By Patrick Quanten MD
As a teenager I got quite excited when I discovered that by moving from west to east across the earth you would gain time. You would have to set your watch back one hour for each 24th part of the circumference you travelled. To me, this meant that if you moved quickly enough you could become younger, you could go back in time. However, my teachers squashed this idea completely. "It doesn't work like that". How it worked they never told me.
Even today it bothers me that what seemed so simple to me then, still does, in spite of the fact that it appears not to work that way. Why shouldn't it? It worked for Phileas Fogg in 1872 when he travelled around the world in 80 days. On arriving back in England, however, he feared he had lost his bet as he calculated he had been away 81 days. This was until he noticed that it was a day earlier in England than the number of days he had been travelling. He had effectively gained a day by going around the world from west to east.
The millennium showed us clearly that what is happening in a certain place at a certain time changes when you change the point of observation. When midnight arrived in London, other places were already well into the new millennium whilst others were still building up to the big bang. The millennium did not start for everyone at the same time, yet it started for everybody on January 1st, 2000 at 0 hours. Equally, if we ask the question as to what is happening on Mars now, then we have to concede that we don't know. As the Earth and Mars are about 20 light-minutes away from one another and because information can not travel faster than light, an Earth based observer is unable to know what the situation is on Mars at this moment in time. He can only tell you what has happened on Mars.
Motion and Time
Speed is a measure of how far an object can travel in a given duration of time. Distance is a notion about space, in particular it is a measurement of how much space there is between two points. Also note that duration is a notion about time, how much time elapses between two events. Speed, therefore, is intimately connected with our notions of space and time.
With minimal effort, we can make use of the constancy of the speed of light to show that the familiar everyday conception of time is plainly wrong. Observers in relative motion will not agree on which events occur at the same time. When two objects are set an equal distance apart from a light source, all mounted on a train travelling at a constant speed in a straight line, the light, when switched on, will reach both objects at exactly the same time viewed from an observation point on the train, as observer, object and light source all travel at equal speed in the same direction. However, when the same event is witnessed from a stationary position on the platform, it is obvious that the light reaches the object at the back of the train before it reaches the object on the front, as this one is moving towards the light source and the other one is moving away from it. Calculations have shown that if the two objects are placed 100 feet apart on the train and the train is moving at 10 miles per hour, the observers who are not on the train would "see" that the light reaches the back object about a millionth of a billionth of a second before it reaches the front object. Although this represents a genuine difference, it is so tiny that it cannot be detected by human senses. If the train was moving considerably faster, say at 600 miles per hour, from a stationary observation point the light would take almost 20 times as long to reach the front object compared with the time it needed to reach the back object. At high speed, the startling effects of special relativity become increasingly pronounced.
It is difficult to give an abstract definition of time. Attempts to do so often wind up invoking the word "time" itself, or else go through linguistic contortions simply to avoid doing so. Avoiding that altogether brings us to define time to be that, which is measured by clocks. Of course, this shifts the burden of definition to the word "clock", a device that undergoes perfectly regular cycles of motion, which implicitly involves a notion of time since "regular" refers to equal time durations elapsing for each cycle. We expect to undergo repetitive cyclical evolutions that do not change in any manner from one cycle to the next. Grandfather clocks with pendulums that swing back and forth and atomic clocks based on repetitive atomic processes provide simple examples. We are interested in the universal question of how motion affects the passage of time and therefore how it fundamentally affects the ticking of any and all clocks regardless of their particular design or construction.
In his special theory of relativity, Einstein proposed that the measured interval between two events depends on how the observer is moving. Crucially, two observers who move differently will experience different durations between the same two events. Suppose that Sally and Sam are twins. Sally boards a rocket ship and travels to a nearby star at a very high speed, turns around and flies back to earth, while Sam stays at home. For Sally the duration of the journey might be, say, one year, but when she returns and steps out of the spaceship, she finds that 10 years have elapsed on earth. Her brother is now nine years older than she is. Sally and Sam are no longer the same age, despite the fact that they were born on the same day. In effect, Sally has leaped nine years into earth's future.
This effect, known as time dilation, occurs whenever two observers move relative to each other. In daily life we don't notice weird time warps, because the effect becomes dramatic only when the motion occurs at close to the speed of light. Even at aircraft speeds, the time dilation in a typical journey amounts to just a few nanoseconds. Nevertheless, atomic clocks are accurate enough to record the shift and confirm that time really is stretched by motion.
Time elapses more slowly for a clock or an individual in motion than it does for a stationary one. Doesn't this then mean that one should be able to live longer by being in motion rather than staying stationary? After all, if time elapses more slowly for an individual in motion than for an individual at rest, then this disparity should apply not just to time as measured by watches but also to time as measured by heartbeats and the decay of body parts. This is the case, as has been directly confirmed - not with the life expectancy of humans, but with certain particles from the microworld: muons. As far as humans are concerned, we do perceive that people who are busy and always "on the go" are generally healthier, especially when their activities and their movements relate to survival within a natural environment and therefore their motion is harmonious to nature's cyclic movement. The stresses and unnatural speeds of our modern society turn out to be killers rather than lifesavers. Maybe we will find an explanation for that later.
Speed is one way to change the flow of time. Gravity is another. Clocks run a bit faster in the attic than in the basement, which is closer to the centre of the earth and therefore deeper into the gravitational field. Similarly, clocks run faster in space than on the ground. Once again the effect is minuscule, but it has been directly measured using accurate clocks. Indeed, these time-warping effects have to be taken into account in the Global Positioning System. If they weren't, sailors, taxi drivers and cruise missiles could find themselves many kilometres off course.
Conclusion: Does it really matter that there are minuscule differences in time measured in our daily world? Does it really make any difference at all? Well, yes it does. We tend to forget that our world stretches beyond the contours of mother earth, and that in effect we are not standing still but are travelling through space at high speed. This rapid motion not only affects our biological clock but also influences our perception of time.
The Biological Clock
For the morning glory that spreads its petals at dawn, for geese flying south in autumn, for locusts swarming every 17 years and even for lowly slime moulds sporing in daily cycles, timing is everything. In human bodies, biological clocks keep track of seconds, minutes, days, months and years. They govern the split-second moves of a tennis serve and account for the trauma of jet lag, monthly surges of menstrual hormones and bouts of wintertime blues.
The circadian clock - from the Latin circa (about) and diem (a day) - tunes our bodies to the cycles of sunlight and darkness caused by the earth's rotation. It helps to program the daily habit of sleeping at night and waking in the morning. But its influence extends much further. Body temperature regularly peaks in the late afternoon or early evening and bottoms out a few hours before we rise in the morning. Blood pressure typically starts to surge between 6am and 7am. Secretion of the stress hormone cortisol is 10 to 20 times higher in the morning than at night. Urination and bowel movements are generally suppressed at night and pick up again in the morning.
The circadian timepiece runs without the need for a stimulus from the external environment. Studies of volunteer cave dwellers and other human guinea pigs have demonstrated that circadian patterns persist even in the absence of daylight, occupational demands and caffeine. And they are expressed in every cell of the body! The circadian clock needs however to be continually reset to stay accurate, so light and the natural day and night cycles is needed to synchronise the clock.
This year researchers at HarvardUniversity reported variations in regular 24-hour periods in different organs of the body. Some organ activity peaks at night, another in the morning and another still in the daytime. Outside changes such as specific feeding schedules can shift the phase of the liver's circadian clock, overriding the light-dark rhythm. When rats that usually ate at will were fed just once a day, the peak expression of a clock gene in the liver shifted by 12 hours to optimise digestion at the time when it is needed the most. The autonomy of the "peripheral clocks" makes a phenomenon such as jet lag far more comprehensible. A new schedule of light will slowly reset the "brain clock", but the other clocks may not follow its lead. Jet lag doesn't last however, because all those different clocks will eventually synchronise once again. But shift workers, party animals, college students and other night owls face a worse chronodilemma. They may be leading a kind of physiological double life. Even if they get plenty of shut-eye by day, their core rhythms are still ruled by the brain clock, which means that the core functions continue "sleeping" at night. "You can will your sleep cycle earlier or later," says Alfred J Lewy of the OregonHealth & ScienceUniversity, "But you can't will your melatonin levels earlier or later, or your cortisol levels, or your body temperature." With their bodies living in so many time zones at once, it's no wonder shift workers have an increased incidence of heart disease, gastrointestinal complaints and, of course, sleep disorders.
Jet lag and shift work are exceptional conditions in which the innate circadian clock is abruptly thrown out of phase with the light-dark cycles or sleep-wake cycles. But the same can happen every year, albeit less abruptly, when the seasons change, caused by the movement of the earth around the sun. Research shows that although bedtimes may vary, people tend to get up at about the same time in the morning year-round - usually because of their dogs, kids, parents or careers demands. The mismatch between day length and daily life could explain the syndrome known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. The condition is 10 times more common in the north than the south. "If we adjusted our daily schedules according to the seasons, we might not have seasonal depression", Lewy says. "We got into trouble when we stopped going to bed at dusk and getting up at dawn." If modern civilisation doesn't honour seasonal rhythms, it's partly because human beings are among the least seasonally sensitive creatures around. SAD is nothing compared to the annual cycles other animals go through: hibernation, migration, moulting and especially mating. It is possible that these seasonal cycles may also be regulated by the circadian clock, which is equipped to keep track of the length of days and nights.
But one aspect of human fertility is cyclical: women and other female primates produce eggs just once a month. The clock that regulates ovulation and menstruation is a well-documented chemical feedback loop. The reason for the specific duration of the menstrual cycle is unknown, but it is intriguing that it is exactly the same length as the lunar cycle.
People tend to equate ageing with the diseases of ageing (cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, Alzheimer, ...) as if the absence of disease would be enough to confer immortality. But at a recent meeting hosted by the National Institute on Ageing (USA), participants challenged many common assumptions about the factors that determine natural life span. The answer cannot solely lie with a species' genetics: worker bees, for example, last a few months, whereas the queen bees live for years. High metabolic rates can shorten life span, yet many species of birds, which have fast metabolisms, live longer than mammals of comparable body size. And big, slow-metabolizing animals do not necessarily outlast the small ones. The life expectancy of a parrot is about the same as a human's. Amongst dog species, small breeds typically live longer than large ones. On an individual level, predicting the life span of a particular person seems possible by reading his birth chart. This is a part of astrology whereby the place and time of birth relates to a specific configuration of the planets and star signs in the sky. This is said to provide the person with very specific character traits. From that point onwards, one can predict star and planet configurations into the future, at each stage predicting the kind of energies this person will be responding to. This in turn relates to the ups and down's of every day life as well as, when read accurately, predicting the likely end of the life cycle.
"Mind time" has to do with how we experience the passage of time. Despite the steady tick of the clock, duration can seem fast or slow, short or long. And this variation can happen on different scales, form decades, seasons, weeks and hours, down to the tiniest intervals of music, the span of a note or the moment of silence between two notes. How mind time relates to the biological clock of body time is unknown. It is also not clear whether mind time depends on a single timekeeping device or if our experiences of duration rely primarily on information processing. If the latter proves to be true then mind time must be determined by the attention we give to events and the emotions we feel when they occur.
If this article intrigues you, the time you spend reading it will pass quickly. It'll drag if you get bored. That's a quirk of a "stopwatch" in the brain, the so-called interval timer, that marks time spans of seconds to hours. This helps you figure out how fast you have to run to catch a ball. It tells you when to clap to your favourite song. It lets you sense how long you can lounge in bed after the alarm goes off.
Interval timing enlists the higher cognitive powers of the cerebral cortex, the brain centre that governs perception, memory and conscious thought. When you approach a yellow traffic light, for example, you time how long it has been yellow and compare that with a memory of how long yellow lights usually last. Then you have to make a judgement about whether to put on the brakes or keep driving.
One of the virtues of the interval-timing stopwatch is its flexibility. You can start and stop it at will or ignore it altogether. It can work subliminally or it can submit to conscious control. But it won't win any prizes for accuracy. The precision of interval timers has been found to range from 5% to 60%. They don't work too well if you are distracted or tense; so you need concentration. And timing errors get worse as an interval gets longer.
So, the more attentive we are the more accurately we predict the time that has lapsed. If we are "distracted" because we are having great fun, then we are taking no notice of time, and consequently time flies. Similarly, when bored we "feel" every second slipping by at a snails pace.
When waking up in the middle of the night our estimate of the time we have been asleep is totally inaccurate. We are disorientated in time. Equally when you doze off and wake with a jolt you have no idea whether you have been asleep for 30 seconds or 2 hours. But another observation is also very interesting and that is the fact that some mornings one wakes up with the thought “Is it morning already?”. While on another occasion you feel it has taken a long time for dawn to arrive although you are not conscious of having woken during the night. Is it possible that the kind of attention or distraction also influences the accuracy of the interval timing during sleep?
Questions and Conclusions
Where does all of that leave us? What does it all mean? Does it really make any difference to you and me?
Well, let's start to analyse what we have learned.
In our daily lives we all experience time as a constant flow, passing through our lives. It never changes; one can rely on that. However, now we know that, not only is our experience of time very different form situation to situation, but also the measurement of the passing of time is not without change. It depends on the relative speed and direction of motion.
We have always had a sense that the personal experience of time differs as a result of the attention and emotional value we attach to whatever happened within that particular time frame. Or put differently, it depends on how much we have been distracted. But that the actual time, as measured in an accurate way, can differ as well, may come as a shock to some of you. And the reason for this difference is almost as important, if not more important, than the fact itself: it is motion.
The faster we move, the slower time moves; or the slower time registers. This can be measured by a clock, but it can also be "measured" by your brain. The quicker it moves - Aren't you just having fun? - the less time passes. When you then slow down again you are trusted forward in time in order to catch up with the time frame of your surroundings. This is true for relative short time lapses (smaller than 24 hours), as well as for longer periods of time, as Phileas Fogg experienced. How is this possible?
We perceive ourselves as stationary because we and all things on earth move at the same speed in the same direction. The reality is that the earth with everything on it rotates around its axis in 24 hours, giving us the impression that time moves from morning into afternoon, and evening into night. The second movement is the great speed with which the earth travels through space around the sun. This creates the impression of passing years. Both of these "observations" are in effect nothing more than impressions. The reality is that the movements of the earth have created the notion of time.
The measurement of time, just as the measurement of space, is only possible in relation to a "standard". For daily measurements we relate everything to the time it takes for the earth to rotate once around its axis. The measurement is made from a stationary point on the earth’s surface. However, if we were to move at a different speed relative to the earth’s rotation we would have a different measurement of time for one earth’s rotation to be completed. If, on the millennium night, I had travelled across the earths surface at the same speed as the earth is turning but in the opposite direction, I would have experienced the millennium moment for 24 hours as I would have remained stationary in relation to the sun, not allowing time to pass. Reaching my departure point after a full rotation and setting foot on the earths surface again, thereby synchronising my travel speed once again with the earth’s, the time at my departure point would now be January 2nd at 0 hours. In effect, I would have jumped from the millennium point (January 1st at 0 hours) to exactly a full day later just by stopping my concurrent motion to the earth’s. This shouldn't really surprise us because geographically a difference of 15 degrees in longitude equals a difference of 1 hour. So, 15 degrees to the east it is an hour later than it is here, and at the same time, 15 degrees to the west it is an hour earlier, and just setting foot in a different time zone means we have either moved forward in time or moved backwards. But the other weird thing about that is that if it is January 1st midnight in London, then it should be December 31st 6pm in New York and December 31st 2pm in Los Angeles. Going further around in the same direction it should be December 31st 11am in New Zealand. But if it is January 1st midnight in London, then it is also January 1st 2am in Cairo, 5am in Tibet and January 1st 11am in New Zealand! The time on earth is set by human convention. It is the only way that it makes sense to our senses.
Then there is the earth's travelling motion around the sun, which is of a higher speed than the rotational movement and it creates a different type of time. As far as the movement of the sun and the whole solar system through space is concerned, we have no concept of what type of time this might create, but we now do know that it has to create yet again another perception of time.
Consequently, all time measurements totally depend upon the relative movement of objects. If there was no movement at all, there would be no time.
If we were totally stationary, time would not alter at all. In other words, there would be no time. Our impression of past, future and present would not exist; they would all be there, unchanged, for all time.
We would experience the past and future together.
All things would be "happening" at the same time.
We would have access to past, present and future at the same time.
Our physical clock is measured against the biological clock, which relates to nature's own vibrational rhythms. But what if our mind clock worked on the same principles?
We can physically measure the time it takes for the brain to produce a thought, to verbalise a thought. However, we know that the speed with which we have thoughts is far far greater. In dreams for instance, thoughts and pictures switch at such an incredible speed that verbalising a dream, telling others what you dreamed about, takes the same length of time as telling any type of story, but in reality the dream only lasted seconds, or fractions thereof. So, the energy of thought when released from the physical constrains of the body (the brain), travels much much faster.
Also, we know that in dreams there can be a mixture of past and future; there can be known and unknown places and times mixed together.
If time is totally depended on the speed of motion, and we know that the ultimate speed is the speed of light then anything that travels at a different speed than light does creates time. If everything was to travel at the speed of light, time would stand still, or more accurately time would not exist. The greater the speed of travel the slower time moves, and consequently, the closer together all events happen in time, until ultimately they would all happen at the same time.
If the mind’s energy is travelling at a speed much closer to the speed of light, the mind will then experience all events almost at the same time. To the mind’s observation there can be hardly any difference at all between past, present and future; time is almost standing still. As far as your mind is concerned there is no difference in time between you living this life on earth now and any previous incarnations. All experiences are happening now, as they were happening before and will be happening in the future.
The Bottom Line
Time in itself does not exist. The only thing that is real about time, is that it is created by observations from different points. These observation points differ in their relative speeds and directions in which they move. This manufactures the illusion of things happening at different times, while in reality they are seen at different speeds. There is no time; all is speed of movement.
The heavier energies become, the slower the travel. The more condense something becomes the heavier it becomes, and thus the slower it travels. The slower something travels the more time elapses, which creates the idea that things are happening at different times because we view their different speeds. Separation in time is caused by separation in speed and direction.
Does it matter to you?
Well, it sure matters to me. If life is not as we observe it, I would very much like to know what is distorted by my observation and what isn't. I would like to find out what is really real, and what isn't. And the implication may be that we have to start rewriting the science books and teaching people the real realities of life.