What is time? And relativity in crisis. (Opinion. Agree to Disagree)

For so long, people have wondered about the nature of time. What is time? Is there a universal clock ticking at a fixed speed? And if it flows, then at what rate it flows?

We measure speed, acceleration, etc. with respect to time. But what do we measure the rate of flow of time with?

For so long, people considered time as real as any fundamental thing in this Universe (space, matter, etc.).

But philosophers and mystics had a different view. They said it is an illusion. And its rate of flow is not constant and a matter of subjective experience. Time flows fast when we are elated, and slow when we are sad, they said.

Then came the period of enlightenment in western civilization. The continental philosopher Kant was of the view that both time and space are not real. These are conceived in our minds, to help us live in this world, to bring order to this Universe, to make sense of things.

Fast forward a couple of centuries, came the new breed who said time is just a dimension (temporal) like other dimensions (the 3 spatial ones that give rise to a 3D world). Probably the first amongst them was H.G. Wells, the prolific science fiction writer, who wrote the famous book, The Time Machine. Through his book, he suggested that time travel is possible. Just as it is possible to travel through space.

But everything changed when Einstein linked the two, space and time, as an inseparable matrix. For Einstein, not only time didn’t flow at a constant speed for everyone, but he also proposed what is called time dilation. The famous twin-paradox. One twin circles the earth on a spacecraft at great speed, while the other stays on Earth. When they meet after some time, they find that the twin who stayed on Earth aged faster than one who was on the spacecraft. Time slowed down, Einstein proposed, for the twin on the spacecraft.

Mainstream scientists (or rather “science evangelist”) consider relativity infallible. They cite the examples of GPS. GPS proves Einstein right, they say.
But is that true?
What if it is low gravity in space that is the reason behind the slowing down of atomic clocks aboard spacecraft and satellites.

For so long, the mainstream scientist were even denying this. But now the voices of dissent are growing louder.
Time slows down because of low gravity too (Gravitational time dilation). Yes, you can now find it even on Wikipedia. Still, the caucus of scientists, who are so resistant to a change (they did PhDs and submitted their thesis on relativity), are not ready to consider even for a moment that perhaps it is only gravity that affects time. And not the laws of relativity. For them, Einstein is a messiah, a prophet, or even a God, who can’t be disproven. Yes, layers can be added around relativity to improve it further, but it would never be rejected outright, they are of the view.

But what if time doesn’t slow down? What if the problem lies with the clocks? After all, clocks are machines (mechanical or atomic). They can malfunction in low gravity right? Well, Einstein predecessor, Lorentz proposed exactly that. He said time doesn’t slow down. The problem lies with the clocks (which he referred to as clock retardation). So don’t confuse the slowing down of the clock as slowing down of time, he was of the view. Take an hourglass on a spaceship. The sand won’t fall. Does that mean time has stopped. No! The hourglass has stopped functioning.

Until now, four dimensions were okay. But then there was a sudden rush to come up with a theory of everything in the 1990s, which resulted in the string theory revolution. From four, the number of dimensions became 10, 11, and in some cases even more. Dimensions you can’t prove the existence of. Strings that are so small that can’t be measured, even. String theories, therefore, took the form of religions. The proponents fought tooth and nail to legitimise their claims. No evidence. No scope of proof. Their only defence? “But it explains everything mathematically. There is full mathematical compliance.”

But this fad is the thing of the past now. No one takes string theorists seriously. For their theories are non-falsifiable. I.e. they can’t be proven, nor they can be disproven. Moreover,  they don’t predict anything new. It is like philosophy or astrology. Believe in it, if you want to. But debating with them is useless as it wouldn’t lead to any outcome.

While people stopped taking string theory seriously, however, the fiction writers found an opportunity in it (yes, multiple dimensions). An opportunity to write vivid stories. Multiverse. Parallel worlds. Exciting, right? Thanks to the multiple dimensions, the writers and the moviemakers now had fresh content for the audience to consume.

Anyway, this too has become a cliche. The saturation point has arrived. People are generally no longer interested in the heartfelt love story between two lovers who reside on two different Earths.

Let me tell you what modern dissenters are arriving at.
Time is not a dimension, they say.
Time is the measurement of motion.
And in a way, they seem right.
Ask yourself how you measure time.
Answer? Through the cyclic nature of the world around us.
One revolution around the sun is one year.
One rotation around the axis is twenty-four hours (and don’t forget the hourglass).
One complete circle of the second hand on a clock is 60 seconds.
9,192,631,770 cycles of Cesium-133 atoms is one second.

So it seems right, right?
Time is a measurement of motion.
We calculate time because of the motion of something.

But then another question arises.
Does motion cause time? Or does time cause motion? Does a change mean time has passed? Or are there changes because of the passage of time?

We don’t know the exact answer.
And perhaps we may never know.
There are people who say time is analogue (it can be divided into smaller and smaller portions indefinitely).
Then there are people who are of the view that this Universe and time is digital (time progresses in very small fixed indivisible blocks).
But both of these parties are not ready to relent to each other. There is a silent revolution going on. And I am sure, we will have a completely new physical model of the Universe in the near future. This way or that.

Whenever there is a drastic change in opinions, it isn’t welcomed overnight. The mainstream physicists are opposed to it. Let’s be clear, scientists are not saints or out of this world. They are humans. And the scientists of today don’t work in isolation. They work as teams. Their livelihoods depend on what they have studied. Especially, the professors. Fringe elements are not allowed. Nor is out of the box thinking.
Recently, a professor in the USA asked his students to come up with points to refute relativity as an assignment. When the college authorities came to know about it, they fired him. Seriously? Is this how science is going to progress.

Kuhn said yes. First, there is resistance. Then there is a crisis. Then there is a revolution. And then the new scientific worldview takes over. The process is not smooth.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it may not happen within our lifetime. Perhaps model revolution is still far away. But one thing is clear. The dissent in the scientific community is growing.

People are now openly challenging Einstein. People are now openly challenging even Big Bang theory (now called Inflation).

This is good.
Science progresses through dissent, discussion, and arguments and not by blind faith.

But people are so invested that they are vehemently resisting any change.
Remember the case of epicycles? (When they considered Earth as the centre of the Universe)
They added complications after complications just to make it work.
This is what is happening with Relativity now.
Complications after complications. Patches after patches. So much so that it has become a total mess (Dark Energy, Dark matter, etc.). People now sarcastically say: if you are stuck, just ascribe it to dark matter and dark energy, and the discussion would end.

So, what is going to happen? Only time will tell. Time! Yes. The topic of this article.

There are a lot of spiritual/mystical youtube channels which opine that time is an illusion. Well, I wouldn’t say that. It isn’t an illusion, at least. After all, we are all getting old. We are all marching towards our death. It is indeed something.

But is it something fundamental as space and matter?
Or does it arise out of motion, as the modern dissenters say?
I don’t know!
What is time? Well, I repeat again. Only time will tell.
But about relativity, I am pretty sure that it would be discarded in a couple of decades or three.
(Sorry Einstein. Sorry Einstein’s fans! This is just my opinion. No reason to be angry about)

Please Note: I will be writing a detailed article (opinion) listing all points why relativity might be wrong. So, please don’t defend relativity by posting comments citing examples such as the bending of light due to the gravity of a star, as measured during a solar eclipse. Other than that every comment is welcome.

6 Thoughts

    1. Yes. We no nothing. But we would like to know, right? That what keeps the world moving. That is why you and I have smartphones in our hands to comment on this post. All because we wanted to know. Limited our knowledge might be, we have to be a part of this endless quest. 😉


  1. This article reminds me of the countless times we have had discussions on multitude of topics, and your knowledge amazes me! I see your writing has the same clarity you presented in those discussions. A very good read this was!!
    What is time? Only time will tell 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well all I can say is that time is a big healer ..as it passes, resistance to new ideas slowly decreases, acceptance increases…it makes adaptation to any situation easier as it moves , and finally, change becomes a part of our lives

    Liked by 1 person

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