Note on time and the interpretation of quantum mechanics

In this note I wish to carry forward the general philosophy and theory of knowledge that has been developed to examine the implications of the theory to the question of the existence of time and of the interpretation of quantum mechanics.

On the nature and existence of time

It probably seems nonsense to ask whether or not time exists. We take it so for granted, and it so dominates our lives. But when we talk of time, what exactly are we referring to?

The theory presented develops a view of all knowledge as consisting of part observer dependent and part observer independent. Which is which?

Imagine a universe as a painting that is it was totally unchanging. Now imagine being in such a universe. What would be our conception of time? With no change of any sort, we would and can only have an internal conception of time that is we would be aware that we were at point A and some later time at point B. If we carried our watch, then we would know that the time between being at A then B was one hour.

No matter how I turn it around, without change I cannot create any external reference for time. Is change time? No, change is only change. But with change comes two important elements. First, with change means that A is A to begin, then becomes B. The gap between being A, then B is what I will call a ‘period between’, that is the period between events. This is again not time, but is something that time in fact measures. The second crucial aspect that comes with change is direction, this comes to be because of the irreversible nature of some events, and second comes to be because some states seem preferred over others, such as the gas not occupying one corner of a vessel despite theories that tell us there is no marked energy difference. We then created entropy to account for the fact. Period between, irreversibility and entropy all relate to features of the universe beyond perception, they are aspects or our attempts to grasp aspects of the Reality, and as an a result of these features we come along and select some arbitrary number and proceed to call it time and then imagine it as part of the universe. I can understand and accept period between, and understand and accept irreversible sets of interrelated events. Entropy can only be called an untidy concept, bearing some relationship to what happens and no relationship whatsoever with the mechanisms resulting in our observations. Time’s arrow has nothing to do with time at all it is us saying that by and large, when we encounter periods between they cannot be reversed. This makes time travel impossible unless every moment of all time is simultaneously being lived out in the multitude of another universe that would be needed and all we need to do is hop between. But this all gets so difficult as to be beyond any reasonable scientific effort of today.

Periods between, irreversibility and something we try to grasp, which I can only call entropy for now are aspects of a Reality, aspects of change. We have not grasped them all that well, but they are more than us, more than and beyond perception, it is our perception of these things that has lead us to aggregate some aspects of each into a notion we call time. But time has no existence beyond our efforts to grasp some aspect of that beyond perception.

Time does not exist. Periods between, irreversibility and that sought after in what we call entropy does exist. (Note: to date I have given no serious thought to entropy. I do not accept that entropy reflects any ‘tendency’, or ‘propensity’ of the universe. I do not believe such things exists, what does exist being mechanisms, with entropy being an attempt to relate to the results of some such of those mechanisms.)

What of Einstein’s famous thought experiment?

Imagine we are on the photon as it leaves the clock face. The hands forever locked at twelve-noon. Has time stood still? I think not, what has happened is that the perceptual field containing the information on changes in the universe to our immediate rear becomes unchanging in relation to our perceptual processes. This is because we are moving at the same speed as the perceptual field. The photons that describe the changes in the part of the universe we left behind cannot catch up to us. But what of photons from our front, left and right? There must be an angle of incidence such that photons beyond that angle will and can intersect our path. Processes within the universe are not unidirectional.

Another photon crossing our path is an event, if this is followed by a second photon then we have events and a period between and possible irreversibility and possible entropy effects in short we have all the same elements that gave rise to time on our ‘normal’ journey through space (remember we are still on the photon).

Will the experience of time on the photon be the same as the experience of time on earth? Imagine we took with us an atomic clock, the question then becomes would the mechanism of the clock alter as a result of traveling very fast. That is, would the atoms oscillate more slowly? Would the atomic forces that determine the oscillation be weakened? If they would not, then time is the same on the photon as on earth. It passes at the same rate, and we would age at the same rate, and if one hundred years went by for us in space (imagining we could live long enough) then when we got back people would be one hundred years older and so would we. To postulate that the atomic clock would run more slowly demands a mechanism, and simply using time in the equations won’t cut it because time does not exist in Reality.

If time does slow with speed, it does not mean that time has altered it means that there is a link between speed of travel and aspects of events involving change, periods between, irreversibility and entropy. I cannot imagine what that could be, but time has no place in the equation, because time reflects the observer as much as it reflects Reality.

Is time then a Variable?

Notice the capital V, variable as in coherent concept, having one property, the root and basis of science. It would appear not. I have said before that judging what is and is not a Variable, what is and is not a coherent concept is not easy. We have a perfect example, that which appears so fundamental begins to appear not so…

Can we use time as a Variable for most purposes? Clearly we can. The problem occurs at the edges of our understanding, quantum mechanics and models of the universe. While we stay away from the very big and very small, we can use time. But for the very big and very small, perhaps we need to begin seeking systems of equations that better reflect Reality that is to break time into the components whereby we gave birth to it in the first place. No idea what such equations would or could look like, no idea where they might lead, but they might get us out of today’s gridlock.

What of the notion of space-time?

Space-time as a concept must contain elements that belong to us as the observer. If say space-time was curved does that mean that it is actually curved, or that because of what we bought to the system of thought it just seems curved to us? How can and do we truly detach ourselves from our own creations, or current system of thought?

The theory offers a way out of the problem, for example if we carefully examine our variables with which we construct our conceptual systems and assess which are coherent and which not. If then we seek the fundamental aspect of those variables and then as and if needed create new variables that better reflect the property being measured. For example, I have above briefly discussed time, essentially as a Variable (capital intended) it measured ‘periods between’, and while we stayed within broadly defined limits of our natural range of observations this served us well. Unfortunately time is also a variable that has an inbuilt direction, and this is not made explicit within the variable, it is implied. Everybody KNOWS that time moves forward, not back. But this is in fact an additional property, which makes time a system of variables not a Variable.

If we now take a somewhat harder look at the variables we use to construct theories of very small and very large we find that we need some variables to measure periods between, to measure irreversibility and perhaps some review of entropy. With these we could drop time completely.

If now we re-examine space-time we see it as a set of proposed relations between the extension of space, the periods between events and the framework of irreversibility of some events which results in the universe never being able to go backward. If there is space-time (to retain the common terminology) then there is and can only be a link between the mechanisms of these aspects of Reality. To seek to interpret the existing equations as predicting space-time is to use equations and assumed relations between knowledge and that represented by that knowledge long before we had anything remotely resembling the conceptual tools to validate such an interpretation. We didn’t even understand what a variable was, never mind the relationship between a variable the property of that variable and Reality.

I do not know whether or not there is a space-time. I deeply mistrust existing interpretations, and I intuitively can see no relationship between the mechanisms of space and those of periods between and irreversibility. But intuition has not always been a good guide.

Having only recently worked my way to these views, I also know I need to give myself time (there goes that word again) to think about it.

But to repeat, if there is a link between space and periods between then we need to work on the mechanisms whereby the link comes to be. Not to bury the mechanisms under some inadequate conceptual construct such as time.

On a general philosophy of the universe

At first it would seem that time is more than a measure than ‘periods between events’. For example some event could have a finite period whereby the event occurred. This is however all a matter of interpretation, since what we measure when we measure an event is the ‘event which is the start of the event’ and the ‘event the end of the event’. This occurs because all events contain aspects that are ‘objective’ in the sense of being aspects of the universe and aspects subjective in the sense of being defined by the observer. It follows that in all situations it is possible to define an event marking bounds of time such that the event is instantaneous in time.

The philosophy leads to a general view of the universe as consisting of just such instantaneous events. This view then ties the observer and the universe together, thus to discuss any actual situation both the observer and the situation must be defined. It then follows that there is a different ‘universe’ for each species, and for different observers of the same species.

Within this philosophy it is then possible to redefine time, or perhaps more appropriately reconstruct time as a calculus of events. Each event being a unique and instantaneous mark on the perceptual map of the observer with the calculus integrating both marks and periods between marks into the continuous whole of the observed universe.

I stress however that the philosophy does not lead to any extreme position of the universe only existing when observed, were there no observer the mechanisms of the universe would follow their inbuilt causality.

The philosophy is also rather more, since it defines a perceived universe as being different for each species, and potentially different for different observers of the same species. All this following as a result of the definition of an event where each event is partly defined by the observer and the perceptual systems and the previous experience of that observer.

On the interpretation of quantum mechanics

First and foremost this is not and can never be a problem of physics. If physics is knowledge, which it clearly must be, and if that knowledge aims to describe or relate in some way to a Reality beyond perception, which physics does so purport, then any interpretation of said physics can and must be solely a detailed example of the general solution of how all such knowledge relates to Reality.

The interpretation of quantum mechanics is a problem of epistemology. Further, this problem can have no solution until there is an accepted answer to the general question of how all knowledge aimed at describing the universe in fact relates to the universe.

At the center of the question of interpretation of quantum mechanics lies the question of whether or not probability is intrinsic to the universe, since quantum mechanics is a probabilistic system of equations (that do enable very accurate prediction of the future directions of atomic systems).

Within the epistemology developed at this site there is a limit to current knowledge that limit being the point where there are no conceptual constructs beyond that limit or if there are we do not understand them as such. In modern physics that limit is reached with quantum physics and cosmology, the latter being discussed above.

Quantum physics is a set of equations that gets very good answers to a rather wide range of questions, but not to all questions. We do not know what radioactivity is for example, nor able to predict the disintegration of a particular radioactive atom. It is at the very limit of understanding of the very small. Many of its postulates involve assuming that there is no relevant internal structure to the particles it then treats as points. This means in this epistemology that by the very postulates of the theory there can be no emergent understanding of the mechanisms if that emergent understanding were to involve the internal structure of the particles interacting. Since the theory itself so limits itself, it then is most problematic in an epistemological sense to make interpretations of that theory as to the state of Reality beyond the theory.

Throughout the history of the intellectual endeavor of humankind no matter what we at first thought, progress has always involved uncovering the mechanism. And just because we have spent three quarters of a century without being able to progress thought is no good reason to assume that progress is not possible. But such progress will not involve quantum electro dynamics, this will emerge as a mere limiting system of equations of convenient technological form.

Perhaps quantum physics is it, but then if it is why does it not answer all questions? No I feel strongly that quantum physics is what it is, a very good system of equations enabling good answers to many questions. In fact the modern technological advance is really based on the intellectual revolution of eighty years or so ago. But the ability to control electrons via technology is no necessary indicator that we have truly grasped the mechanisms. I can control a TV, but I know absolutely nothing of the mechanisms. I argue that quantum physics is precisely to Reality as I am to a TV. In fact, as I discuss in one of the papers, it is only through using analogies of controlling a TV, where the rule of relations is still intact, that we can gain insight into the interpretation of quantum physics. Quantum electro dynamics is an excellent technology, no more. It offers no insight of any form into the mechanisms of the universe. Let us indeed train young physicists in quantum theory, but let us not run this particular furrow so deep in their minds as to channel creative effort in only this direction.


We have yet much to do. Pessimism as to the future of humankind in the universe is premature. There is a way to explore the stars and the limitless galaxies of beyond. There is more in technology than the theories of eighty years ago have or will ever unlock. But only by unleashing our creative potential to see and see anew will the universe give up the secrets of its mechanisms.