Constructing TIME

How does one usually define time? Well, I will argue, it’s constructed by machines.

This has major consequences in physics, to be evoked some other time: Cosmic Inflation theory uses time, but has forgotten to define it. Thus a philosophical-historical review is in order.

The concept of time was developed experimentally over several millennia.  Time was important in agriculture: it allowed predicting when to do some specific activities essential to agriculture (planting, irrigation works, etc.).

Mayan Calendar: No Time, No Hydraulic Civilizations

Mayan Calendar: No Time, No Hydraulic Civilizations

The Mayas, and the Babylonians discovered that astronomy, observing stars and planets, allowed to predict the seasons. Thus, they defined time. The Mayan civilization depended upon highly technological seasonally constrained hydraulics, so time was of the essence. The Mayans thrived for millennia before an inordinate drought brought ecological catastrophe and the consequential mayhem (7C to 9C).

Shortly after the equal sign was invented (circa 1500 CE), time appeared in the equations of the Seventeenth Century physics. Time was fundamental to the equations of classical mechanics that described both how mechanical forces and gravitation-imparted trajectories: every dynamical phenomenon was a function of time, and its acceleration, the double derivative relative to time, was the force.

This classical time allowed to determine longitude in navigation. The more precise the time, the more precisely navigators knew where they were in the middle of the ocean. This (new) mechanical notion of time had grown from astronomical time, and was found, de facto, to be identical with astronomical time.

Mathematics and physics were deeply entangled. Time is truly an injection of the Real Line into the space(s) the equations are about. The concept of Real Line is implicitly central to calculus. Calculus was developed for physics.

However, in the Nineteenth Century, equations were derived for a force that was not found in Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism.

(17 C) Gravitation is what one could call (until 1916!), a “point force”: a planet of mass M can be replaced by a point of mass M (that’s Gauss theorem; it caused lots of trouble to Newton).

Electromagnetism was more complex than gravitation.  Faraday drew lines of force lovingly (and was despised for it). Maxwell transformed them into “field” equations.

A “field”, just as a field of wheat. The Electromagnetic field could turn in circles on itself, or make lobes.

Sometimes, electric charges behave like “point forces” too. But magnetic charges could not be found: they were never like point (“monopoles” in modern jargon). However, electricity would turn into magnetism, and varying magnetism into electricity. Electromagnetism was exasperatingly complicated.

A journalist asked Faraday what use the fact that a varying magnetic field created electricity had. Faraday retorted: ”What’s the use of a new born baby?

All our industry now rests on this new born baby. (By the way, Michael Faraday was directly supported personally by the top plutocrat in Britain, the king.)

A field is non local. Whereas it looked as if gravitation did not need to be described by a field (an impression Einstein would change, but that’s besides the points made here), it was certainly not the case for electromagnetism.

Any force generates an acceleration, hence a dynamic, hence a trajectory. So classical mechanics generated a notion of time (it had turned out that time from a mechanical force, a spring, was the same as from gravitation).

Similarly for electromagnetism: it’s a force, so it defines a notion of time. However, even classically, electromagnetism was non-local. So the clocks defined by electromagnetism are non-local. I call them holonomic. (Adjusting classical time to electromagnetic time is called Special Relativity; it turned out that gravity needed to be made into a field, and that time needed to vary with speed so that physics was independent of speed.)

This notion of non-local time, it turned out, was another excellent torpedo against Cosmic Inflation, and the naivety that helped built it. More later…

Patrice Aymé



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10 Responses to “Constructing TIME”

  1. richard reinhofer Says:


    I read Isaac Asimov (biologist) articles about physics when I was in High School. He was amazingly good at explaining very complicated things in a way that amateurs could get a better handle on. Your article reminds me of his voice. Well Done!

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Richard! Thanks for the extreme compliment. It goes straight to the bottom of my heart. I esteem enormously Isaac Asimov. He was a science fiction author from his teen age years, and later a chemistry (I believe) university professor. His science fiction brought many deep philosophical questions… and answers. His writing on science is everywhere excellent.

      His “Foundation” trilogy, we have lived through at least once, when Roman generals propped the Franks in ways, both subtle, and others not so much. It may have happened before.

      I should put up a little text of Isaac on science that I read more than once. Thanks, once again.

  2. gmax Says:

    Davif Deutsch at Oxford has been talking about “constructors”, but he and colleagues did not think about that one: as you show, time itself is a constructed notion, and there are different notions of time, according to how it’s constructed. Wow.

    As you already mentionned msny times, it drmolishes the notion of the “first second”, hence Inflation. Re-wow.

  3. Paul Handover Says:

    My you do get around! Can hardly keep up. 😉 Must just add this fact. That I was a student at Faraday House in Southampton Row in London. Studying for a diploma in electrical engineering!

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes, Paul, well, speaking of one post a day, I’m getting my inspiration from you, excellent! Faraday was a very great scientist. Unique. His drawings, for a while despised, actually defined the notion of field first. He is one of those cases in history of a towering thinker supported by a towering plutocrat. (Huyghens by Louis XIV! and Archimedes, by the tyrant of Syracuse are other examples.)

      Anyway I’m going to hike/run in the mountains in the next few days, away from the Internet, leaving my readers an occasion to catch up…

  4. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Matthews Francis fired a broadside into the charlatans who brandish notions around Quantum and Consciousness. He attacks Kaku, who makes a business from weird, sensational statements, and Dyson, who seems to have a similar problem with the climate (maybe that allows him to still have an office at Princeton IAS?). That’s all well deserved.

    However, the thinking is in the details. Attacking Penrose by innuendo (“cautionary tale”) is doing more of what Mr. Francis criticizes.

    That the Quantum has to do with Consciousness is part of the Copenhagen Interpretation (Schrodinger Cat). Recent progress in biology gives independent evidence of this. Biology actually uses non-locality. Details on my site.

  5. TIME DILATION | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] the beat of reflecting photons, and call that time. The light clock is a time constructor. (See: Constructing Time, for the basics. Light Clocks are the conceptually simplest of the four known types of […]

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