Time Doesn’t Exist…Except it does.

There is a meme that has been going around for awhile, about how time doesn’t exist. It’s supposed to be a thought piece that is geared towards getting people to try to actually live their lives, and not be held to strict schedules and stress out, etc. It boils down to essentially the “Stop and smell the roses” trope, only a bit more dark.

I don’t have an issue with the theme in general, but the idea it pushes, that time doesn’t exist, well, it’s just wrong. Let me quote the meme as is, and then address it in parts:

Time doesn’t exist, clocks exist. Time is just an agreed upon construct. We have taken distance (One rotation of the Earth, and one orbit of the sun), divided it up into segments, then given those segments labels. While it has its uses we have been programmed to live our lives by this construct as if it were real. We have confused our shared construct with something that is tangible and thus have become its slave.

Random Internet Meme

First and foremost, I think the author is confusing “Time” with “Units of Time”. Time exists, at least as much as distance does. I’ll get to that in a moment. The easiest proof we have of this, is something we can observe. Or rather, it is something that we DON’T observe. You were born, you lived, and you will die, and in-between you do a bunch of stuff. You’ll notice how all those things didn’t occur all at once. All that stuff that separates each of the events that occur in your life? We call that time. It might not be tangible, but it exists, as surely as distance separates things, so too does time separate events.

Not only is it observable, but it is calculable. We can observe other phenomenon, such as two people racing. Person A is faster than B, and thus arrives at the destination first. The only way for them to start at the same time, and not arrive at the same time, is if one of them is faster. Being faster requires a greater speed, and speed is calculated with distance and time. Without time, they could only have the same speed and would have to always leave and arrive at the same time. Not only the same time as each other, but also arrive the same time they left.

But what about relativity?!? I know some of you are screaming it! Indeed, what about relativity? Time exists, but existence does not require it to be constant! Time is not constant! But if you think this makes it not real, I’ll remind you that distance is also not a constant in relativity. Length contraction in the phenomenon in relativistic physics in which the length of an object in motion is physically measured to be shorter than when it is at rest. This is not an illusion. It is a necessity that falls out of relativity which found that the speed of light is the constant, and distance and time are relative.

So time does in fact exist. It can be measured, observed, calculated and used to accurately predict other observable phenomenon. What IS made up, however, is our concept of time units. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc. These are arbitrary lengths of time we have applied a label to. We originally estimated these things based off of distance as the meme states, the revolution of the Earth defining a day, while the orbit of the Earth around the sun defines a year. But even those were just estimates, as the Earths revolution is not precisely 24 hours, and in fact it is measurably slowing over time.

Currently, the standard second is actually not a division of 1/60 of a minute at 1/60 an hour at 1/24 the revolution of the Earth. It is in fact set to “9,192,631,770 periods of the radiationĀ corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom

As far as the rest of the meme goes, we aren’t a slave to time because we have devised it as a shared construct. We are a slave to time because it is limited, and of unknown quantity. No one knows how much time they have left in life, all we know is that it’s not infinite, and probably won’t last more than 90-100 years at best. I don’t know about you, but for me, that is encouragement enough to make sure the time I have left is spent enjoying life. Time exists people, and every day you have less. Go do something meaningful today.