We are inescapably confronted with time on a daily basis. It assists us in organizing our lives, for the better or worse, and we have also grown comfortable with dividing our sense of time in three main blocks: a past, a present moment, and a future. Time is so intrinsically entangled with our everyday experiences that we take it for most of the time entirely for granted. But how sure should we be of its existence?
If we were asked to conjure up a definition of time, we would be quick on our feet to invoke clocks or other devices and phenomena that exhibit a steadily repeating motion. While these instruments are designed to measure time, i.e., the enterprise of timekeeping, they do not tell us what time actually is.
Even though we can wrap our head around the idea of a clock as an apparatus engaging in repetitive movements of some kind, it remains a bit puzzling as to on what grounds these recurrent physical changes — whether we think of the periodic energy transitions in atomic clocks, the vibrating quartz crystals in wristwatches, or the oscillations of a pendulum in a grandfather clock — link to the concept of time in the first place.
In fact, if time is so intimately related to clocks, does it still make sense to speak of time existing independently of clocks? If we answer in the negative, does that make time less universal? Do we effectively obliterate time when removing all clocks in the Universe? Did the Universe then not experience time before the existence of the first human-built clock? As the human species invented clocks, does that make time less real? If we argue that time is real, does it objectively exist within the Universe or is it somehow a consequence of the intricate workings of our brain trying to give meaning to the world around us?
By drawing upon insights from the field of physics, this article wishes to probe the following question: To what extent does time exist in its own right?
As the notion of time is closely affiliated with clocks, let us first delve into the definition of a clock. By and large, any device that possesses these three essential characteristics can be considered a clock: it features regular cyclic patterns of equal duration (a constant frequency), it is capable of…