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2017-11-11
 

An Explanation of Time

   

Watching a Movie

 

Movies are comprised of a sequence of pictures. Showing pictures in   quick succession creates the impression of a continuous sequence   of events taking place. Slow motion reduces the frequency of   pictures. Down to a certain limit motion still looks smooth,   but then we start noticing that there are individual pictures   shown. Yet for the following argument this is not important. The   point is that we can slow down the frame rate ever more,   even down to zero. At this point a last picture is shown,   frozen on the screen. The next picture of course still exists, but   will not be shown.  

   

What is the time coordinate in the film. It is discrete and   given by the sequence numbers of the pictures. The   sequence of pictures defines the sequence of events taking   place. When it comes to the last frame shown, where we decided to   stop the film, local time in the film does not proceed anymore,   simply because time is equivalent to frames shown and the next   frame is never shown.

   

For observers in the movie theater it is irrelevant that   there are potentially more pictures to show. There was a last   frame and that was that. More will not   happen.

   

Time in Physics

 

The movie with its slow motion and arbitrary stop can help to   understand time in physics. The bold transfer from the discrete time co-ordinate of the film to continuous time in physics works as follows:

 
 
1. Time is a sequence of events, a sequence of things   happening.
2.  
3. If events follow each other slower, time runs slower.
4.  
5. If no more events follow, if things stop happening, time   does not proceed.
6.  
   

The following paragraphs try to explain why this can be a viable way of looking at time in physics.

   

Time in physics, as far as we know, is   continuous, not discrete. But there are many examples in   mathematics and physics where the limit of discrete points   results in a continuum. In the same way we can imagine that points in   time is are individual events, yet they comprise a continuum.

   

In this view, time is implicitly given by a continuous sequence of   events or states of the world. You could even say that time has   no existence in itself. It is "only" a measure of how   fast the states of the world follow each other.

   

Special and General Relativity tell us that time slows down in   moving objects or under high gravity. How does this translate into   the "continuous sequence of states of the world" view? Easy: the   events follow slower onto each other than before. Similar to a   film in slow motion. The time between the frames is longer than   before.

   

Oh wait, what? Time between frames gets longer for   slow motion, but how does this translate into the time in physics?   How can there be more time between states of a   continuum of states if the continuum of state is time?

   

The answer is the same as for the movie: we are talking about   two time axes. In the movie, one axis is the frame number. The   other is the observer's time axis as given by the observer's stop   watch that shows a longer time between frames in slow motion. The   same is done in physics, where a difference is made between the   local time on a moving object or an object under gravity and the   observer's time.

   

So we have two time axes, the one of the observer and the one   of the object being observed. For the film it is easy to see how   things happen slower. What about special or general relativity?   What constitutes the longer time between world states,   what makes world states follow each other slower — at least from   the vantage point of the observer?  

   

What are individual world states anyway? This is a difficult   question, so we start with simplified world. Take a   game of chess. A state is defined by the positions of all the   pieces on the board. Look at the board now and look at the board   some time later during which the players are thinking, not moving   any piece. The state is the same — because nothing has   changed. The important word is "change". While it is   difficult to fully describe states of the world, it is easy to   grasp that they are different due to change.

   

How do states of the world change? Again we fall back to a   simple model. Consider a group of $n$ photons-in-a-mirrored-box   and assume that they are point particles. Each photon has the   (three dimensional) velocity $\Vec{v}_i$ with the absolute value   being the the speed of light $c=|\Vec{v}_i|$. The   average value of these velocities is     \begin{align}   \av &= \frac{1}{n}\sum_{i=0}^{n-1} \Vec{v}_i .   \end{align}     If the box moves at the speed of light, all photons move in the   same direction and their $\Vec{v}_i$ are all identical. In this   case $\av$ is also the same and in particular $|\av|=c$. On the   other hand, if the box does not move we have $|\av|=0$.  

   

When all the velocities are identical, does the world state of   this small world change? Well, the photons are moving at the speed   of light through space, so this constitutes a change, doesn't it?   The anser is "no", because this takes the world around the photons into   account. If you blind out the world around and only look at the   group of photons now and 5 minutes later, nothing has   changed. Their positions relative to each other are the same. Like   on the unchanged chess board we can say that the world state of   the group of photons did not change at all.

   

Put another way: the state changes only if the photon   velocities are not all identical. Intuitively, if one photon of a   billion has a slightly different direction than all the others,   the rate of change is smaller than when the box has stopped and   the photons are bouncing about in arbitrary directions   within the box. The more the velocities differ, the bigger   is the rate of change. One way to measure this totalled difference   of pairwise photon velocities are the averaged squared   differences     \begin{equation}   \frac{1}{n^2} \sum_{i\lt j} (\v{i}-\v{j})^2 \;,   \end{equation}     which is the   same as the variance of the set   of velocities.  

   

  For the following, note that a sum $\sum_{i,j=0}^{n-1}$, if   symmetric in $i$ and $j$, can be viewed as summing the elements   $(i,j)$ of a symmetric matrix. As such it can be taken apart into   twice the sum over the lower left triangle of the matrix plus the   diagnoal like $\sum_{i \lt j} \dots + \sum_{i}\cdots$. And   remember that $|\v{i}|^2=\v{i}\v{i}=c^2$.  

 

  Lets add the average velocity squared of the photons in the box and   proposed measure for the rate of change, the variance of the   velocities:     \begin{align}   \av^2 + \frac{1}{n^2} \sum_{i\lt j} (\v{i}-\v{j})^2   &= \frac{1}{n^2}\sum_{i,j=0}^{n-1} \v{i}\v{j}   &+ \frac{1}{n^2} \sum_{i \lt j} c^2-2\v{i}\v{j}+c^2\\   &= \frac{1}{n^2} \left(   \sum_{i\lt j} 2\v{i}\v{j}   + \sum_{i=0}^{n-1} \v{i}^2 \right)   &+ \frac{1}{n^2} \sum_{i\lt j} c^2-2\v{i}\v{j}+c^2\\   &= \frac{1}{n^2}   \left( \sum_{i=0}^{n-1} c^2 + \sum_{i\lt j} 2c^2\right)\\   &= c^2   \label{eq:start}   \end{align}     There is a tradeoff between moving by average velocity, $\av^2$,   and changing state as measured by velocity variance, $1/n^2   \sum_{i\lt j} (\v{i}-\v{j})^2$, because together they always   add up to $c^2$. The two extreme cases are:  

 
1. If all $\v{i}$ are identical, the average speed is $c$,   and the rate of change is zero.
2.  
3. If the average is zero, the rate of change is at its   maximum, $c^2$.
4.  
 

   

Lets compare this to the formula from Special Relativity   according to which 4 dimensional velocity through space-time is   equal to the speed of light $c$:     \begin{equation}   \left(\frac{c\,d\tau(t)}{dt} \right)^2 + \Vec{v}^2 = c^2.   \label{eq:v4}   \end{equation}     The $\tau$ denotes local time on the moving object, while $t$ is   the time for the observer and $\Vec{v}$ is the velocity of the   object with respect to the observer. For the ensemble of photons in   a box we have $\Vec{v}=\av$, so we can equate (\ref{eq:start}) and   (\ref{eq:v4}). Dropping the $\av^2=\Vec{v}^2$ we get     \begin{equation}   \left(\frac{c\,d\tau(t)}{dt} \right)^2   =   \frac{1}{n^2} \sum_{i\lt j} (\v{i}-\v{j})^2   \end{equation}  

   

The left side describes how time proceeds locally on a moving   object, in this case the ensemble of photons. On the right we   have the variance of these photons' velocities as a measure of   their state change.  

   

For fun and formula simplification, we note that the square   root of the variance is the standard deviation $\sigma$ of an   ensemble, so we can also write     \begin{equation}   c\frac{d\tau}{dt} = \sigma(\v{0},\dots,\v{n-1})\;.   \end{equation}    

   

It is tempting to speculate that the ensemble of photons is a   good role model for the real world, by assuming that  

 
1. time is (nothing but) a measure of the (rate of)   change in physical systems,
2.  
3. the rate of change is governed by all the physical processes   that proceed at the speed of light,
4.  
5. all change in a physical system can ultimately be attributed   to processes with a direction and proceeding at the the speed of   light, i.e. can meaningfully have an $\v{i}$ with $|\v{i}|=c$   ascribed to them.
6.  
   

     

To summarize:   \begin{align}   \text{rate of state change}   &=   \text{photon velocity's standard deviation}\\   &=   \text{progression of local time}   \end{align}  

   

Open Ends

   

For a photons-in-a-box world we have seen that the   progression of local time is given by how different the photon   velocities (i.e. their directions) are. Smaller differences in the   velocities intuitively mean a smaller rate of change. And this is   formally equal to a slower progression of local time.

   

Does this have any meaning for the real world?  

 
 
• photon is role model for change
•  
• photon as a point particle is only half the truth, can we do the above with phtons as a wave?
•  
• max rate of change given by $c$
•  
• SR: moving reduces possibility for change
•  
• GR: gravitation reduces possibility for change
•  
•   check entropy$\lt$variance bound: which, with the above remotely looks like the progresseion of time $d\tau/dt$ limits entropy (hmm, of what)
•