Is Time An Illusion?

I’m getting REALLY tired of reading and hearing about COVID-19. It isn’t that I deny it’s fearsome existence … or the effect it’s having on our psyches … or the political unrest it’s creating in our nation.Β It’s more that I simply want to be able to think about and discuss OTHER things.

Thus, when I recently came across a blog comment that mentioned the B-theory –which I’d never heard of before– I became intrigued and decided to find out more.

In brief, this is what Wikipedia says:

The B-theory of time is the name given to one of two positions regarding philosophy of time. B-theorists argue that the flow of time is an illusion, that the past, present, and future are equally real, and that time is tenseless. This would mean that temporal becoming is not an objective feature of reality.

Oh, O.K. Now I understand. Sorta’.

Actually, I have often considered the idea that time is an illusion and is primarily a factor to help us humans move through our existence.

Doing a bit of research, I discovered that St. Augustine was puzzled about time as well — especially the nature of distinction between the past, present and future. He also wondered about the apparent flow of time. While his work is somewhat tainted by religiosity, I found his perspective offers considerable food for thought.

I also came across a gentleman named James McTaggart, who published an article in 1908 entitled ‘The Unreality of Time.’ In it, as the title implies, he argued there is, in reality, no such thing as time.

McTaggart also wrote The Nature of Existence (Books One and Two). According to the Amazon synopsis, he concluded the world was composed of nothing but souls, each soul related to one or more of the others by love. He argued against belief in God since he denied the absolute of any single personality.

Now, I admit this “time or no time” theory is a bit “heavy” for me and would require many, many hours of study to grasp the full substance of it all. Yet from the little I’ve read thus far, I tend to lean towards the idea that we humans are trapped in a web of Time — and because of this, we’re prevented from experiencing our existence in a much more eclectic and multi-faceted way.


Image by annca from Pixabay

64 thoughts on “Is Time An Illusion?

  1. Well, some theoretical physicist and cosmologist say that we can indeed time-travel, BUT only into the future, not the past. Only being able to go forward in “time” does make good sense… as Stephen Hawking explains well in this episode of Genius by Stephen Hawking:

    Yep, because of gravity throughout the Cosmos and even right here on Earth, time-travel FORWARD is done every single day—in increments of millions or thousands of seconds using Atomic Clocks. πŸ™‚ How you ask? One way is by either traveling from Sea Level (or lower) to say Mt. Denali, Alaska at 20,310 ft above sea level OR from the top of say Mt. Everest at 29,029 ft down to either Rongbuk Glacier Base Camp (north route) or Khumbu Glacier Base Camp (southeast route). Of course, this time-travel is minuscule compared to utilizing Black Holes to slow time—that is, “time” as we perceive it.

    Furthermore, over the last 2-3 years scientists have proven Quantum Entanglement—which is…When researchers create two entangled particles and independently measure their properties, they find that the outcome of one measurement influences the observed properties of the other particle. Which also means that “light-years” distances do not factor in with regard to “time.” Yep, wrap your head around that one. πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜„

    Liked by 6 people

    • Yes Professor, time travel into the future isn’t only possible, it is a practical reality. Our GPS systems could not work without Einstein’s Special Relativity equations. GPS satellites travel at greater speeds relative to receivers down here on Earth, and consequently experience the passage of time more slowly. Without the equations, the systems would quickly desynchronize and become useless.

      Regarding time travel into the past, it’s not here yet but it remains theoretically possible This is the realm of black holes, wormholes, and Einstein’s gravitational General Relativity.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hang on a second… you say, “… time travel into the future isn’t only possible, it is a practical reality.” Well, not for those doing the traveling. Their time is stable even if from a relative point it seems different. Magellan’s log, for example, from circumnavigating the globe showed the one day offset that Abul-Fida predicted 300 years earlier. Magellan didn’t ‘travel through time’ while circumnavigating the globe, even though this phenomena was and remains a practical reality. The way we measure time is always relative, which is why time itself doesn’t seem to be a fundamental property in physics (whose formulas work just as well with + or – time values. That doesn’t make time itself an illusion; it makes its measurement relative to local entropy.


    • Does time exist?” As a concept or force or machine independent of myself, independent of my perceptions and precognition… I’m leaning heavily toward no. As a human construct for refined survival, together as species, as a Herd on THIS planet… I say yes. πŸ™‚

      Over 2-3 millenia and more so the last 150 odd years I think what scientist have confirmed or shown thru collective studies/experiments that all things alive—from single cell microbes to Blue Whales or Giant sequoias… everything “alive” is changing. It is born, lives for some duration relative to its environment, then dies or is eaten/consumed by some other species or force that requires “energy” to consume and survive until its own death, and so on. In a general sense these cycles have taught humanity the concept of time.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Those masters skilled in the meditative arts (and occasional accidentals) who reach that state of awareness and are momentarily one with the universe, nearly all express that time does not exist and that all things are present. Our brains have only so much processing power, and to have everything present at once would likely short circuit the neurons (no man can see god in the flesh and live) That goes back to some prior lines of thinking that for this experience to be interesting and new, time would be one of the criteria for the experience on the set. That, and not knowing the outcome of physical existence. That god term presents some difficultly when they realize that each one of us is the entire show.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Is time an illusion? Chicagoja seems to me to be correct in that Einstein described the difference between time as the universe contained it, and time as we experienced it that we call ‘relative’. This is why we often hear the term ‘spacetime’ to described this ‘block’ of a universe that is not subject to this arrow but contains it, that time is experienced in this forward change relatively by us (in the form of gravity that is the bending of space time to make it appear time moves. But not really from the perspective of the entire universe. And it is my understanding that if the block model Einstein favoured were true, and if we could know every point within it, including all the bends, we would live in a deterministic universe that would be knowable in all dimensional directions (you’ve probably heard time described not as a thing but a frame, namely as a forth dimension in which the other three dimensions operated) In other words, if Einstein were correct, we should theoretically able to ‘remember’ what we had for dinner tomorrow. No choice. No free will. No surprises. Completely deterministic.

    I know. Hey, it’s physics and no one really understands it, least of all me – especially when you throw in quantum mechanics and quantum theory. But I do try…

    So here’s the thing: this model has a significant problem: entropy.

    In this universe, entropy is described accurately by the second law of thermodynamics (from wiki: “the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time, and is constant if and only if all processes are reversible. Isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium, the state with maximum entropy.”) As my favourite theoretical physicist Sean Carroll explains what this really means, that no one experiences leaving the messy house in the morning and expecting it to naturally revert to cleanliness by evening; you leave your house in the morning a bit messy and it will accrue slightly more mess by the time you return. That’s entropy in action. It is universal. That’s the fundamental process in this universe in which all other physical and quantum laws seem to operate and that indicates time is not illusory but an arrow.

    Clear as mud, right?

    Liked by 7 people

    • HA! I knew I count on you, tildeb, to present us with a “must-read-that-again” comment. πŸ˜€

      Even though I’ve come across the word entropy zillions of time (well, maybe not quite that many), I usually just slide by it and keep reading. This time I decided to look up the actual meaning and I found a website that offered this: Entropy is a measure of disorder.

      (Others who trip over the word may want to visit this site as the writer explains it quite well.)

      I knew when I posted this topic that the responses might very well lean technical (and/or mind-boggling), but I decided to go for it because I find it a fascinating subject.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Well, it is that, Nan: fascinating. It’s what I call the Coffee Paradox.

        In order to think about this stuff, I must have a coffee. To get a coffee, I must locate certain ingredients and combine them in just the right ways to produce it. Sometimes it’s easier (and better tasting) just to go buy one. If I want to talk to someone about whether time is an illusion, we might as well meet at coffee shop to continue this discussion. Sure enough, we have to agree on not just the location at which to meet but determine a time. Therefore, time is just as real as any location in space. My coffee’s life depends on it.

        Liked by 5 people

        • Hello tildeb. I am reading the comments in order so if this is already addressed Sorry. However your comment sparked a half formed memory. I think a scientist, maybe Hawkins said time is a location point? I think the way I remember it was that it is a point in space, a coordinate. Sorry I can not remember the entire reference right now, maybe you might know what I partially remember reading. Hugs

          Liked by 1 person

      • Umm, Nan… more like “must-read-that-several-more-times” comment! πŸ₯΄ Tildeb’s comment-content fires synapses in my little brain so much that sometimes it overheats, smokes, and causes me to drink a LOT MORE!!! Alcoholic drinks, not water or sodas! Lol

        Liked by 1 person

          • No promises. Everything here in this thing we call “life” is predetermined anyway. If I am obeying all laws of physics and Quantum Mechanics, then my future is determined whether I like it or not. Free-will is an illusion too, yes? πŸ˜„

            Liked by 2 people

            • Roll the dice. See the results? We are told by people with bigger brains than yours and mine that it couldn’t have been any other way… given the exact conditions….

              See the problem here? Yet that is determinism commonly understood. No choice. No will. No freedom to do otherwise outside of this deterministic universe.

              So I am completely sympathetic to those who arrive at the conclusion that we live in a deterministic universe. That just makes sense in that we’re all subject to the laws of physics where cause reliably and consistently precedes effect. The world seems to work this way.

              But those dice…

              I think we assume an axiomatic system exists (and one we must live in if we are to agree that casual effects is reflective of reality) from which we can then draw such well-founded conclusions. But rolling the dice tells me the ‘exact’ conditions is a very handy addendum that erases the idea of not knowing and never being able to know to the degree of exactness necessary by ongoing changing conditions (entropy). In other words, rolling the dice does not produce a knowable result because we cannot know the exact conditions until the results appear (until the wave function collapses). What we can know ‘ahead of time’ (now I see this phrase as actually idiomatic) is the range of possible results and the likelihood of certain combinations given within a framework in which an event takes place. We can know a lot about all of this. But does that fundamentally change what happens when I roll the dice? Just how deterministic are the results?

              So here’s my point: is this understanding of the deterministic universe really the same meaning as a universe of set results that are ‘determined’ that we all nod along to? I don’t think so. Something’s not right here. And I suspect the answer leads somewhere to a Many Worlds model…

              Liked by 2 people

            • I knew I could count on you Tildeb to share a provocative comment to my 2nd Can-O-Worms reply to Nan. πŸ˜‰

              Personally, with regard to Determinism vs. Free-will I am in agreement with Stephen Hawking’s position as well as yours Tildeb. And essentially it is this, and I paraphrase:

              We are all products or byproducts of the Universe/Cosmos. The Universe/Cosmos we all live in is personal to us. And clearly Tildeb this U/C with all of its Laws we are constantly exploring and learning about often appears to be chaotic, random, or ‘the roll of the dice.’ Yet, I am presently where I am and how I am because of all my decisions as a young boy, a teenager, a young adult, prime adult, and now a soon-to-be elderly adult… relative to and sometimes/often influenced by those forces around me, my environment right now, today.

              Since the Big Bang the U/C has been governed by the Laws of Nature. Laws that determine everything from the formation of entire galaxies to the stable orbits of planets around stars: gravity and timespace. That is the U/C law of Determinism. In this way the U/C provides stable conditions allowing complex creatures like ourselves and other Earth creatures to evolve. But on closer examination from macro-systems to micro- or atomic-systems we discover the Universe appears to split into all possible Universes… all the “time.” And that leads to a remarkable realization:

              We are tiny, feeble, and hopefully humbly inspired by our incredible plight within such an unfathomable powerful U/C, but all of this exists just for us! The U/C we see gives rise to each of us out of all the possible Universes.

              For me, right now on this day, I do not think existence has to be either/or, but it seems to me that Determinism and Free-will coexist. Perhaps like many marriages—not always happy, but not always dire and miserable. It’s up to us within other systems. 😁

              Liked by 1 person

            • I will be on a walk with my spouse and encounter, say, other people passing on the same sidewalk, in the opposite direction, as well as two cars passing all of us at exactly the same time, as well as, say a dog and a squirrel competing for for the same small sidewalk space. I’ll say, “What are the chances all of this occurred right here, right now, and how many events had to occur in exactly the right sequence for this situation to come into being? Millions? Billions? Trillions?

              How determined is that?

              It is determined ONLY in the sense that it has come about and this is the tricky point I’m trying to make. Every other permutation of chance – of the rolling of the dice – produced a single result out of many that led up to the selected ‘location’ in time for the event to occur. We see and understand this ‘determined’ result only in hindsight; no one says, “Hey, this particular event that did not occur, including all the permutations of chance along the entire causal chain had exactly the same infinitesimally small likelihood as the eventual one that did. So, in this sense, the ‘determined’ result is determined solely on the basis that it did occur and not – as so many presume of determinism – as an inevitable result.

              Liked by 2 people

        • So I’m back, and I read, and I clicked. I’ve been governed by time since I can remember, so there’s that. Meanwhile, I’ve also had rebellious thoughts about time during the forward and backward of Daylight Saving to Standard times. Also, when I’m reading and time totally gets away from me, yet all still is accomplished. So, that all being said, I really like the commentary in the linked piece on entropy, that is, “Without effort, life tends to lose order.” I think that’s true, but I also think that’s not an all bad thing, if at all bad.

          None of this is likely to be what anyone’s looking for, but it’s what I’ve come to after reading to this point. Now I will finish the comments. Thanks for a nice thinker!


          • My pleasure.

            I think we are all VERY tired of the two things that are dominating our lives right now. Need I say what they are? 😈

            Although I do admit, I’m guilty of focusing on them as well.😎

            Liked by 1 person

  4. TheCommonAtheist and I just discussed this yesterday with a few others. For me, it is not just time that doesn’t exist, but any kind of abstraction. For as far as our physical senses go, you can see a house but you cannot see a home. You can see a border crossing, but you cannot see a border. You can see a watch, but you cannot see time.
    We can walk all around a table, and see it from 360 degrees of angles from one point, all with a different view, but we cannot see a circle or square or rectangle. And by the time we get back to our starting point, there is no guarantee we will see the same view. Why not? Because things change, and we cannot return them to what or where they were. Time has passed. Well, we call it time, but what is it really? Forward movement upon a plane of existence.
    Likewise, we have time words, mainly past, present, future, and now. Now is like the view of the table. It keeps changing, yet it is always a table. Meanwhile, we always live in the now, at least until we die to this world. There are no words after death. There maybe something like now, but there also may not be. We will probably never find out, because we will not be we.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Maybe not an illusion, but certainly fluid according to your perspective. Speed is critical when assessing time, but what speed is anyone really moving at? Sitting here, I’m at 0 km/h, but i’m on a planet rotating at 1,600 km/h. But the planet is orbiting the sun at 107,000 km/h. The solar system is moving collectively at 720,000 km/h. The galaxy, however, is moving at 2.1 million km/h.

    So, what speed am i actually travelling? What *time* am I actually experiencing?

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Actually everything is an illusion if you look closely enough. For example, a razor sharp knife edge is made up of quite fuzzy, soft, roundish atoms.

    Appearance, apparently, may not be what they appear to be. Some is true for time. How we perceive it may differ depending upon the situation. B Theory makes sense when trying to make certain things in nature agree with one another. I will believe it when we develop the capacity to visit the past and future. Right now we all seem to be experiencing the same process. We are born, mature, age, and die and it doesn’t seem to take place instantaneously.

    Liked by 5 people

    • B Theory that Steve references is also known as the ‘tenseless’ model, where all points of something selected are in the block universe and all are equivalently ‘real’. It makes no sense, then, to use tenses such as past, present, and future in that all these points of something are ‘present’. Hence the name, tenseless.

      The tenseless model uses the block universe model (a theoretical 3D block with the cube’s vertical axis as ‘time’ and the x and y axis used to describe location in space within the cubic block). Any point selected in time and space captures a non moving ‘slice’ in this block (you can think of this point at a certain elevation along the time vertical axis and somewhere located -coordinated- in x-y axis that creates the space necessary for a point to exist – a ‘slice’across the entire cube and the cube made up of stacked slices.

      It’s counterpoint theory, A Theory, is unsurprisingly known as ‘tense’, where the only points that are real is right now along that vertical time axis. Any points previous to the now are ‘past’ and the points beyond the now are in the ‘future’. Hence the name. So the difference is this: whereas the tense model uses an elevator kind of slice as it rises along the vertical time axis, with other points being either in the past – below the elevator slice- or in the future – above the elevator slice, the tenseless model imagines every point already ‘real’. The A Theory model is dynamic – the slice moves; the B Theory model is static.

      To time travel, therefore, the B Theory model has to be used to set the coordinates, so to speak, at a certain place and time to travel there. It is a favourite of time-traveling authors because these points have to be ‘known’! You can’t do this with the A Theory model because these other locations in the past once existed but are now gone forever and the future locations don’t yet exist. There is no ‘there’ to travel to!

      Again, clear as mud, right?

      Liked by 2 people

  7. There are many aspects of time. There is psychological time- how we experience the world which is real to us. I mean there was yesterday & now.
    Things get muddied when you start talking about cosmological time. Did time come to be or it always is?
    Is time travel possible and all sorts of interesting questions.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I seem to recall Sean Carroll talking about an experiment about the elasticity of time we experience, one that involved subjects reading a pattered series of flashing lights and doing so while being pushed off a building… to see if the time necessary to read the pattern was increased when the subject’s state of arousal (fear) was the highest (the landing was safe, I presume). Apparently, the results were that time to read the pattern was not increased even though the experience was reported to be terrifyingly long. Ah, the good old days of psychological experiments on humans….

      What eventually came from this was a really interesting understanding that how we experience time has much to do with creating memory; the higher the novelty, the greater the memory production, the longer the time was experienced. This has been extrapolated in many ways, such as being used to explain ‘endless’ summers when one is young and the world new but the fast way time evaporates when one is older (as if been there, done that shortens time), the longer we think the flight is with nothing much to do or see or experience versus the same amount of time experiencing novelty such as travel to new and exotic places (or long exams with never enough time to finish them!).

      Anyway, just thought this topic about time elasticity was interesting.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. This idea has been around for a while as a scientific hypothesis. A simple thought experiment can help visualize it. Imagine an infinitely tall skyscraper. Each floor is a single room having three dimensions (height, width, and depth) which represents a snapshot in time. All the floors represent the same room but at different moments in time. There is a lady inside the room, and she is walking from one side to the other. On the first floor, she is on the far left side. On the second floor, she is one step away from the left side. On the tenth floor, she is in the middle of the room. On the twentieth floor, she is on the far right side. From your perspective, you see her on all those 20 floors at the same time.

    Liked by 2 people

        • πŸ˜„ Ah, well you apparently were in an area of the nation where they taught those fundamentals in (public?) high school then perhaps the first year or two in (public?) colleges/universities? I can’t honestly say the same curriculums exist here in Texas, that is, at least for truly native Texans with 4-6 generations or more of Texans in the family that are occupying many of our political and legal offices.

          We seem to be getting a constant influx of white immigrants… families named Dan Patricks, George and H.W. Bushes, James Dickey’s, many in our state Congress, and many well connected in the GOP. It’s like an infestation of our wonderful ethnic diversity I tell ya! πŸ™„

          Liked by 1 person

            • Indeed. We are now into The Death of Expertise & Intellectualism Era sweeping across the Western Hemisphere, especially those nations with very little broad, independent, Secular institutions of education and science curriculums… from public middle schools up to Ph.D. programs in public universities. In Texas private and charter schools, then private universities are popping up and growing like weeds here! I guess that also means the death or dismantling of public Secular institutions of education too, huh? 😦

              Liked by 1 person

            • Well, it certainly demonstrates the sustained and growing attack against respecting reality by ideologues of all persuasions. There’s hay to be made doing so, whether the attack is for political, economic, or social reasons… and across all spectrums of whatever divisions people like to erect to their preferred member partisanship.

              But the balance sheet – including its deficits – is always corrected eventually by reality, whose indifference to our fervent contrary partisan beliefs don’t amount to a hill of beans. Knowing something about that reality will always pay dividends eventually in a greater ability to function well in it. The more people recognize this knowledge about reality as fundamental wisdom worth pursuing for all kinds of reasons, the sooner we can get back to respecting the attainment of knowledge-about-reality rather than cast our allegiance to various incompatible beliefs about it and think ourselves virtuous and loyal patriots.

              Liked by 1 person

  9. Hello Nan. An interesting discussion, a bit out of my racing lane. As I mentioned to tildeb I remember once reading that time was the fourth coordinate to space. So if you knew the time you could tell where everything and anything would be. That would be the only way to time travel. But after reading the comments about relativity I think that I must have misunderstood because relativity would mess up the coordinates using time. Think I am experiencing brain overload and need a cat cool down. Hugs

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s heavy-duty stuff, no doubt. But as I said in my intro, I thought we needed a distraction.

      IMO, “time” is technically an “unknown” factor. We think we know … and have arguments and assertions and presumptions and opinions that may (or may not) support our position, but in the end … do we really know?

      Liked by 2 people

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