Time has been studied by philosophers and scientists for 2,500 years, and thanks to this attention it is much better understood today. Nevertheless, many issues remain to be resolved. Here is a short list of the most important ones—what time actually is; whether time exists when nothing is changing; what kinds of time travel are possible; why time has an arrow; whether the future and past are real; how to analyze the metaphor of time’s flow; whether future time will be infinite; whether there was time before the Big Bang; whether tensed or tenseless concepts are semantically basic; what is the proper formalism or logic for capturing the special role that time plays in reasoning; and what are the neural mechanisms that account for our experience of time. Some of these issues will be resolved by scientific advances alone, but others require philosophical analysis. Consider this one issue upon which philosophers of time are deeply divided: What sort of ontological differences are there among the present, past and future? There are three competing theories. Presentists argue that necessarily only present objects and present experiences are real, and we conscious beings recognize this in the special “vividness” of our present experience. The dinosaurs have slipped out of reality. According to the growing-universe or growing-block theory, the past and present are both real, but the future is not because the future is indeterminate or merely potential. Dinosaurs are real, but our death is not. The third and more popular theory is that there are no significant ontological differences among present, past, and future because the differences are merely subjective. This view is called “the block universe theory” or “eternalism.” That controversy raises the issue of tenseless versus tensed theories of time. The block universe theory implies a tenseless theory. The earliest version of this theory implied that tensed terminology can be removed and replaced with tenseless terminology. For example, the future-tensed sentence, “The Lakers will win the basketball game” might be analyzed as, “The Lakers do win at time t, and time t happens after the time of this utterance.” The future tense has been removed, and the new verb phrases “do win” and “happens after” are tenseless logically, although they are grammatically in the present tense. Advocates of a tensed theory of time object to this strategy and say that tenseless terminology is not semantically basic but should be analyzed in tensed terms, and that tensed facts are needed to make the tensed statements be true. For example, a tensed theory might imply that no adequate account of the present tensed fact that it is now midnight can be given without irreducible tensed properties such as presentness or now-ness. So, the philosophical debate is over whether tensed concepts have semantical priority over untensed concepts, and whether tensed facts have ontological priority over untensed facts. This article explores both what is now known about time and what is controversial and unresolved, by addressing the questions listed in the table of contents.

Table of Contents
1. What Should a Philosophical Theory of Time Do? 2. How is Time Related to Mind? 3. What is Time?

1. The Variety of Answers 2. Time vs. “Time” 3. Defining Time Order with Causal Order 4. Linear and Circular Time 5. Does Time Emerge from Something More Basic? 4. What does Science Require of Time? 1. Relativity and Quantum Mechanics 2. The Big Bang 3. Infinite Time 4. Atoms of Time 5. What Kinds of Time Travel are Possible? 6. Is the Relational Theory Preferable to the Absolute Theory? 7. Does Time Flow? 8. What Gives Time its Direction or “Arrow”? 1. What Needs to be Explained? 2. Explanations or Theories of the Arrow 3. Multiple Arrows 4. Reversing Time 9. Is Only the Present Real? 10. Are there Essentially Tensed Facts? 11. What is Temporal Logic? 12. Supplements 1. Frequently Asked Questions 2. Special Relativity: Proper Times, Coordinate Systems, Transformations 13. References and Further Reading



1. What Should a Philosophical Theory of Time Do?
Should it define the word “time”? Yes, but it is improper to demand that we define our term “time” as a prelude to saying anything more about time, in large part because, as we have learned more about time, our definition has evolved. What we really want is to build a comprehensive, philosophical theory of time that helps us understand time by solving problems about time. We do not want to start building this theory by adopting a definition of time that prejudices the project from the beginning. Although there are theories of how to solve a specific problem about time, it is always better to knit together solutions to several problems. Ideally, the goal is to produce a theory of time that will solve in a systematic way the constellation of problems involving time. What are those problems? One is to clarify the relationship between time and the mind. Does time exist for beings that have no minds? It is easy to confuse time itself with the perception of time. Another problem is to decide which of our intuitions about time should be retained. Some of these intuitions may reflect deep insights into the nature of time, and others may be faulty ideas inherited from our predecessors. It is not obvious which is which. For one example, if we have the intuition that time flows, but our science implies otherwise, then which view should get priority? Philosophers of time must solve the problem of how to treat our temporal intuitions.

A third problem for a philosophical theory of time is to clarify what physical science presupposes and implies about time. A later section of this article examines this topic. Most all philosophers of time claim that philosophical theories should be consistent with physical science, or, if not, then they must accept the heavy burden of proof to justify the inconsistency. A philosophical theory of time should describe the relationship between instants and events. Does the instant that we label as “11:01 A.M.” for a certain date exist independently of the events that occur then? In other words, can time exist if no event is happening? This question or problem raises the thorny metaphysical issue of absolute vs. relational theories of time. A theory of time should address the question of time’s apparent direction. If the projectionist in the movie theater (cinema) shows a film of cream being added into black coffee but runs the film backwards, we in the audience can immediately tell that events could not have occurred this way. We recognize the arrow of time because we know about the one-directional processes in nature. This arrow or unidirectionality becomes less and less apparent to us viewers as the film subject gets smaller and smaller and the time interval gets shorter and shorter until finally we are viewing processes that could just as easily go the other way, at which point the arrow of time has disappeared. Philosophers disagree about the explanation of the arrow. Could it be a consequence of the laws of science? The arrow appears to be very basic for understanding nature, yet it is odd that asymmetries in time do not appear in the principal, basic dynamical laws of physics. Could the arrow of time reverse some day? Philosophers wonder what life would be like in some far off corner of the universe if the arrow of time were reversed there. Would people there walk backwards up steps while remembering the future? Another philosophical problem about time concerns the two questions, “What is the present, and why does it move into the past?” If we know what the present is, then we ought to be able to answer the question, “How long does the present last?” Regarding the “movement” of the present into the past, many philosophers are suspicious of this notion of the flow of time, the march of time. They doubt whether it is a property of time as opposed to being some feature of human perception. Assuming time does flow, is the flow regular? If the flow is irregular, then perhaps Friday seconds last longer than Thursday seconds, as the flow of Friday time slows to a crawl, or perhaps Friday might contain more seconds than Thursday. Are there ontological differences among the past, present, and future? Some philosophers doubt whether the future and past are as real as the present, the feature that is referred to by the word “now.” A famous philosophical argument says that, if the future were real, then it would be fixed now, and we would not have the freedom to affect that future. Since we do have that freedom, the future can not be real. Some philosophers consider this to be a clever, but faulty argument. For a last example of a philosophical issue regarding time, is time a fundamental feature of nature, or does it emerge from more basic features–in analogy to the way the smoothness of water flow emerges from the complicated behavior of the underlying molecules? From what more basic feature does time emerge?

A full theory of time should address this constellation of philosophical issues about time. Narrower theories of time will focus on resolving a few members of this constellation, but the long-range goal is to knit together these theories into a full, systematic, detailed theory of time.

2. How is Time Related to Mind?
Physical time is public time, the time that clocks are designed to measure. Psychological time or phenomenological time is private time. It is perhaps best understood as awareness of physical time. Psychological time passes swiftly for us while we are enjoying reading a book, but it slows dramatically if we are waiting anxiously for the water to boil on the stove. The slowness is probably due to focusing our attention on short intervals of physical time. Meanwhile, the clock by the stove is measuring physical time and is not affected by anybody’s awareness. When a physicist defines speed to be the rate of change of position with respect to time, the term “time” refers to physical time. Physical time is more basic for helping us understand our shared experiences in the world, and so it is more useful than psychological time for doing science. But psychological time is vitally important for understanding many human thought processes. We have an awareness of the passage of time even during our sleep, and we awake knowing we have slept for one night, not for one month. But if we have been under a general anesthetic or have been knocked unconscious and then wake up, we may have no sense of how long we have been unconscious. Psychological time stopped. Some philosophers claim that psychological time is completely transcended in the mental state called “nirvana.” Within the field of cognitive science, one wants to know what are the neural mechanisms that account not only for our experience of time’s flow, but also for our ability to place events into the proper time order. See (Damasio, 2006) for further discussion of the progress in this area of cognitive science. The most surprising scientific discovery about psychological time is Benjamin Libet’s experiments in the 1970s that show, or so it is claimed, that the brain events involved in initiating free choices occur about a third of a second before we are aware of our choice. Before Libet’s work, it was universally agreed that a person is aware of deciding to act freely, then later the body initiates the action. Psychologists are interested in whether we can speed up our minds relative to physical time. If so, we might become mentally more productive, get more high quality decision making done per fixed amount of physical time, learn more per minute. Several avenues have been explored: using drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines, undergoing extreme experiences such as jumping backwards off a tall tower with bungee cords attached to the legs, and trying different forms of meditation. So far, none of these avenues have led to success productivity-wise. Any organism’s sense of time is subjective, but is the time that is sensed also subjective, a mind-dependent phenomenon? Without minds in the world, nothing in the world would be surprising or beautiful or interesting. Can we add that nothing would be in time? If judgments of time were subjective in the way judgments of being interesting vs. not-interesting are subjective, then it would be miraculous that everyone can so easily agree on the ordering of public events in time. For example, first, Einstein was

born, then he went to school, then he died. Everybody agrees that it happened in this order: birth, school, death. No other order. The agreement on time order for so many events is part of the reason that most philosophers and scientists believe physical time is an objective phenomenon not dependent on being consciously experienced. The other part of the reason time is believed to be objective is that our universe has a large number of different processes that bear consistent time relations, or frequency of occurrence relations, to each other. For example, the frequency of a fixed-length pendulum is a constant multiple of the half life of a specific radioactive uranium isotope; the relationship does not change as time goes by (at least not much and not for a long time). The existence of these sorts of relationships makes our system of physical laws much simpler than it otherwise would be, and it makes us more confident that there is something objective we are referring to with the time-variable in those laws. The stability of these relationships over a long time also make it easy to create clocks. Time can be measured easily because we have access to long term simple harmonic oscillators that have a regular period or “regular ticking.” This regular motion shows up in completely different stable systems when they are disturbed: a ball swinging from a string (a pendulum), a ball bouncing up and down from a coiled spring, a planet orbiting the sun, organ pipes, electric circuits, and atoms in a crystal lattice. Many of these systems make good clocks. Aristotle raised this issue of the mind-dependence of time when he said, “Whether, if soul (mind) did not exist, time would exist or not, is a question that may fairly be asked; for if there cannot be someone to count there cannot be anything that can be counted…” [Physics, chapter 14]. He does not answer his own question because, he says rather profoundly, it depends on whether time is the conscious numbering of movement or instead is just the capability of movements being numbered were consciousness to exist. St. Augustine, adopting a subjective view of time, said time is nothing in reality but exists only in the mind’s apprehension of that reality. In the 11th century, the Persian philosopher Avicenna doubted the existence of physical time, arguing that time exists only in the mind due to memory and expectation. The 13th century philosophers Henry of Ghent and Giles of Rome said time exists in reality as a mind-independent continuum, but is distinguished into earlier and later parts only by the mind. In the 13th century, Duns Scotus clearly recognized both physical and psychological time. At the end of the 18th century, Kant suggested a subtle relationship between time and mind–that our mind actually structures our perceptions so that we can know a priori that time is like a mathematical line. Time is, on this theory, a form of conscious experience, and our sense of time is a necessary condition of our experience. In the 19th century, Ernst Mach claimed instead that our sense of time is a simple sensation. This controversy took another turn when other philosophers argued that both Kant and Mach were incorrect because our sense of time is an intellectual construction (see Whitrow, p. 64). In the 20th century, the philosopher of science Bas van Fraassen described physical time by saying, “There would be no time were there no beings capable of reason” just as “there would be no food were there no organisms, and no teacups if there were no tea drinkers,” and no cultural objects without a culture.

The controversy in metaphysics between idealism and realism is that, for the idealist, nothing exists independently of the mind. If this controversy is settled in favor of idealism, then time, too, would have that subjective feature–physical time as well as psychological time. It has been suggested by some philosophers that Einstein’s theory of relativity, when confirmed, showed us that time depends on the observer, and thus that time is subjective, or dependent on the mind. This error is probably caused by Einstein’s use of the term “observer.” Einstein’s theory does imply that the duration of an event is not absolute but depends on the observer’s frame of reference or coordinate system. But what Einstein means by “observer’s frame of reference” is merely a perspective or framework from which measurements could be made. The “observer” does not have to be a conscious being or have a mind. So, Einstein is not making a point about minddependence. For more on the consciousness of time and related issues, see the article “Phenomenology and Time-Consciousness.”

3. What is Time?
a. The Variety of Answers
The most popular short answer to the question “What is physical time?” is that it is not a substance or object but rather a special system of relations among instantaneous events. This is the answer offered by Adolf Grünbaum who applies the contemporary mathematical theory of continuity to physical processes, and says time is a linear continuum of instants and is a distinguished one-dimensional sub-space of fourdimensional spacetime. How do we tell whether this is the correct answer to our question? To be convinced, we need to be told what the relevant terms mean, such as “certain system of relations.” In addition, we need to be presented with a theory of time implying that time is this system of relations; and we need to be shown how that theory adequately addresses the many features that are required for a successful theory of time. Finally, we need to compare this theory to its alternatives. This article will not carry out these tasks. A different, but popular answer to the question “What is time?” is that time is the form of becoming. To assess this answer, which is from Alfred North Whitehead, we need to be told what the term “form of becoming” means; we need to be presented with a detailed theory of time implying that time is the form of becoming; and we need to investigate how it addresses those many features required for a successful theory of time. A third answer or theory of time is Michael Dummett’s constructive model of time; he argues that time is a composition of intervals rather than of durationless instants. The model is constructive in the sense that it implies there do not exist any times which are not detectable in principle by a physical process. A fourth answer is that time is a distinguished one-dimensional sub-space of spacetime, but spacetime is a substance. This substantivalist answer is explored in a later section. There are many other ways that our question has been answered.

If physical time and psychological time are two different kinds of time, then two answers are required to the question “What is time?” and some commentary is required regarding their relationships, such as whether one is more fundamental. Many philosophers of science argue that physical time is more fundamental even though psychological time is discovered first by each of us as we grow out of our childhood, and even though psychological time was discovered first as we human beings evolved from our animal ancestors. The remainder of this article focuses more on physical time than psychological time. Another answer to our question, “What is time?” is that time is whatever the time variable t is denoting in the best-confirmed and most fundamental theories of current science. “Time” is given an implicit definition this way. Nearly all philosophers would agree that we do learn much about physical time by looking at the behavior of the time variable in these theories; but they complain that the full nature of physical time can be revealed only with a philosophical theory of time that addresses the many philosophical issues that scientists do not concern themselves with. Bothered by the contradictions they claimed to find in our concept of time, some philosophers, notably Zeno, Plato, Spinoza, Hegel, and McTaggart, answer the question, “What is time?” by replying that it is nothing because it does not exist. In a similar vein, the early 20th century English philosopher F. H. Bradley argues, “Time, like space, has most evidently proved not to be real, but a contradictory appearance….The problem of change defies solution.” However, most philosophers agree that time does exist. They just can not agree on what it is. Let’s briefly explore other answers that have been given throughout history to our question, “What is time?” Aristotle claimed that “time is the measure of change” [Physics, chapter 12], but he emphasized “that time is not change [itself]” because a change “may be faster or slower, but not time…” [Physics, chapter 10]. For example, a specific change such as the descent of a leaf can be faster or slower, but time itself can not be faster or slower. In developing his views about time, Aristotle advocated what is now referred to as the relational theory when he said, “there is no time apart from change….” [Physics, chapter 11]. In addition, Aristotle said time is not discrete or atomistic but “is continuous…. In respect of size there is no minimum; for every line is divided ad infinitum. Hence it is so with time” [Physics, chapter 11]. René Descartes had a very different answer to “What is time?” He argued that a material body has the property of spatial extension but no inherent capacity for temporal endurance, and that God by his continual action sustains (or re-creates) the body at each successive instant. Time is a kind of sustenance or re-creation. In the 17th century, the English physicist Isaac Barrow rejected Aristotle’s linkage between time and change. Barrow said time is something which exists independently of motion or change and which existed even before God created the matter in the universe. Barrow’s student, Isaac Newton, agreed that this absolute theory of time is correct. Newton argued very specifically that time and space are an infinitely large container for all events, and that the container exists with or without the events. He added that space and time are not material substances, but are like substances in not being dependent on matter or motions or anything else except God.

Gottfried Leibniz objected. He argued that time is not an entity existing independently of actual events. He insisted that Newton had underemphasized the fact that time necessarily involves an ordering of any pair of non-simultaneous events. This is why time “needs” events, so to speak. Leibniz added that this overall order is time. He accepts a relational theory of time and rejects an absolute theory. In the 18th century, Immanuel Kant said time and space are forms that the mind projects upon the external things-in-themselves. He spoke of our mind structuring our perceptions so that space always has a Euclidean geometry, and time has the structure of the mathematical line. Kant’s idea that time is a form of apprehending phenomena is probably best taken as suggesting that we have no direct perception of time but only the ability to experience things and events in time. Some historians distinguish perceptual space from physical space and say that Kant was right about perceptual space. It is difficult, though, to get a clear concept of perceptual space. If physical space and perceptual space are the same thing, then Kant is claiming we know a priori that physical space is Euclidean. With the discovery of non-Euclidean geometries in the 1820s, and with increased doubt about the reliability of Kant’s method of transcendental proof, the view that truths about space and time are apriori truths began to lose favor.

b. Time vs. “Time”
Whatever time is, it is not “time.” One has four letters; the other does not. Nevertheless, it might help us understand time if we improved our understanding of the sense of the word “time.” Should the proper answer to the question “What is time?” produce a definition of the word as a means of capturing its sense? Definitely not–if the definition must be some analysis that provides a simple paraphrase in all its occurrences. There are just too many varied occurrences of the word: time out, behind the times, in the nick of time, and so forth. But how about narrowing the goal to a definition of the word “time” in its main sense, the sense that most interests philosophers and physicists? That is, explore the usage of the word “time” in its principal sense as a means of learning what time is. Well, this project would require some consideration of the grammar of the word “time.” Most philosophers today would agree with A. N. Prior who remarked that, “there are genuine metaphysical problems, but I think you have to talk about grammar at least a little bit in order to solve most of them.” However, do we learn enough about what time is when we learn about the grammatical intricacies of the word? John Austin made this point in “A Plea for Excuses,” when he said, if we are using the analytic method, the method of analysis of language, in order to sharpen our perception of the phenomena, then “it is plainly preferable to investigate a field where ordinary language is rich and subtle, as it is in the pressingly practical matter of Excuses, but certainly is not in the matter, say, of Time.” Ordinary-language philosophers have studied time talk, what Wittgenstein called the “language game” of discourse about time. Wittgenstein’s expectation is that by drawing attention to ordinary ways of speaking we will be able to dissolve rather than answer our philosophical questions. But most philosophers of time are unsatisfied with this approach; they want the questions answered, not dissolved, although they are happy to have help from the ordinary language philosopher in clearing up misconceptions that may be produced by the way we use the word in our ordinary, non-technical discourse.

c. Defining Time Order with Causal Order
In 1924, Hans Reichenbach defined time order in terms of possible cause. Event A happens before event B if A could have caused B but B could not have caused A. This was the first causal theory of time, although Leibniz had said, “If of two elements which are not simultaneous one comprehends the cause of the other, then the former is considered as preceding, the latter as succeeding.” The usefulness of the causal theory depends on a clarification of the notorious notions of causality and possibility without producing a circular explanation that presupposes an understanding of time order. Reichenbach’s idea was that causal order can be explained in terms of the “fork asymmetry.” The asymmetry is due to the fact that outgoing processes from a common center tend to be correlated with one another, but incoming processes to a common center are uncorrelated. [Do you remember ever tossing a rock into a still pond? There’s a correlation among all sorts of later events such as the rock’s disappearing under the water, the water surface getting wavy, your hearing a splash sound, the water surging slightly up the bank at the edge of the pond, and even of the pond being warmer. Imagine what the initial conditions at the edge and bottom of the pond must be like to produce correlated, incoming, concentric water waves so that as they reach the center the rock flies out of the water, leaving the water surface smooth, and sound waves rush out of your ear and converge on the surface where the splash is unoccuring, and the pond is left cooler.] Some philosophers argue that temporal asymmetry, but not temporal priority, can be analyzed in terms of causation [put more simply, event A's not occuring simultaneously with B can be analyzed in terms of cause and possible cause, but what can't be analyzed in this manner is A's occuring first]. Even if Reichenbach were correct that temporal priority can be analyzed in terms of causation, the question remains whether time itself can be analyzed in those terms. The usefulness of the causal theory also depends on a refutation of David Hume’s view that causation is simply a matter of constant conjunction [that is, event A's causing event B is simply B's always occurring if A does]. For Hume, there is nothing metaphysically deep about causes preceding their effects; it is just a matter of convention that we use the terms “cause” and “effect” to distinguish the earlier and later members of a pair of events which are related by constant conjunction.

d. Linear and Circular Time
During history, a variety of answers have been given to the question of whether time is like a line or, instead, like a circle. The concept of linear time first appeared in the writings of the Hebrews and the Zoroastrian Iranians. The Roman writer Seneca also advocated linear time. Plato and most other Greeks and Romans believed time to be motion and believed cosmic motion was cyclical, but this was not envisioned as requiring any detailed endless repetition such as the multiple rebirths of Socrates. However, the Pythagoreans and some Stoic philosophers did adopt this drastic position. With circular time, you can be assured that after your death you will be reborn. The future will become the past. If time is like this, then the question arises as to whether there would be an endless number of times when each state of the world reoccurred, or whether, accepting Leibniz’s Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles, each supposedly repeating state of the world would occur just once because each state would be not be discernible from the repeated state.

Islamic and Christian theologians adopted the idea that time is linear plus the JewishZoroastrian idea that the universe was created at a definite moment in the past. Augustine emphasized that human experience is a one-way journey from Genesis to Judgment, regardless of any recurring patterns or cycles in nature. In the Medieval period, Thomas Aquinas agreed. Nevertheless, it was not until 1602 that the concept of linear time was more clearly formulated–by the English philosopher Francis Bacon. In 1687, Newton advocated linear time when he represented time mathematically by using a continuous straight line. The concept of linear time was promoted by Barrow, Leibniz, Locke and Kant. In 19th century Europe, the idea of linear time became dominant in both science and philosophy. However, in the twentieth century, Gödel and others discovered solutions to the equations of Einstein’s general theory of relativity that allowed closed loops of proper time. These causal loops or closed curves in spacetime allow you to go forward continuously in time until you arrive back into your past. You will become your younger self in the future. Gödel believed that even though our universe does not exemplify this solution to Einstein’s equations, the very possibility shows that time is unreal because, he believed, the concept of time does not allow loops. It is an open question in the analysis of the concept of time as to whether the concept does or does not allow loops.

e. Does Time Emerge from Something More Basic?
Is time ontologically basic, or does it depend on something more basic? We might rephrase this question as whether facts about time supervene on more basic facts. Facts about sound supervene on, or are a product of, facts about changes in the molecules of the air, so molecular change is more basic than sound. Thanks to Minkowski in 1908 we believe spacetime is more basic than time, but is spacetime itself basic? Some physicists argue that both space and time are the product of some more basic micro-substrate, although there is no agreed-upon theory of what the substrate is. Other physicists say space is not basic, but time is. In 2004, after winning the Nobel Prize in physics, David Gross expressed this viewpoint: Everyone in string theory is convinced…that spacetime is doomed. But we don’t know what it’s replaced by. We have an enormous amount of evidence that space is doomed. We even have examples, mathematically well-defined examples, where space is an emergent concept…. But in my opinion the tough problem that has not yet been faced up to at all is, “How do we imagine a dynamical theory of physics in which time is emergent?” …All the examples we have do not have an emergent time. They have emergent space but not time. It is very hard for me to imagine a formulation of physics without time as a primary concept because physics is typically thought of as predicting the future given the past. We have unitary time evolution. How could we have a theory of physics where we start with something in which time is never mentioned?

4. What does Science Require of Time?
a. Relativity and Quantum Mechanics
The general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics are the two most fundamental theories of physics, and the Big Bang theory is the leading theory of cosmology. According to relativity and quantum mechanics, spacetime is, loosely speaking, a collection of points called “spacetime locations” where the universe’s physical events

occur. Spacetime is four-dimensional and a continuum, and time is a distinguished, one-dimensional sub-space of this continuum. Any interval of time–any duration–is a linear continuum of instants. So, a duration has a point-like structure similar to the structure of an interval of real numbers; between any two instants there is another instant, and there are no gaps in the sequence of instants. This is what science requires time to be, but we haven’t commented on why science requires time to be this way. This first response to the question “What does science require of time?” is too simple. There are complications. There is an important difference between the universe’s cosmic time and a clock’s proper time; and there is an important difference between proper time and a reference frame’s coordinate time. Most spacetimes can not have coordinate systems. Also, all physicists believe that relativity and quantum mechanics are logically inconsistent and need to be replaced by a theory of quantum gravity. A theory of quantum gravity is likely to have radical implications for our understanding of time, such as time and space being discrete rather than continuous. Aristotle, Leibniz, Newton, and everyone else before Einstein, believed there was a frame-independent duration between two events. For example, if the time interval between two lightning flashes is 100 seconds on someone’s accurate clock, then the interval also is 100 seconds on your own accurate clock, even if you are flying by at an incredible speed. Einstein rejected this piece of common sense in his 1905 special theory of relativity when he declared that the time interval between two events depends on the observer’s reference frame. As Einstein expressed it, “Every referencebody has its own particular time; unless we are told the reference-body to which the statement of time refers, there is no meaning in a statement of the time of an event.” Each reference frame, or reference-body, divides spacetime differently into its time part and its space part. In 1908, the mathematician Hermann Minkowski had an original idea in metaphysics regarding space and time. He was the first person to realize that spacetime is more fundamental than either time or space alone. As he put it, “Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.” The metaphysical assumption behind Minkowski’s remark is that what is “independently real” is what does not vary from one reference frame to another. What does not vary is their union, what we now call “spacetime.” It seems to follow that the division of events into the past ones, the present ones, and the future ones is also not “independently real.” However, space and time are not completely equivalent even in relativity theory because time is a “distinguished” sub-space of the 4-d spacetime continuum. Being distinguished implies that time is a special dimension unlike the space dimensions, even when we confine our attention to a single reference frame. For example, a person can move easily forward and backward in any spatial dimension, but not in the time dimension. A coordinate system or reference frame is a way of representing space and time using numbers to represent spacetime points. Science confidently assigns numbers to times because, in any reference frame, the happens-before order-relation on events is faithfully reflected in the less-than order-relation on the time numbers (dates) that we assign to events. In the fundamental theories such as relativity and quantum mechanics, the values of the time variable t in any reference frame are real numbers, not merely rational numbers. Each number designates an instant of time, and time is a linear continuum of these instants ordered by the happens-before relation, similar to

the mathematician’s line segment that is ordered by the less-than relation. Therefore, if these fundamental theories are correct, then physical time is one-dimensional rather than two-dimensional, and continuous rather than discrete. These features do not require time to be linear, however, because a segment of a circle is also a linear continuum, but there is no evidence for circular time, that is, for causal loops. Causal loops are worldlines that are closed curves in spacetime. What about instants? A duration is an ordered set of instants, not a sum of instants. That is, instants are members of durations, not parts of them. Any duration is infinitely divisible, and it endlessly divides into more intervals; it never divides into instants. The parts of durations are just more durations. Instants are like real numbers in that they are boundaries of durations. They are locations in time, but they are “in” time as members are in sets, not as parts are in wholes. The ordering of instants by the happens-before relation, that is, by temporal precedence, is complete; there are no gaps in the sequence of instants. Knowing an object, such as an interval of time, is infinitely divisible does not tell you how many elements or ultimate parts it has, other than that there are infinitely many. It might have aleph zero or aleph one elements. No physical object is infinitely divisible; and the reason is that it can be divided into only a finite number of quarks and electrons and other particles. However, it is often convenient for certain mathematical operations to treat physical objects as if they were infinitely divisible. Physical space and physical time are generally believed to be infinitely divisible. Regarding the number of instants in any (non-zero) duration, time’s being a linear continuum implies the ordered instants are so densely packed that between any two there is a third, so that no instant has a next instant. In fact, time’s being a linear continuum implies that there is a nondenumerable infinity of instants between any two instants, that is, an aleph one number of instants. There is little doubt that the actual temporal structure of events can be embedded in the real numbers, but how about the converse? That is, to what extent is it known that the real numbers can be adequately embedded into the structure of the instants? The problem here is that, although time is not quantized in quantum theory, for times shorter than about 10-43 seconds (the so-called Planck time), science has no experimental grounds for the claim that between any two events there is a third. Instead, the justification of saying the reals can be embedded into an interval of instants is that the assumption of continuity is convenient and useful, and that there are no better theories available. Because of quantum mechanical considerations, physicists agree that the general theory of relativity must fail for durations shorter than the Planck time, but they do not know just how it fails. Most importantly here, there is no agreement among physicists as to whether the continuum feature of time will be adopted in the future theory of quantum gravity that will be created to take account of both gravitational and quantum phenomena. The string theory of quantum gravity predicts that time is continuous, but an alternative to string theory, loop quantum gravity, does not. (See “Atoms of time.”) Relativity theory challenges a great many of our intuitive beliefs about time. The theory is inconsistent with the common sense belief that the temporal order in which two events occur is independent of the observer’s point of reference. For events occurring at the same place, relativity theory implies the order is absolute (independent of the frame) and so agrees with common sense, but for distant events occurring close enough in time to be in each other’s absolute elsewhere, event A can occur before

event B in one reference frame, but after B in another frame, and simultaneously with B in yet another frame. Science impacts our understanding of time in other fundamental ways. Relativity theory implies there is time dilation between one frame and another. For example, the faster a clock moves, the slower it runs, relative to stationary clocks. Time dilation shows itself when a speeding twin returns to find that his (or her) Earth-bound twin has aged more rapidly. This surprising dilation result has caused some philosophers to question the consistency of relativity theory by arguing that, if motion is relative, then we could call the speeding twin “stationary” and it would follow that this twin is now the one who ages more rapidly. This argument is called the twins paradox of special relativity. Experts now are agreed that the mistake is within the argument for the paradox, not within relativity theory. The twins feel different accelerations, so their motion is not completely symmetric. As is shown in more detail in the Supplement of Frequently Asked Questions, the argument fails to notice the radically different relationships that each twin has to the rest of the universe as a whole. This is why one twin’s proper time is different than the other’s. [An object's proper time along its worldline, that is, along its path in 4-d spacetime, is the time elapsed by a clock having the same worldline. Coordinate time is the time measured by a clock at rest in the (inertial) frame. A clock isn't really measuring the time in a reference frame other than one fixed to the clock. In other words, a clock primarily measures the elapsed proper time between events that occur along its own worldline. Technically, a clock is a device that measures the spacetime interval along its own worldline. If the clock is at rest in an inertial frame, then it measures the "coordinate time." If the spacetime has no inertial frame then it can't have a coordinate time.] There are two kinds of time dilation. Special relativity’s time dilation involves speed; general relativity’s also involves acceleration and gravitational fields. Two ideally synchronized clocks need not stay in synchrony if they undergo different accelerations or different gravitational forces. This gravitational time dilation would be especially apparent if one of the two clocks were to fall into a black hole. A black hole can form when a star exhausts its nuclear fuel and contracts so compactly that the gravitational force prevents anything from escaping the hole, even light itself. The envelope of no return surrounding the black hole is its event horizon. As a clock falls toward a black hole, time slows on approach to the event horizon, and it completely stops at the horizon (not just at the center of the hole)–relative to time on a clock that remains safely back on Earth. Every black hole brings an end to time inside itself. If, as many physicists suspect, the microstructure of spacetime (near the Planck length which is much smaller than the diameter of a proton) is a quantum foam of changing curvature of spacetime with black holes forming and dissolving, then time loses its meaning at this small scale. The philosophical implication is that time exists only when we are speaking of regions large compared to the Planck length. [If loop quantum gravity turns out to be the theory that unites quantum mechanics and relativity, then black holes do not have infinite densities at their center, and light would be trapped inside only for a finite period, after which what has fallen into the hole will be ejected.] General Relativity theory may have even more profound implications for time. In 1948, the logician Kurt discovered radical solutions to Einstein’s equations, solutions in which there are closed timelike curves, so that as one progresses forward in time along one of

these curves one arrives back at one’s starting point. Gödel drew the conclusion that if matter is distributed so that there is Gödelian spacetime (that is, with a preponderance of galaxies rotating in one direction rather than another), then the universe has no linear time.

b. The Big Bang
The Big Bang is a violent explosion of spacetime that began billions of years ago. It is not an explosion in spacetime. The Big Bang theory in some form or other is accepted by the vast majority of astronomers, but it is not as firmly accepted as is the theory of relativity. Here is a quick story of its origin. In 1922, the Russian physicist Alexander Friedmann predicted from general relativity that the universe should be expanding. In 1927, the Belgian physicist Georges Lemaitre suggested that galaxy movement could best be accounted for by this expansion. And in 1929, the American astronomer Edwin Hubble made careful observations of clusters of galaxies and confirmed that they are undergoing a universal expansion, on average. Atoms are not expanding; our solar system is not expanding; even the cluster of galaxies to which the Milky Way belongs is not expanding. But most every galaxy cluster is moving away from the others. It is as if the clusters are exploding away from each other, and in the future they will be very much farther away from each other. Now, consider the past instead of the future. At any earlier moment the universe was more compact. Projecting to earlier and earlier times, and assuming that gravitation is the main force at work, the astronomers now conclude that 13.7 billion years ago the universe was in a state of nearly zero size and infinite density. Because all substances cool when they expand, physicists believe the universe itself must have been cooling down over the last 13.7 billion years, and so it begin expanding when it was extremely hot. Presently the average temperature of space in all very large regions is 2.7 degrees Celsius above absolute zero. The Big Bang theory is a theory of how our universe evolved, how it expanded and cooled from this beginning. This beginning process is called the “Big Bang.” As far as we knew back in the 20th century, the entire universe was created in the Big Bang, and time itself came into existence “at that time.” So, asking what happened before the Big Bang was properly taken to be like asking what on Earth is north of the North Pole. With the appearance of the new theories of quantum gravity and the cosmic landscape in the 21st century, the question has been resurrected as legitimate. In the literature in both physics and philosophy, descriptions of the Big Bang often assume that a first event is also a first instant of time and that spacetime did not exist outside the Big Bang. This intimate linking of a first event with a first time is a philosophical move, not something demanded by the science. It is not even clear that it is correct to call the Big Bang an event. The Big Bang “event” is a singularity without space coordinates, but events normally must have space coordinates. One response to this problem is to alter the definition of “event” to allow the Big Bang to be an event. Another response, from James Hartle and Stephen Hawking, is to consider the past cosmic time-interval to be open rather than closed at t = 0. Looking back to the Big Bang is then like following the positive real numbers back to ever smaller positive numbers without ever reaching a smallest positive one. If Hartle and Hawking are correct that time is actually like this, then the universe had no beginning event. But in

order to simplify the discussion ahead, this article will speak of “the” Big Bang event as if it were a single origin event. There are serious difficulties in defending the Big Bang theory’s implications about the universe’s beginning and its future. Classical Big Bang theory is based on the assumption that the universal expansion of clusters of galaxies can be projected all the way back. Yet physicists agree that the projection must fail in the Planck era, that is, for all times less than 10-43 seconds after “the” Big Bang event. Therefore, current science cannot speak with confidence about the nature of time within the Planck era. If a theory of quantum gravity does get confirmed, it should provide information about this Planck era, and it may even allow physicists to answer the question, “What caused the Big Bang?” The scientifically radical, but theologically popular, answer, “God caused the Big Bang, but He, himself, does not exist in time” is a cryptic answer because it is not based on a well-justified and detailed theory of who God is, how He caused the Big Bang, and how He can exist but not be in time. It is also difficult to understand St. Augustine’s remark that “time itself was made by God.” On the other hand, for a person of faith, belief in their God is usually stronger than belief in any scientific hypothesis, or in any epistemological desire for a scientific justification of their remark about God, or in the importance of satisfying any philosopher’s demand for clarification. Some physicists are advocating revision of the classical Big Bang theory in order to allow for the “cosmic landscape” or “multiverse,” in which there are multiple Big Bangs in parallel universes and an infinite amount of time before our Big Bang. See (Veneziano, 2006). In some of these universes there is no time dimension. However, this new theory is not generally accepted by theoretical cosmologists.

c. Infinite Time
There are three ways to interpret the question of whether physical time is infinite: (a) Was there an infinite amount of time in the universe’s past? (b) Is time infinitely divisible? (c) Will there be an infinite amount of time in the future? (a) Was there an infinite amount of time in the past? Aristotle argued “yes,” but by invoking the radical notion that God is “outside of time,” St. Augustine declared, “Time itself being part of God’s creation, there was simply no before!” (that is, no time before God created everything else but Himself). So, for theological reasons, Augustine declared time had a finite past. After advances in astronomy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the question of the age of the universe became a scientific question. With the acceptance of the classical Big Bang theory, the amount of past time was judged to be less than 14 billion years because this is when the Big Bang began. The assumption is that time does not exist independently of the spacetime relations exhibited by physical events. Recently, however, the classical Big Bang theory has been challenged. There could be an infinite amount of time in the past according to some proposed, but as yet untested, theories of quantum gravity based on the assumptions that general relativity theory fails to hold for infinitesimal volumes. These theories imply that the beginning of the Big Bang was actually an expansion from a pre-existing physical state. There was never a singularity. In that case our Big Bang could be just one bang among other bangs throughout an infinite past of the

landscape. For a discussion of these controversial theories requiring an infinite past time, see (Veneziano, 2006). (b) Is time infinitely divisible? Yes, because general relativity and quantum mechanics require time to be a continuum. But the answer is no if these theories are eventually replaced by a relativistic quantum mechanics that quantizes time. “Although there have been suggestions that spacetime may have a discrete structure,” Stephen Hawking said in 1996, “I see no reason to abandon the continuum theories that have been so successful.” (c) Will there be an infinite amount of time in the future? Probably. According to the classical theory of the Big Bang, the answer depends on whether events will keep occurring. The best estimate from the cosmologists these days is that the expansion of the universe is accelerating and will continue forever. There always will be the events of galaxy clusters getting farther apart, and so future time will have an infinite duration, even though gravity will continue to compact much of the matter into black holes. There have been interesting speculations on how conscious life could continue forever, despite the fact that the available energy for life will decrease as the universe expands, and despite the fact that any life swept up into a black hole will reach the center of the hole in a finite time at which point death will be certain. For an introduction to these speculations, see (Krauss and Starkman, 2002).

d. Atoms of Time
In the classical theories of relativity and quantum mechanics, time is not quantized, but is a continuum having the character described above. However, if certain, as yet untested, theories attempting to unify relativity and quantum mechanics are correct– such as the theory of loop quantum gravity–then time is composed of discrete durations lasting about 10-43 second. There is a shortest duration for any possible event, and time is digital rather than analog.

5. What Kinds of Time Travel are Possible?
Most philosophers believe time travel is possible. In time travel, the traveler’s journey, as judged by the traveler, takes a different amount of time than the journey does as judged by those who do not take the journey. That is, there is a difference, and not merely a verbal disagreement, between the traveler’s inner time or proper time and the external or coordinate time of those who do not take the journey. However, our current scientific theories do not allow the external time lapse to be zero; so there is no “poofing” into the past or “poofing” into the future as in many science fiction stories. According to relativity theory, there are two ways to travel into another person’s future: by moving at high speed or by taking advantage of an intense gravitational field. If you have a fast enough spaceship, you can travel to the year 4,500 C.E. on Earth. You can affect that future, not just view it. But you can not get back to your own earlier time by reversing your velocity or reversing the gravitational field. Also, your travel is to someone else’s future, not your own. You are always in your own present in this sort of relativistic time travel.

But relativity theory also allows a much stranger kind of time travel, travel to your own past. For example, in 1949 Kurt Gödel discovered a solution to Einstein’s field equations that allows continuous, closed future-directed timelike curves. To say this more simply, Gödel discovered that in some possible worlds that obey the theory of general relativity, you can eventually arrive into your own past. In this unusual nonMinkowski spacetime, the universe as a whole is the time machine; no one needs to build a machine to travel this way. Relativity theory even permits you to travel back and meet yourself as a child. But, although you can meet yourself, you can not change what has happened in the past. You can’t go back and prevent Adolf Hitler from gaining political power in Germany in the 1930s. Despite time travel to the past being apparently consistent with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, there are several well known arguments against the physical possibility of travel to the past. Despite the controversy, none are generally considered to be decisive. 1. If you encountered someone who claimed to be a time traveler, what could you do to verify the claim? There’s nothing you could do, therefore there will never be a good reason to believe in time travel. 2. Time travel is impossible because if it were possible we should have seen many time travelers by now, but nobody has encountered any time travelers. 3. And time travel is impossible because, if there were time travel, then when time travelers go back and attempt to change history they must always botch their attempts to change anything, and it will appear to anyone watching them at the time as if nature is conspiring against them. Since observers have never witnessed this apparent conspiracy of nature, there is no time travel. 4. If there were travel to the past along a closed timelike curve, then these events would occur before themselves and after themselves, but this violates our definition of word “before,” or violates our concept of time, so this odd solution of Einstein’s equations is not a physically realistic solution. 5. Travel to the past is impossible because it allows the gaining of information for free. For example, print out this article that you are reading. Enter a time machine with it. Give me the article before I ever thought about time travel. I then publish it as this article in this encyclopedia. This all seems to be consistent with relativity theory, but who first came up with the information in this article? You had it before I did, but you obtained it from me. 6. Probing the possibility of a contradiction in backwards time travel, the American philosopher John Earman has described a rocket ship that carries a very special time machine. The time machine is capable of firing a probe into its own past. Suppose the ship is programmed to fire the probe on a certain date unless a safety switch is on. Suppose the safety switch is programmed to be turned on if and only if the “return” or “impending arrival” of the probe is (or has been) detected by a sensing device on the ship. Does the probe get launched? It is launched if and only if it is not launched. The way out of Earman’s paradox seems to require us to accept that (a) the universe conspires to keep people from building the probe or the safety switch or an effective sensing device, or (b) time travel probes must go so far back in time that they never survive and make it back to the time when they were launched, or (c) time travel into the past is impossible. For more discussion of time travel, see the encyclopedia article “Time Travel.”


Is the Relational Absolute Theory?





Absolute theories are theories that imply time exists independently of the spacetime relations exhibited by physical events. Relational theories imply it does not. Some absolute theories describe spacetime as being like a container for events. The container exists with or without events in it. Relational theories imply there is no container without contents. John Norton’s metaphors might help. Our universe is like a painting, and absolute spacetime is like the painter’s canvas. If you take away the paint (the spacetime events) from the painting, you still have the canvas. Relational spacetime is like citizenship. Take away the citizens (the spacetime events), and you have no citizenship left. Everyone agrees time cannot be measured without there being objects and changes, but the present issue is whether it exists without objects and changes. The absolute or substantival theories are theories that spacetime could exist even if there were no physical objects and events in the universe, but relational theories imply that spacetime is nothing but objects, their events, and the spatiotemporal relationships among objects and their events, so that spacetime reduces to sets of possible spatiotemporal relations. There are two senses of “absolute” that need to be distinguished. As we are using the term, it means independent of the events. A second sense of “absolute” means independent of observer or reference frame. Einstein’s theory implies there is no absolute time in this second sense. Aristotle accepted absolute time in this second sense, but he rejected it in our sense of being independent of events and took the relationalist position that, “neither does time exist without change.” [Physics, 218b] However, the battle lines were most clearly drawn in the early 18th century when Leibniz argued for the relationalist position against Newton, who had adopted an absolute theory of time. Leibniz’s principal argument against Newton is a reductio ad absurdum. Suppose Newton’s absolute space and time were to exist. But one could then imagine a universe just like ours except with everything shifted five miles east and five minutes earlier. However, there would be no reason why this shifted universe does not exist and ours does. Now we have arrived at a contradiction because, if there is no reason for our universe over the shifted universe, then we have violated Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason: that there is an understandable reason for everything being the way it is. So, Newton’s absolute space and time do not exist. In short, the trouble with Newton’s absolutism is that it leads to too many unnecessary possibilities. Newton offered this two-part response: (1) Leibniz is correct to accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason regarding the rational intelligibility of the universe. But there do not have to be knowable reasons for humans; God might have had His own sufficient reason for creating the universe at a given place and time even though mere mortals cannot comprehend His reasons. (2) The bucket thought-experiment shows that acceleration relative to absolute space is detectable; thus absolute space is real, and if absolute space is real, so is absolute time. Suppose we tie a bucket’s handle to a rope hanging down from a tree branch. Partially fill the bucket with water, and let it come to equilibrium. Notice that there is no relative motion between the bucket and the water, and in this case the water surface is flat. Now spin the bucket, and keep doing this until

the angular velocity of the water and the bucket are the same. In this second case there is also no relative motion between the bucket and the water, but now the water surface is concave. So spinning makes a difference, but how can a relational theory explain the difference in the shape of the surface? It can not, says Newton. When the bucket and water are spinning, what are they spinning relative to? Because we can disregard the rest of the environment including the tree and rope, says Newton, the only explanation of the difference in surface shape between the non-spinning case and the spinning case is that when it is not spinning there is no motion relative to absolute space, but when it is spinning there is motion relative to space itself, and thus space itself is acting upon the water surface to make it concave. Alternatively expressed, the key idea is that the presence of centrifugal force is a sign of rotation relative to absolute space. Leibniz had no rebuttal. So, for many years thereafter, Newton’s absolute theory of space and time was generally accepted by European scientists and philosophers. One hundred years later, Kant entered the arena on the side of Newton. In a space containing only a single glove, said Kant, Leibniz could not account for its being a right glove versus a left glove because all the internal relationships would be the same in either case. However, we all know that there is a real difference between a right and a left glove, so this difference can only be due to the glove’s relationship to space itself. But if there is a “space itself,” then the absolute theory is better than the relational theory. Newton’s absolute theory of time was dominant in the 18th and 19th centuries, even though during those centuries Huygens, Berkeley, and Mach had entered the arena on the side of Leibniz. In the 20th century, Reichenbach and the early Einstein declared the special theory of relativity to be a victory for the relational theory. Special relativity, they said, ruled out a space-filling aether, the leading candidate for absolute space, so the absolute theory was incorrect. And the response to Newton’s bucket argument is to note Newton’s error in not considering the environment. Einstein agreed with Mach’s view of the 19th century that, if you hold the bucket still but spin the background stars, the water will creep up the side of the bucket. Although it was initially thought by Einstein and others that relativity theory supported Mach, Lawrence Sklar (Sklar, 1976, pp. 219-21) argues that this may not be correct. Many philosophers argue that Reichenbach and the early Einstein have been overstating the amount of metaphysics that can be extracted from the physics. Remember the ambiguity in “absolute” mentioned above? There is absolute in the sense of independent of reference frame and absolute in the sense of independent of events. Which sense is ruled out when we reject a space-filling aether? The critics admit that general relativity does show that the curvature of spacetime is affected by the distribution of matter, so today it is no longer plausible for an absolutist to assert that the “container” is independent of the matter it contains. But, so they argue, general relativity does not rule out a more sophisticated absolute theory–to be discussed below. By the end of the 20th century, absolute theories had gained some ground thanks to the arguments of John Earman, Michael Friedman, Adolf Grünbaum, and Tim Maudlin. In 1969, Sydney Shoemaker presented an argument to convince us of the understandability of time existing without change, as Newton’s absolutism requires. Divide space into three disjoint regions, called region 3, region 4, and region 5. In

region 3, change ceases every third year for one year. People in regions 4 and 5 can verify this and convince the people in region 3 after they come back to life at the end of their frozen year. Similarly, change ceases in region 4 every fourth year for a year; and change ceases in region 5 every fifth year. Every sixty years, that is, every 3 x 4 x 5 years, all three regions freeze simultaneously for a year. In year sixty-one, everyone comes back to life, time having marched on for a year with no change. But philosophers of time point out that, even if Shoemaker’s scenario shows time’s existing without change is understandable, the deeper question is whether time does exist without change. Here is one argument that it does. Must the relationist say there can be no “empty” time? If events occur in a room before and after 11:01 AM, but not exactly at 11:01 AM, must the relationalist say there never was a time of 11:01 AM in the room? To avoid saying “yes,” which would be absurd, a relationalist might say 11:01 exists in the room and everywhere else because somewhere outside the room something is happening then, and somehow or other sense can be made of time in the room in terms of these external events. The absolutist then asks us to consider the possibility that the room is the whole universe. In that case, the relationalist response to losing 11:01 AM would probably be to say possible events occur then in the room even if actual events do not. But now look where we are, says the absolutist. If the relational theory is going to consider spacetime points to be permanent possibilities of the location of events, then the relationalist theory collapses into substantivalism. This is because, to a substantivalist, a spacetime point is also just a place where something could happen. Hartry Field offers another argument for the absolute theory by pointing out that modern physics requires gravitational and electromagnetic fields that cover spacetime– a light wave, say, is considered to be a ripple in the field. The fields are states of spacetime, with the field having a value (a number or vector) at points throughout the field. These fields cannot be states of some Newtonian aether, but there must be something to have the field properties. What else except substantive spacetime points?

7. Does Time Flow?
“It is as if we were floating on a river, carried by the current past the manifold of events which is spread out timelessly on the bank,” said one philosopher trying to capture time’s flow with a helpful metaphor. Santayana offered another: “The essence of nowness runs like fire along the fuse of time.” The philosopher’s goal is to clarify the idea of time’s flow, the passage of time. Everyone agrees that the passage of time “appears” to us humans to flow, although few scientists or philosophers believe that all conscious beings recognize the flow; hawks do not, although they are apt at spotting the movements of their prey. Even if time does flow, there is the additional question of whether the flow can change. Can physical time’s flow be slower on Friday afternoon, compared to Monday morning? There are two categories of theories of time’s flow. The first, and most popular among physicists, is that the flow is an illusion, the product of a faulty metaphor. Time exists, things change, but time does not flow objectively, although there may well be some objective feature of our brains that causes us to believe we are experiencing a flow of time; but in that case time flows only in a subjective sense of the term. The theory is sometimes characterized as a “myth-of-passage” theory. As we shall see, this theory of

time’s flow is normally the one adopted by those who believe McTaggart’s B-series is more fundamental than his A-series. The second category of theories of time’s flow contains theories implying that the flow is objective, a feature of our mind-independent reality that is to be found in, say, today scientific laws, or, if it has been missed there, then in future scientific laws. These theories are called “dynamic theories” of time. This sort of theory of time’s flow is closer to common sense, and has historically been the more popular theory among philosophers. Some dynamic theories imply that the flow is a matter of events changing from being indeterminate in the future to being determinate in the present and past. Time’s flow is really events becoming determinate. Thus dynamic theorists speak of time’s flow as “temporal becoming.” Another dynamic theory implies that the flow is a matter of events changing from being future, to being present, to being past. This is the kind of flow associated with McTaggart’s A-series of events. Opponents of dynamic theories complain that when events change in these senses, the change is not a real change in the event’s essential, intrinsic properties, but only in the event’s relationship to the observer. For example, saying the death of Queen Anne is an event that changes from present to past is no more of a real change in the event than saying her death changed from being approved of to being disapproved of. This extrinsic change in approval does not count as a real change in her death, and neither does the so-called change from present to past. Attacking the notion of time’s flow in this manner, Grünbaum said: “Events simply are or occur…but they do not ‘advance’ into a pre-existing frame called ‘time.’ …[T]ime is a system of relations between events, and as events are, so are their relations. An event does not move and neither do any of its relations.” So, Grünbaum denies the objective nature of McTaggart’s Aseries and points out that the flow of time is an illusion or myth. Instead of arguing that events change their properties, some advocates of the dynamic theory of time embrace the flow of time by saying that the flow is reflected in the change over time of truth values of a sentence or proposition. For example, the sentence “It is now raining” was true during the rain yesterday but has changed to false on today’s sunny day. It is these sorts of truth value changes that are at the root of time’s flow. In response, critics suggest that the indexical (or token reflexive) sentence “It is now raining” has no truth value because the reference of “now” is unspecified. If it can not have a truth value, it can not change its truth value. However, the sentence is related to a sentence that does have a truth value. Supposing it is now midnight here on April 1, 2007 in Sacramento, California, then the indexical sentence “It is now raining” is related to the complete or context-explicit sentence “It is raining at midnight on April 1, 2007 in Sacramento.” Only these non-indexical, non-contextdependent, complete sentences have truth values, and these truth values do not change with time. So, events do not change their properties because complete sentences do not change their truth values. Other advocates of the dynamic theory of time ask us to analyze time’s flow in terms of facts that come into existence. This coming into existence of facts, the actualization of new states of affairs, is time’s flow.

Tim Maudlin argues for a version of the dynamic theory that is very different than all of the above. He argues that the objective flow of time is fundamental and unanalyzable; it is a fundamental, irreducible fact that time passes, and this passage just is the flow of time. He is happy to say “time does indeed pass at the rate of one hour per hour” (Maudlin, 2007, p. 112), although other philosophers have called this rate “meaningless.” Maudlin also is an advocate of the block universe theory and believes the passage of time is an ingredient of this single block entity. Regardless of how the metaphor of time’s flow is analyzed, or even if it is taken as fundamentally unanalyzable, the passage of time implies a direction of time.

8. What Gives Time its Direction or “Arrow”?
a. What Needs to be Explained
The arrow of time is what distinguishes a group of events ordered by the happensbefore relation from those ordered by its converse, the happens-after relation. Time’s arrow is evident in the process of mixing cool cream into hot coffee. You soon get lukewarm coffee, but you never notice the reverse–lukewarm coffee separating into a cool part and a hot part. Such is the way this irreversible thermodynamic process goes. Time’s arrow is also evident when you prick a balloon. The air inside the balloon rushes out; it never stays in the balloon as it was before the pricking. So, the pricking starts an irreversible process. The arrow of a physical process is the way it normally goes, the way it normally unfolds through time. If a process goes only one-way, we call it an “irreversible process.” (Strictly speaking, a reversible process is one that is reversed by an infinitesimal change of its surrounding conditions, but we can overlook this fine point because of the general level of the present discussion.) The amalgamation of the universe’s irreversible processes produces the cosmic arrow of time, the master arrow. Usually this arrow is what is meant when one speaks simply of “time’s arrow.” By convention, we say the arrow is directed toward the future. There are many goals for a fully developed theory of time’s arrow. It should tell us (1) why this arrow exists; (2) why the arrow is apparent in macro processes but not micro processes; (3) what it would be like for the arrow to reverse direction; (4) what the relationships are among the various more specific arrows of time–the various temporally asymmetric processes such as entropy increases [the thermodynamic arrow], causes preceding their effects [the causal arrow], light radiating from its source rather than converging into it [the electromagnetic arrow], and our knowing the past more easily than the future [the knowledge arrow]; and (5) what are the characteristics of a physical theory that pick out a preferred direction in time. Because the physical processes we commonly observe do have an arrow, you might think that an inspection of the basic physical laws would readily reveal time’s arrow. It will not. With very minor exceptions, all the basic laws of fundamental processes are time symmetric. (It is assumed here that the second law of thermodynamics is not basic but somehow derived.) This means, according to a principal definition of time symmetry, that if a certain process is allowed by the laws, then that process reversed in time is also allowed, and either direction is as probable as the other. Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism, for example, can be used to predict that television signals can exist, but the equations do not tell us whether those signals arrive before or

arrive after they are transmitted. In other words, these basic laws of science do not imply an arrow of time. Suppose you have a movie of a basic physical process such as two electrons bouncing off each other. You can not actually create this movie because the phenomenon is too small, but forget that fine point for a moment. If you had such a movie, you could run it forwards or backwards, and both showings would illustrate a possible process according to the basic laws of science, and they would be equally probable processes. You could not tell from just looking at the movie whether you were looking at the original or at it being shown backwards in time. So, time’s arrow is not revealed in this microscopic process. The “disappearance” of time’s arrow in microscopic process, does not show that time itself fades away as you look at briefer and smaller processes; this is because there are still events happening, and so time still exists there. Also, it is important to note that, although it is interesting to explain how we humans are able to detect the arrow, the more challenging philosophical question is to explain why time has an arrow.

b. Explanations or Theories of the Arrow
In the 19th century, the new kinetic theory of gases was supposed to provide the foundation for all gas behavior, yet this foundational theory is time symmetric. That is, the theory is insensitive to the arrow of time, to the distinction between past and future–because a moving molecule could just as well move in one direction as in the reverse direction. How were the physicists to resolve this apparent contradiction of having a temporally symmetric theory at the foundation of a theory that is supposed to account for irreversible gas processes such as the escape of gas from a balloon pricked with a pin? The first clue was discovered in the mid-19th century by the German physicist Rudolf Clausius. He devised an early version of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which, speaking informally, is the claim that a isolated system will evolve to be more disordered or complex, with some of its useful energy converting to heat. [A isolated system is a system left to itself; it is a region isolated from outside influences, a region where energy can not come in or go out.] That is, (a) 2nd Law: In an isolated system, entropy never decreases. Entropy is Clausius’s word for the measure of this disorder; it measures the conversion of useful to “useless” energy by irreversible processes. As R. A. Fisher expressed it, entropy changes lead to a progressive disorganization of the physical world, at least from the human standpoint of the utilization of energy. As time goes on, some subsystems do become progressively more organized, such as when we build a house on a bare lot, but this organization is at the expense of a greater degree of disorganization elsewhere such as the depletion of natural resources and the digestion of food by the house builders and, ultimately, the degradation of the sun. It seemed to many physicists, beginning with Ernst Mach, that time’s arrow–in all processes and not just in gas behavior–is reducible to or grounded in entropy increase. This implies that in a universe in maximum equilibrium where entropy changes are absent, there will not be an arrow of time. This entropy theory of time’s arrow implies that our having traces of the past but not of the future reduces to entropy increases, as does our inclination to say causes happen before their effects rather than after.

Another deep question is, “Why should there be more disorder in the future?” The Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann had an answer in 1872. Boltzmann claimed that it is a matter of probability because, for complex systems, that is, systems with many particles, disordered states of the system are more probable than ordered states. There are many more microstates in which, from a macro perspective, the system is disordered than microstates in which the system is ordered, so it is very probable that the system will naturally end up in the most generic possible macrostate. Boltzmann redefined the concept of entropy in terms of the statistics of molecular motion, and he deduced a revised 2nd law from probability theory: (b) 2nd Law: In an isolated system, entropy is likely not to decrease. His treatment of entropy as being basically a statistical concept was broadly accepted, as was Mach’s and his claim that time’s arrow is to be explained in terms of entropy increase. Boltzmann’s achievement soon had to confront two obstacles, one from Henri Poincaré and one from Josef Loschmidt. First, Poincaré. A dynamic system is a system defined by the values of the positions and velocities of all the system’s particles–such as the places and speeds of the molecules in a cup of coffee. Poincaré’s recurrence theorem in statistical mechanics says every isolated dynamical system will eventually return to a state as close to the initial state as we might wish. Wait long enough, and the lukewarm coffee will separate into hot coffee and cool cream. This reversal would be expected to take 10N seconds, where N is the number of molecules involved. The number is staggering, but still finite; so, strictly speaking, there are no irreversible processes and no long term entropy increase. Whenever entropy rises it will eventually fall. That implies there is an apparent contradiction between Poincaré’s theorem and Boltzmann’s. To avoid this Poincaré problem, physicists redefined the second law: (c) 2nd Law: In an isolated system, entropy is likely not to decrease for any period of time that is short compared to the Poincaré period for that system. Josef Loschmidt pointed out another problem with Boltzmann’s approach to the arrow of time. Loschmidt realized that Boltzmann’s statistical mechanics predicts for any point in time not only that entropy should be higher in the future but also that it should be higher in the past. However, we know that it was not higher in the past. Here is a graph representing this knowledge.

The conclusion to be drawn from this is that entropy increase is only part of the story of time’s cosmic arrow. Loschmidt suggested that the low entropy in the past must be explained by what the initial conditions happened to be like at the beginning of the universe. Boltzmann agreed. Among cosmologists, this is now the generally accepted answer to the origin of time’s arrow. Yet this answer leads naturally to the request for an explanation of the initial configuration of our universe. Is this temporally asymmetric initial boundary condition simply a brute fact, as many physicists believe, or are there as yet undiscovered laws to explain the fact, as many other physicists believe–either to explain it as necessarily having had to happen or to explain it as having been highly probable? Objecting to inexplicable initial facts as being unacceptably ad hoc, the Swiss physicist Walther Ritz and, more recently, Roger Penrose, say we must not yet have found the true laws (or invented the best laws) underlying nature’s behavior. We need to keep looking for basic, time asymmetrical laws in order to account the initial low entropy and thus for time’s arrow. The low entropy appears to be due to the microscopic Big Bang region having just the right amount of homogeneity or smoothness so that galaxies would eventually form. If it were intially smoother, then there would be no congealing of matter into galaxies; if it were intially less smooth, then most all the matter would have long ago ended up in large black holes. So, the issue of how to explain the thermodynamic arrow is the issue of why the Big Bang region had just the right smoothness.

c. Multiple Arrows

Consider the difference between time’s arrow and time’s arrows. The direction of entropy change is the thermodynamic arrow. Here are some suggestions for additional arrows: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. There are records of the past but not of the future. It is easier to know the past than to know the future. Light and radio waves spread out from, but never converge into, a point. The universe expands rather than shrinks. Causes precede their effects. We see black holes but never white holes. Conscious actions affect the future but not the past. B meson decay, neutral kaon decay, and Higgs boson decay are each different in a time reversed world. 9. Quantum mechanical measurement collapses the wave function. 10. Possibilities decrease as time goes on. Most physicists suspect all these arrows are linked so that we can not have some arrows reversing while others do not. For example, the collapse of the wave function is generally considered to be due to an increase in the entropy of the universe. However, the linkage of all the arrows may require as yet undiscovered laws.

d. Reversing Time
But could all the arrows have pointed the other way? That is, could the cosmic arrow of time have gone the other way? Most physicists suspect that the answer is yes, and it would have gone the other way if the initial conditions of the universe at the Big Bang had been different. Should we also expect that at some time in the future all the arrows will reverse? Unfortunately, it is still an open question in philosophy as to what it means for time’s arrow to reverse. For a technical introduction to the debate, see Savitt, pp. 12-19. Supposing the cosmic arrow of time were to reverse, it would be possible for our past to be re-created and lived in reverse order. This re-occurrence of the past is different than the re-living of past events via time travel. With cyclical time or with time travel in a causal loop, the past is re-visited in the original order that the past events occurred; the past is not visited in reverse order. Philosophers have gone on to ask other interesting questions about different scenarios involving the reversal of time’s arrow. Suppose the cosmic arrow of time were someday to reverse in a distant, populated region far away from Earth. Imagine what life would be like for the time-reversed people. First off, would it be possible for them to be conscious? Assuming consciousness is caused by brain processes, could there be consciousness if their nerve pulses reversed, or would this reversal destroy consciousness? This is a difficult question, but supposing the answer is that they would be conscious, and supposing that anyone’s future is what will happen, not what has happened, then what would their experience be like? It has been suggested that if we were able to watch them in their region of space, they would appear to us to be precognitive. Could they use this to win gambling bets on, say, the roll of the dice? Probably not, say other philosophers who argue that the inner experience of timereversed people must be no different than ours.

If Aristotle were correct that the future, unlike the past, is undetermined or open, then the future of people in the time-reversed region would be open, too. But it is like our past. What can we conclude from this? Do we conclude that our past might really be undetermined and open, too? That our past could change? And there are other questions. Consider communication between the two regions. If we sent a signal to the time-reversed region, could our message cross the border, or would it dissolve there, or would it bounce back? If they successfully sent a recorded film across the border to us, should we play it in the ordinary way or in reverse? If the arrow of time were to reverse in some region, would not dead people in that region become undead, but is that metaphysically possible?

9. Is Only the Present Real?
Have past objects, such as dinosaurs, slipped out of existence? More generally, we are asking whether the past is real. How about the future? Philosophers are divided into three camps on the question of the reality of the past, present, and future. The presentist viewpoint maintains that the past and the future are not real, and that only the present is real, so if a statement about the past is true, this is because some present facts make it true. Advocates of a growing past argue that, in addition to the present, the past is also real. Reality “grows” with the coming into being of determinate reality from an indeterminate or potential reality. “The world grows by accretion of facts,” says Richard Jeffrey. Aristotle (in De Interpretatione, chapter 9) and C. D. Broad advocated a growing-past theory. Parmenides, Duns Scotus and A. N. Prior are presentists. Opposing both presentism and the growing past theory, Bertrand Russell, J.J.C. Smart, W.V.O. Quine, Adolf Grünbaum, and Paul Horwich object to assigning special ontological status to the present. They say there is no objective ontological difference among the past, the present, and the future just as there is no ontological difference between here and there. Yes, we thank goodness that the pain is there rather than here, and past rather than present, but these differences are subjective, being dependent on our point of view. This ontology of time is called the block universe theory because it regards reality as a single block of spacetime with its time slices ordered by the temporallybefore relation. It is mental perspectives only that divide the block into a past part, a present part, and a future part. The future, by the way, is the actual future, not all possible futures. William James coined the term “block universe,” but the theory is also called “eternalism” and the “static theory of time.” Although presentists say dinosaurs are not real, whereas eternalists say that dinosaurs are as real as anything in the present, another camp of philosophers argue that the presentist-eternalist debate is merely verbal because each side is using the word “real” in a different sense; the presentist uses it in a tensed sense, whereas the eternalist uses it in an untensed sense. The presentist and the advocate of the growing past will usually unite in opposition to the block universe (eternalism) on the grounds that it misses the special “open” character of the future and the equally significant point that the present is so much more vivid to a conscious being than is any other time-slice of spacetime. The advocates of the block universe counter that only the block universe can make sense of

relativity’s implication that, if people are in certain relative motions, an event in person A’s present can be in person B’s future. Presentism and the growing-past theories must suppose that this event is both real and unreal because it is real for A but not real for B. Surely that conclusion is unacceptable, they claim. Their two key assumptions here are that relativity does provide an accurate account of the spatiotemporal relations among events, and that if there is some frame of reference in which two events are simultaneous, then if one of the events is real, so is the other. Opponents of the block universe charge that it does not provide an accurate account of the way things are because it leaves out “the now” or “the present.” This metaphysical dispute was fueled by Einstein who said: Since there exists in the four dimensional structure no longer any slices which represent “now” objectively…it appears more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence. Many philosophers, however, do not agree with Einstein. This philosophical dispute has taken a linguistic turn by focusing upon a question about language: “Are predictions true or false at the time they are uttered?” Those who believe in the block universe (and thus in the determinate reality of the future) will answer “Yes” while a “No” will be given by presentists and advocates of the growing past. The issue is whether contingent sentences uttered now about future events are true or false now rather than true or false only in the future at the time the predicted event is supposed to occur. Suppose someone says, “Tomorrow the admiral will start a sea battle.” And suppose that tomorrow the admiral orders a sneak attack on the enemy ships. And suppose that this action starts a sea battle. Advocates of the block universe argue that, if so, then the above sentence was true all along. Truth is eternal or fixed, they say, and “is true” is a tenseless predicate, not one that merely says “is true now.” These philosophers point favorably to the ancient Greek philosopher Chrysippus who was convinced that a contingent sentence about the future is true or false, and it can not be any value in between such as “indeterminate.” Many others, following a suggestion from Aristotle, argue that the sentence is not true until it can be known to be true, namely at the time at which the sea battle occurs. The sentence was not true before the battle occurred. In other words, predictions have no (classical) truth values at the time they are uttered. Predictions fall into the “truth value gap.” This position that contingent sentences have no classical truth values is called the Aristotelian position because many researchers throughout history have taken Aristotle to be holding the position in chapter 9 of On Interpretation–although today it is not so clear that Aristotle himself held it. The principal motive for adopting the Aristotelian position arises from the belief that if sentences about future human actions are now true, then humans are fated (or determined) to perform those actions, and so humans have no free will. To defend free will, we must deny truth values to predictions. The Aristotelian argument against predictions being true or false has been discussed as much as any in the history of philosophy, and it faces a series of challenges. First, if

there really is no free will, or if free will is compatible with fatalism (or determinism), then the motivation to deny truth values to predictions is undermined. Second, if it is true that you will perform an action in the future, it does not follow that now you will not perform it freely, nor that you are not free to do otherwise, but only that you will not do otherwise. For more on this point about modal logic, see Foreknowledge and Free Will. A third challenge arises from moral discussions about the interests of people who are as yet unborn. Quine argues that if we have an obligation to conserve the environment for these people, then we are treating them as being as real as the people around us now. Only the block universe view can make sense of this treatment. A fourth challenge, from Quine and others, claims the Aristotelian position wreaks havoc with the logical system we use to reason and argue with predictions. For example, here is a deductively valid argument: There will be a sea battle tomorrow. If there will be a sea battle tomorrow, then we should wake up the admiral. So, we should wake up the admiral. Without the premises in this argument having truth values, that is, being true or false, we cannot properly assess the argument using the standard of deductive validity because this standard is about the relationships among truth values of the component statements. Unfortunately, the Aristotelian position says that some of these components are neither true nor false, so Aristotle’s position is implausible. In reaction to this fourth challenge, proponents of the Aristotelian argument claim that if Quine would embrace tensed propositions and expand his classical logic to a tense logic, he could avoid those difficulties in assessing the validity of arguments that involve sentences having future tense. Quine has claimed that the analysts of our talk involving time should in principle be able to eliminate the temporal indexical words because their removal is needed for fixed truth and falsity of our sentences [fixed in the sense of being eternal sentences whose truth values are not relative because the indicator words have been replaced by times, places and names, and whose verbs are treated as tenseless], and having fixed truth values is crucial for the logical system used to clarify science. “To formulate logical laws in such a way as not to depend thus upon the assumption of fixed truth and falsity would be decidedly awkward and complicated, and wholly unrewarding,” says Quine. Philosophers are still very divided on the issues of whether only the present is real, what sort of deductive logic to use, and whether future contingent sentences have truth values.

10. Are there Essentially Tensed Facts?

All the world’s cultures have a conception of time, but in only half the world’s languages is the ordering of events expressed in the form of tense (Pinker, p. 189). The English language, for example, expresses conceptions of time with tenses but also with aspect and with adverbial time phrases such as “now,” “tomorrow” and “twenty-three days ago.” Philosophers have asked what we are basically committed to when we use tenses to “locate” an event in the past, in the present, or in the future. For example, what do we make of the past tense verb in saying, “Mohammed’s birth occurred centuries ago”? There are two major answers. One answer is that tense distinctions represent objective features of reality that are not captured by the popular block universe approach. This answer takes tenses very seriously and is called the tensed theory of time, or the A-theory in McTaggart’s sense of A vs. B. A second answer to the question of the significance of tenses is that they are subjective features of the perspective from which the subject views the universe. Actually this disagreement isn’t really about tenses in the grammatical sense, but about the significance of the distinctions of past, present, and future which those tenses are used to mark. On the tenseless theory of time, or the B-theory, whether the birth of Mohammed occurred there depends on the speaker’s perspective; similarly, whether the birth occurs then is equally subjective. The proponent of the tenseless view does not deny the importance or coherence of talk about the past, but will say it really is (or should be analyzed as being) talk about our own relation to events. My assertion that Mohammed’s birth has occurred might be analyzed as asserting that the birth event happens before the event of my writing this sentence. This controversy is often presented as a dispute about whether tensed facts exist, with advocates of the tenseless theory objecting to tensed facts such as the fact of Mohammed’s having been born. The primary function of tensed facts is to make tensed sentences true. For the purposes of explaining that point, let us uncritically accept the Correspondence Theory of Truth and apply it to the following past tense sentence: Custer died in Montana. If we apply the Correspondence Theory directly to this sentence, we would say that The sentence “Custer died in Montana” is true because it corresponds to the tensed fact that Custer died in Montana. Opponents of tensed facts argue that the Correspondence Theory should be applied only indirectly. One approach, the classical tenseless approach, argues that the Correspondence Theory should be applied only to the result of analyzing away tensed sentences into equivalent sentences that do not use tenses. They might say that the sentence “Custer died in Montana” has this equivalent “eternal” sentence: There is a time t such that Custer dies in Montana at time t, and time t is before the time of the writing of the sentence “Custer died in Montana” by Dowden in the article “Time” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. In this analysis, the verb dies is logically tenseless (although grammatically it is present tensed). Applying the Correspondence Theory to this new sentence yields:

The sentence “Custer died in Montana” is true because it corresponds to the tenseless fact that there is a time t such that Custer dies in Montana at time t, and time t is before the time of the utterance (or writing) of the sentence “Custer died in Montana” by Dowden in the article “Time” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy This analysis of tenses without appeal to tensed facts is challenged on the grounds that it can succeed only for utterances or inscriptions, but a sentence can be true even if never uttered or written by anyone. There are other challenges. Roderick Chisholm and A. N. Prior claim that the “is” in the sentence “It is now midnight” is essentially present tensed because there is no translation using only tenseless verbs. Trying to analyze it as, say, “There is a time t such that t = midnight” is to miss the essential reference to the present in the original sentence. The latter sentence is always true, but the original is not, so the tenseless analysis fails. There is no escape by adding “and t is now” because this last indexical still needs analysis, and we are starting a vicious regress. Chisholm and Prior say that true sentences using the temporal indexical terms “now,” “before now,” and “happened yesterday” are part of the facts of the world that science should account for, and science fails to do this because it does not recognize them as being real facts. Science, they say, so far restricts itself to eternal facts, such as in the Minkowski-like spacetime representation of events. These events are sets of spacetime points. For such events, the reference to time and place is explicit. A Minkowski spacetime diagram displays only what happens before what, but not which time is present time, or past, or future. What is missing from the diagram, say Chisholm and Prior, is some moving point on the time axis representing the observer’s “now” as time flows up the diagram. Earlier, Prior [1959] had argued that after a painful event, one says, e.g., “Thank goodness that’s over,” and [this]…says something which it is impossible that any use of a tenseless copula with a date should convey. It certainly doesn’t mean the same as, e.g., “Thank goodness the date of the conclusion of that thing is Friday, June 15, 1954,” even if it be said then. (Nor, for that matter, does it mean “Thank goodness the conclusion of that thing is contemporaneous with this utterance.” Why should anyone thank goodness for that?). D. H. Mellor, who advocates a newer subjective theory of tenses, says there’s no mystery about the meaing of tensed sentences that requires tensed facts or tensed properties. More specifically, he argues that the truth conditions of any tensed sentence can be explained without tensed facts even if Chisholm and Prior are correct that some tensed sentences can not be translated into tenseless ones. Mellor would say it is not the pastness of the painful event that explains why I say, “Thank goodness that’s over.” My gladness is explained by my belief that the event is past, plus its being true that the event is past. In addition, tenseless sentences can be used to explain the logical relations between tensed sentences: that one tensed sentence implies another, is inconsistent with yet another, and so forth. And understanding truth conditions and truth implications is the main thing you know when you understand a declarative sentence. In other words, the meaning of tensed sentences can be explained without utilizing tensed properties or tensed facts. Then Ockham’s Razor is applied. If we can do without essentially tensed facts, then we should say essentially tensed facts do not exist. To summarize, tensed facts were presumed to be needed to account for the truth

of tensed talk; but the analysis shows that ordinary tenseless facts are adequate. So, there are no essentially tensed facts, according to Mellor.

11. What is Temporal Logic?
Temporal logic is the representation of information about time by using the methods of symbolic logic. The classical approach to temporal logic is via tense logic, a formalism that adds tense operators to an existing system of symbolic logic. The pioneer in the late 1950s was A. N. Prior. He created a new symbolic logic to describe our use of time words such as “now,” “happens before,” “afterwards,” “always,” and “sometimes”. The relationships that propositions have to the past, present, and future help to determine their truth-value. A proposition, such as “Socrates is sitting down” is allowed to be true at one time and false at another time. Prior was the first to appreciate that time concepts are similar in structure to modal concepts such as “it is possible that” and “it is necessary that,” and so he adapted modal propositional logic for his tense logic. Dummett and Lemmon also made major, early contributions to tense logic. One standard system of tense logic is a variant of the S4.3 system of modal logic. In this formal tense logic, the usual modal operator “it is possible that” is re-interpreted to mean “at some past time it was the case that.” Let the letter “P” represent this operator, and add to the axioms of classical propositional logic the modal-like axiom P(p v q) iff Pp v Pq. The axiom says that for any two present-tensed propositions p and q, at some past time it was the case that p or q if and only if either at some past time it was the case that p or at some past time it was the case that q. The S4.3 system’s key axiom is the equivalence Pp & Pq iff P(p & q) v P(p & Pq) v P(q & Pp). This axiom captures part of our ordinary conception of time as a linear succession of states of the world. Another axiom might state that if proposition Q is true, then it will always be true that Q has been true at some time. Prior and others have suggested a wide variety of axioms for tense logic, but logicians still disagree about what axioms are needed to make correct beliefs about time be theorems that are logical consequences of those axioms. Some extension of classical tense logic is definitely needed in order to express “Q has been true for the past three days.” The concept of being in the past is usually treated by metaphysicians as a predicate that assigns properties to events, but in this tense logic the concept is treated as an operator P upon propositions, and this difference in treatment is objectionable to some metaphysicians. The other major approach to temporal logic does not use a tense logic. Instead, it formalizes temporal reasoning within a first-order logic without modal-like tense operators. This so-called method of “temporal arguments” adds an additional variable, a time argument, to any predicate involving time in order to indicate how its satisfaction depends on time. A predicate such as “is less than seven” does not involve time, but the predicate “is resting” does. If “x is resting” is represented classically as R(x), where R is a one-argument predicate, then it would be represented in temporal

logic as R(x,t) and would be interpreted as saying x has property R at time t. R has been changed to a two-argument predicate by adding a “temporal argument.” The time variable “t” is treated as a new sort of variable with its own axioms. These axioms might allow time to be a dense linear ordering without endpoints, or to be even more like the real numbers. Occasionally the method of temporal arguments uses a special constant symbol, say “n”, to denote now, the present time. This helps with the translation of common temporal statements. For example, the statement that Q has always been true may be translated into first-order temporal logic as (For all t)[(t < n) → Q(t)]. Some temporal logics allow sentences to lack a classical truth value. The first person to give a clear presentation of the implications of treating declarative sentences as being neither true nor false was the Polish logician Jan Lukasiewicz in 1920. To carry out Aristotle’s suggestion that future contingent sentences do not yet have truth values, he developed a three-valued symbolic logic, with all grammatical declarative sentences having the truth-values of True, False, or else Indeterminate [T, F, or I]. Contingent sentences about the future, such as Aristotle’s prediction that there will be a sea battle tomorrow, are assigned an I. Truth tables for the connectives of propositional logic are redefined to maintain logical consistency and to maximally preserve our intuitions about truth and falsehood. See (Haack, 1974) for more details about this application of three-valued logic.

Proper Time, Coordinate Lorentz Transformations


This Supplement explains some of the key concepts of the Special Theory of Relativity (STR). It shows how the predictions of STR differ from classical mechanics in the most fundamental way. It requires some basic mathematical knowledge.

Table of Contents
1. Proper Time 2. The STR Relationship between Space, Time, and Proper Time 3. Coordinate Systems 4. Cartesian Coordinates for Space 5. Choice of Inertial Reference Frame 6. Operational Specification of Coordinate Systems for Classical Space and Time 7. Operational Specification of Coordinate Systems for STR Space and Time 8. Operationalism 9. Coordinate Transformations and Object Transformations 10. Valid Transformations 11. Velocity Boosts in STR and Classical Mechanics

12. Galilean Transformation of Coordinate System 13. Lorentz Transformation of Coordinate System 14. Time and Space Dilation 15. The Full Special Theory of Relativity 16. References and Further Reading

1. Proper Time
The essence of the Special Theory of Relativity (STR) is that it connects three distinct quantities to each other: space, time, and proper time. ‘Time’ is also called ‘coordinate time’ or ‘real time’, to distinguish it from ‘proper time’. Proper time is also called clock time, or process time. It is a measure of the amount of physical process that a system undergoes. E.g. proper time for an ordinary mechanical clock is recorded by the number of rotations of the hands of the clock. Alternatively, we might take a gyroscope, or a freely spinning wheel, and measure the number of rotations in a given period. We could also take a chemical process with a natural rate, such as the burning of a candle, and measure the proportion of candle that is burnt over a given period. Note that these processes are measured by ‘absolute quantities’: the number of times a wheel spins on its axis, or the proportion of candle that has burnt. These give absolute physical quantities, and do not depend upon assigning any coordinate system, as a numerical representation of space or real time does. The numerical coordinate systems we use firstly require a choice of measuring units (meters and seconds, for example). Even more importantly, the measurement of space and real time in STR is relative to the choice of an inertial frame. This choice is partly arbitrary. Our numerical representation of proper time also requires a choice of units, and we adopt the same units as we use for real time (seconds). But the choice of a coordinate system, based on an inertial frame, does not affect the measurement of proper time. We will consider the concept of coordinate systems and measuring units shortly. Proper time can be defined in classical mechanics through cyclic processes that have natural periods – for instance, pendulum clocks are based on counting the number of swings of a pendulum. More generally, any natural process in a classical system runs through a sequence of physical states at a certain absolute rate, and this is the ‘proper time rate’ for the system. In classical physics, two identical types of systems (with identical types of internal construction, and identical initial states) are predicted to have the same proper time rates. That is, they will run through their physical states in perfect correlation with each other. This holds even if two identical systems are in relative constant motion with respect to each other. For instance, two identical classical clocks would run at the same rate, even if one is kept stationary in a laboratory, while the other is placed in a spaceship traveling at high speed. This invariance principle is fundamental to classical physics, and it means that in classical physics we can define: Coordinate time = Proper time for all natural systems. For this reason, the distinction between these two concepts of time was hardly

recognized in classical physics (although Newton did distinguish them conceptually, regarding ‘real time’ as an absolute temporal flow, and ‘proper time’ as merely a ‘sensible measure’ of real time; see his Scholium). However, the distinction only gained real significance in the Special Theory of Relativity, which contradicts classical physics by predicting that the rate of proper time for a system varies with its velocity, or motion through space. The relationship is very simple: the faster a system travels through space, the slower its internal processes go. At the maximum possible speed, the speed of light, c, the internal processes in a physical system would stop completely. Indeed, for light itself, the rate of proper time is zero: there is no ‘internal process’ occurring in light. It is as if light is ‘frozen’ in a specific internal state. At this point, we should mention that the concept of proper time appears more strongly in quantum mechanics than in classical mechanics, through the intrinsically ‘wave-like’ nature of quantum particles. In classical physics, single point-particles are simple things, and do not have any ‘internal state’ that represents proper time, but in quantum mechanics, the most fundamental particles have an intrinsic proper time, represented by an internal frequency. This is directly related to the wave-like nature of quantum particles. For radioactive systems, the rate of radioactive decay is a measure of proper time. Note that the amount of decay of a substance can be measured in an absolute sense. For light, treated as a quantum mechanical particle (the photon), the rate of proper time is zero, and this is because it has no mass. But for quantum mechanical particles with mass, there is always a finite ‘intrinsic’ proper time rate, represented by the ‘phase’ of the quantum wave. Classical particles do not have any correlate of this feature, which is responsible for quantum interference effects and other non-classical ‘wave-like’ behavior.

2. The STR Relationship between Space, Time, and Proper Time
STR predicts that motion of a system through space is directly compensated by a decrease in real internal processes, or proper time rates. Thus, a clock will run fastest when it is stationary. If we move it about in space, its rate of internal processes will decrease, and it will run slower than an identical type of stationary clock. The relationship is precisely specified by the most profound equation of STR, usually called the metric equation (or line metric equation). (1) This applies to the trajectory of any physical system. The quantities involved are: Dt is the amount of proper time elapsed between two points on the trajectory.Dt is the amount of real time elapsed between two points on the trajectory. Dr is the amount of motion through space between two points on the trajectory. c is the speed of light, and depends on the units we choose for space and time.

The meaning of this equation is illustrated by considering simple trajectories depicted in a space-time diagram.

Figure 1. Two simple space-time trajectories. If we start at a initial point on the trajectory of a physical system, and follow it to a later point, we find that the system has covered a certain amount of physical space, Dr, over a certain amount of real time, Dt, and has undergone a certain amount of internal process or proper-time, Dt. As long as we use the same units (seconds) to represent proper time and real time, these quantities are connected by (1). Proper time intervals are shown in Figure 1 by blue dots along the trajectories. If these were trajectories of clocks, for example, then the blue dots would represent seconds ticked off by the clock mechanism. In Figure 1, we have chosen to set the speed of light as 1. This is equivalent to using our normal units for time, i.e. seconds, but choosing the units for space as c meters (instead of 1 meter), where c is the speed of light in meters per second. This system of units is often used by physicists for convenience, and it appears to make the quantity c drop out of the equations, since c = 1. However, it is important to note that c is a dimensional constant, and even if its numerical value is set equal to 1 by choosing appropriate units, it is still logically necessary in Equation 1 for the equation to balance dimensionally. For multiplying an interval of time, Dt, by the quantity c converts from a temporal quantity into a spatial quantity. Equations of physics, just like ordinary propositions, can only identify objects or quantities of the same physical kinds with each other, and the role of c as a dimensional constant remains crucial in Equation 1, for the identity it states to make any sense.

Trajectories in Figure 1

Trajectory 1 (green) is for a stationary particle, hence Dr = 0 (it has no motion through space), and putting this value in Equation 1, we find that: Dt = Dt. For a stationary particle, the amount of proper time is equal to the amount of coordinate time.

Trajectory 2 (red) is for a moving particle, and Dr > 0. We have chosen the velocity in this example to be: v = c/2, half the speed of light. But: v = Dr/Dt (distance traveled in the interval of time). Hence: Dr = ½cDt. Putting this value into Equation 1, we get: c²Dt² = c²Dt²-(½cDt)², or: Dt = Ö(¾)Dt » 0.87Dt. Hence the amount of proper time is only about 87% of coordinate time. (Even though this trajectory is very fast, proper time is still only slowed down a little.) Trajectory 3 (black) is for a particle moving at the speed of light, with v = c, giving: Dr = cDt. Putting this in Equation 1, we get: c²Dt² = c²Dt²-(cDt)² = 0. Hence for a light-like particle, the amount of proper time is equal to 0.

Now from the classical point of view, Equation (1) is a surprise – indeed, it seems bizarre! For how can mere motion through space directly and precisely affect the rate of physical processes occurring in a system? We are used to the opposite idea, that motion through space, by itself, has no intrinsic effect on processes. This is at the heart of the classical Galilean invariance or symmetry. But STR breaks this rule. We can compare this situation with classical physics, where (for linear trajectories) we have two independent equations: (2.a) Dt = Dt (2.b) Dr = vDt for some
• •

(real numbers)

Equation (2.a) just means that the rate of proper time in a system is invariant – and we measure it in the same units as coordinate time, t. Equation (2.b) just means that every particle or system has some finite velocity or speed, v, through space, with v defined by: v = Dr/Dt.

There is no connection here between proper time and spatial motion of the system. The fact that (2) is replaced by (1) in STR is very peculiar indeed. It means that the rate of internal process in a system like a clock (whether it is a mechanical, chemical, or radioactive clock) is automatically connected to the motion of the clock in space. If we speed up a clock in motion through space, the rate of internal process slows down in a precise way to compensate for the motion through space. The great mystery is that there is no apparent mechanism for this effect, called time dilation. In classical physics, to slow down a clock, we have to apply some force like friction to its internal mechanism: but in STR, the physical process of a system is slowed down just by moving it around. This applies equally to all physical processes. For instance, a radioactive isotope decays more slowly at high speed. And even animals, including human beings, should age more slowly if they move around at high speed, giving rise to the ‘Twin’s Paradox’. In fact, time dilation was already recognized by Lorentz and Poincare, who developed most of the essential mathematical relationships of STR before Einstein. But Einstein formulated a more comprehensive theory, and, with important contributions by Minkowski, he provided an explanation for the effects. The Einstein-Minkowski explanation appeals to the new concept of a space-time manifold, and interprets Equation 1 as a kind of ‘geometric’ feature of space-time. This view has been widely embraced in 20th Century physics. By contrast, Lorentz refused to believe in the

‘geometric’ explanation, and he thought that motion through space has some kind of ‘mechanical’ effect on particles, which causes processes to slow down. While Lorentz’s view is dismissed by most physicists, some writers have persisted with similar ideas, and the issues involved in the explanation of Equation 1 continue to be of deep interest, to philosophers at least. But before moving on to the explanation, we need to discuss the concepts of coordinate systems for space and time, which we have been assuming so far without explanation.

3. Coordinate Systems
In physics we generally assume that space is a three dimensional manifold and time is a one dimensional continuum. A coordinate system is a way of representing space and time using numbers to represent points. We assign a set of three numbers, (x,y,z), to characterize points in space, and one number, t, to characterize a point in time. Combining these, we have general space-time coordinates: (x,y,z,t). The idea is that every physical event in the universe has a ‘space-time location’, and a coordinate system provides a numerical description of the system of these possible ‘locations’. Classical coordinate systems were used by Descartes, Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, and other classical physicists to describe space. Classical space is assumed to be a three dimensional Euclidean manifold. Classical physicists added time coordinates, t, as an additional parameter to characterize events. The principles behind coordinate systems seemed very intuitive and natural up until the beginning of the C20th, but things changed dramatically with the STR. One of Einstein’s first great achievements was to reexamine the concept of a coordinate system, and to propose a new system suited to STR, which differs from the system for classical physics. In doing this, Einstein recognized that the notion of a coordinate system is theory dependant. The classical system depends on adopting certain physical assumptions of classical physics – for instance, that clocks do not alter their rates when they are moved about in space. In STR, some of the laws underpinning these classical assumptions change, and this changes our very assumptions about how we can measure space and time. To formulate STR successfully, Einstein could not simply propose a new set of physical laws within the existing classical framework of ideas about space and time: he had to simultaneously reformulate the representation of space and time. He did this primarily by reformulating the rules for assigning coordinate systems for space and time. He gave a new system of rules suited to the new physical principles of STR, and reexamined the validity of the old rules of classical physics within this new system. A key feature Einstein focused on is that a coordinate system involves a system of operational principles, which connect the features of space and time with physical processes or ‘operations’ that we can use to measure those features. For instance, the theory of classical space assumes that there is an intrinsic distance (or length) between points of space. We may take distance itself to be an underlying feature of ‘empty space’. Geometric lines can be defined as collections of points in space, and line segments have intrinsic lengths, prior to any physical objects being placed in space. But of course, we only measure (or perceive) the underlying structure of space by using physical objects or physical processes to make measurements. Typically, we use ‘straight rigid rulers’ to measure distances between points of space; or we use

‘uniform, standard clocks’ to measure the time intervals between moments of time. Rulers and clocks are particular physical objects or processes, and for them to perform their measurement functions adequately, they must have appropriate physical properties. But those physical properties are the subject of the theories of physics themselves. Classical physics, for example, assumes that ordinary rigid rulers maintain the same length (or distance between the end-points) when they are moved around in space. It also assumes that there are certain types of systems (providing ‘idealized clocks’) that produce cyclic physical processes, and maintain the same temporal intervals between cycles through time, even if we move these systems around in space. These assumptions are internally consistent with principles of measurement in classical physics. But they are contradicted in STR, and Einstein had to reformulate the operational principles for measuring space and time, in a way that is internally consistent with the new physical principles of STR. We will briefly describe these new operational principles shortly, but there are some features of coordinate systems that are important to appreciate first.

Coordinates as a mathematical language for time and space
The assignment of a numerical coordinate system for time or space is thought of as providing a mathematical language (using numbers as names) for representing physical things (time and space). In a sense, this language could be ‘arbitrarily chosen’: there are no laws about what names can be used to represent things. But naturally there are features that we want a coordinate system to reflect. In particular, we want the assignment of numbers to directly reflect the concepts of distance between points of space, and the size of intervals between moments of time. We perform mathematical operations on numbers, and we can subtract two numbers to find the ‘numerical distance’ between them. For numbers are really defined as certain structures, with features such as continuity, and we want to use the structures of number systems to represent structural features of space and time. For instance, we assume in our fundamental physical theory that any two interevals of time have intrinsic magnitudes, which can be compared to each other. The ‘intrinsic temporal distance’ between two moments, t1 and t2, may be the same as that between two quite different moments, t3 and t4. We naturally want to assign numbers to times so that ordinary numerical subtraction corresponds to the ‘intrinsic temporal distance’ between events. We choose a ‘uniform’ coordinate system for time to achieve this.

Figure 2. A Coordinate system for time gives a mathematical language for a physical thing. Numbers are used as names for moments of time.

4. Cartesian Coordinates for Space
Time is simple because it is one-dimensional. Three-dimensional space is much more complex. Because space is three dimensional, we need three separate real numbers to represent a single point. Physicists normally choose a Cartesian coordinate system to represent space. We represent points in this system as: r = (x,y,z), where x, y, and z are separate numerical coordinates, in three orthogonal (perpendicular) directions. The numerical structure with real-number points: (x,y,z) is denoted in mathematics as: . Three dimensional space itself (a physical thing) is denoted as: . A Cartesian coordinate system is a special kind of mapping between points of these two structures. It makes the intrinsic spatial distance between two points in E 3 be directly reflected by the ‘numerical distance’ between their numerical coordinates in .

The numerical distances in are determined by a numerical function for length. A line from the origin: (0,0,0), to the point r = (x,y,z), which is called the vector r, has its length given by the Pythagorean formula: |r| = √(x²+y²+z²). More generally, for any two points, r1 = (x1, y1, z1), and: r2 = (x2, y2, z2), the distance function is: |r2 – r1| = √((x2 – x1)²+ (y2 – y1)²+ (z2 – z1)²) The special feature of this system is that the lengths of lines in the x, y, or z directions alone are given directly by the values of the coordinates. E.g. if: r = (x,0,0), then the vector to r is a line purely in the x-direction, and its length is simply: |r| = x. If r1 = (x1,0,0), and: r2 = (x2,0,0), then the distance between them is just: |r2 – r1| = (x2 – x1 ). (As well, a Cartesian coordinate system treats the three directions, x, y, and z, in a symmetric way: the angles between any pair of these directions is the same, 90 0. For

this reason, a Cartesian system can be rotated, and the same form of the general distance function is maintained in the rotated system.) In fact, there are spatial manifolds which do not have any possible Cartesian coordinate system – e.g. the surface of a sphere, regarded as a two dimensional manifold, cannot be represented by using Cartesian coordinates. Such spaces were first studied as geometric systems in the 19th century, and are called non-classical or non-Euclidean geometries. However, classical space is Euclidean, and by definition:

Euclidean space can be represented by Cartesian coordinate systems.

We can define alternative, non-Cartesian, coordinate systems for Euclidean space; for instance, cylindrical and spherical coordinate systems are very useful in physics, and they use mixtures of linear or radial distance, and angles, as the numbers to specify points of space. The numerical formulas for distance in these coordinate systems appear quite different from the Cartesian formula. But they are defined to give the same results for the distances between physical points. This is the most crucial feature of the concept of distance in classical physics:

Distance between points in classical space (or between two events that occur at the same moment of time) is a physical invariant. It does not change with the choice of coordinate system.

The form of the numerical equation for distance changes with the choice of coordinate system; but this is done deliberately to preserve the physical concept of distance.

5. Choice of Inertial Reference Frame
A second crucial concept is the idea of a reference frame. A reference frame specifies all the trajectories that are regarded as stationary, or at rest in space. This defines the property of remaining at the same place through time. But the key feature of both classical mechanics and STR is that no unique reference frame is determined. Any object that is not accelerating can be regarded as stationary ‘in its own inertial frame’. It defines a valid reference frame for the whole universe. This is the natural reference frame ‘from the point of view’ of the object, or ‘relative to the object’. But of course, there are many possible choices: because given any particular reference frame, any other frame, defined to give everything a constant velocity relative to the first frame is also a valid choice. The class of possible (physically valid) reference frames is objectively determined, because acceleration is absolutely distinguished from constant motion. Any object that is not accelerating may be regarded as defining a valid reference frame. But the specific choice of a reference frame from the range of possibilities is regarded as arbitrary or conventional. This choice must be made before a coordinate system can be defined to represent distances in space and time. (Even after we have chosen a reference frame, there are still innumerable choices of coordinate systems. But the reference frame settles the definition of distances between events, which must be defined as the same in any coordinate system relative to a given reference frame.)

The idea of the conventionality of the reference frame is partly evident already in the choice of a Cartesian coordinate system: for it is an arbitrary matter where we choose the origin, or point: 0 = (0,0,0), for such a system. It is also arbitrary which directions we choose for the x, y, and z axes – as long as we make them mutually perpendicular. We are free to rotate a given set of axes, x, y, z, to produce a new set, x’, y’, and z’, and this gives another Cartesian coordinate system. Thus, translations and rotations of Cartesian coordinate systems for space still leave us with Cartesian systems. But there is a further transformation, which is absolutely central to classical physics, and involves both time and space. This is the Galilean velocity transformation, or velocity boost. The essential point is that we need to apply a spatial coordinate system through time. In pure classical geometry, we do not have to take time into account: we just assign a single coordinate system, at a single moment of time. But in physics we need to apply a coordinate system for space at different moments of time. How do we know whether the coordinate system we apply at one moment of time represents the same coordinate system we use at a later moment of time? The principles of classical physics mean that we cannot measure ‘absolute location in space’ across time. The reason is the fundamental classical principle that the laws of nature do not distinguish between two inertial frames moving relative to each other at a constant speed. This is the classical Galilean principle of ‘relativity of motion’. Roughly stated, this means that uniform motion through space has no effect on physical processes. And if motion in itself does not affect processes, then we cannot use processes to detect motion. Newton believed that the classical conception of space requires there to be absolute spatial locations through time nonetheless, and that some special coordinate systems or physical objects will indeed be at ‘absolute rest’ in space. But in the context of classical physics, it is impossible to measure whether any object is at absolute rest, or is in uniform motion in space. Because of this, Leibniz denied that classical physics requires any concept of absolute position in space, and argued that only the notion of ‘relative’ or ‘relational’ space’ is required. In this view, only the relative positions of objects w.r.t each other are considered real. For Newton, the impossibility of measuring absolute space does not prevent it from being a viable concept, and even a logically necessary concept. There is still no general agreement about this debate between ‘absolute’ and ‘relative’ or ‘relational’ conceptions of space. It is one of the great historical debates in the philosophy of both classical and relativistic physics. However, it is generally accepted that classical physics makes absolute space undetectable. This means, at least, that in the context of classical physics there is no way of giving an operational procedure for determining absolute position (or absolute rest) through time. However absolute acceleration is detectable. Accelerations are always accompanied by forces. This means that we can certainly specify the class of coordinate systems which are in uniform motion, or which do not accelerate. These special systems are called inertial systems, or inertial frames, or Galilean frames. The existence of inertial frames is a fundamental assumption of classical physics. It is also fundamental in STR, and the notion of an inertial frame is very similar in both theories. The laws of classical physics are therefore specified for inertial coordinate systems. They are equally valid in any inertial frame. The same holds for the laws of STR.

However, the laws for transforming from one inertial frame to another are different for the two theories. To see how this works, we now consider the operational specification of coordinate systems.

6. Operational Specification of Coordinate Systems for Classical Space and Time
In classical physics, we can define an ‘operational’ measuring system, which allows us to assign coordinates to events in space and time. Classical Time. We imagine measuring time by making a number of uniform clocks, synchronizing them at some initial moment, checking that they all run at exactly the same rates (proper time rates), and then moving clocks to different points of space, where we keep them ‘stationary’ in a chosen inertial frame. We subsequently measure the times of events that occur at the various places, as recorded by the different clocks at those places. Of course, we cannot assume that our system of clocks is truly stationary. The entire system of clocks placed in uniform motion would also define a valid inertial frame. But the laws of classical physics mean that clocks in uniform inertial motion run at exactly the same rates, and so the times recoded for specific events turn out to be exactly the same, on the assumptions of the classical theory, for any such system of clocks. Classical Space. We imagine measuring space by constructing a set of rigid measuring rods or rulers of the same length, which we can (imaginatively at least) set up as a grid across space, in an inertial frame. We keep all the rulers stationary relative to each other, and we use them to measure the distances between various events. Again, the main complication is that we cannot determine any absolutely stationary frame for the grid of rulers, and we can set up an alternative system of rulers which is in relative motion. This results in assigning different ‘absolute velocities’ to objects, as measured in two different frames. However, on the assumptions of the classical theory, the relative distances between any two objects or events, taken at any given moment of time, is measured to be the same in any inertial frame. This is because, in classical physics, uniform motion in itself does not alter the lengths of material objects, or the forces between systems of objects. (Accelerations do alter lengths).

7. Operational Specification of Coordinate Systems for STR Space and Time
In STR, the situation is in many ways very similar to classical physics: there is still a special concept of inertial frames, acceleration is absolutely detectable, and uniform velocity is undetectable. According to STR, the laws of physics still are invariant w.r.t. uniform motion in space, very much like the classical laws. We also specify operational definitions of inertial coordinate systems in STR in a similar way to classical physics. However, the system sketched above for assigning classical coordinates fails, because it is inconsistent with the physical principles of STR. Einstein was forced to reconstruct the classical system of measurement, to obtain a system which is internally consistent with STR.

STR Time. In STR, we can still make uniform clocks, which run at the same rates when they are held stationary relative to each other. But now there is a problem synchronizing them at different points of space. We can start them off synchronized at a particular common point; but moving them to different points of space already upsets their synchronization, according to Equation 1. However, while synchronizing distant clocks is a problem, they nonetheless run at the same intrinsic rates as each other when held in the same inertial frame. And we can ensure two clocks are in a common inertial frame as long as we can ensure that they maintain the same distance from each other. We see how to do this next. Given we have two clocks maintained at the same distance from each other, Einstein showed that there is indeed a simple operational procedure to establish synchronization. We send a light signal from Clock 1 to Clock 2, and reflect it back to Clock 1. We record the time it was sent on Clock 1 as t 0, and the time it was received again as a later time, t2. We also record the time it was received at Clock 2 as t 1’ on Clock 2. Now symmetry of the situation requires that, in the inertial frame of Clock 1, we must assume that the light signal reached Clock 2 at a moment halfway between t0 and t1, i.e. at the time: t1 = ½(t2 – t0). This is because, by symmetry, the light signal must take equal time traveling in either direction between the clocks, given that they are kept at a constant distance throughout the process, and they do not accelerate. (If the light signal took longer to travel one way than the other, then light would have to move at different speeds in different directions, which contradicts STR). Hence, we must resynchronize Clock 2 to make: t1’ = t1. We simply set the hands on Clock 2 forwards by: (t1 – t1’), i.e. by: ½(t2 – t0) – t1’. (Hence, the coordinate time on Clock 2 at t1’ is changed to: t1’ + (½(t2 – t0) – t1’) = ½(t2 – t0) = t1.) This is sometimes called the ‘clock synchronization convention’, and some philosophers have argued about whether it is justified. But there is no real dispute that this successfully defines the only system for assigning simultaneity in time, in the chosen reference frame, which is consistent with STR. Some deeper issues arise over the notion of simultaneity that it seems to involve. From the point of view of Clock 1, the moment recorded at: t1 = ½(t2 – t0) must be judged as ‘simultaneous’ with the moment recorded at t1’ on Clock 2. But in a different inertial frame, the natural coordinate system will alter the apparent simultaneity of these two events, so that simultaneity itself is not ‘objective’ in STR, except relative to a choice of inertial frame. We will consider this later. STR Space. In STR, we can measure space in a very similar way as in classical physics. We imagine constructing a set of rigid measuring rods or rulers, which are checked to be the same length in the inertial frame of Clock 1, and we extend this out into a grid across space. We have to move the rulers around to start with, but when we have set up the grid, we keep them all stationary in the chosen inertial frame of Clock 1. We then use this grid of stationary measuring rods to measure the distances between various events. The main assumption is that identical types of measuring rods (which are the same lengths when we originally compare them at rest with Clock 1), maintain the same lengths after being moved to different places (and being made stationary again w.r.t. Clock 1). This feature is required by STR.

The main complication, once again, is that we cannot determine any absolutely stationary frame for the grid of rulers. We can set up an alternative system of rulers, which are all in relative motion in a different inertial frame. As in classical physics, this results in assigning different ‘absolute velocities’ to most trajectories in the two different frames. But in this case there is a deeper difference: on the assumptions of STR, the lengths of measuring rods alter according to their velocities. This is called space dilation, and it is the counterpart of time dilation. Nonetheless, Einstein showed that perfectly sensible operational definitions of coordinate measurements for length, as well as time, are available in STR. But both simultaneity and length become relative to specified inertial frames. It is this confusing conceptual problem, which involves the theory dependence of measurement, that Einstein first managed to unravel, as the prelude to showing how to radically reconstruct classical physics.

8. Operationalism
Unraveling this problem requires us to specify ‘operational principles’ of measurement, but this does not require us to embrace an operational theory of meaning. The latter is a form of positivism, and it holds that the meaning of ‘time’ or ‘space’ in physics is determined entirely by specifying the procedures for measuring time or space. This theory is generally rejected by philosophers and logicians, and it was rejected by Einstein himself in his mature work. According to operationalism, STR changes the meanings of the concepts of space and time from the classical conception. However, many philosophers would argue that ‘time’ and ‘space’ have a meaning for us which is essentially the same as for Galileo and Newton, because we identify the same kinds of things as time and space; but relativity theory has altered our scientific beliefs about these things – just as the discovery that water is H2O has altered our understanding of the nature of water, without necessarily altering the meaning of the term ‘water’. This semantic dispute is ongoing in the philosophy of science. Having clarified these basic ideas of coordinate systems and inertial frames, we now turn back to the notion of transformations between coordinate systems for different inertial frames.


Coordinate Transformations Transformations



Physics uses two different concepts of transformations. It is important to distinguish these carefully.

Coordinate transformations: First is the notion of taking the description of a given process (such as a trajectory), described in one coordinate system, and transforming to its description in an alternative coordinate system. Object transformations: Second is the notion of taking a given process, described in a given coordinate system, and transforming it into a different process, described in the same coordinate system as the original process.

The difference is illustrated in the following diagram for the simplest kind of transformation, translation of space.

Figure 3. Object, Coordinate, and Combined Transformations.
• •

The transformations in Figure 3 are simple space translations. Figure 3 (B) shows an object transformation. The original trajectory (A) is moved in space to the right, by 4 units. The new coordinates are related to the original coordinates by: xnew particle ® xoriginal particle + 4. Figure 3 (C) shows a coordinate transformation: the coordinate system is moved to the right by 4 units. The new coordinate system, x’, is related to the original system, x, by: x’original particle = xoriginal particle + 4. The result ‘looks’ the same as (B). Figure 3 (D) shows a combination of the object transformation (B) and a coordinate transformation, which is the inverse of that in (C), defined by: x’’original particle = xoriginal particle – 4. The result of this looks the same as the original trajectory in (A), because the coordinate transformation appears to ‘undo’ the effect of the object transformation.

10. Valid Transformations

There is an intimate connection between these two kinds of transformations. This connection provides the major conceptual apparatus of modern physics, through the concept of physical symmetries, or invariance principles, and valid transformations. The deepest features of laws or theories of physics are reflected in their symmetry properties, which are also called invariances under symmetry transformations. Laws or theories can be understood as describing classes of physical processes. Physical processes that conform to a theory are valid physical processes of that theory. Of course, not all (logically) possible processes that we can imagine are valid physical processes of a given theory. Otherwise the theory would encompass all possible processes, and tell us nothing about what is physically possible, as opposed to what is logically conceivable. Symmetries of a theory are described by transformations that preserve valid processes of the theory. For instance, time translation is a symmetry of almost all theories. This means that if we take a valid process, and transform it, intact, to an earlier or later time, we still have a valid process. This is equivalent to simply setting the ‘temporal origin’ of the process to a later or earlier time. Other common symmetries are:
• • •

Rotations in space (if we take a valid process, and rotate it to another direction in space, we end up with another valid process). Translations in space (if we take a valid process, and move it to another position in space, we end up with another valid process). Velocity transformations (if we take a valid process, and give it uniform velocity boost in some direction in space, we end up with another valid process).

These symmetries are valid both in classical physics and in STR. In classical physics, they are called Galilean symmetries or transformations. In STR they are called Lorentz transformations. However, although the symmetries are very similar in both theories, the Lorentz transformations in STR involve features that are not evident in the classical theory. In fact, this difference only emerges for velocity boosts. Translations and rotations are identical in both theories. This is essentially because velocity boosts in STR involve transformations of the connection between proper time and ordinary space and time, which does not appear in classical theory. The concept of valid coordinate transformations follows directly from that of valid object transformations. The point is that when we make an object transformation, we begin with a description of a process in a coordinate system, and end up with another description, of a different process, given in the same coordinate system. Now instead of transforming the processes involved, we can do the inverse, and make a transformation of the coordinate system, so that we end up with a new coordinate description of the original process, which looks exactly the same as the description of the transformed process in the original coordinate system. This gives an alternative way of regarding the process, and its transformed image: instead of taking them as two different processes, we can take them as two different coordinate descriptions of the same process.

This is connected to the idea that certain aspects of the coordinate system are arbitrary or conventional. For instance, the choice of a particular origin for time or space is regarded as conventional: we can move the origins in our coordinate description, and we still have a valid system. This is only possible because the corresponding object transformations (time and space translations) are valid physical transformations. Physicists tend to regard coordinate transformations and valid object transformations interchangeably and somewhat ambiguously, and the distinction between the two is often blurred in applied physics. While this doesn’t cause practical problems, it is important when learning the concepts of the theory to distinguish the two kinds of transformations clearly.

11. Velocity Boosts in STR and Classical Mechanics
STR and classical mechanics have exactly the same symmetries under translations of time and space, and rotations of space. They also both have symmetries under velocity boosts: both theories hold that, if we take a valid physical process, and give it a uniform additional velocity in some direction, we end with another valid physical process. But the transformation of space and time coordinates, and of proper time, are different for the two theories under a velocity boost. In classical physics, it is called a Galilean transformation, while for STR it is called a Lorentz transformation. To see how the difference appears, we can take a stationary trajectory, and consider what happens when we apply a velocity boost in either theory.

Figure 4. Classical and STR Velocity Boosts give different results. In both diagrams, the green line is the original trajectory of a stationary particle, and it looks exactly the same in STR and classical mechanics. Proper time events (marked in blue) are equally spaced with the coordinate time intervals in both cases.

If we transform the classical trajectory by giving the particle a velocity (in this example, v = c/2) towards the right, the result (red line) is very simple: the proper time events remain equally spaced with coordinate time intervals. The same sequence of proper time events takes the same amount of coordinate time to complete. The classical particle moves a distance: Dx = v.Dt to the right, where Dt is the coordinate time duration of the original process. But when we transform the STR particle, a strange thing happens: the proper time events become more widely spaced than the coordinate time intervals, and the same sequence of proper time events takes more coordinate time to complete. The STR particle moves a distance: Dx’ = v.Dt’ to the right, where: Dt’ > Dt, and hence: Dx’ > Dx. The transformations of the coordinates of the (proper time) points of the original processes are shown in the following table.

Table 1. Example of Velocity Transformation. We can work out the general formula for the STR transformations of t’ and x’ in this example by using Equation 1. This requires finding a formula for the transformation of time-space coordinates: (t, 0) ® (t’, x’) We obtain this by applying Equation 1 in the (t’,x’) coordinate system, giving: (1’) It is crucial that this equation retains the same form under the Lorentz equation. In this special case, we have the additional facts that: (i) Dt = Dt, and:(ii) Dx’ = vDt’

We substitute (i) and (ii) in (1’) to get:

This rearranges to give:

and: We can see that: Dx’/Dt’ = v. This is a special case of a Lorentz transformation for this simplest kind of trajectory. Note that if we think of this as a coordinate transformation which generates the appearance of this object transformation, we need to move the new coordinate system in the opposite direction to the motion of the object. I.e. if we define a new coordinate system, (x’,t’), moving at –v (i.e. to the left) w.r.t. the original (x,t) system, then the original trajectory (which appeared stationary in (x,t)) will appear to be moving with velocity +v (to the left) in (x’,t’). In general, object transformations correspond the inverse coordinate transformations.

12. Lorentz Transformations for Velocity Boost V in the x-direction
The previous transformations is only for points on the special line where: x = 0. More generally, we want to work out the formulae for transforming points anywhere in the coordinate system: (t, x) ® (t’, x’) The classical formulas are Galilean transformations, and they are very simple. Galilean Velocity Boost: (t, x) ® (t, x+vt)t’ = t x’ = x+vt The STR formulas are more general Lorentz transformations. The Galilean transformation is simple because time coordinates are unchanged, so that: t = t’. This means that simultaneity in time in classical physics is absolute: it does not depend upon the choice of coordinate system. We also have that distance between two points at a given moment of time is invariant, because if: x 2 -x1 = Dx, then: x’2 -x’1 = (x2+vt) – (x1-vt) = Dx. Ordinary distance in space is the crucial invariant quantity in classical physics. But in STR, we have a complex interdependence of time and space coordinates. This is seen because the transformation formulas for both t’ and x’ are functions of both x and t. I.e. there are functions f and g such that: t’ = f(x,t) and: x’ = g(x,t)

These functions represent the Lorentz transformations. To give stationary objects a velocity V in the x-direction, these general functions are found to be: Lorentz Transformations: and:

The factor:

is called γ, letting us write these equations more simply as:

Lorentz Transformations: t’ = γ(t+Vx/c2) and: x’ = γ(x+Vt) We can equally consider the corresponding coordinate transformation, which would generate the appearance of this object transformation in a new coordinate system. It is essentially the same as the object transformation – except it must go in the opposite direction. For the object transformation, which increases the velocity of stationary particles by the speed V in the x direction, corresponds to moving the coordinate system in the opposite direction. I.e. if we define a new coordinate system, and call it (x’,t’), and place this in motion with a speed –V (i.e. V in the negative-x-direction), relative to the (x,t) coordinate system, then the original stationary trajectories in (x,t)coordinates will appear to have speed V in the new (x’,t’) coordinates. Because the Lorentz transformation of processes leaves us with valid STR processes, the Lorentz transformation of a STR coordinate system leaves us with a valid coordinate system. In particular, the form of Equation 1 is preserved by the Lorentz transformation, so that we get: . This can be checked by substituting the formulas for t’ and x’ back into this equation, and simplifying; the resulting equation turns out to be identical to Equation 1.

13. Galilean Transformation of Coordinate System
One useful way to visualize the effect of a transformation is to make an ordinary spacetime diagram, with the space and time axes drawn perpendicular to each other as usual, and then to draw the new set of coordinates on this diagram. In these diagrams, the space axes represent points which are measured to have the same time coordinates, and similarly, the time axes represent points which are measured to have the same space coordinates. When we make a velocity boost, these lines of simultaneity and same-position are altered. This is shown first for a Galilean velocity boost, where in fact the lines of simultaneity remain the same, but the lines representing position are rotated:

Figure 5. Galilean Velocity Boost.
• • • • • • • •

In Figure 5, the (green) horizontal lines are lines of absolute simultaneity. They have the same coordinates in both t and t’. The (blue) vertical lines are lines with the same x-coordinates. The (gray) slanted lines are lines with the same x’-coordinates. The spacing of the x’ coordinates is the same as the x coordinates, which means that relative distances between points are not affected. The solid black arrow represents a stationary trajectory in (x,t). An object transformation of +V moves it onto the green arrow, with velocity: v = c/2 in the (x,t)-system. A coordinate transformation of +V, to a system (x’,t’) moving at +V w.r.t. (x,t), makes this green arrow appears stationary in the (x’,t’) system. This coordinate transformation makes the black arrow appear to be moving at –V in (x’,t’) coordinates.

14. Lorentz Transformation of Coordinate System
In a Lorentz velocity boost, the time and space axes are both rotated, and the spacing is also changed.

Figure 6. Rotation of Space and Time Coordinate Axes by a Lorentz Velocity Boost. Some proper time events are marked in blue. To obtain the (x’,t’)-coordinates of a point defined in (x,t)-coordinates, we start at the point, and: (i) move parallel to the green lines, to find the intersection with the (red) t’axis, which is marked with the x’-coordinates; and: (ii) move parallel to the red lines, to find the intersection with the (green) x’-axis, which is marked with the t’-coordinates. The effects of this transformation on a solid rod or ruler extending from x=0 to x=1, and stationary in (x,t), is shown in more detail below.

Figure 7. Lorentz Velocity Boost. Magnified view of Figure 6 shows time and space dilation. The gray rectangle represents a unit of the space-time path of a rod (Rod 1) stationary in (x,t). The dark green lines represent a Lorentz (object) transformation of this trajectory, which is a second rod (Rod 2) moving at V in (x,t) coordinates. This is a unit of the space-time path of a stationary rod in (x’,t’).

15. Time and Space Dilation
Figure 7 shows how both time and space dilation effects work. To see this clearly, we need to consider the volumes of space-time that an object like a rod traces out.

• •

The (gray) rectangle PQRS represents a space-time volume, for a stationary rod or ruler in the original frame. It is 1-meter long in original coordinates (Dx = 1), and is shown over 1 unit of proper time, which corresponds to one unit of coordinate time (Dt = 1). The rectangle PQ’R’S’ (green edges) represents a second space-time volume, for a rod which appears to be moving in the original frame. This is how the spacetime volume of the first rod transforms under a Lorentz transformation. We may interpret the transformation as either: (i) a Lorentz velocity boost of the rod by velocity +V (object transformation), or equally: (ii) a Lorentz transformation to a new coordinate system, (x’,t’), moving at –V w.r.t. (x,t). Note that: The length of the moving rod measured in x is now shorter than the stationary rod: Dx = 1/γ. This is space dilation. The coordinate time between proper time events on the moving rod measured in t is now longer than for the stationary rod (Dt = γ). This is time dilation.

The need to fix the new coordinate system in this way can be worked out by considering the moving rod from the point of view of its own inertial system.
• • • • • •

As viewed in its own inertial coordinate system, the green rectangle PQ’R’S’ appears as the space-time boundary for a stationary rod. In this frame: PS’ appears stationary: it is a line where: x’ = 0. PQ’ appears as a line of simultaneity, i.e. it is a line where: t’=0. R’S’ is also a line of simultaneity in t’. Points on R’S’ must have the time coordinate: t’=1, since it is at the time t’ when one unit of proper time has elapsed, and for the stationary object, Dt’ = Dt. The length of PQ’ must be one unit in x’, since the moving rod appears the same length in its own inertial frame as the original stationary rod did.

Time and space dilation are often referred to as ‘perspective effects’ in discussions of STR. Objects and processes are said to ‘look’ shorter or longer when viewed in one inertial frame rather than in another. It is common to regard this effect as a purely ‘conventional’ feature, which merely reflects a conventional choice of reference frame. But this is rather misleading, because time and space dilation are very real physical effects, and they lead to completely different types of physical predictions than classical physics. However, the symmetrical properties of the Lorentz transformation makes it impossible to use these features to tell whether one frame is ‘really moving’ and another is ‘really

stationary’. For instance, if objects get shorter when they are placed in motion, then why don’t we simply measure how long objects are, and use this to determine whether they are ‘really stationary’? The details in Figure 7 reveal why this does not work: the space dilation effect is reversed when we change reference frames. That is:
• •

Measured in Frame 1, i.e. in (x,t)-coordinates, the stationary object (Rod 1) appears longer than the moving object (Rod 2). But: Measured in Frame 2, using (x’,t’)-coordinates, the moving object (Rod 2) appears stationary, while the originally stationary object (Rod 1) moves. But now the space dilation effect appears reversed, and Rod 2 appears longer than Rod 1!

The reason this is not a real paradox or inconsistency can be seen from the point of view of Frame 2, because now Rod 1 at the moment of time t’ = 0 stretches from the point P to Q’’, rather than from P to Q, as in Frame 1. The line of simultaneity alters in the new frame, so that we measure the distance between a different pair of space-time events. And PQ’’ is now found to be shorter than PQ’, which is the length of Rod 2 in Frame 2. There is no answer, within STR, as to which rod ‘really gets shorter’. Similarly there is no answer as to which rod ‘really has faster proper time’ – when we switch to Frame 2, we find that Rod 2 has a faster rate of proper time w.r.t. coordinate time, reversing the time dilation effect apparent in Frame 1. In this sense, we could consider these effects a matter of ‘perspective’ – although it is more accurate to say that in STR, in its usual interpretation, there are simply no facts about absolute length, or absolute time, or absolute simultaneity, at all. However, this does not mean that time and space dilation are not real effects. They are displayed in other situations where there is no ambiguity. One example is the twins’ paradox, where proper time slows down in an absolute way for a moving twin. And there are equally real physical effects resulting from space dilation. It is just that these effects cannot be used to determine an absolute frame of rest.

16. The Full Special Theory of Relativity
So far, we have only examined the most basic part of STR: the valid STR transformations for space, time, and proper time, and the way these three quantities are connected together. This is the most fundamental part of the theory. It represents relativistic kinematics. It already has very powerful implications. But the fully developed theory is far more extensive: it results from Einstein’s idea that the Lorentz transformations represent a universal invariance, applicable to all physics. Einstein formulated this in 1905: “The laws of physics are invariant under Lorentz transformations (when going from one inertial system to another arbitrarily chosen inertial system)”. Adopting this general principle, he explored the ramifications for the concepts of mass, energy, momentum, and force. The most famous result is Einstein’s equation for energy: E = mc². extension of the Lorentz transformation to mass. Einstein found that transform a stationary particle with original rest-mass m0, to set it velocity V, we cannot regard it as maintaining the same total mass. This involves the when we Lorentz in motion with a Instead, its mass

becomes larger: m = γm0, with γ defined as above. This is another deep contradiction with classical physics. Einstein showed that this requires us to reformulate our concept of energy. In classical physics, kinetic energy is given by: E = ½ mv². In STR, there is a more general definition of energy, as: E = mc². A stationary particle then has a basic ‘rest mass energy’ of m0c². When it is set in motion, its energy is increased purely by the increase in mass, and this is kinetic energy. So we find in STR that: Kinetic Energy = mc²-m0c² = (γ-1)m0c² For low velocities, with: v << c, it is easily shown that: (γ-1)c² is very close to ½v², so this corresponds to the classical result in the classical limit of low energies. But for high energies, the behavior of particles is very different. The discovery that there is an underlying energy of m0c² simply from rest-mass is what made nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs possible: they convert tiny amounts of rest mass into vast amounts of thermal energy. The main application Einstein explored first was the theory of electromagnetism, and his most famous paper, in which he defined STR in 1905, is called “Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”. In fact, Lorentz, Poincare and others already knew that they needed to apply the Lorentz transformation to Maxwell’s theory of classical electromagnetism, and had succeeded a few years earlier in formulating a theory which is extremely similar to Einstein’s in its predictions. Some important experimental verification of this was also available before Einstein’s work (most famously, the Michelson-Morley experiment). But his theory went much further. He radically reformulated the concepts that we use to analyse force, energy, momentum, and so forth. In this sense, his new theory was primarily a philosophical and conceptual achievement, rather than a new experimental discovery of the kind traditionally regarded as the epitome of empirical science. He also attributed his universal ‘principle of relativity’ to the very nature of space and time itself. With important contributions by Minkowski, this gave rise to the modern view that physics is based on an inseparable combination of space and time, called space-time. Minkowski treated this as a kind of ‘geometric’ entity, based on regarding our Equation 1 as a ‘metric equation’ describing the geometric nature of space-time. This view is called the ‘geometric explanation’ of relativity theory, and this approach led Einstein even deeper into modern physics, when he applied this new conception to the theory of gravity, and discovered a generalised theory of space-time. The nature of this ‘geometric explanation’ of the connection between space, time, and proper time is one of the most fascinating topics in the philosophy of physics. But it involves the General Theory of Relativity, which goes beyond STR.

Time Supplement
This supplement answers a series of questions designed to reveal more about what science requires of physical time, and to provide background information about other topics discussed in the Time article.

Table of Contents
1. What are instants and durations? 2. What is an event? 3. What is a reference frame? 4. What is an inertial frame? 5. What is spacetime? 6. What is a Minkowski diagram? 7. What are the metric and the interval? 8. Does the theory of relativity imply time is partly space? 9. Is time the fourth dimension? 10. Is there more than one kind of physical time? 11. How is time relative to the observer? 12. What are the relativity and conventionality of simultaneity? 13. What is the difference between the past and the absolute past? 14. What is time dilation? 15. How does gravity affect time? 16. What happens to time near a black hole? 17. What is the solution to the twins paradox? 18. What is the solution to Zeno’s paradoxes? 19. How do time coordinates get assigned to points of spacetime? 20. How do dates get assigned to actual events? 21. What is essential to being a clock? 22. What is our standard clock? 23. Why are some standard clocks better than others? 24. What does it mean for a clock to be accurate?

1. What are instants and durations?
A duration is an amount of time. The duration of earth’s existence is about five billion years; the duration of a flash of lightning is 0.0002 seconds. Years and seconds are not durations; they are measures of durations. The second is the standard unit for the measurement of time in the SI system (the International Systems of Units, that is, Le Système International d’Unités). In informal conversation, an instant is a very short duration. In physics, however, an instant is instantaneous; it is not a finite duration but rather a “point” in time, or “a time.” The day begins at the instant called “midnight.” It is an interesting question whether a finite duration of a real event is always a linear continuum of instants, and, if so, how we know this.

2. What is an event?
In ordinary discourse, an event is a happening lasting a finite duration during which some object changes its properties. For example, this morning’s event of buttering the toast is the toast’s changing from unbuttered to buttered. Without mentioning objects and properties, an event might instead be defined simply as whatever is temporally before or after anything else. In physics, events are considered to be more basic than objects and their properties. But if we do treat events in terms of objects and properties, we might treat the buttering event as involving the toast object having changed from not having the property of containing butter at a

certain time this morning at a certain location to its having the property of containing butter at that location a few seconds later. In ordinary discourse, an event has more than an infinitesimal duration, but in the technical discourse of physics, all events are composed of point events, events with zero duration and taking up zero volume of space (that is, being extensionless). Also, a actual point event is considered by physicists to be a spacetime point’s having some property other than those it has just by being a location in spacetime. By being so brief and taking place in such a restricted volume, these point events are very idealized, but they are very useful, and each location in spacetime is marked by an actual or possible point event occurring there. For actual point events, the point event can be thought of as the point’s having some property for an instant. Notice that no change is mentioned here, nor is a physical object that has those properties. Point events are what all objects and events are made of, and spacetime points are what have the properties. A mathematical space is a collection of points, and the points might represent anything, for example dollars. But the points of a real space such as spacetime are actual and possible point events, and the points of a real space that is time are instants. These metaphysical assumptions of modern science are not part of common sense, the shared background beliefs of most people. They also are not acceptable metaphysical assumptions for many philosophers. In 1936, in order to avoid point events, Bertrand Russell and A. N. Whitehead developed a theory of time based on the assumption that all events in spacetime have a finite, non-zero duration. However, they had to assume that any finite part of an event is an event, and this assumption is no closer to common sense than the physicist’s assumption that all events are composed of point events. The encyclopedia article on Zeno’s Paradoxes mentions that Michael Dummett and Frank Arntzenius have continued in the 21st century to develop Russell’s and Whitehead’s ideas about events having a finite, non-zero duration. It is an open question in philosophy as to whether the passage of time is a feature of the world to be explained by noting how events change, such as their changing from being present to being past. Many philosophers believe it is improper to consider an event to be something that can change. For a more detailed discussion of what an event is, see the article Events.

3. What is a reference frame?
A reference frame for a space is a coordinate system, namely a standard point of view or a perspective for making observations, measurements and judgments that assigns unique values to each point of space. Choosing a good reference frame can make a situation much easier to describe. If you are trying to describe the motion of a car down a straight highway, you would not want to choose a reference frame that is fixed to a spinning carousel. Instead, choose a reference frame fixed to the highway. The motion of a planet is very complex as seen from earth over many months. However, the motion is very simple in a frame of

reference at rest relative to the sun. Inertial frames are very special reference frames, as we shall see below. A reference frame is often specified by selecting a solid object that doesn’t change its size and by saying that the reference frame is fixed to the object. We might select a reference frame fixed to the Rock of Gibraltar. Another object is said to be at rest in the reference frame if it remains at a constant distance in a fixed direction from the reference body used to define the frame. For example, your house is at rest in a reference frame fixed to the Rock of Gibraltar [not counting your house's vibrating when a truck drives by, nor the house's speed due to plate tectonics]. When we say the sun rose this morning, we are implicitly choosing a reference frame fixed to the earth’s surface. The sun is not at rest in this reference frame. The reference frame or coordinate system must specify locations, and this is normally done by assigning numbers to points of space. In a three-dimensional space, the analyst needs to specify four distinct points on the reference body, or four objects mutually at rest somewhere in the frame. One point is the origin, and the other three can be used to define three independent, perpendicular axes, the familiar x, y and z directions, assuming a Cartesian or rectangular coordinate system were to be used. Two point objects are at the same place if they have the same x-value, the same yvalue and the same z-value. To keep track of events, you will also need a time axis, a “t” axis, and so you will expand your three-dimensional mathematical space to a fourdimensional mathematical space. Two point events are simultaneous if they occur at the same place and also at the same time. In this way, the analyst is placing a fourdimensional coordinate system on the space and time. The coordinates could have been letters instead of numbers, but numbers are the best choice because we want to use them for measurement, not just for naming places. The fact that physical spacetime has curvature implies that no single rigid (or Cartesian) coordinate system is capable of covering the entire spacetime. To cover all of spacetime in that case, we must make do with covering different regions of spacetime with different coordinate patches that are “knitted together” where one patch meets another. No single coordinate system can cover the surface of a sphere without creating a singularity, but the sphere can be covered by patching together two coordinate systems. Nevertheless if we can live with non-rigid curvilinear coordinates, then any curved spacetime can be covered with a global four-dimensional coordinate system in which every point being uniquely identified with a set of four numbers in a continuous way. That we use four numbers indicates the space is four-dimensional. And in creating coordinate systems for spaces, the usual assumption is that we should supply n independent numbers to specify a place in an n-dimensional space, where n is an integer. This is usual but not required; instead we could exploit the idea that there are space-filling curves which permit a single continuous curve to completely fill, and thus coordinatize, a region of dimension higher than one, e.g., a plane. For this reason (namely, that each point in n-dimensional space doesn’t always need n numbers to name the point), the contemporary definition of “dimension” is rather exotic.

4. What is an inertial frame?

An inertial frame is either a non-accelerating frame, or, less generally, a reference frame in which Newton’s laws of motion hold. Any spacetime obeying the laws of Special Relativity can have an inertial frame across the whole universe. In General Relativity any very small region of spacetime can have an inertial frame. Suppose you’ve pre-selected your frame. How do you tell if you are in an inertial frame? The answer is that you check that objects accelerate only when acted on by forces. That is, you check that any object’s acceleration is zero if no net force acts on the object. If no unbalanced external forces are acting on a moving object, then the object moves in a straight line. It doesn’t curve; it coasts. And it travels equal distances in equal amounts of time. Any frame of reference moving at constant velocity relative to an inertial frame is also an inertial frame. A reference frame spinning relative to an inertial frame is never an inertial frame. Einstein’s theory of special relativity is intended to apply only to inertial frames. According to the theory, the speed of light in a vacuum is the same when observed from any inertial frame of reference. Unlike the speed of a spaceship, the speed of light in a vacuum isn’t affected by which inertial reference frame is used for the measurement. If you have two relatively stationary, synchronized clocks in an inertial frame, then they will read the same time, but if one moves relative to the other, then they will get out of synchrony. This loss of synchrony due to relative motion is called “time dilation.” The presence of gravitation normally destroys any possibility of finding a perfect inertial frame. So, in practice, when trying to use special relativity in a world containing gravitation, inertial frames are distinguished not by being absolutely unaccelerated, but rather by being unaccelerated relative to some suitably defined average of all the matter in the universe. A reference frame in which star motion is ignored and the stars are assumed to be at rest is approximately an inertial reference frame and is often adequate for many purposes. This is the so-called inertial frame of the “fixed stars.”

5. What is spacetime?
Spacetime is where events are located, or, depending on your theory of spacetime, it’s all possible events. Spacetime is a multi-dimensional space, one of whose dimensions is time. It is often useful to suppose that there are four dimensions of spacetime. These four include the time dimension of before-after and the three ordinary space dimensions of, say, up-down, left-right, and forward-backward. More technically, spacetime is the intended model of the general theory of relativity. This requires it to be a differentiable space in which physical objects obey the equations of motion of the theory. Minkowski space (that is, Minkowski spacetime) is the model of special relativity. It’s a certain 4-dimensional real vector space. General relativity theory requires that spacetime be locally like Minkowski spacetime. Hermann Minkowski, in 1908, was the first person to say that spacetime is fundamental and that space and time are just aspects of spacetime. Minkowski meant it is fundamental in the sense that the spacetime interval between any two events is

intrinsic to spacetime and does not vary with the reference frame, unlike a spatial distance or temporal duration. Spacetime is a continuum in which we can define points and straight lines. However, these points and lines do not satisfy the principles of Euclidean geometry when matter is present. Einstein showed that the presence of matter affects geometry by warping space and time. Einstein’s principal equation in his general theory of relativity implies that the curvature of spacetime is directly proportional to the density of mass in the spacetime. That is, Einstein says the structure of spacetime changes as matter moves because the gravitational field from matter actually curves spacetime. Black holes are a sign of radical curvature. The earth’s curving of spacetime is very slight but still significant enough that it must be accounted for when synchronizing two Global Positioning Satellites. There have been serious attempts over the last few decades to construct theories of physics in which spacetime is a product of more basic entities. The primary aim of these new theories is to unify relativity with quantum theory. So far these theories have not stood up to any empirical observations or experiments that could show them to be superior to the presently accepted theories. So, for the present the concept of spacetime remains fundamental. The metaphysical question of whether spacetime is a substantial object or a relationship among events, or neither, is considered in the discussion of the relational theory of time.

6. What is a Minkowski diagram?
A spacetime diagram is a representation of the point-events of spacetime. In a Minkowski spacetime diagram, a rectangular coordinate system is used, Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity holds, normally the time axis is vertical, one or two of the spatial axes are suppressed, and an object’s inertial motion (coasting) produces events

in a straight line. Here is an example with space having just one dimension.

The above diagram shows Einstein standing still midway between the two places at which there is a flash of light. The directed arrows represent the path of light rays from the flash. In a Minkowski diagram, a physical object, such as an electron or a person’s body, is not represented as occupying a point but as occupying a line containing all the spacetime points at which it exists. The line, which usually isn’t straight, is called the of the object. In the above diagram, Einstein’s worldline is a vertical line. If an object’s worldline intersects or meets another object’s worldline, then the two objects have collided. The units along the vertical time axis are customarily chosen to be the product of time and the speed of light so that “worldlines” of light rays make a fortyfive degree angles with each axis. The set of all light speed world lines going through an event defines the light cones of that event: the past light cone and the future light cone. Inertial motion produces a straight worldline, and accelerated motion produces a curved worldline. If at some time Einstein were to jump on a train moving by at constant speed, then his worldline would, from that time upward, tilt away from the vertical and form some angle less than 45 degrees with the time axis. Events on the same horizontal line of the Minkowski diagram are simultaneous in that reference frame. A moving observer is added to this diagram to produce the diagram below in the discussion about the relativity of simultaneity. In a coordinate system attached to the Sun, the worldline of the Earth’s orbit would be a helix. Not all spacetimes can be given Minkowski diagrams, but any spacetime satisfying Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity can. Minkowski diagrams are diagrams of a Minkowski space, which is a spacetime satisfying the Special Theory of Relativity. This theory falsely presupposes that physical processes, such as gravitational processes, have no effect on the structure of spacetime. When attention needs to be given to the real effect of these processes on the structure of spacetime, that is, when general relativity needs to be used, then Minkowski diagrams become inappropriate for

spacetime. General relativity assumes that the geometry of spacetime is locally Minkowskian but not globally. That is, spacetime is locally flat in the sense that in any very small region one always finds spacetime to be 4-D Minkowskian (but not 4-D Euclidean). Special relativity holds in any tiny region of spacetime that satisfies General relativity, and so any tiny region can be fitted with an inertial reference frame. When we say spacetime is “really curved” and not flat, we mean it really deviates from 4-D Minkowskian geometry.

7. What are the metric and the interval?
A space is simply a collection of points. How far is it from one point to some different point? The metric is the answer to this question. A metric on a space provides a definition of distance (or length) by giving a function from each pair of nearby points to a real number. In Euclidean space, the distance between two points is the length of the straight line connecting them. This length is traditionally defined in terms of coordinates using the Pythagorean Theorem. Points are located by being assigned a coordinate. For doing science we want the coordinate to be a real number, not, say, a letter of the alphabet. A coordinate for a point in two-dimensional space requires two numbers; a coordinate for a point in ndimensional space requires n numbers. Time, being one-dimensional, requires a single number. Time is considered a one-dimensional space mathematically, and the metric of time is normally chosen to be the absolute value of the numerical difference between the coordinates of the two points. For example, the duration between 5 AM and 8 AM is three hours, assuming the times are for the same day. In a 2-dimensional space, the metric is more complicated; the distance between the point (x’,y’), with Cartesian coordinates x’ and y’, and the point (x,y), with coordinates x and y, is defined to be the square root of (x’ – x) 2 + (y’ – y)2 when the space is flat, that is, Euclidean. If the space is not flat, then a more sophisticated definition of the metric is required. Note the application of the Pythagorean Theorem for Euclidean space. Our intuitive idea of what a distance is tells us that, however we define distance for a space, we want it to have certain distance-like properties. For example, letting d(p,q) stand for the distance between any two points p and q in the space, the following four conditions must be satisfied: 1. 2. 3. 4. d(p,p) = 0, and d(p,q) is greater than or equal to 0 If d(p,q) = 0, then p = q d(p,q) = d(q,p) d(p,q) + d(q,r) is greater than or equal to d(p,r)

Notice that there is no mention of the path the distance is taken across; all the attention is on the point pairs themselves. Do these conditions capture your idea of distance? If you were to check, you’d find that the 2-D metric defined above, namely the square root of (x’ – x) 2 + (y’ – y)2, does satisfy these four conditions. In 3-D Euclidean space, the metric that is defined to be the square root of (x’ – x)2 + (y’ – y)2 + (z’ – z)2 works very well.

Consider the 4-D mathematical space that is used to represent the spacetime obeying the laws of special relativity theory, namely Minkowski spacetime. What’s an appropriate metric for this space? Well, if we were just interested in the space part of this spacetime, then the above 3-D Euclidean metric is fine. But we’ve asked a delicate question because the fourth dimension of this mathematical space is really a time dimension and not a space dimension. Here is the so-called Lorentzian metric or Minkowski metric for any pair of point events at (x’,y’,z’,t’) and (x,y,z,t) in Minkowskian 4-D spacetime: Δs2 = – (x’ – x)2 – (y’ – y)2 – (z’ – z)2 + c2(t’ – t)2 Δs is called the interval of Minkowski spacetime. The interval corresponds to what clocks measure between a pair of timelike events [that is, between a pair of events separated enough in time that one could have had a causal effect on the other] and what rulers measure between a pair of spacelike events. One other happy feature of this metric is that the value of the interval is unaffected by changing to a new reference frame provided the new reference frame is not accelerating relative to the first. Changing from a first frame to a new, unaccelerated reference frame on the spacetime will change the values of all the coordinates of the points of the spacetime, but some relations between all pairs of points won’t be affected, namely the intervals between pairs of points. Take any two observers who use a reference frame in which they, themselves are fixed, and assume they are moving at constant velocity relative to each other. Now consider some single event with a finite duration. The two observers won’t agree on how long the event lasts, but they will always agree on the interval between the beginning and end of the event. The interval of spacetime is complicated because its square can be negative, unlike with the space intervals we’ve discussed so far. If Δs2 is negative, the two points have a space-like separation, meaning these events have a greater separation in space than they do in time. If Δs2 is positive, then the two have a time-like separation, meaning enough time has passed that one event could have had a causal effect on the other. If Δs2 is zero, the two events might be identical, or they might have occurred millions of miles apart. In ordinary space, if the space interval between two events is zero, then the two events happened at the same time and place, but in spacetime, if the spacetime interval between two events is zero, this means only that there could be a light ray connecting them. All the events that have a zero spacetime interval from some event e constitute e’s two light cones because they have the shape of cones when represented in a Minkowski diagram, one cone for events in e’s future and one cone for events in e’s past. Because true metrics are always positive, the Lorentzian metric that we used above for Minskowski spacetime is not a true metric, nor even a pseudometric; but it is customary for physicists to refer to it loosely as a “metric” because Δs retains enough other features of distance. The interval in spacetime is an intrinsic feature of spacetime because it does not vary with our choice of the coordinate system. The duration of an event is not intrinsic, nor are the length or velocity of an object. In the Euclidean plane of 2-D space, length is intrinsic. The metric determines the geometry of spacetime, which is always an intrinsic feature of the spacetime. Adding space and time dependence to each term of the Lorentzian metric produces the metric for general relativity.

8. Does the theory of relativity imply time is partly space?
In 1908, Minkowski remarked that “Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.” Many people took this to mean that time is partly space, and vice versa. C. D. Broad countered that the discovery of spacetime did not break down the distinction between time and space but only their independence or isolation. He argued that their lack of independence does not imply a lack of reality. The Broad-Minkowski disagreement is still an issue in philosophy, but if Broad is correct, then time is time; it’s not space at all. Nevertheless, there is a deep sense in which time and space are “mixed up” or linked. This is evident from the Lorentz transformations of special relativity that connect the time t in one inertial frame with the time t’ in another frame that is moving in the x direction at a constant speed v. In this equation, t’ is dependent upon the space coordinate x and the speed. In this way, time is not independent of either space or speed. It follows that the time between two events could be zero in one frame but not zero in another. Each frame has its own way of splitting up spacetime into its space part and its time part. The reason why time is not partly space is that, within a single frame, time is distinct from space. Time is not simply an arbitrary one-dimensional sub-space of spacetime; it is a distinguished sub-space. That is, time is a distinguished dimension of spacetime, not an arbitrary dimension. What being distinguished amounts to is that when you set up a rectangular coordinate system on spacetime with an origin at, say, the event of Mohammed’s birth, you may point the x-axis east or toward Mecca or away from the center of Earth, but you may not point it forward in time–you may do that only with the t-axis, the time axis.

9. Is time the fourth dimension?
Yes and no; it depends on what you are talking about. Time is the fourth dimension of 4-d spacetime, but time is not the fourth dimension of space, the space of places. Mathematicians have a broader notion of the term “space” than the average person; and in their sense a space need not consist of places, that is, geographical locations. Not paying attention to the two meanings of the term “space” is the source of all the confusion about whether time is the fourth dimension. The mathematical space used by mathematical physicists to represent physical spacetime is four dimensional and in that space, the space of places is a 3-d sub-space and time is another 1-d sub-space. Minkowski was the first person to construct such a mathematical space, although in 1895 H. G. Wells treated time as a fourth dimension in his novel The time Machine. Spacetime is represented mathematically by Minkowski as a space of events, not as a space of ordinary geographical places. In any coordinate system on spacetime, it takes at least four independent numbers to determine a spacetime location. In any coordinate system on the space of places, it takes at least three. That’s why spacetime is four dimensional but the space of places

is three dimensional. Actually this 19th century definition of dimensionality, which is due to Bernhard Riemann, is not quite adequate because mathematicians have subsequently discovered how to assign each point on the plane to a point on the line without any two points on the plane being assigned to the same point on the line. The idea comes from Georg Cantor. Because of this one-to-one correspondence, the points on a plane could be specified with just one number. If so, then the line and plane must have the same dimensions according to the Riemann definition. To avoid this problem and to keep the plane being a 2-d object, the notion of dimensionality of a space has been given a new, but rather complex, definition.

10. Is there more than one kind of physical time?
Every reference frame has its own physical time, but the question is intended in another sense. At present, physicists measure time electromagnetically. They define a standard atomic clock using periodic electromagnetic processes in atoms, then use electromagnetic signals (light) to synchronize clocks that are far from the standard clock. In doing this, are physicists measuring ‘”electromagnetic time” but not other kinds of physical time? In the 1930s, the physicists Arthur Milne and Paul Dirac worried about this question. Independently, they suggested there may be very many time scales. For example, there could be the time of atomic processes and light, which is measured best by atomic clocks. There also could be the time of gravitation and large-scale physical processes, which is measured best by the rotation of a pulsar (pulsating star). The two physicists worried that the atomic clock and the astronomical clock might drift out of synchrony after being initially synchronized, yet there would be no reasonable explanation for why they don’t stay in synchrony. Ditto for clocks based on the pendulum, on superconducting resonators, on the spread of electromagnetic radiation through space, and on other physical principles. Just imagine the difficulty for physicists if they had to work with electromagnetic time, gravitational time, nuclear time, neutrino time, and so forth. Current physics, however, has found no reason to assume there is more than one kind of time for physical processes. In 1967, physicists did reject the astronomical standard for the atomic standard because the deviation between known atomic and gravitation periodic processes could be explained better assuming that the atomic processes were the more regular of the two. Physicists had no reason to believe that a gravitational periodic process, that is just as regular initially as the atomic process and that is not affected by friction or impacts or other forces, would ever drift out of synchrony with the atomic process, yet this is the possibility that worried Milne and Dirac.

11. How is time relative to the observer?
Physical time is not relative to any observer’s state of mind. Wishing time will pass does not affect the rate at which the observed clock ticks. On the other hand, physical time is relative to the observer’s reference system–in trivial ways and in a deep way discovered by Albert Einstein. In a trivial way, time is relative to the chosen coordinate system on the reference frame, though not to the reference frame itself. For example, it depends on the units

chosen as when the duration of some event is 34 seconds if seconds are defined to be a certain number of ticks of the standard clock, but is 24 seconds if seconds are defined to be a different number of ticks of that standard clock. Similarly, the difference between the Christian calendar and the Jewish calendar for the date of some event is due to a different unit and origin. Also trivially, time depends on the coordinate system when a change is made from Eastern Standard Time to Pacific Standard Time. These dependencies are taken into account by scientists but usually never mentioned. For example, if a pendulum’s approximately one-second swing is measured in a physics laboratory during the autumn night when the society changes from Daylight Savings Time back to Standard Time, the scientists do not note that one unusual swing of the pendulum that evening took a negative fifty-nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds instead of the usual one second. Isn’t time relative to the observer’s coordinate system in the sense that in some reference frames there could be fifty-nine seconds in a minute? No, due to scientific convention, it is absolutely certain that there are sixty seconds in any minute in any reference frame. How long an event lasts is relative to the reference frame used to measure the time elapsed, but in any reference frame there are exactly sixty seconds in a minute because this is true by definition. Similarly, you do not need to worry that in some reference frame there might be two gallons in a quart. In a deeper sense, time is relative, not just to the coordinate system, but to the reference frame itself. That is Einstein’s principal original idea about time. Einstein’s idea is that without reference to the frame, there is no fixed time interval between two events, no ‘actual’ duration between them. Einstein illustrated his idea for two observers, one on a moving train in the middle of the train, and a second observer standing on the embankment next to the train tracks. If the observer sitting in the middle of the rapidly moving train receives signals simultaneously from lightning flashes at the front and back of the train, then in his reference frame the two lightning strikes were simultaneous. But the strikes were not simultaneous in a frame fixed to an observer on the ground. This outside observer will say that the flash from the back had farther to travel because the observer on the train was moving away from the flash. If one flash had farther to travel, then it must have left before the other one, assuming that both flashes moved at the same speed. Therefore, the lightning struck the back of the train before the lightning struck the front of the train in the reference frame fixed to the tracks. Let’s assume that a number of observers are moving with various constant speeds in various directions. Consider the inertial frame of reference in which each observer is at rest in his or her own frame. Which of these observers will agree on their time measurements? Only observers with zero relative speed will agree. Observers with different relative speeds will not, even if they agree on how to define the second and agree on some event occurring at time zero (the origin of the time axis). If two observers are moving relative to each other, but each makes judgments from a reference frame fixed to themselves, then the assigned times to the event will disagree more, the faster their relative speed. All observers will be observing the same objective reality, the same event in the same spacetime, but their different frames of reference will require disagreement about how spacetime divides up into its space part and its time part.

This relativity of time to reference frame implies that there be no such thing as The Past in the sense of a past independent of reference frame. This is because a past event in one reference frame might not be past in another reference frame. In some reference frame, was Adolf Hitler born before George Washington? No, because the two events are causally connectible. That is, one event could in principle have affected the other since light would have had time to travel from one to the other. We can select a reference frame to reverse the usual earth-based order of two events only if they are not causally connectible, that is, only if one event is in the absolute elsewhere of the other. Despite the relativity of time to a reference frame, any two observers in any two reference frames should agree about which of two causally connectible events happened first.

12. What are the relativity and conventionality of simultaneity?
If the universe obeys relativistic physics, then events that occur simultaneously with respect to one reference frame will not occur simultaneously in another reference frame that is moving with respect to the first frame. This is called the “relativity of simultaneity.” It applies only to pairs of events in each other’s absolute elsewhere.

This Minkowski diagram represents Einstein sitting still in the reference frame while Lorentz is traveling rapidly away from him and toward the source of flash 2. Because Lorentz’s timeline is a straight line we can tell that he is moving at a constant speed. The two flashes of light arrive at Einstein’s location simultaneously, creating spacetime event B. However, Lorentz sees flash 2 before flash 1. That is, the event A of Lorentz seeing flash 2 occurs before event C of Lorentz seeing flash 1. So, Einstein will readily say the flashes are simultaneous, but Lorentz will have to do some computing to figure out that the flashes are simultaneous in the frame because they won’t “look”

simultaneous. However, if we’d chosen a different reference frame from the one above, one in which Lorentz is not moving but Einstein is, then Lorentz would be correct to say flash 2 occurs before flash 1 in that new frame. So, whether the flashes are or are not simultaneous depends on which reference frame is used in making the judgment. It’s all relative. This relativity of simultaneity is philosophically less controversial than the conventionality of simultaneity. To appreciate the difference, consider what is involved in making a determination regarding simultaneity. Given two events that happen essentially at the same place, physicists assume they can tell by direct observation whether the events happened simultaneously. If we don’t see one of them happening first, then we say they happened simultaneously, and we assign them the same time coordinate. The determination of simultaneity is more difficult if the two happen at separate places, especially if they are very far apart. One way to measure (operationally define) simultaneity at a distance is to say that two events are simultaneous in a reference frame if unobstructed light signals from the two events would reach us simultaneously when we are midway between the two places where they occur, as judged in that frame. This is the operational definition of simultaneity used by Einstein in his theory of relativity. Instead of using the midway method, we could take the distant clock and send a signal home to our master clock, one already synchronized with our standard clock; the master clock immediately sends a signal back to the distant clock with the information about what time it was when the signal arrived. We at the distant clock notice that the total travel time is t and that the master clock’s signal says its time is, say, noon, so we immediately set our clock to be noon plus half of t. The “midway” method described above of operationally defining simultaneity in one reference frame for two distant signals causally connected to us has a significant presumption: that the light beams travel at the same speed regardless of direction. Einstein, Reichenbach and Grünbaum have called this a reasonable “convention” because any attempt to experimentally confirm it presupposes that we already know how to determine simultaneity at a distance. This is the conventionality, rather than relativity, of simultaneity. To pursue the point, suppose the two original events are in each other’s absolute elsewhere; they couldn’t have affected each other. Einstein noticed that there is no physical basis for judging the simultaneity or lack of simultaneity between these two events, and for that reason said we rely on a convention when we define distant simultaneity as we do. Hillary Putnam, Michael Friedman, and Graham Nerlich object to calling it a convention–on the grounds that to make any other assumption about light’s speed would unnecessarily complicate our description of nature, and we often make choices about how nature is on the basis of simplification of our description. They would say there is less conventionality in the choice than Einstein supposed. The “midway” method isn’t the only way to define simultaneity. Consider a second method, the “mirror reflection” method. Select an earth-based frame of reference, and send a flash of light from earth to Mars where it hits a mirror and is reflected back to its source. The flash occurred at 12:00, let’s say, and its reflection arrived back on earth 20 minutes later. The light traveled the same empty, undisturbed path coming and going. At what time did the light flash hit the mirror? The answer involves the so-called conventionality of simultaneity. All physicists agree one should say the reflection event occurred at 12:10. The controversial philosophical question is whether this is really a

convention. Einstein pointed out that there would be no inconsistency in our saying that it hit the mirror at 12:17, provided we live with the awkward consequence that light was relatively slow getting to the mirror, but then traveled back to earth at a faster speed. If we picked the impact time to be 12:05, we’d have to live with the fact that light traveled slower coming back. There is a physical basis for not picking the impact time to be less than noon nor later than 12:20, because doing so would violate the physical principle that causes precede their effects. One requirement we place on the concept of simultaneity is that distant events which are simultaneous could not be in causal contact with each other. We can satisfy that requirement for any choice of impact time from 12:00 to 12:20.

13. What is the difference between the past and the absolute past?

The events in your absolute past are those that could have directly or indirectly affected you, the observer, now. These absolutely past events are the events in or on the backward light cone of your present event, your here-and-now. The backward light cone of event Q is the imaginary cone-shaped surface of spacetime points formed by the paths of all light rays reaching Q from the past. An event’s being in another event’s absolute past is a feature of spacetime itself because the event is in the point’s past in all possible reference frames. The feature is frame-independent. For any event in your absolute past, every observer in the universe (who isn’t making an error) will agree the event happened in your past. Not so for events that are in your past but not in your absolute past. Past events not in your absolute past will be in what Eddington called your “absolute elsewhere” and these past events will be in your present as judged by

some other reference frames. The absolute elsewhere is the region of spacetime containing events that are not causally connectible to your here-and-now. Your absolute elsewhere is the region of spacetime that is neither in nor on either your forward or backward light cones. No event here now, can affect any event in your absolute elsewhere; and no event in your absolute elsewhere can affect you here and now. A spacetime point’s absolute future is all the future events outside the point’s absolute elsewhere. A single point’s absolute elsewhere, absolute future, and absolute past partition all of spacetime beyond the point into three disjoint regions. If point A is in point B’s absolute elsewhere, the two events are said to be “spacelike related.” If the two are in each other’s forward or backward light cones they are said to be “timelike related” or “causally connectible.”

14. What is time dilation?
According to special relativity, two properly functioning clocks next to each will stay synchronized. Even if they were to be far away from each other, they’d stay synchronized. But if one clock moves away from the other, the moving clock will tick slower than the stationary clock, as measured in the inertial reference frame of the stationary clock. This slowing due to motion is called “time dilation.” If you move at 99% of the speed of light, then your time slows by a factor of 7 relative to stationary clocks. In addition, you are 7 times thinner than when you are stationary, and you are 7 times heavier. If you move at 99.9%, then you slow by a factor of 22. Time dilation is about clocks in different frames disagreeing with each other. Suppose your twin’s spaceship travels to and from a star one light year away. It takes light from your Earth-based flashlight two years to go there and back. But if the spaceship is fast, your twin can make the trip in less than two years, according to his own clock. Does he travel the distance in less time than it takes light to travel that distance? No, according to yourclock he takes more than two years, and so is slower than light. We sometimes speak of time dilation by saying time itself is “slower,” but time isn’t going slower in any absolute sense, only relative to some other frame of reference. Does time have a rate? Well, time in a reference frame has no rate in that frame, but time in a reference frame can have a rate as measured in a different frame, such as in a frame is moving relative to the first frame. Time dilation is not an illusion of perception; and it’s not a matter of the second having different definitions in different reference frames. Also, it’s not a Doppler effect. Time dilation isn’t affected by direction of motion. The Doppler effect is affected by direction of motion, which we detect in the difference between a blue shift and a red shift. Time dilation due to difference in constant speeds is described by Einstein’s special theory of relativity. The general theory of relativity describes a second kind of time dilation, one due to different accelerations and different gravitational influences. For more on general relativistic dilation, see the discussion of gravity and black holes. Newton’s physics describes duration as an absolute property, implying it is not relative to the reference frame. However, in Newton’s physics the speed of light is relative to

the frame. Einstein’s special theory of relativity reverses both of these aspects of time. For inertial frames, it implies the speed of light is not relative to the frame, but duration is relative to the frame. In general relativity, however, the speed of light can vary within one reference frame if matter and energy are present. Time dilation due to motion is relative in the sense that if your spaceship moves past mine so fast that I measure your clock to be running at half speed, then you will measure my clock to be running at half speed also, provided both of us are in inertial frames. If one of us is affected by a gravitational field or undergoes acceleration, then that person isn’t in an inertial frame and the results are different. Both types of time dilation play a significant role in time-sensitive satellite navigation systems such as the Global Positioning System. The atomic clocks on the satellites must be programmed to compensate for the relativistic dilation effects of both gravity and motion.

15. How does gravity affect time?
Einstein’s general theory of relativity (1915) is a generalization of his special theory of special relativity (1905). It is not restricted to inertial frames, and it encompasses a broader range of phenomena, namely gravity and accelerated motions. According to general relativity, gravitational differences affect time by dilating it. Observers in a less intense gravitational potential find that clocks in a more intense gravitational potential run slow relative to their own clocks. People live longer in basements than in attics, all other things being equal. Basement flashlights will be shifted toward the red end of the visible spectrum compared to the flashlights in attics. This effect is known as the gravitational red shift. Even the speed of light is slower in the presence of higher gravity. Informally one speaks of gravity bending light rays around massive objects, but more accurately it is the space that bends, and as a consequence the light is bent, too. The light simply follows the shortest path through spacetime, and when space curves the shortest paths are no longer Euclidean straight lines.

16. What happens to time near a black hole?
A black hole is a volume of very high gravitational field or severe warp in the spacetime continuum. Astrophysicists believe black holes are commonly formed by the inward collapse of stars that have burned out. The center of a spherical black hole is infinitely dense according to relativity theory, but some theories of quantum gravity imply that the density cannot reach infinity. It is surrounded by an event horizon, a concentric sphere marking the point of no return. Anything getting that close could never escape the inward pull, even if it had an unlimited fuel supply and could travel at near the speed of light. Anything crossing the event horizon from the outside would quickly crash into the center of the black hole and be crushed to a point, according to relativity theory. The singularity is the point of infinite density in the black hole. The first black hole solution to Einstein’s equations of general relativity were discovered by Schwarzschild in 1916. Because even light itself could not escape from inside a black hole, John Wheeler chose the name “black hole.”

In relativity theory, the proper time between two events along a worldline is the time that would be shown on a clock whose path in spacetime is that worldline between the events. The proper time is not the same as thecoordinate time. Coordinate time is time along the worldline of an ideal clock at the origin of the coordinate system. The coordinate time between the two events is the time separation of the events given by an observer at rest in the frame. Proper time is independent of coordinate time, although the usual convention is to measure both times in the same units, namely seconds. As judged by a clock on earth in an earth-based frame of reference, an astronaut flying into a distant black hole will take an infinite coordinate time to reach the event horizon of the black hole. That is, if we could see the astronaut’s clock, the clock would appear to us to slow to a halt. But as judged by the astronaut, it will take only a few microseconds of the astronaut’s proper time to pass through the event horizon and crash into the center of the black hole. If you, the person falling toward the event horizon, were to escape the pull towards the black hole and return home, you’d discover that you were younger than your earthbound twin and that your initially synchronized clocks showed that yours had fallen behind. It is in this sense that you’ve experienced a time warp, a warp in the time component of spacetime. According to Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind, there is “a very common misconception, namely, that because an outside observer sees an infalling observer slow down, that the infalling observer sees the outsider speed up. This is simply not so. The infalling observer looks back and sees nothing unusual.”

17. What is the solution to the twins paradox?
This paradox, also called the clock paradox and the twin paradox, is an argument about time dilation that uses the theory of relativity to produce a contradiction. The argument considers two twins at rest with their clocks synchronized. One twin climbs into a spaceship and flies far away at a constant speed, then reverses course and flies back at the same speed. When they reunite, will the twins still be the same age? No. Relativity theory implies that the twin on the spaceship will return and be younger than the Earth-based twin. The elapsed proper time of the twin who returns is less than the elapsed proper time of the Earth-based twin. However, it’s all relative, isn’t it? That is, we could have considered the spaceship to be stationary. Wouldn’t relativity theory then imply that the Earth-based twin would race off (along with the Earth), then return and be the younger of the two? If so, we have a contradiction: when the twins reunite, each will be younger than the other. Einstein worried about the paradox [Einstein, Naturwissenschaften, 6, 697 (1918)], and Herbert Dingle famously argued in the 1960’s that the paradox reveals an inconsistency in special relativity. Almost all philosophers and scientists now agree that it is not a true paradox, in the sense of revealing a logical inconsistency within relativity theory, but is merely a complex puzzle that can be adequately solved within relativity theory. The twin who feels the acceleration is the twin who becomes the younger twin, but the acceleration upon starting and reversing course is not what causes this difference in aging, and it is not essential to the paradox. The key idea is that there is an asymmetry in the two spacetime intervals taken by the twins between the goodbye event and the reunion. Sitting still on Earth is a way of maximizing the time between the events; flying fast in a spaceship is a way of minimizing the time

between the events. The reasoning in the paradox makes the mistake of supposing that the twin on Earth could somehow have the shorter interval. To explain that last point, let’s for simplicity’s sake assume the twin on Earth is fixed in an inertial frame. The way out of the paradox is to notice that the argument has two halves. The first half describes the twin in the spaceship flying away, then turning around and flying back to the Earth-based twin who remains fixed in an inertial frame during the flight. The second half describes the Earth-based twin as flying away from the spaceship and then returning to the spaceship, while the spaceship remains stationary in an inertial frame during the flight. The problem is that in the second half of the paradox it was a mistake to suppose the spaceship “remains stationary in an inertial frame.” The spaceship’s frame can not be inertial. Also, because of the spaceship’s changing velocity by turning around, the twin on the spaceship has a shorter world-line than the Earth-based twin and takes less time than the Earth-based twin. The assumption is that the stars are not moving in tandem with the spaceship but are generally stationary relative to the Earth. Without this crucial, but usually implicit, assumption, one couldn’t decide which twin was or was not in an inertial frame; if two twins are out in space alone with no stars (or other matter-energy), then when they meet again they will be the same age. The production of the paradox depends on using a heuristic principle that the description of the world is equally valid from the point of view of any observer. That heuristic principle is embedded in the above remark, “…it’s all relative, isn’t it?” The application of the principle makes the assumption that the two halves of the analysis are working with two equivalent descriptions of the same process. However, the two descriptions are not equivalent because, if there is an inertial frame in the first half of the argument, then there is no available inertial frame for the second half. The analyst is always free to make the choice of a non-inertial frame in which the spaceship is considered to be stationary. This would complicate the analysis, and require general relativity instead of special relativity, but the result would be the same, namely no contradiction. So, it can’t be shown that the Earth-based twin is the younger, and the paradox is merely a puzzle that has a solution. To dig more deeply into the cause of error in the reasoning, notice that the production of the paradox depends upon a careless use of the heuristic principle that the description of the world is equally valid from the point of view of any observer. This principle is misinterpreted in the twins paradox. What is always correct in relativity theory and what underlies the heuristic principle is the symmetry principle: the invariance of the laws under Lorentz transformations. These transformation equations give the relations between the coordinates of a single event [such as our spaceship’s flight away from the Earth-based twin] as measured by observers in two different inertial reference frames in motion relative to one another. But there aren’t two inertial frames to use in the case of the twins paradox, so the symmetry principle is correct, but the heuristic principle is not applicable. The argument of the twins paradox applies the heuristic principle anyway, and draws an incorrect conclusion that there is a contradiction. What causes one twin to age differently? The best answer to this question is to reexamine the question itself. It was remarked above that the easiest way to see the dissimilarity in the two halves of the argument. Failure to notice the asymmetry in the

two halves is the cause of the error in the paradox, but it’s not the cause of the age difference in the twins. Their age difference isn’t caused by anything, just as light’s going at the speed of light instead of at some other speed isn’t caused by something but is just the way nature behaves, at least insofar as the theory of relativity is concerned.

18. What is the solution to Zeno’s paradoxes?
See the article “Zeno’s Paradoxes” elsewhere in this encyclopedia.

19. How do time coordinates get assigned to points of spacetime?
A space is a collection of points. In a space that is supposed to be time, these points are the instants. Our question is how we assign time numbers to these points. Before discussing time coordinates specifically, let’s consider what is meant by assigning coordinates to a mathematical space, one that might represent either physical space, or physical time, or spacetime, or something else. In a one-dimensional space, such as a curved line, we assign unique coordinate numbers to points along the line and we make sure that no point fails to have a coordinate. For a 2-dimensional space, we assign pairs of numbers to points. For a 3-d space, we assign triples of numbers. If we assign letters instead of numbers, we can’t use the tools of mathematics to describe the space. But we can’t assign any coordinate numbers we please. There are restrictions. For example, if the space has a certain geometry, then we have to assign numbers that reflect this geometry. Here is the fundamental method of analytic geometry: Consider a space as a class of fundamental entities: points. The class of points has “structure” imposed upon it, constituting it a geometry–say the full structure of space as described by Euclidean geometry. [By assigning coordinates] we associate another class of entities with the class of points, for example a class of ordered n-tuples of real numbers [for a n-dimensional space], and by means of this “mapping” associate structural features of the space described by the geometry with structural features generated by the relations that may hold among the new class of entities–say functional relations among the reals. We can then study the geometry by studying, instead, the structure of the new associated system [of coordinates]. (Sklar, 1976, p. 28) The goal in assigning coordinates to a space is to create a reference system for the space. A reference system is a reference frame plus either a coordinate system or an atlas of coordinate systems placed by the analyst upon the space to uniquely name the points. These names or coordinates are frame dependent in that a point can get new coordinates when the reference frame is changed. For 4-d spacetime obeying special relativity and its Lorentzian geometry, a coordinate system is a grid of smooth timelike and spacelike curves on the spacetime that assigns to each point three space coordinate numbers and one time coordinate number. No two distinct points can have the same set of four coordinate numbers. Inertial frames can have global coordinate systems, but in general we have to make due with atlases. If we are working with general relativity where spacetime can curve and we cannot assume inertial

frames, then the best we can do is to assign a coordinate system to a small region of spacetime where the laws of special relativity hold to a good approximation. General relativity requires special relativity to hold locally, and thus for spacetime to be Euclidean locally. That means that locally the 4-d spacetime is correctly described by 4d Euclidean solid geometry. Consider two coordinate systems on adjacent regions. For the adjacent regions we make sure that the ‘edges’ of the two coordinate systems match up in the sense that each point near the intersection of the two coordinate systems gets a unique set of four coordinates and that nearby points get nearby coordinate numbers. The result is an “atlas” on spacetime. For small regions of spacetime, we create a coordinate system by choosing a style of grid, say rectangular coordinates, fixing a point as being the origin, selecting one timelike and three spacelike lines to be the axes, and defining a unit of distance for each dimension. We cannot use letters for coordinates. The alphabet’s structure is too simple. Integers won’t do either; but real numbers are adequate to the task. The definition of “coordinate system” requires us to assign our real numbers in such a way that numerical betweenness among the coordinate numbers reflects the betweenness relation among points. For example, if we assign numbers 17, pi, and 101.3 to instants, then every interval of time that contains the pi instant and the 101.3 instant had better contain the 17 instant. When this feature holds, the coordinate assignment is said to be monotonic. There is no way to select one point of spacetime and call it the origin of the coordinate system except by reference to actual events. In practice, we make the origin be the location of a special event, and one popular choice is the birth of Jesus. Negative time coordinates are assigned to events occuring before the birth of Jesus. The choice of the unit presupposes we have defined what “distance” means. The metric for a space specifies what is meant by distance in that space. The natural metric between any two points in a one-dimensional space, such as the time sub-space of our spacetime, is the numerical difference between the coordinates of the two points. Using this metric, the duration between the 11:00 instant and the 11:05 instant is five minutes. The metric for spacetime defines the spacetime interval between two spacetime locations, and it is more complicated than the metric for time alone. The spacetime interval between any two events is invariant or unchanged by a change to any other reference frame, although the spatial distances and durations do vary. More accurately, in the general theory, the infinitesimal spacetime interval between two neighboring points is invariant. The units of the spacetime interval are seconds squared. In this discussion, there is no need to worry about the distinction between change in metric and change in coordinates. For a space that is topologically equivalent to the real line and for metrics that are consistent with that topology, each coordinate system determines a metric and each metric determines a coordinate system. More precisely, once you decide on a positive direction in the one-dimensional space and a zero-point for the coordinates, then the possible coordinate systems and the possible metrics are in one-to-one correspondence. There are still other restrictions on the assignments of coordinate numbers. The restriction that we called the “conventionality of simultaneity” fixes what time-slices of spacetime can be counted as collections of simultaneous events. An even more complicated restriction is that coordinate assignments satisfy the demands of general relativity. The metric of spacetime in general relativity is not global but varies from

place to place due to the presence of matter and gravitation. Spacetime cannot be given its coordinate numbers without our knowing the distribution of matter and energy. The features that a space has without its points being assigned any coordinates whatsoever are its topological features. These are its dimensionality, whether it goes on forever or has a boundary, how many points there are, and so forth.

20. How do dates get assigned to actual events?
Our purpose in choosing a coordinate system or atlas to assign real numbers to all spacetime points is to express relationships among actual and possible events. The relationships we are interested in are order relationships (Did this event occur between those two?) and magnitude relationships (How long after A did B occur?). The date of a (point) event is the time coordinate number of the spacetime location where the event occurs. We expect all these assignments of dates to events to satisfy the requirement that event A happens before event B iff t(A) < t(B), where t(A) is the time coordinate of A. The assignments of dates to events also must satisfy the demands of our physical theories, and in this case we face serious problems involving inconsistency as when a geologist gives one date for the birth of earth and an astronomer gives a different date. It is a big step from assigning numbers to points to assigning them to real events. Here are some of the questions that need answers. How do we determine whether a nearby event and a distant event occurred simultaneously? Assuming we want the second to be the standard unit for measuring the time interval between two events, how do we operationally define the second so we can measure whether one event occurred exactly one second later than another event? How do we know whether the clock we have is accurate? Less fundamentally, attention must also be paid to the dependency of dates due to shifting from Standard Time to Daylight Savings Time, to crossing the International Date Line, and to switching from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar. Let’s design a coordinate system. Suppose we have already assigned a date of zero to the event that we choose to be at the origin of our coordinate system. To assign dates to other events, we first must define a standard clock and declare that the time intervals between any two consecutive ticks of that clock are the same. The second, our conventional unit of time measurement, will be defined to be so many ticks of the standard clock. We then synchronize other clocks with the standard clock so the clocks show equal readings at the same time. The time at which a point event occurs is the number reading on the clock at rest there. If there is no clock there, the assignment process is more complicated. We want to use clocks to assign a time even to distant events, not just to events in the immediate vicinity of the clock. To do this correctly requires some appreciation of Einstein’s theory of relativity. A major difficulty is that two nearby synchronized clocks, namely clocks that have been calibrated and set to show the same time when they are next to each other, will not in general stay synchronized if one is transported somewhere else. If they undergo the same motions and gravitational influences, they will stay synchronized; otherwise, they won’t. For more on how to assign dates to distant events, see the discussion of the relativity and conventionality of simultaneity.

As a practical matter, dates are assigned to events in a wide variety of ways. The date of the birth of the Sun is measured very differently from dates assigned to two successive crests of a light wave. For example, there are lasers whose successive crests of visible light waves pass by a given location every 10 to the minus 15 seconds. This short time isn’t measured with a stopwatch. It is computed from measurements of the light’s wavelength. We rely on electromagnetic theory for the equation connecting the periodic time of the wave to its wavelength and speed. Dates for other kinds of events also are often computed rather than directly measured with a clock.

21. What is essential to being a clock?
Clocks record numerical information about time. They measure the quantity of time, the duration. Every clock has two functions. One function is to generate a sequence of events of hopefully the same durations. Periodic processes provide these events. In a wall clock, the events are pairs of successive ticks. In a pendulum clock, the events are swings (that is, oscillations) of the pendulum. The second function is to count these events, thereby providing a measurement of their durations in seconds and minutes and hours and years. This counting can be especially difficult if the ticks are occurring a trillion times a second. However, it is an arbitrary convention that we design clocks to count up to higher numbers rather than down to lower numbers as time goes on. One principal goal in clock-building is to make the clock’s basic durations be congruent. That is, the duration between any two adjacent ticks should be the same. When this goal is achieved, the clock is said to be uniform or regular. A second goal is for the time measurements of the clock to agree with those of the standard clock. When this happens, the clock is said to be properly calibrated or accurate or synchronized with the standard clock. To calibrate a clock, that is, to synchronize it with the standard clock, we want our clock to show that it is time t just when the standard clock shows that it is time t, for all t. A clock isn’t really measuring the time in a reference frame other than one fixed to the clock. In other words, a clock primarily measures the elapsed proper time between events that occur along its own worldline. Technically, a clock is a device that measures the spacetime interval along its own worldline. If the clock is at rest in an inertial frame, then it measures the “coordinate time.” If the spacetime has no inertial frame then it can’t have a coordinate time. Because clocks are intended to be used to measure events external to themselves, a third goal in clock building is to ensure there is no difficulty in telling which clock tick is simultaneous with which events occuring away from the clock. For example, we might want to determine when the sun comes up in the morning at some particular place where we and our clock are located. For some clocks, the sound made by the ticking helps us make this determination. For other clocks, the determination is made by our seeing the sun rise just when we see the digital clock face show a specific time of day. More accuracy in the determination requires less reliance on human judgment. In our discussion so far, we have assumed that the clock is very small, that it can count any part of a second and that it can count high enough to be a calendar. This isn’t always a good assumption with a real clock. Despite the practical problems, there is the problem of there being a physical limit to the shortest duration measurable by a given

clock because no clock can measure time more accurately than the time it takes light to travel between the components of that clock, the components in the part that generates the sequence of regular ticks.

22. What is our standard clock?
By current convention [in 1964 by ratification by the General Conference of Weights and Measures for the International System of Units, which replaced what was called the "metric system"], the standard clock is the clock we agree to use for defining the standard second. The current standard second is defined to be the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods (cycles, oscillations, vibrations) of a certain kind of microwave radiation in the standard clock. More specifically, the second is defined to be the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the microwave radiation required to produce the maximum fluorescence of cesium 133 atoms (that is, their radiating a specific color of light) as the atoms make a transition between two specific hyperfine energy levels of the ground state of the atoms. This is the internationally agreed upon unit for atomic time [the T.A.I. system]. The old astronomical system [Universal Time 1] defined a second to be 1/86,400 of an Earth day. For atomic time, the atoms of cesium with a uniform energy are sent through a chamber that is being irradiated with these microwaves. The frequency of these microwaves is tuned until the maximum number of cesium atoms flip from one energy to the other, showing that the microwave radiation frequency is now precisely tuned to be 9,192,631,770 vibrations per second. Because this frequency for maximum fluorescence is so stable from one experiment to the next, the vibration number is accurate to so many significant digits. The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s F-1 atomic fountain clock, which was adopted in late 1999 as the primary time standard of the United States, is so accurate that it drifts by less than one second every 20 million years. We know there is this drift because it is implied by the laws of physics, not because we have a better clock from which to make the judgment. The standard clock is used to fix the units of all lengths. The unit of length depends on the unit of time. The meter depends on the second. It does not follow from this, though, that time is more basic than space. All that follows is that time measurement is more basic than space measurement. And this has to do with convention and with the fact that current science is capable of measuring time more precisely than space. Thanks to the regularity of light propagation in a vacuum, the meter is defined in terms of the second. The meter is defined in terms of the pre-defined second as being the distance light travels in exactly 0.000000003335640952 seconds or 1/299,792,458 seconds. That number is picked so that the new meter will be nearly the same distance as the old meter, which was the distance between two marks on a platinum bar that was kept in the Paris Observatory. Why is the meter defined in terms of the second, instead of having the second defined in terms of the meter as, say, how long it takes light to travel a certain distance? The answer is that distance can’t be measured as accurately as time. Time can be more accurately measured than distance, voltage, temperature, mass, or anything else. These standard definitions of the second and the meter amount to defining or fixing the speed of light in a vacuum in all inertial frames. The speed is exactly one meter per

0.000000003335640952 seconds or 299,792,458 meters per second, or approximately 186,282 miles per second or about a foot per nanosecond. There can no longer be any direct measurement to see if that is how fast light REALLY moves in an inertial frame; it is simply defined to be moving that fast. Any measurement that produced a different value for the speed of light would be presumed initially to have an error in, say, its measurements of lengths and durations, or in its assumptions about the influence of gravitation and acceleration, or in its assumption that the light was moving in a vacuum. This initial presumption comes from a deep reliance by scientists on Einstein’s theory of relativity. However, if it were eventually decided by the community of scientists that the theory of relativity is incorrect and that the speed of light shouldn’t have been fixed as it was, then the scientists would call for a new world convention to re-define the second. Some physicists believe that a better system of units would first define the speed of light, then define the second, and then make the meter be a computed consequence of these. Although a microwave atomic clock is currently used for our standard unit of time, it is expected that in the first quarter of the 21st century, physicists will agree to use an optical atomic clock, and then the definition of the second will be changed to refer to an optical frequency, rather than to a microwave frequency.

23. Why are some standard clocks better than others?
We choose as our standard clock our best clock, the one with the least drift, the one with the most regularity in its period. Other clocks ideally are calibrated by being synchronized to this standard clock. In about 1700, scientists discovered that their best watches and clocks showed that the time from one day to the next, as determined by sunrises, varied throughout the year. Therefore, they preferred to define durations in terms of the mean or average day throughout the year. Before the 1950s, the standard clock was defined astronomically in terms of the mean rotation of the earth upon its axis [solar time]. For a short period in the 1950s and 1960s, it was defined in terms of the revolution of the earth about the Sun [ephemeris time]. The second was defined to be 1/86,400 of the mean solar day, the average throughout the year of the rotational period of the earth with respect to the Sun. Now we’ve found a better standard clock, a certain kind of atomic clock [atomic time]. All atomic clocks measure time in terms of the natural resonant frequencies of various atoms and molecules. The periodic behavior of a super-cooled cesium atomic clock is the best practical standard clock we have so far discovered. [The dates of adoption of the standards was left vague in the previous sentences because different international organizations adopted different standards in different years.] The principal theoretical goal in selecting a standard clock is to find a periodic (cyclic) process that, if adopted as our standard, makes the resulting system of physical laws simpler and more useful. Choosing the atomic clock as standard is much better for this purpose than choosing the periodic dripping of water from our goat skin bag or the period of a special pendulum or even the periodic revolution of the earth about the Sun.

When we choose a standard clock we are making a choice about how to compare two durations in order to decide whether they are of equal duration. Is this choice somehow forced upon us? To what extent is this choice conventional? Philosophers dispute the extent to which the choice of metric is conventional rather than forced by nature. Taking the conventional side, Adolf Grünbaum argues that time is metrically amorphous. It has no intrinsic metric in the sense of its structure determining the measure of durations. Instead, we analysts establish durations between instants by the way we assign coordinates to instants. If we were to say the instant at which Jesus was born and the instant at which Abraham Lincoln was assassinated occurred only 24 seconds apart, whereas the duration between Lincoln’s assassination and his burial is 24 billion seconds, then we can’t be mistaken. It’s up to us to say what is correct when we first create our conventions about measuring duration. We can consistently assign any numerical time coordinates we wish, subject only to the condition that the assignment properly reflect the betweenness relations of the events that occur at those instants. That is, if event J (birth of Jesus) occurs before event L (Lincoln’s assassination) and this in turn occurs before event B (burial of Lincoln), then the time assigned to J must be numerically less than the time assigned to L, and both must be less than the time assigned to B. t(J) < t(L) < t(B). A simple requirement. It is other requirements that lead us to reject the above convention about 24 seconds and 24 billion seconds as unhelpful. What requirements? We’ve found that, for doing science, certain processes are more “regular” than others. Pendulum swings are more regular than repeated barks of a dog. Periodic appearances of the sun overhead are more regular than rainstorms. Why are they? It’s because there are many periodic processes in nature that have a special relationship to each other; their periods are very nearly constant multiples of each other, and this constant stays the same over a long time. For example, the period of the rotation of the Earth is a fairly constant multiple of the period of the revolution of the Earth around the Sun, and both these periods are a constant multiple of the periods of swinging pendulums. The class of these periodic processes is very large, so the world will be easier to describe if we choose our standard clock from one of these periodic processes. If we were to choose the standard to be the period of our own pulse, then we’d find that all those other processes would speed up when we are excited and slow down when we are not, and we’d find that it would be more difficult to find simple laws of nature. A good convention for what is regular will make it easier for scientists to find simple laws of nature and to explain what causes other events to be irregular. It is the search for regularity and simplicity that leads us to adopt the conventions for numerical time coordinate assignments that we do. No, says the objectivist, the success of the atomic clock over these other clocks we might have chosen as our standard clock shows that we picked the correct clock. An objectivist believes that whether two intervals of time are really equivalent is an intrinsic feature of nature, and choosing an atomic clock instead of the earth’s revolutions about the sun as the standard clock isn’t any more conventional than is choosing to say the Earth is round rather than flat. A practical goal in selecting a standard clock is to find a clock that is relatively insulated from environmental impact such as comet impacts, stray electric fields or the presence of dust. If not insulation, then compensation. That is, if there is some theoretically predictable effect upon the standard clock, then the clock can be regularly adjusted to take account of the effect. Sensors, such as a thermometer or whatever, will sense the local conditions that affect the clock, and their readings can be used to apply a suitable correction in order to compensate for the effect of those conditions.

Why is choosing the cesium atomic clock as our standard better than choosing an astronomical process such as the mean yearly motion of the earth around the Sun? The brief answer is that the earth’s rate of spin varies. The ocean’s tides, the sloshing of earth’s molten core, and other things, are affecting the rotation of the earth, but not affecting the atomic clock. If we said that by definition the earth doesn’t slow down, then scientists would have to say that the frequency of light emitted from cesium atoms is gradually increasing for seemingly no apparent reason. That is, by sticking to the earth-sun clock, we have trouble accounting for accelerations and retardations of the orbital motions of the other planets compared with earth’s rotational period, and we have trouble accounting for the simultaneous accelerations and retardations of atomic motions such as those in cesium-133 atoms compared again with earth’s rotational period. Our atomic theory says that these atomic processes should behave uniformly as time goes on, so sticking with the earth-sun clock forces us accept awkward changes in our atomic theory and in the rotations of the other planets. On the other hand, by switching to the cesium atomic standard, these alterations are unnecessary, the mysteries vanish, and we can readily explain the non-uniform wobbling of the earth’s yearly revolutions by reference to the tides on the earth, the movement of the liquid metal at the center of earth, the gravitational pull of other planets, dust between planets, and collisions with comets. These influences affecting a solar clock do not affect the cycles of the cesium atom. There are two principal advantages of the cesium clock: (1) it provides a standard that is reproducible anywhere in the universe where there is cesium, and, more importantly, (2) the behavior of the cesium atom is relatively insulated or isolated from other processes, especially from a comet’s bombarding the earth. In order to keep our atomic-based calendar in synchrony with the rotations and revolutions of the earth, say, to keep atomic-noons occurring on astronomical-noons and ultimately to prevent Northern hemisphere winters from occurring in some future July, we systematically add leap years and leap seconds and leap microseconds in the counting process. These changes don’t affect the duration of a second, but they do affect the duration of a year because, with leap years, not all years last the same number of seconds. Our universe has a large number of different processes that bear consistent time relations, or frequency of occurrence relations, to each other. For example, the frequency of a fixed-length pendulum is a constant multiple of the half life of a specific radioactive uranium isotope; the relationship doesn’t change as time goes by (at least not much and not for a long time). The existence of these sorts of relationships makes our system of physical laws much simpler than it otherwise would be, and it makes us more confident that there is something objective we are referring to with the timevariable in those laws.

24. What does it mean for a clock to be accurate?
It’s important to distinguish accuracy from precision. If you use a bow to shoot arrows at a target, then the shooting is precise if all the arrows cluster near a point, even if that point is off-target. For your shooting to be accurate you need to hit the bull’s-eye. The standard clock’s ticking is our bulls-eye. An ordinary wristwatch is considered to be accurate if it ticks in synchrony (that is, in step) with our standard clock.

What it means for the standard clock to be accurate depends somewhat on your philosophy of time. If you are a conventionalist, then once you pick the convention, the standard clock can’t fail to be accurate. There may be more or less useful standards (you would do better choosing the ticks of an atomic clock rather than the barks of your neighbor’s dog as the standard periodic process), but usefulness isn’t a sign of truth. The absolute theory of time, on the other hand, implies time is marching on independent of all events, and an accurate standard clock will be in sync with this “march.” If it is out of sync, then our standard clock won’t be telling the true time. But since our civilization doesn’t know how to establish this synchrony, we take a very different route to accuracy by saying the best choice for a standard clock is one that is the most regular, and we find out which is the most regular by finding the clock that is best at meeting the following three goals: 1. The most accurate clock will use a process that is not affected very much by environmental conditions such as temperature, time of day, where it’s located, the presence of dust and comets. [The standard atomic clock meets goal (a) better than the standard astronomical clock does.] 2. Exact reproductions of the clock should stay in synchrony with each other when environmental conditions are the same. To use the technical expression, the reproductions should remain sufficiently congruent, i.e., more congruent than competing clocks using a different standard. 3. The standard clock’s readings should be consistent with the Newton’s first and second laws of motion (assuming we are in a situation where these laws should hold so that we don’t need to deal with Einstein’s revisions of Newton’s laws). If we run a test of those laws, and if we find that Newton’s laws are violated, then the problem isn’t with the laws but with the clock used in our test, and we say the clock is inaccurate, provided there are no other mistakes in the experiment. The first person to notice requirement (c) on accuracy of clocks was Leonhard Euler [1707-1783], a Swiss mathematician and physicist.

Author Information
Bradley Dowden Email: dowden@csus.edu California State University Sacramento

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