REFLECTIONS

It is possible to stop time

Why clockwork is all in the mind

In Summary

Time is not this pressing thing or something rushing by, only our perception of it

North Korea has changed time zone to match the South after last week's inter-Korean summit, according to state media
North Korea has changed time zone to match the South after last week's inter-Korean summit, according to state media
Image: AGENCIES

2020 has gotten off to a flying start. Politicians are already at it with the noise, and on a personal level, I find myself with much to do with only a short period of time to do in and it’s only the first few days of the year. This is making me feel harried.

So I happened to have this chat with this elderly gentleman about how time seems to be rushing by, with the gist of the conversation being ‘Time waits for no man, ‘Time marches on’ and so on.

Then he said, ‘Only way to stop time is to stop the clock.’ The point he was making was it is futile to stop a clock in an attempt to stop time. And he is right, literally speaking, but there are many physicists and philosophers who hold the view that time is an illusion and so, going by this school of thought, it is possible then to not stop time exactly, but slow it down somewhat by slowing down your clock.

 

There’s this saying that time doesn’t exist, only clocks. What it means is time, like all measurement, is an abstraction, a notion, only an idea.

Yes, time feels real, inexorably moving forward, flowing like a river, always advancing. It has order, one thing after another. It has duration, a quantifiable period between events.

But the question many scientists and thinkers have asked is whether these features are actual realities of the physical world or human constructs. In other words, is time what we think it is?

Huw Price, Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University, believes the three basic properties of time (past, present, future) come not from the physical world but from our mental states.

Julian Barbour, a physicist, describes time as a succession of pictures, snapshots changing continuously, one into another, without which we wouldn’t have a notion of time. To Barbour, change in the physical world is real, but time is not. Time is only a reflection of change and it is from this change that our brains construct a sense of time as if it were flowing, making time seem linear.

Simpler proof to support the notion that time is fluid, a human construct, an experience rather than inherent in the physical world, includes the fact that we don’t share time. If, for instance, you are reading this article in Nairobi at 4:30 Friday afternoon, someone in Sydney is asleep or out partying this very minute, as it’s half past midnight over there and it’s Saturday.

Likewise, time seems to fly when you’re having fun. It then seems to grind to a halt when you have nothing to do and you’re staring at the walls. And it seems to go into slow motion when you are about to have a car accident or are falling.

 

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that you can literally stop time. I’m saying time is not what we think it is. It is not this pressing thing or something rushing by, only our perception of it is. Meaning if you change the perception, you can change how you experience time.

That is to say, slow your roll and you’ll have all the time in the world.

An example of a time capsule
An example of a time capsule
Image: COURTESY