Time is often conceived as a straight line moving irrevocably in a single direction. We think of it as a fixed, specific thing.
Yet physicists, if you ask them for a good definition of time, will stumble with the question. In fact, if you ask a bunch of them what time is, you’ll likely get a variety of answers.
Each of us have experienced the relativity of how time moves. When we’re stuck at the DMV, time seems an interminable nightmare. When we’re having fun, it seems to pass so quickly that we say it “flies.”
Lately in my science class, we’ve explored time and physics. One of the principles we’ve learned is that time is as much a dimension as it is anything else, a factor of our reality that is shifted and shaped by what’s around it.
For example, time is affected by its proximity to massive objects like the Earth, or a black hole. I don’t know that I grasp it completely enough to explain it well, but it’s worth attempting to do so.
This is to say, time is not just relative because of the way we perceive it — it’s relative by its very nature!
Now for another grounded example.
Most of us utilize alarm clocks on our phones to wake us in the morning. My alarm tone is the same every morning — some pleasant tune that could be an electronic version of a therapeutic harp.
While it’s rare that I sleep till my alarm, when I do, the music seems faster than if it goes off and drags me out of a sleeping state.
Is this difference subjective or objective? The day before writing this, I would have said “subjective” without any hesitation. Now I’m not sure.
If we dig deeper into the implicit questions here, we should ask ourselves, why do we perceive time at the speeds we do? Why can’t we consciously alter the rate at which we experience time (without the use of hallucinogenic and mind-altering drugs)?
Or how would our experience of the world change if the standard measurement of each instant of conscious awareness was not a second, but rather a microsecond or nanosecond?
Perhaps theoretical physicists and quantum theorists already have the answers to these questions. If any of them happening to be reading this article, I’d love to get another lesson in time.