to make sense of those thousands of sensory inputs. Eventually, the child learns about clocks and how to “tell time”. So having the concept of “Psychological Time”, helps to greatly simplify and make more understandable the ever changing and moving world. In addition, the child learns the approximate duration associated with various common terms for various time intervals such as “year”, “day”, “month” and “second”. Thus, the model of “Psychological Time” gets embedded in the brain early and is reinforced dozens of times each day as the language of time and the idea of time is used incredibly frequently. One gets the idea that this generalization, namely “time”, has its own separate existence independent of the myriad of physical activities that gave rise to it.  Unfortunately, this unconscious and tacitly accepted model of “Psychological Time” has been carried over into physics including relativity.

       Remember that as we think in terms of time as a separate entity unto itself, the underlying physics of its origins (e.g., motion, change, cycles) is largely unnoticed or ignored. For example, the physics underlying various time terms (e.g., “year”, “day”, “month” and “second”) is not learned until much later in life and well after the concept of “psychological time” has been well embedded. Hence, the concept of “psychological time” develops quite separately from the underlying physical realities of what gave rise to this concept. “Psychological time” is really a generalization of process length, etc., and not a separate, independent phenomenon.

       Henceforth, we will refer to “psychological time” as “Psy-Time”.

A Quick Look at Some of the History of “Psy-Time”

       Some of the earliest formal notions of “Psy-Time” were tied to what humans saw and experienced and then related to various, perceived motions of the sun, moon and earth. A “day” came from the effect of the earth making a single rotation which was perceived as the sun making a full trip around the earth. Since humans did NOT feel the rotational motion of the surface of the earth, it seemed intuitively obvious that it was the sun moving around the earth. It took many thousands of years for humans to begin to understand that it was the earth’s rotation that defined a “day”.

       Similarly, a “month” represented the time it took for the (approximate) time the moon to go through a full cycle of its phases as perceived on earth. A “month” is a shortened form of the original “moonth”. Further, a “year” is the “Psy-Time” it takes for the earth to make a full orbit around the sun – again, it seemed intuitively obvious that it was the sun in an orbiting cycle around the earth and it took thousands of years to get beyond that intuitive notion.

       Those three measures of time had in common that they were natural phenomena following a physical cycle driven by energy – in these cases it was “driven by “kinetic energy” and gravitation.

       Jumping ahead to “modern” times, the “second” is defined as 9,192,631,770 cycles of the unperturbed ground-state hyperfine transition frequency of the caesium 133 atom. At first thought, this may seem quite different than the 3 measures of time that we discussed in the prior paragraphs. However, again, it is a natural, physical cycle that repeats over and over again with the necessary precision for humans to do various tasks or computations. And again, it’s a physical cycle that’s driven by energy. In fact, as is well-known, the equations for time (“t”) and energy often have the same canonical form.  Further, frequency is also closely related to energy; i.e., the higher the frequency, the higher the energy content of a light wave.

Relativity’s Model of “Psy-Time”

Classical physics adopted “Psy-Time” as a physical entity unto itself – above and beyond the processes that define the measures of ‘time” discussed previously.

Relativity took that even further as its model of a Block Universe uses 4D spacetime which resembles a 4D block of static ice containing a myriad of worldlines “etched” through it. Relativity even merged space and time into spacetime where space could morph into time and vice versa.

Of particular interest for this article’s topic, relativity’s spacetime and Newtonian physics, using Absolute Time, both treat “Psy-Time” as being a physical dimension unto itself.

Critical Thinking About “Psy-Time”

       Above we have encountered a few instances of where human’s perception of time, based on intuition, has been changed as we learned more about the physical nature of the real world. Let’s see if we can take another step forward.

       Some philosophers have suggested that if there was a perfectly static universe with no changes occurring, then there would be no “time”. Above, we saw that all measures of “Psy-Time” were based on energy providing motion/change. In addition, useful measures of duration were based on stable, cyclical processes. All those individual measures of duration could be fairly precisely related to one another so that, for example, one can compute how many seconds there are in a year.

       So we’ll now think about “Does what we call “Psy-Time” have its own physical existence and its own physical dimension or is “Psy-Time” just a misleading, intuitive construct?

Important: Note that I am NOT trying to do away with some of the key constructs informally associated with “Psy-Time” such as past-present-future or the “arrow of time” or duration, but rather I’m trying to get to a deeper understanding of the nature of what we might refer to refer to as “physics time”. Nor will I call for removing “t” from physics equations, but rather just call for being more precise about the physical meaning of “t”.

Nor do I call for removing “Psy-Time” and all its associated measures from our language or intuitive thinking. As I mentioned in my video, it would not make sense, for example, to replace “Be with you in a second, honey” with “Be with you in 9,192,631,770 cycles of the unperturbed ground-state hyperfine transition frequency of the caesium 133 atom, honey” – as, for one thing, the latter takes about 9 seconds to say. 

       Below, I will argue that there is NOT a separate physical entity known as “Psy-Time”. I argue that there is space, but instead of “Psy-Time”, there is simply energy and resulting changes and movement within 3D space! All these many, diverse, physical processes having their own inherent rate given the specifics of their physical environment (e.g., the standard definition of a “second” given above which is not a measure of time per se, but rather it’s an agreed on standard of process length (a specific number of cycles) for measuring durations.).

With an accurate understanding of physics, in theory at least, all the durations of changes and movement can be related to each other and further there is nothing above and beyond or outside that view of physical reality that actually exists in physical reality – in other words, our intuitive construct of “Psy-Time”, which is very useful in every day conversation, has no separate, physical reality unto itself.  This is in sharp contrast to space which clearly has its own physical existence.

Of course, the intuitive concept of “Psy-Time” exists psychologically in our minds and we need not change that except to avoid using that construct in physics models. Basically, “Psy-Time” grew as a generality so that we could easily discuss the “duration” of the myriad of diverse physical cycles, etc. with a simple, easy to understand construct/terminology for use in every day conversation.

A Simple Analogy

       An atomic clock runs at a very precise frequency. We use that clock’s frequency as a measure of “Psy-Time”, namely, the second. However, that leap from frequency to “Psy-Time” is an intuitive, psychological leap and calls for critical thinking analysis.

By analogy, the human eye receives light of a certain frequency from a rose and thinks that “the rose is red”, However, that quote is an inaccurate description of physical reality. The more correct description is that the light coming from a rose has a certain frequency that is then interpreted by the most human brains as appearing to be “red”. However, the color is perceived differently by different brains – color blind people may see it as green and some animals see it as a shade of gray – the redness is a product of how our brains interpret the physical stimulus. I contend that “Psy-Time” is a psychological generalization of the perception of many physical motions or cycles, etc. When we view dynamic processes or motion, we interpret that as seeing time flowing, but what’s happening physically is that energy is causing motion and change. We interpret motion/change as time flowing, but what we are seeing is the manifestation of energy and the associated motion within 3D space.

Replacing “Psy-Time” Solely With “Proper Time” in Physics

In physics, there is a construct called “proper time”. Each individual clock keeps its own specific proper time. If a clock is at “Event 1” and then, later at “Event 2”, the amount of “proper time” that has accumulated for that clock between events 1 & 2 is computed by subtracting the clock’s reading at “Event 1” from its reading at “Event 2”.

Identical clocks (e.g., GPS’s atomic clocks) will accumulate proper time at the same rate provided that the physics of the properties of the two clocks’ motion and gravitational potential are the same. Hence, “proper time” is an excellent physics construct as it’s operationally defined, unambiguous, physical and observer independent.

It was this realization by the author, that “Psy-Time”, as used in Special Relativity, is superfluous in physics! And further that “Psy-Time” has no physical existence above and beyond “proper time”! And “proper time” is a physical property of a myriad of mundane physical processes that can all be related to each other.

GPS uses this “mundane” model to synchronize all its atomic clocks even though orbiting clocks’ and earthbound clocks’ proper time accumulation rates are affected differently by their different states of motion and their different gravitational potentials. Physics knowledge of these different effects allows GPS to adjust all clock rates and clocks to be in sync with each other. This is a model of how to eliminate the construct of “Psy-Time” and replace it with “proper time”. Proper time is NOT a measure of “time”, but rather a measure of the number of cycles of some repeating physical process

We can even use the same measures of duration (e.g., the second) as long as we realize that a second is not a measure of “Time”, which does not have its own separate existence, but instead it is a measure of a physical process driven by energy within 3D space. Most of the usual characteristics associated with “Psy-Time” are part of the “proper time” model (e.g., past-present-future, duration/process length, arrow of proper time), but not including dimensionality. 

“Psy-Time” and Duration

To be clear, let’s expand on the last paragraph above. Processes have duration that even now we measure in terms of known process lengths. (However, when we move from our everyday language and our intuitive model of the world to a physics model, we should avoid adding constructs that have no physical analog in the physical world – e.g., “Psy-Time”).

Lee Smolin, in his excellent book, “Time Reborn” discussed how physicists have removed “time” from physics.

Lee Smolin, in his excellent book, “Time Reborn” discussed how physicists have removed “time” from physics. As mentioned briefly above, Newton and then, more so, relativity removed what we think of as some of the essence of “time” (e.g., the construct of past-present-future) from physics. Ironically, I contend that that the best way to restore the essence of that aspect of physical reality is to remove the superfluous idea of “Psy-Time” having its own separate existence and focus just on what physically exists (e.g., proper time, physical processes and duration/process length, inherent cyclical rates for some processes, and energy as the key driver within 3D space)!

“Psy-Time” and Dimensionality

       Expanding on the prior section, we should be especially careful not to add a dimension that does not exist as that will lead to a physical model that is most misleading even though it may take a while to get used to moving away from our psychological model of “Psy-Time” (cf. Special Relativity’s infinite number of observer dependent 4D spacetime models and General Relativity’s quite different spacetime metric model.)

       Specifically, “Psy-Time” does NOT physically exist as another dimension. Although, duration is not part of space per se, durations/process lengths occurs within 3D space. We have reasonably good empirical evidence that 3D space exists as we know many scientists and labs exist in many different 3D locations and they can be in constant communications almost simultaneously.

       While it’s said to be impossible to prove the non-existence of such things as God and “Psy-Time”, we don’t have evidence for anything like “Psy-Time’s” alleged dimensionality. The past does not appear to currently exist. There are sites where geologists can see evidence of past epochs, but they cannot see those past epochs directly – in fact, even what they can see can be interpreted as having different meanings as to exactly what happened in the past. Similarly, we have history books that give a brief summary of some aspects of the past, but even there, often histories written in different countries have conflicting accounts. One of the inherent aspects of the past is that it’s done, over and gone. We know some things have happened in the past, but the past does not still exist – except in the theoretical context of some physics theories and the fact that some theories predict that we can travel into the past is evidence that there’s something wrong with the theory.

       Similarly, we are reasonably sure the future will unfold, but while some aspects of the future, not including the weather, can be predicted, guessed at or, estimated reasonably accurately, the future does NOT co-exist with the “present”.

       Hence, “Psy-Time”, if it exists at all as a separate physical entity, not only does not have 3 dimensions or 2 dimensions, it does not even have one physical dimension – in reality, there is no physical “Psy-Time” axis extending from past to the origin (present) and on into the future. At best, “Psy-Time” is a non-dimensional dot – a present “moment” with no extent into the past or the future. We can have a physics graph with a “t” axis, but it should be thought of in terms of a proper time axis showing a trajectory of past and or future events in terms of some accurate clock’s proper time accumulation.

The Arrow of Time

       The “arrow” of “Psy-Time” is usually based on the idea of increasing entropy which Kent Mayhew has shown does not exist in his new, much simpler and more accurate theory of Thermodynamics. But independent of that, if we eliminate “Psy-Time” from physics and replace it with well-defined, absolute proper time, we still have an arrow of proper time and the very same examples used for the “arrow” of “Psy-Time” can be used. However, instead of using the erroneous 2nd law of Thermodynamics, we use the inherent nature of processes and energy. We have physical causes that produce physical effects and since physical effects don’t cause the causes, that defines the arrow of proper time accumulation. We use the same example as often used for the arrow of “Psy-Time”, namely, someone dropping a China tea cup on a hard floor and have it break into many pieces. The physics processes for that sequence are well known, but if we run the recording of the process backwards, there is no valid physics that can explain the fragments spontaneously assembling into a China tea cup. (The existence of reversible processes does not negate the cause/effect arrow.)     


       I contend that the construct of “Psy-Time” does not exist in physical reality and there is no dimension of “Psy-Time” in physical reality. Instead, we have energy that drives processes, change and motion inside of 3D space!

There is no engine that moves Absolute Time ahead one absolute tick at time independent of all the myriad, well-known processes, changes and cycles driven by well-known energy sources. Further, there is no Absolute Clock that keeps Absolute Time for the universe independent of all the myriad of processes occurring in a myriad of different environments. Instead of physical time, we have the well-known concept of (absolute) energy that drives motion, change and cyclic processes.  Duration can be expressed in terms of the cumulative amount of cycles that occur for a specific process (i.e., in terms of process lengths).

Some have likened “time’ to a river that flows past us bringing the future with it or carrying us into the future. However, other than our intuitive concept of “Psy-Time”, there is no evidence of any such mechanism flowing through all of 3D space driven by some huge, invisible energy source. Instead, we can explain all with very visible, physical processes and energy flows.

In physics models, “Psy-Time” needs to be replaced by the physical construct of process length. Physics already does use precise repeating cycles of various process lengths to measure proper time (e.g., the second). Further, this proper time can be used to measure the duration of non-repeating motion and change. Both the repeating cycles and non-repeating motion/changes are driven by physical energy. It is energy, in 3D space, that causes cycles and motion and change that gives the illusion of “Psy-Time” with its own separate (psychological) existence and even its own alleged dimensionality. However, proper time defined in terms of physical processes and driven by energy is what actually exists and no more.

A Brief Aside

Philosophers have debated the nature of time and have developed constructs very similar to “Psy-Time”, but after thousands of years have made no noticeable progress. Philosophers have no concrete definition for “time” and, as such, their view is inherently vague. Hence, my view of “philosophers time” is the same as for “Psy-Time” as discussed above. Time only gets physical meaning in terms of using proper times for specific cyclical processes such as those discussed above for the year, day, month and second.

A Eureka Moment

            On ScienceWoke, in the “Eureka Moments” section, under the “Start Here” menu item, I have a very brief article, entitled “Time Does Not Have Dimensionality Or Even A Separate Physical Existence” describing what triggered the above line of thinking and that article may be of interest to some and may also provide a different perspective on this topic and provide further insight.

Articles in the Series

by Nick Percival (September 27, 2019)
While this article is in the Special Relativity section of ScienceWoke, it addresses a fundamental issue with much of physics. However, since it’s related to my other articles here (Parts 1 to 5), and it addresses a key flaw in relativity’s “spacetime” model, I’ve placed it in this section. awaken
by Nick Percival (April 17, 2019)
For the reader who is unfamiliar with physics academia, it might seem difficult to understand why Special Relativity (SR) remains one of the key foundation blocks of academic, theoretical physics. After all physics thinking should be based on empirical data and logic – there should be little room for subjective preferences, etc. awaken
by Nick Percival (April 11, 2019)
The earliest empirical data directly related to “time dilation” came from particle accelerators. These results seemed to confirm Einstein’s time dilation prediction. When unstable particles had “high velocity”, their half-lives were greatly increased – in other words, “high velocity” particles survived longer than “low velocity” particles before they decayed. awaken
by Nick Percival (March 18, 2019)
Sometimes one can get a much deeper insight into a theory by comparing it to a quite different theory covering the same domain. We will do that here by comparing Special Relativity (SR) to Lorentz Aether Theory (LAT) of the late 1800’s or, to be more precise, we will compare SR to the top level, conceptual framework of LAT.

by Nick Percival (March 9, 2019)
But not so fast. First, let me give you an analogy. There’s a very funny 2007 British comedy/mystery film. The story goes as follows. The top cop in London, loves and lives his job. He’s so good at his job that he soon gets promoted to Sergeant. However, the only open position is in a quiet village that has been named as the “Safest Place in the UK” every year for decades. The top cop’s ... awaken
by Nick Percival (March 9, 2019)
Albert Einstein is a revered icon of science and a symbol of genius. Time Magazine named him, not just Person of Year, but Person of the 20th Century. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is often touted as the “greatest achievement in physics”. It would seem to take a lot of chutzpah to contradict Einstein on any topic, but to challenge him regarding relativity would se... awaken


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Nick Percival
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