The Mystery of Time

Time, what could be more clear? What time is it? 10:00 pm! Next question. We think at times that nothing could be simpler than time. But time has mysteries about it. I cannot list them all here. But consider a few puzzlements about time.

  1. The Mystery of Time’s  Elasticity – We like to think that time is unvarying. 10 minutes here, is the same as 10 minutes there. But science has already disproved that. For example, as an object approaches the speed of light, time slows down. Further, strong gravitational forces also slows down time. On a very large planet with stronger gravitational forces I would age less rapidly than on a smaller planet. Granted, it would take a huge difference in speed or gravity to be able to observe a big difference, but the Law of Relativity does demonstrate that time does not pass equally everywhere. In a way it is almost symbolized by a large, lumbering elephant compared to a tiny little mouse. As the mouse scurries across the floor (pursued by my cat!) the speed is amazing, almost as if the mouse were in a different time frame.
  2. The Mystery of Lifespans – And speaking of animals, why are life spans so different? My cat Daniel is, like me a mammal. He has heart and lungs, very similar physiology in most respects. Yet his clock is set to 15 years, my clock is set to 80 years. Certain turtles can live up to 150 years, Many types of parrots can live to be over 100. Other birds live only 10 to 15 years. Most fish live only a few years, but Carp (a fish) live up to 100 years. And so on. We all see to have a clock, a designated life span. But that life span seems quite variable even among very similar species. We seem to carry the mystery of time in us. I have never heard a satisfying answer to the wide variability of life spans.
  3. The Mystery of Eternity – Lastly there is the mystery of what we call “eternity.” Most people misunderstand the word eternity simply to mean a long, long, time. But that is not what is meant by the word. When the Greeks coined the word eternity, (Aeon) they meant by it “the fullness of time.” That is to say, Eternity is the past, present and future all being experienced at once. I cannot tell you what this is like, but I can illustrate it. Look at the clock to the upper right. The time is 1:15 in the afternoon. That means that 10:00 AM is in the past and 6:00 pm is in the future. But consider the dot at the center of the clock and see that at that spot 10 AM, 1:15 PM, and 6 PM are all the same, they are equally present to the center. We live our life in serial time, on the outer edge of the clock. But God does not. God lives in eternity. God lives in the fullness of time. For God, past, and future are the same as the present. God is not “waiting” for things to happen. All things just are. God is not waiting and wondering if you or I will get to heaven. He is not watching history unfold like a movie. In eternity, 10,000 years ago is just as present as 10,000 years from now. Scripture hints at God’s eternity in numerous passages. For example, But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. (2 Peter 3:8). Psalm 139 says, Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. (Ps 139, 15). Psalm 90 says, For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. (Ps 90:4). And then there is simply the God’s name: “I AM” In this Name, there is no past, no future, just an eternal now, the present tense. Jesus declared to the crowds, “Before Abraham ever was, I AM.” (John 8:58). So here is the most awesome mystery of time, the fullness of time, eternity.

Ponder God’s glory and the mystery of time!

The following Video claims to make the Theory of Relativity and time simple. It’s NOT simple. But it is an interesting video to illustrate some of the mystery of time as we experience it.

12 Replies to “The Mystery of Time”

  1. Good video, great post. But… you want to really fry your brain on physics? Consider this, from the June 2007 issue of Discover Magazine:

    There is a temporal realm called the Planck scale, where even attosceonds [100 quintillionths of a second] drag by like eons. It marks the edge of known physics, a region where distances and intervals are so short that the very concepts of time and space start to break down. Planck time – the smallest unit of time that has any physical meaning – is 10^-43 second, less than a trillionth of a trillionth of an attosecond. Beyond that? Tempus incognito. At least for now.

    Efforts to understand time below the Planck scale have led to an exceedingly strange juncture in physics. The problem, in brief, is that time may not exist at the most fundamental level of physical reality. If so, then what is time? …

    [Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France, says,] “The question is, Is time a fundamental property of reality or just the macroscoping appearance of things? I would say it’s only a macroscopic effect. It’s something that emerges only for big things.”

    By “big things,” Rovelli means anything that exists much above the mysterious Planck scale. As of now there is no physical theory that completely describes what the universe is like below the Planck scale. … [T]he thing we experience as time might emerge from a more fundamental, timeless reality. As Rovelli describes it, “Time may be an approximate concept that emerges at large scales – a bit like the concept of ’surface of the water,’ which makes sense macroscopically but which loses a precise sense at the level of the atoms.”

    (emphasis mine)

    Now ponder that, as we remind ourselves every week, God is Maker “of all that is seen and unseen.” If that is the case, we’re dealing with a force that exists on an entirely different physical level than the universe we know, a level which is impercievable to us and unbounded by our concept of time, and yet all matter may exist only as an emergent property of that level.

    (And a funny/informative post-script from the Wikipedia page on Planck Units, of which Planck Time is one. “Originally proposed in 1899 by German physicist Max Planck, these units are also known as natural units because the origin of their definition comes only from properties of nature and not from any human construct… Planck units are often semi-humorously referred to by physicists as “God’s units”. They eliminate anthropocentric arbitrariness from the system of units: some physicists argue that communication with extra-terrestrial intelligence would have to use such a system of units to make common reference to scale. Unlike the meter and second, which exist as fundamental units in the SI system for historical reasons (in human history), the Planck length and Planck time are conceptually linked at a fundamental physical level.”)

    1. Wow. I don’t understand everything you just said but it goes a long way to emphasize the profound mysteries of the created world. The most honest scientists are beginning to realize how little we really know and the virtue of humility is reasserting itself in a big way. A lot of modern theories and discoveries really rock our world!

  2. Time is rather elusive, isn’t it? It never fails to amaze me how the worst things can happen in a matter of seconds, and how sometimes the best things take what appears to be forever. For instance, when I was in a major horseback riding accident training a young horse (who had thrown 3 other riders), the entire accident happened in a split second. It is actually classified as a near-death experience. Or, in my job in the ER, when we get a patient that’s at high risk for a heart attack, those patients can have a heart attack in quite literally a split second. They can die and come back to life in a matter of minutes.

    Then, on the good things, it seems to take forever. In my family, we are late bloomers – meaning that we have a string of bad luck before something good comes our way. For instance, in waiting to get accepted to a top college, it seems to take forever to hear back from them. A fight with a friend can last for a few minutes, but it could take weeks to forgive one another, or for the friend to realize that he/she was wrong. To get through the bad stuff, I turn to the church. Without prayer, communion, and penance, I would be lost. And the times I am not so good about going to church, and going to confession, and praying, the bad things seem magnified. Just my 2 cents, I enjoy reading this blog.

    1. Yeah, the way I often put it is that it can take many years to create something wonderful, or beautiful and only a few seconds to destroy it. It doesn’t seem fair. But Iguess it just means that we have to work harder.

  3. The different lifespans are a result of the ecosystem, that system which God created for the benefit of all of His earthly creatures. Certainly the entire Universe is complex, and the ecosystem is only one web of compexity within that great web of complexity, so to speak, and for this reason I marvel at the creation of God’s hands. He didn’t have to create such a beautiful work to reflect His glory, but He did, for us, to show us that He loves us. And His ultimate proof of Love is certainly the bitter Passion which Jesus Christ underwent for our redemption.

    1. Yes, the great web and circle of life. They variablility of lifespans does bespeak a designer who had specific purposes in mind. Otherwise, one might expect that all mammals would have a similar life span due to a “blind” but consistent process of evolution. As it is, the lifespans are “fine tuned” to a higher purpose as you point out.

  4. “Everything is traveling through space and time at the speed of light.” Oh my. It’s not simple – it’s just plain wrong.

    1. I am not sure what you are quoting. Was it something written here. Of course it would not be correct to say that everything is moving at the speed of light. I think the video made the claim that, at the speed of light, time stands still. I am also aware that the speed of light is both an absolute beyond which nothing can go, and it is a constant in that light always travels at the speed even in an object that is travelling rather fast, light still passes it at the speed of light. But as to the quote to which you refer I am not sure where it comes from. Can you help?

  5. The problem with Einstein’s theroms is that they cannot be popularized, they are essentially mathematical, not actual in the way things actually exist. In discussing relativity when speaking of time it would be better to speak of mechanical time measured by material clocks and absolute time measured by an absolute clock which is above mechanically measured time ( so to speak ). If a man travels at the speed of light for awhile, the theory of relativity says he will live longer. No, that is where the slight of hand comes in. By our imagined, absolute clock, the one in which God measures everything, the man will live no longer under the theory of relativity than under any other theory. God has counted our days and has appointed a time, he doesn’t care what clock we use.
    God’s clock is absolute.

  6. Bert Ghezzi has an interesting perspective in his book on the sacraments, Sacred Passages. He points out that the sacraments are not just passages through our life, but passages into the supernatural. I visualize the sacred moments in our lives as somehow not only timeless, but penetrating the barrier of time and space and opening something of a porthole from the eternal life of God into our lives, even as we are operating within the constraints of time and space. Once we are completely free of these constraints, we may know God in his fullness, or as St. Paul says, we may know as we are known. If we are not in union with God then we may know the fullness of life withOUT all that is good.

    All this physics is very stimulating to contemplate and though I don’t understand much of it, I can somehow grasp the concepts in the light of faith and the hope of eternity. Thanks for the post.

    1. Yes, and I might add, sacraments are a way by which we can reach back through time to the cross and resurrection. In every Mass the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus are made “Present” to us. We are not recalling distant events, we are experiencing them and their power here and now.

  7. There is no problem with time. The problem is with those who attempt to ” popularize ” the theory of relatively. They give it an objective reality which doesn’t apply. Let me explain. Let us suppose that we have a man living under time as measured by Neutonian physics. Let us suppose we have another man, an exact ” contemporary ” of the first, who was born in a space ship traveling at the speed of light his entire life. Then let us suppose that God has alloted both men 70 years as the span of their lives. When the first man dies he has lived 70 years by Newton’s clock and by God’s clock. The second man living on the space ship will also be dead even though the theory of relatively says he should still be living. Why is this? Because time is not mechanical. And because time, as measured by God, is absolute under all circumstances. Time is nothing but the perdurance of extant reality, its endurance in existance. We measure perdurance mechanically in various ways and sometimes in rather esoteric ways using mathematical theories such as the theory of relatively. But God doesn’t. He measures it absolutely. That is why both men die after 70 years as measured by Newton’s clock, not by the clock on the space ship. Time is a quality or an attribute, just as life is an attribute. It is real in that sense only. For convenience we use mechanical devices to observe changes in extant reality, like the changes in the life of a human being. When the hands of the clock have gone around enough times we will pass into a reality that does not possess time as a quality or attribute.

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