Where does time go?

The truth is that a couple of years ago I started a blog about “Time” as I had just finished teaching a course about the history of time, both in terms of measurement and our understanding.  I am going to be reposting some of those blogs here, and rework them a bit.  Some of you may have read this before.

A student asked me the question “where does time go”, perhaps in a drunken stupor, via text message, but a valid one nonetheless.  I sometimes have some of my most interesting thoughts while inebriated, the only problem is that I can’t remember what they are!  But I digress.

It is an interesting question though.  Time, is unlike space in that once a moment is gone, you can’t get it back.  And future moments cannot be grasped either.  All we have is now.  As I was thinking about how to answer the question, I went back to basics and said, well time and space are connected.  Time is a dimension, just as the first 3 dimensions are.  While we can navigate space in purposeful way (in that we can choose the direction in space we travel), we cannot navigate time in terms of choice.  One can argue though that all of us are navigating time to some extent, because each moment we explore our futures.  Perhaps the reason we can’t choose to navigate time in terms of direction is simply because we don’t know how yet.  Time travel seems like an extremely puzzling and complex prospect, but perhaps this is only because we are far from the answer.  Physics tell us that time is not a vector and does not imply any direction.  We only know of one direction so far.

So my first thought in answering that question, “where does time go?”, is to say, “well it’s somewhere else.”  In space if I put an object on a table and then asked you to close your eyes and moved it.  The object would no longer be there, and would be somewhere else.

Dick: “Hey where did the moment go?”

Jane: “Well it was there, now it is somewhere else”.

We could confuse ourselves even further by saying:

Dick: “This moment now is here, and soon it will be somewhere else”.

Jane:  “So in the future the moment will be somewhere else?

Dick: “That’s right”.

Jane: “And by somewhere else you mean the past?  So in the future the moment will occur, then it will be gone?”

Dick: “It’s that simple.”

Jane dies of an embolism.

The problem is of course that while it might be easy to say they are somewhere else, right now we don’t have a way of going to find them.   Both space and time have systems of measurement and with that system we can name a location for past events in time, or future events for that matter (although we wouldn’t be able to describe the future particularly well).  Despite knowing the location in time however, we cannot simply go there, unlike an object that has been moved which we can then find again.

Just like a lost object that you have searched for you have to accept at some point that the object is gone and no longer worry about it.  All your past moments are gone and we don’t know how to find them.  That doesn’t mean that past moments don’t have relevance to who you are today, but one has to be careful about dwelling in the past for too long.  Despite how strongly you may try to convince yourself, you are still in the present. 🙂 Maybe someday you will stumble upon a lost object, and maybe someday we will stumble upon the answer of how to find those lost moments.  For now I accept that every moment is irretrievable and thus try to make the most of them when I have them.

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