The Nature of Time

January 11, 2007

or “How to bore people at a dinner party half to death…”

I remember that in the 80s it was very popular to refer to time as “the 4th dimension”. We were encouraged to think of time as no different from the other three of space.

Sometime in the 90s when I was out drinking, traveling the world and generally making a nuisance of myself the thinking was either irrevocably proved wrong or just became gradually unfashionable much like pink shirts and improbably large sunglasses.

With the shirts and sunglasses back in fashion my mind (naturally) wandered around to the theory of time and I am hard pressed to work out what problems there are with having time as a linear dimension just like the other three. The contentious issue of the day was that that we could move back and forth in the other three dimensions but that in time we could not, therefore it must be different in some way.

With current thinking moving away from the idea of free will. Scientific advances in mapping a living brain indicate that humans are just very complicated machines for reacting to and moulding their environment (it’s all over the Internet, newspapers and scientific magazines if you want to read the arguments) and that free will is an illusion probably caused in the interaction between the conscious and subconscious minds. Which means that we do not move through our first three dimensions freely. Without free will there is no reason for our paths not to be pre-determined.

For arguments sake set up a universe with four dimensions with the fourth dimension as complete as the other three. Set up creatures that can take in and process a certain amount of information at a time: give them sight. They can only process, at any point, the information right in front of them in each of the four dimensions but it is their limitation, the rest of the dimension still exists. These are creatures designed to see only a tiny amount of each of the four dimensions and they move through a static time dimension rather than having time move around them.

The most common argument people have put to me is “but the other three dimensions change over time, that doesn’t happen within the time dimension.” [text changed 2007/01/12- logic error]

Hopefully I can put my argument without a diagram as my graphics package has packed up right now. If I put you in a car travelling down a long straight road and make you look out the passenger window (we won’t make you drive since we will not allow you to look forward- we put blinkers on you, in fact, so you have no peripheral vision). Now think of the road as time and watch the environment change in front of you. You have memory of the past things you see and no idea what is coming. It is you moving through time rather than time passing around you.

You cannot jump forward in time much in the same way that you cannot just go from London to Cape Town, you have to pass the through the space in-between.

The only part of the logic that ever fell was that you can decide to travel back to London from Cape Town (although why would you want to). If you could do that it meant that you should be able, by force of will, to travel back in time. If there is no “will” and you travel a predetermined path through space then it is perfectly acceptable to have a human traveling a predetermined path through time as well.

“But what if your predetermined path took you backwards and forwards in time, much like someone living in London with a holiday home in Cape Town?” Well, there are two options. Either the person has no memory of it or they go insane trying to work out what is happening to them and why no-one will believe them.

And “Deja Vu” with Denzel Washington was utter crap. It is so bad it makes Minority Report look excellent. Surely the man doesn’t need the money that badly?

I apologise for the shameful plugs of my home town.

It also means that you ‘always’ exist. I take up a certain amount of the time dimension the same way my less than svelte body currently occupies the other three.


3 Responses to “The Nature of Time”

  1. Oscarandre Says:

    Your analogy is similar to that used by Kurt Vonnegut Jnr in “Slaughter House 5.” From memory (I read this book a long time ago) he asked us to imagine that we are looking at a mountain range from a train window as we run alongside it. While the range goes on before and behind us, we can only see that part which is before our window. And yet the rest of the range does exist. “Slaughter House 5″ is a very good book, by the way – his main character ‘time trips’.”.

  2. Thanks, coincidentally have just started reading his books in the last 6 months after seeing an interview with him. Done with Dead-eye Dick (okay), Galapagos (intriguing) and another which slips my mind. I find that he doesn’t take his conversational wit into his writing, though, which is a disappointment.

    By the way, I started a “modern philosophy” (less serious than it sounds) project at

    I suspect you could find some amusement in it. Would be interested in any comments.

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