user-pic

The River of Time

Publicist Note: "Fabric of the Cosmos" hosted by Brian Greene will premiere on NOVA fall 2011

Time.  We waste it, save it, kill it, make it.  The world as we know it runs on it; and yet, ask any physicist what time actually is, and the answer might shock you: They have no idea.  And that deep sense we all have of time "flowing" from past to present?  It might be nothing more than an illusion.  Instead, all moments past, present, and future exist now, meaning that Elvis really does live, along with your great-great-grandchildren, the end of life on Earth, and the Big Bang, all "at once"!  

If your head is about to explode, you're not alone.  We at NOVA have just begun production of our 4-hour miniseries, The Fabric of the Cosmos, hosted by author and physicist Brian Greene, and our heads are spinning!  

Just this week our "Time" production team shot its opening scene with Brian in Canyonlands National Park overlooking the Colorado River. An incredible vista, but what does it have to do with physics?

brian1.jpg
Host Brian Greene in Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah.  This location is known as Thelma & Louise Point--that's right, the very same cliff where that final scene took place!  Photo by Jonathan Sahula.

brian2.jpg
Fabric of the Cosmos "Time" crew filming Brian Greene. Photo by Jonathan Sahula.

Well, it's here where Brian introduces us to a central theme of our series:  our perceptions have led us astray. For centuries we've constructed a picture of the universe that is misleading at best, and often downright wrong.  The river, for example, represents our common-sense picture of time: something that "flows" in only one direction--toward the future.  But modern physics now demands a new picture of time, one in which all moments past, present and future are frozen together in a block of spacetime.  In this strange and still place, there's no such thing as the present as we know it. There's no "flow," no universal clock ticking across the universe.  Instead, what you and I describe as happening "right now" depends on where we are and how fast we're moving relative to each other. A tiny step a few billion light years away could mean my "now" includes events that to you already happened hundreds of years ago.  Flip it around and your "now" could include events that are hundreds of years in my future!  That means my future, which seems completely undecided to me is something that, for you, already exists!  It's an idea that flies in the face of common sense, and yet this our new picture of reality. 

Headache yet?  That's just the start.  In this hour, produced by Randy MacLowry of The Film Posse, we'll ask how our understanding of something so familiar and basic could be so wrong.  Where does the apparent flow and direction of time we experience come from?  Can we ever travel through time at will?  Did time ever have a beginning?  Will time ever end? 

As we push through production, keep an eye out for more entries about our "Time" hour and other three Fabric hours--"Quantum," "Space," and "Multiverse"--for a sneak peek at our exciting series! 

director.jpg
Left: Fabric of the Cosmos series Director of Photography Mike Coles.  Right: Producer/Director of the "Time" hour, Randy MacLowry.  Photo by Jonathan Sahula.

User Comments:

I have explored this topic through study, reflection, and meditation. Time independent of movement does not exist. There is only movement and relative motion. It is difficult to explain, but a major error is thinking that the Big Bang happened 14 billion years ago, because the Big Bang occurred 'outside' of time, not 'before,' so in a sense, it is occurring right now and is projecting into existence continuously. That is probably the source of the energy that we detect as background radiation. So the 'Big Bang' wasn't and isn't really an explosion that began time but might be better described as a continuous energetic projection that moves everything.

In a very broad sense I can understand this idea, but in the narrower confines of time from which our historical perceptions of it developed, it seems far less applicable. The pace of the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon and so on established the rhythms of time in this narrow sense. There are fixed measurements of time between the ingestion of a cholera vibrio and the onset of cholera in humans and there are fixed passages of time that turn coal into diamonds and metal into rust. There are ranges of time animal cells can survive without oxygen. There are life spans. It seems we are beginning to create two completely different types of time now.

Time can happen in an instant,dragout for eterinity.time is relitive to our sercomstances,maybe a minute,hour,day,or years. we need to relize time shift through the fabric of space.Time when I was a kid went by much slower than today as an adult.

its funny to quote historic origins of time, or what "defined" time (moon and sun), then re-compare it to what the substance of what was defined as time theoretically, to new thoughts... presently, haha. yes, it takes time for coal to turn to diamonds, but the article questions how that time physically exists, not our current perception. which just happened a second ago in the future. fun thoughts.

Remember the experiment where they shot a light through a slit in a screen? One slit: it was a photon. Given the choice of two slits: it was a wave and it went through both slits. I suspect that whatever we are measuring when we talk about "time..." it's a "chomoton" or wave. Just depends on whether it's passing through the screen of our personal experience or a screen of a generation--or era. Still mysterious, of course.

Remember the experiment where they shot a light through a slit in a screen? One slit: it was a photon. Given the choice of two slits: it was a wave and it went through both slits. I suspect that whatever we are measuring when we talk about "time..." it's a "chomoton" or wave. Just depends on whether it's passing through the screen of our personal experience or a screen of a generation--or era. Still mysterious, of course.

I agree with your perception of time, time and for that matter the universe, and everything that we are made of is still a mystery, and is something we are not developed enough to explain. Maybe one day in approximately five billion years we will understand "the universe, time, and everything we are part of....."

Maybe, I presume that Time is but a twinkling of an eye. If so, then I am still loving my "twinkle" or one's life span. I am so thankful that I am given a "twinkle" to love my fellowman.

I think that space-time is like a ladder; what we perceive as the past are the steps that we've climbed. The future is already laid out on the steps we have yet to climb. We're not smart enough yet to know (or climb to) the future. But, at least we can imagine:))))

For humans, time proceeds on a logarithmic scale rather than linear.

For a child, an hour in a boring classroom can seem like a lifetime, whereas a catastrophic event is experienced second by second, and lived thereafter in memory as such.

Well, this miniseries will be a complete and utter waste of time ... Brian Greene giving us his opinions for which he not only has no evidence, he never will have any evidence - just like with string theory.

If it sounds like I'm bashing Brian, I'm not. I'm actually quite jealous of him. I wish I could come up with some completely unprovable theory that nevertheless becomes "cool" and makes me rich and famous...

Kevin

This reminds me of Einstein's famous statement that "the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion," but I'm pretty sure that was based on his erroneous belief in a static universe...

I wonder if Greene's description of time is based on a similarly erroneous belief in the nature of the universe.

And you cannot prove he's wrong.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Anna Strachan

NOVApbs Twitter Feed

    Other posts by this Contributor