Before the creation of the universe, there was no time. But after the Big Bang, stuff happened: first a fireball of quarks and photons exploding; then particles from the expanding plasma condensing; these, upon further cooling, cohering as atoms, mostly hydrogen plus a little helium; the clouds of gas collapsing under their own gravitation; the atoms fusing to heavier elements and heating the first stars to incandescence; the stars forming into gravity-bound spiral galaxies; the latter separating from one another in an ever expanding universe; the stars, their fuel of light elements exhausted, imploding violently to create the heaviest elements and spewing the remnants into space; stellar ashes aggregating into meteors and planets, some to be captured in orbit around new stars, such as our sun; the process of universal evolution continuing, so far as can be told, into an eternal future. Thus the universe is the ultimate clock, its unending transformations marking the hours in the life of the world.
As the universe unfolds, so also do its components. Galaxies and stars evolve, as do planets, the latter both geologically and climatically. Planets may also acquire life, the evolution of which may result in the emergence of intelligent creatures able to fashion clocks and calendars providing measures of date and time more convenient for the regulation of life than natural processes, astronomical or geological.
The notion of events as the measure of time, seems odd to those conditioned by a scientific culture to view time as the measure of events. The notion that time exists outside of the world of events and has a reality of its own is reinforced by the subjective notion of time: our sense of the ongoing present, and receding past. But the subjective notion of time results from the workings of the mind, which constitute a process in evolution. The conscious mind, flowing continuously from idea to idea, as influenced both by internal processes and sensory input, serves as its own clock.
That it is the stream of consciousness which provides our internal sense of the relentless passage of time is evident from the fact that when unconscious, for example, between the time a patient — as instructed by the anesthetist — begins counting, reaching perhaps to no more than the number two or three, until the time they return to consciousness hours later amid the phantasmagoric chaos of a dimly lit and crowded recovery room, they have no sense whatever of the lapse of time.
Further confusion about the nature of time arises from the notion of time as part of the ultimate fabric of the universe. So far as we understand it, reality consists in a succession of events in a three dimensional space. Thus to identify a particular event it is necessary to specify a point along the three spatial dimensions. But because what happens at every point throughout the universe evolves, identification of a specific event requires that it be time stamped. This is why time comes to be spoken of as the fourth dimension. But as a dimension, time has no more reality than the spatial dimensions, fore and aft, left and right, up and down.
|The Block Universe: Image source.|
Perhaps this view is correct, but if so, it flagrantly contradicts Ocham's razor, the principle that, among alternatives, the simplest theory is the one that should be preferred. And it does not merely contradict Ocham's razor, it screams in it's face, for what it asserts is that for every thing that ever happened, that is, for every microscopic event, even every nanoscopic, or picoscopic event that has ever occurred or will ever occur, there exists a complete copy of the entire universe, to which a time traveler could transport himself. Worse still, time travelers, by showing up in the past or the future, would necessitate countless more copies of the world: giving rise to essentially an infinity of infinitely many worlds.
Something else the block universe, if real, tells us is this: the creator is a practical joker, for whereas the universe has every appearance, from the microwave background radiation to the fossil record, of being a system in continual transformation, it is in fact the case that everything from the big bang to the evolution of the big brain and onward to eternity has always existed and always will exist in a universe where absolutely nothing happens.
Evolution, according to this view, whether cosmic or organic, is merely a matter of appearance created by the juxtaposition of events preserved eternally in aspic but appearing to be related to one another as cause and effect in accordance with scientific law. Morally, I find this notion odious. It means that for all your striving, you will achieve nothing other than has already been cut in stone. But then I don't believe that God plays tricks.