Time is a component of a measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify the motions of objects. Time has been a major subject of religion, philosophy, and science, but defining time in a non-controversial manner applicable to all fields of study has consistently eluded the greatest scholars.
In physics and other sciences, time is considered one of the few fundamental quantities. Time is used to define other quantities – such as velocity – and defining time in terms of such quantities would result in circularity of definition. An operational definition of time, wherein one says that observing a certain number of repetitions of one or another standard cyclical event (such as the passage of a free-swinging pendulum) constitutes one standard unit such as the second, is highly useful in the conduct of both advanced experiments and everyday affairs of life. The operational definition leaves aside the question whether there is something called time, apart from the counting activity just mentioned, that flows and that can be measured. Investigations of a single continuum called space-time brings the nature of time into association with related questions into the nature of space, questions that have their roots in the works of early students of natural philosophy.
Among prominent philosophers, there are two distinct viewpoints on time. One view is that time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe, a dimension in which events occur in sequence. Time travel, in this view, becomes a possibility as other "times" persist like frames of a film strip, spread out across the time line. Sir Isaac Newton subscribed to this realist view, and hence it is sometimes referred to as Newtonian time. The opposing view is that time does not refer to any kind of "container" that events and objects "move through", nor to any entity that "flows", but that it is instead part of a fundamental intellectual structure (together with space and number) within which humans sequence and compare events. This second view, in the tradition of Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, holds that time is neither an event nor a thing, and thus is not itself measurable nor can it be traveled.
Temporal measurement has occupied scientists and technologists, and was a prime motivation in navigation and astronomy. Periodic events and periodic motion have long served as standards for units of time. Examples include the apparent motion of the sun across the sky, the phases of the moon, the swing of a pendulum, and the beat of a heart. Currently, the international unit of time, the second, is defined in terms of radiation emitted by caesium atoms (see below). Time is also of significant social importance, having economic value ("time is money") as well as personal value, due to an awareness of the limited time in each day and in human life spans.
The Sumerian civilization of approximately 2000 BC introduced the sexagesimal system based on the number 60. 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour – and possibly a calendar with 360 (60x6) days in a year (with a few more days added on). Twelve also features prominently, with roughly 12 hours of day and 12 of night, and 12 months in a year (with 12 being 1/5 of 60).
The reforms of Julius Caesar in 45 BC put the Roman world on a solar calendar. This Julian calendar was faulty in that its intercalation still allowed the astronomical solstices and equinoxes to advance against it by about 11 minutes per year. Pope Gregory XIII introduced a correction in 1582; the Gregorian calendar was only slowly adopted by different nations over a period of centuries, but is today the one in most common use around the world.
An Egyptian device dating to c.1500 BC, similar in shape to a bent T-square, measured the passage of time from the shadow cast by its crossbar on a non-linear rule. The T was oriented eastward in the mornings. At noon, the device was turned around so that it could cast its shadow in the evening direction.
The most accurate timekeeping devices of the ancient world were the water clock or clepsydra, one of which was found in the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep I (1525–1504 BC). They could be used to measure the hours even at night, but required manual timekeeping to replenish the flow of water. The Greeks and Chaldeans regularly maintained timekeeping records as an essential part of their astronomical observations. Arab inventors and engineers in particular made improvements on the use of water clocks up to the Middle Ages.
The Arab engineers also invented the first mechanical clocks to be driven by weights and gears in the 11th century. Also in the 11th century, the Chinese inventors and engineers invented the first mechanical clocks to be driven by an escapement mechanism.
Incense sticks and candles were, and are, commonly used to measure time in temples and churches across the globe. Waterclocks, and later, mechanical clocks, were used to mark the events of the abbeys and monasteries of the Middle Ages. Richard of Wallingford (1292–1336), abbot of St. Alban's abbey, famously built a mechanical clock as an astronomical orrery about 1330.
The English word clock probably comes from the Middle Dutch word "klocke" which is in turn derived from the mediaeval Latin word "clocca", which is ultimately derived from Celtic, and is cognate with French, Latin, and German words that mean bell. The passage of the hours at sea were marked by bells, and denoted the time (see ship's bells). The hours were marked by bells in the abbeys as well as at sea.
Clocks can range from watches, to more exotic varieties such as the Clock of the Long Now. They can be driven by a variety of means, including gravity, springs, and various forms of electrical power, and regulated by a variety of means such as a pendulum.
A chronometer is a portable timekeeper that meets certain precision standards. Initially, the term was used to refer to the marine chronometer, a timepiece used to determine longitude by means of celestial navigation. More recently, the term has also been applied to the chronometer watch, a wristwatch that meets precision standards set by the Swiss agency COSC.
The most accurate timekeeping devices are atomic clocks, which are accurate to seconds in many millions of years, and are used to calibrate other clocks and timekeeping instruments. Atomic clocks use the spin property of atoms as their basis, and since 1967, the International System of Measurements bases its unit of time, the second, on the properties of caesium atoms. SI defines the second as 9,192,631,770 cycles of that radiation which corresponds to the transition between two electron spin energy levels of the ground state of the 133Cs atom.
|picosecond||0.000 000 000 001 seconds||no way of accurately measuring|
|nanosecond||0.000 000 001 seconds|
|microsecond||0.000 001 seconds|
|second||SI base unit|
|week||7 days||Also called sennight|
|fortnight||14 days||2 weeks|
|month||28 to 31 days|
|common year||365 days||52 weeks + 1 day|
|leap year||366 days||52 weeks + 2 days|
|tropical year||365.24219 days||average|
|Gregorian year||365.2425 days||average|
|Olympiad||4 year cycle|
|Indiction||15 year cycle|
|generation||17 - 25 years||approximate|
|jubilee (Biblical)||50 years|
The SI base unit for time is the SI second. From the second, larger units such as the minute, hour and day are defined, though they are "non-SI" units because they do not use the decimal system, and also because of the occasional need for a leap-second. They are, however, officially accepted for use with the International System. There are no fixed ratios between seconds and months or years as months and years have significant variations in length.
The official SI definition of the second is as follows:
At its 1997 meeting, the CIPM affirmed that this definition refers to a caesium atom in its ground state at a temperature of 0 K.
Previous to 1967, the second was defined as:
Earth is split up into a number of time zones. Most time zones are exactly one hour apart, and by convention compute their local time as an offset from UTC or Greenwich Mean Time. In many locations these offsets vary twice yearly due to daylight saving time transitions.
There is an appointed time (zman) for everything. And there is a time (’êth) for every event under heaven–
A time (’êth) to give birth, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to tear down, and a time to build up.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search, and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep, and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together; A time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate; A time for war, and a time for peace.
Ancient cultures such as Incan, Mayan, Hopi, and other Native American Tribes, plus the Babylonian, Ancient Greek, Hindu, Buddhist, Jainist, and others have a concept of a wheel of time, that regards time as cyclical and quantic consisting of repeating ages that happen to every being of the Universe between birth and extinction.
The earliest recorded African philosophy of time was expounded by the ancient Egyptian thinker Ptahhotep (c. 2650–2600 BC), who said: "Do not lessen the time of following desire, for the wasting of time is an abomination to the spirit." The Vedas, the earliest texts on Indian philosophy and Hindu philosophy dating back to the late 2nd millennium BC, describe ancient Hindu cosmology, in which the universe goes through repeated cycles of creation, destruction and rebirth, with each cycle lasting 4,320,000 years. Ancient Greek philosophers, including Parmenides and Heraclitus, wrote essays on the nature of time.
In Book 11 of St. Augustine's Confessions, he ruminates on the nature of time, asking, "What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not." He settles on time being defined more by what it is not than what it is.
In contrast to ancient Greek philosophers who believed that the universe had an infinite past with no beginning, medieval philosophers and theologians developed the concept of the universe having a finite past with a beginning. This view was inspired by the creation myth shared by the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Christian philosopher, John Philoponus, presented the first such argument against the ancient Greek notion of an infinite past. However, the most sophisticated medieval arguments against an infinite past were developed by the early Muslim philosopher, Al-Kindi (Alkindus); the Jewish philosopher, Saadia Gaon (Saadia ben Joseph); and the Muslim theologian, Al-Ghazali (Algazel). They developed two logical arguments against an infinite past, the first being the "argument from the impossibility of the existence of an actual infinite", which states:
The second argument, the "argument from the impossibility of completing an actual infinite by successive addition", states:
Both arguments were adopted by later Christian philosophers and theologians, and the second argument in particular became more famous after it was adopted by Immanuel Kant in his thesis of the first antimony concerning time.
In contrast to Newton's belief in absolute space, and a precursor to Kantian time, Leibniz believed that time and space are relational. The differences between Leibniz's and Newton's interpretations came to a head in the famous Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence. Leibniz thought of time as a fundamental part of an abstract conceptual framework, together with space and number, within which we sequence events, quantify their duration, and compare the motions of objects. In this view, time does not refer to any kind of entity that "flows," that objects "move through," or that is a "container" for events.
Immanuel Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, described time as an a priori intuition that allows us (together with the other a priori intuition, space) to comprehend sense experience. With Kant, neither space nor time are conceived as substances, but rather both are elements of a systematic mental framework that necessarily structures the experiences of any rational agent, or observing subject. Spatial measurements are used to quantify how far apart objects are, and temporal measurements are used to quantify how far apart events occur.
Henri Bergson believed that time was neither a real homogeneous medium nor a mental construct, but possesses what he referred to as Duration. Duration, in Bergson's view, was creativity and memory as an essential component of reality.
However, these arguments often center around what it means for something to be "real". Modern physicists generally consider time to be as "real" as space, though others such as Julian Barbour in his The End of Time argue that quantum equations of the universe take their true form when expressed in the timeless configuration spacerealm containing every possible "Now" or momentary configuration of the universe, which he terms 'platonia'. (See also: Eternalism (philosophy of time).)
Einstein, in his special theory of relativity, postulated the constancy and finiteness of the speed of light for all observers. He showed that this postulate, together with a reasonable definition for what it means for two events to be simultaneous, requires that distances appear compressed and time intervals appear lengthened for events associated with objects in motion relative to an inertial observer.
Einstein showed that if time and space is measured using electromagnetic phenomena (like light bouncing between mirrors) then due to the constancy of the speed of light, time and space become mathematically entangled together in a certain way (called Minkowski space) which in turn results in Lorentz transformation and in entanglement of all other important derivative physical quantities (like energy, momentum, mass, force, etc) in a certain 4-vectorial way (see special relativity for more details).
Time has historically been closely related with space, the two together comprising spacetime in Einstein's special relativity and general relativity. According to these theories, the concept of time depends on the spatial reference frame of the observer, and the human perception as well as the measurement by instruments such as clocks are different for observers in relative motion. Even the temporal order of events can change, but the past and future are defined by the backward and forward light cones, which never change. The past is the set of events that can send light signals to the observer, the future the events to which the observer can send light signals. All else is non-observable and within that set of events the very time-order differs for different observers.
"Time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once". This quote, attributed variously to Einstein, John Archibald Wheeler, and Woody Allen, says that time is what separates cause and effect. Einstein showed that people traveling at different speeds, whilst agreeing on cause and effect, will measure different time separations between events and can even observe different chronological orderings between non-causally related events. Though these effects are minute unless one is traveling at a speed close to that of light, the effect becomes pronounced for objects moving at speeds approaching the speed of light. Many subatomic particles exist for only a fixed fraction of a second in a lab relatively at rest, but some that travel close to the speed of light can be measured to travel further and survive much longer than expected (a muon is one example). According to the special theory of relativity, in the high-speed particle's frame of reference, it exists, on the average, for a standard amount of time known as its mean lifetime, and the distance it travels in that time is zero, because its velocity is zero. Relative to a frame of reference at rest, time seems to "slow down" for the particle. Relative to the high-speed particle, distances seems to shorten. Even in Newtonian terms time may be considered the fourth dimension of motion; but Einstein showed how both temporal and spatial dimensions can be altered (or "warped") by high-speed motion.
Einstein (The Meaning of Relativity): "Two events taking place at the points A and B of a system K are simultaneous if they appear at the same instant when observed from the middle point, M, of the interval AB. Time is then defined as the ensemble of the indications of similar clocks, at rest relatively to K, which register the same simultaneously."
Einstein wrote in his book, Relativity, that simultaneity is also relative, i.e., two events that appear simultaneous to an observer in a particular inertial reference frame need not be judged as simultaneous by a second observer in a different inertial frame of reference.
The animations on the left and the right visualise the different treatments of time in the Newtonian and the relativistic descriptions. At heart of these differences are the Galilean and Lorentz transformations applicable in the Newtonian and relativistic theories, respectively.
In both figures, the vertical direction indicates time. The horizontal direction indicates distance (only one spatial dimension is taken into account), and the thick dashed curve is the spacetime trajectory ("world line") of the observer. The small dots indicate specific (past and future) events in spacetime.
The slope of the world line (deviation from being vertical) gives the relative velocity to the observer. Note how in both pictures the view of spacetime changes when the observer accelerates.
In the Newtonian description these changes are such that time is absolute: the movements of the observer do not influence whether an event occurs in the 'now' (i.e. whether an event passes the horizontal line through the observer).
However, in the relativistic description the observability of events is absolute: the movements of the observer do not influence whether an event passes the "light cone" of the observer. Notice that with the change from a Newtonian to a relativistic description, the concept of absolute time is no longer applicable: events move up-and-down in the figure depending on the acceleration of the observer.
Planck time (~ 5.4 × 10−44 seconds) is the unit of time in the system of natural units known as Planck units. Current established physical theories are believed to fail at this time scale, and many physicists expect that the Planck time might be the smallest unit of time that could ever be measured, even in principle. Tentative physical theories that describe this time scale exist; see for instance loop quantum gravity.
Hawking, in A Brief History of Time and elsewhere, along with several other modern physicists, has stated his position more clearly and less controversially: that even if time did not begin with the Big Bang and there were another time frame before the Big Bang, no information from events then would be accessible to us, and nothing that happened then would have any effect upon the present time-frame.
Scientists have come to some agreement on descriptions of events that happened 10−35 seconds after the Big Bang, but generally agree that descriptions about what happened before one Planck time (5 × 10−44 seconds) after the Big Bang will likely remain pure speculation.
While the Big Bang model is well established in cosmology, it is likely to be refined in the future. Little is known about the earliest moments of the universe's history. The Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems require the existence of a singularity at the beginning of cosmic time. However, these theorems assume that general relativity is correct, but general relativity must break down before the universe reaches the Planck temperature, and a correct treatment of quantum gravity may avoid the singularity.
There may also be parts of the universe well beyond what can be observed in principle. If inflation occurred this is likely, for exponential expansion would push large regions of space beyond our observable horizon.
Some proposals, each of which entails untested hypotheses, are:
Proposals in the last two categories see the Big Bang as an event in a much larger and older universe, or multiverse, and not the literal beginning.
Time travel is the concept of moving backwards and/or forwards to different points in time, in a manner analogous to moving through space and different than the "normal" flow of time to an earthbound observer. Although time travel has been a plot device in fiction since the 19th century, and one-way travel into the future is arguably possible given the phenomenon of time dilation in the theory of relativity, it is currently unknown whether the laws of physics would allow time travel to the past. Any technological device, whether fictional or hypothetical, that is used to achieve time travel is known as a time machine. A central problem with time travel to the past is the violation of causality; should an effect precede its cause, it would give rise to the possibility of temporal paradox. Some interpretations of time travel resolve this by accepting the possibility of travel between parallel realities or universes.
Theory would point toward there having to be a physical dimension in which one could travel to, where the present (i.e. the point that which you are leaving) would be present at a point fixed in either the past or future. Seeing as this theory would be dependent upon the theory of a multiverse, it is uncertain how or if it would be possible to just prove the possibility of time travel.
A form of temporal illusion verifiable by experiment is the kappa effect, whereby time intervals between visual events are perceived as relatively longer or shorter depending on the relative spatial positions of the events. In other words: the perception of temporal intervals appears to be directly affected, in these cases, by the perception of spatial intervals.
Time also appears to pass more quickly as one gets older. Stephen Hawking suggests that the perception of time is a ratio: Unit of Time : Time Lived. For example, one hour to a six-month-old person would be approximately "1:4032", while one hour to a 40-year-old would be "1:349,440". Therefore an hour appears much longer to a young child than to an aged adult, even though the measure of time is the same.
The practice of meditation, central to all Buddhist traditions, takes as its goal the reflection of the mind back upon itself, thus altering the subjective experience of time; the so called, 'entering the now', or 'the moment'.
An interesting fact is that in Hindi (offical language of India), there is only one word kal for both yesterday and tomorrow. The Hindi word kal could mean yesterday or it could mean tomorrow, depending on the context.
The use of time is an important issue in understanding human behaviour, education, and travel behaviour. Time use research is a developing field of study. The question concerns how time is allocated across a number of activities (such as time spent at home, at work, shopping, etc.). Time use changes with technology, as the television or the Internet created new opportunities to use time in different ways. However, some aspects of time use are relatively stable over long periods of time, such as the amount of time spent traveling to work, which despite major changes in transport, has been observed to be about 20-30 minutes one-way for a large number of cities over a long period of time. This has led to the disputed time budget hypothesis.
Time management is the organization of tasks or events by first estimating how much time a task will take to be completed, when it must be completed, and then adjusting events that would interfere with its completion so that completion is reached in the appropriate amount of time. Calendars and day planners are common examples of time management tools.