Introduction

Plan of this book

This book is about theories of time, not about time itself, because no one really knows what time is. There is no consensus as to whether time is a thing or a process. Time is far too complex and vague a concept to be understood from any single perspective, so it is not surprising that there have been many different views about it throughout history. Some of these views have evolved within particular cultures and are associated with specific religious and mythological belief structures current in those cultures. Other views about time were developed by free thinkers such as the medieval cleric Nicholas of Autrecourt, who challenged the conventional view that time and matter are continuous.[1]

Whatever their origins, however, all of these views share a common feature: they are human perspectives on time. Since we can give no single account of time as it relates to our own species, it stands to reason that we should not expect to have an account of time that is meaningful to other species. Social insects such as soldier ants will behave instinctively as if time had importance only in terms of the survival of their colony, whilst humans view time in terms of their personal survival. If we humans ever encounter other intelligences in our galaxy, there is no certainty that both species will share the same view of time.

This book divides naturally into three themes, each having its particular focus. The first theme, Concepts of Time, consists of Chapters 1 to 9 and addresses the diversity of perspectives on time. Whilst none of these can adequately capture the complete essence of what time is, many of them do have some flavour of truth or value, so it is useful to review those with which we are most familiar. Some are scientific, meaning that some aspects can be empirically validated, such as time dilation. Most perspectives on time, however, are metaphysical and have no empirical content per se. The general purpose of this book is to guide the reader towards scientific, mathematically based images of time. Our aim in this theme is to alert the reader to the plethora of images of time that have no scientific foundation.

The second theme, Classical Time, consists of Chapters 10 to 23 and deals with the mathematical structures employed by mathematicians and scientists to describe time before the advent of quantum mechanics (QM). This includes special relativity (SR) and general relativity (GR) which, although developed after Planck’s introduction of quanta in 1900, were based on a classical perspective of time. In the third theme, Quantum Time, from Chapters 24 to Appendix, we take into account the fundamental shift in perspective that QM forces on us.

The Appendix consists of a chapter reviewing basic mathematical structures, and this is followed by a bibliography, and an index.

  • [1] He was condemned to burn his writings, which he did in 1347. Images of Time. First Edition. George Jaroszkiewicz. © George Jaroszkiewicz 2016. Published in 2016 by Oxford University Press.
 
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