## Wednesday, March 6, 2013

### What is Time? Alan Alda's 2013 "Flame Challenge"

Time - the fourth dimension (2013 Flame Challenge) from Ira Glickstein on Vimeo.

My entry for Alan Alda's 2013 Flame Challenge was submitted last week. It is in the form of a short video  answering the deceptively simple question "What is Time?" (click above to view the video).

Alan Alda is on a mission to help youngsters become interested in science. In conjuction with the Center for Communicating Science at SUNY Stony Brook, he started the Flame Challenge in 2012 with the question "What is Flame?" They received some 800 entries.

I expect they will get even more this year with the question "What is Time?"

I think I've come up with a unique way of viewing "Time - the fourth dimension".  Due to a strict limit on the length of the video, and the fact that it is aimed at 11-year old students, I have had to greatly simplify the material. This Blog posting includes additional material that will be useful to adult readers and science teachers who wish to know more about my way of viewing Time.

There are three big ideas here:
1. TIME is NOT a clock (any more than Space is a ruler or Heat is a thermometer), nor is it rotation of the Earth or motion or the order of events, etc.
2. TIME is the fourth dimension, plain and simple. It appears different to us because the whole Universe is speeding along the Time axis at the speed of light.
3. TIME slows down when we move in Space because nothing can move faster than the speed of light, so any motion in Space must take away from the speed in Time such that the vector sum of the Space and Time velocities exactly equals the speed of light.
WHAT TIME IS NOT

Time is not the tick, tick, tock of a click, click, clock, any more than Space is a ruler or Heat is  a thermometer!

Nor is Time the rotation of the Earth on its axis that gives us day and night divided into 24 hours. Nor is it the movement of the tilted Earth in orbit around the Sun that gives us the seasons, nor any other kind of motion. Nor is it the spontaneous decay of certain atoms that give radioactive materials a half-life. Nor is it simply the ordering of events.

WHAT TIME IS

Time, plain and simple, is the fourth dimension, very much like the first three dimensions of Space.

The Time dimension appears different to us because you and I and the whole Universe are hurtling along it at very nearly the speed of light as a consequence of the “Big Bang” expansion some 13.7 billion years ago, in which our Universe, along with the dimensions of Space and Time, originated.

Since Time itself originated with the "Big Bang" it may not be meaningful to even ask the question "What happened before the Big Bang?" In any case, we may never know what caused it.

The Universe originated as an incredibly energetic and dense point of Energy/Matter that suddenly expanded. During the initial moments of the expansion, it is not clear if there was anything like the sub-atomic and atomic particles of Matter or the radiation of Energy with which we are familiar today. However, when Matter and Energy, as we know it, formed, all particles with mass were expelled along the Time axis, or at very tiny angles with respect to that axis. You and I, along with everyone and everything else, are still moving along or near that dimension at very close to the speed of light, c, which is as fast as anything can go.

We do not notice our ultra-rapid travel along the Time dimension as motion because the whole Universe is moving along with us. Therefore, we notice only relative motion between ourselves and other people and between ourselves and other things.

For example, people on the equator are happily unaware that they are moving Eastward at about 1,000 miles per hour due to the rotation of the Earth on its axis. Unless you live in one of the polar regions, you are moving Eastward at hundreds of miles per hour. Even if you are on an airplane, travelling  "Westward" from New York to Chicago or Los Angeles at 500 miles per hour, your net velocity is Eastward, due to the rotation of the Earth! We are equally unaware that the whole Earth is speeding along at over 67,000 miles per hour on its orbit around the Sun!

WHY TIME CAN BE SLOWED A BIT

We live in four-dimensional SpaceTime where everything must move at the speed of light, c, either along the Time axis, along a Space axis, or in a combination of Time and Space at an angle, Θ, to the Time axis. If movement is totally aligned with the Time axis, Θ = 0 and we are said to be “at rest” in Space, and we move along the Time axis at the normal rate (c, about one foot per nanosecond).

If we are not "at rest" in Space, Θ > 0, and we move through SpaceTime in a combination of Space and Time such that the vector sum of our Space and Time velocities is exactly c. Since nothing can go faster than c, any movement in Space must slow down our movement in Time. This was recognized over 100 years ago by Lorentz, Minkowski, and Einstein, who use the terms "Dilation of Time" and "Contraction of Space". This is usually expressed in terms of the Lorentz factor:
$\gamma = \frac{1}{\sqrt{1-v^2/c^2}} \,$
where c is the velocity of light and v is the velocity of an object in Space.
As an engineer, I found that way of expressing relativistic effects of travel at significant fractions of the speed of light not to be "understandable" from my physical (and perhaps anal) point of view.

After knocking my head against the wall over an inordinate amount of Time, I finally realized that I could get an exactly equivalent Lorentz factor by considering the angle Θ, between the Time axis and the velocity vector of an object through SpaceTime.

[above image modified 12 April 2013]

It turns out that v (the velocity of the object in Space) divided by c is equal to the Sin Θ, and that 1/ϒ, the Lorenz factor, is equal to the Cos Θ.

WHAT ARE DIMENSIONS?

This may sound like a simple question, and the answer is pretty simple, but, just to be sure we are all on the same page (see figure below):

0 - A POINT has ZERO dimensions
1 - Drag the point along the FIRST dimension ("x" of Space) and you get a LINE, that has ONE dimension.
2 - Drag the line along the SECOND dimension ("y" of Space) and you get a SQUARE (or rectangle) that has TWO dimensions.
3 - Drag the square along the THIRD dimenson ("z" of Space) and you get a CUBE (or rectangular solid) that has THREE dimensions.
4 - Drag the cube along the FOURTH dimension ("t" of Time) and you get a HYPER-CUBE (or hyper-rectangular solid) that has FOUR dimensions.

﻿

SUMMARY

When movement is a combination of Time and Space, and the velocity in Space is v, an object is moving through SpaceTime at an angle Θ, such that: v/c = SinΘ, and 1/ϒ (the Lorentz factor) = Cos Θ.

The figure below shows the situation for seven different values for the angle of travel through SpaceTime, from Θ = 0 to Θ = 90 .

Θ = 0⁰  [Sin Θ = 0.0000,  Cos Θ = 1.0000]   AT REST IN SPACE
For an object that is "at rest" in Space, Θ = 0. Even when an object is not moving along the Space axis, it is moving along the Time axis. Since everything in SpaceTime must have a speed of c, an object "at rest" in Space must be moving at speed c in Time. Note that for this condition, v/c = 0 and the Lorentz factor ϒ = 1. Note also that, for this case Sin Θ is equal to v/c and Cos Θ is equal to 1/ϒ.

Even the fastest rockets and satellites developed so far go only a tiny, tiny fraction of c. Therefore, for all practical purposes, the angle, Θ, is 0 (approximately equal to ZERO degrees). For example, the Earth is travelling around the Sun at a speed of 67,000 miles per hour, faster than any rocket, but that is only 0.001 % of the speed of light. At 67,000 miles per hour, v/c =  0.00001 and  Θ = 0.0000017⁰.

Θ = 15⁰ [Sin Θ = 0.2588, Cos Θ = 0.9659]    MOVING 26% OF c IN SPACE
An object is moving through SpaceTime at an angle of Θ = 15. It moves through Space at 26% of c and through Time at 97% of c. Note that for this condition, v/c = 0.2588 and the Lorentz factor ϒ = 0.9659. Note also that, for this case Sin Θ is equal to v/c and Cos Θ is equal to 1/ϒ.

Θ = 30⁰ [Sin Θ = 0.5000, Cos Θ = 0.8660]   MOVING 50% OF c IN SPACE
An object is moving through SpaceTime at an angle of Θ = 30. It moves through Space at 50% of c and through Time at 87% of c. Note that for this condition, v/c = 0.5000 and the Lorentz factor ϒ = 0.8660. Note also that, for this case Sin Θ is equal to v/c and Cos Θ is equal to 1/ϒ.

Θ = 45⁰ [Sin Θ = 0.7071, Cos Θ = 0.7071] MOVING 71% OF c IN SPACE
An object is moving through SpaceTime at an angle of Θ =45. It moves through Space at 71% of c and through Time at 71% of c. Note that for this condition, v/c = 0.7071 and the Lorentz factor ϒ = 0.7071. Note also that, for this case Sin Θ is equal to v/c and Cos Θ is equal to 1/ϒ.

Θ = 60⁰ [Sin Θ = 0.8660, Cos Θ = 0.5000] MOVING 87% OF c IN SPACE
An object is moving through SpaceTime at an angle of Θ = 60. It moves through Space at 87% of c and through Time at 50% of c. Note that for this condition, v/c = 0.8660 and the Lorentz factor ϒ = 0.5000. Note also that, for this case Sin Θ is equal to v/c and Cos Θ is equal to 1/ϒ.

Θ = 75⁰ [Sin Θ = 0.9659, Cos Θ = 0.2558]   MOVING 97% OF c IN SPACE
An object is moving through SpaceTime at an angle of Θ = 75. It moves through Space at 97% of c and through Time at 26% of c. Note that for this condition, v/c = 0.9659 and the Lorentz factor ϒ = 0.2558. Note also that, for this case Sin Θ is equal to v/c and Cos Θ is equal to 1/ϒ.

Θ = 90⁰ [Sin Θ = 1.0000, Cos Θ = 0.0000]      TIME STANDS STILL
Light (and other forms of electro-magnetic radiation) move through SpaceTime at an angle of Θ = 90. Light moves through Space at 100% of c and, therefore, since nothing can go faster than cTime stands still. Note that for this condition, v/c = 1.0000 and the Lorentz factor ϒ = 0.0000. Note also that, for this case Sin Θ is equal to v/c and Cos Θ is equal to 1/ϒ. Anything with mass cannot achieve this speed in Space because it would take an infinite amount of energy to get it up to this speed in Space.

[ADDED 11 March 2013] In response to some skepticism about my contention that the whole known Universe is speeding along the Time dimension at nearly the speed of light, I did more research and found support from Brian Greene, Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Columbia U, who has been featured on the PBS Nova series. He writes:

“Special relativity declares a similar law for all motion: the combined speed of any object’s motion through space and its motion through time is always precisely equal to the speed of light” [Excerpt From: Greene, Brian. “The Fabric of the Cosmos.” Vintage Books, 2007. See http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/fabric-of-cosmos.htm for his PBS series.]

I have provided more detail in the first comment below.
Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

A couple of friends have questioned my statement that the whole Universe is moving along the Time axis at the speed of light, or very near that speed.

Well, it turns out (as I suspected) mine is NOT an original idea.

Note the following from Brian Greene, Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Columbia U, who has been featured on the PBS Nova series:

“Special relativity declares a similar law for all motion: the combined speed of any object’s motion through space and its motion through time is always precisely equal to the speed of light” [Excerpt From: Greene, Brian. “The Fabric of the Cosmos.” Vintage Books, 2007. See http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/fabric-of-cosmos.htm for his PBS series.]

In his book, Greene gives the example of someone travelling North on a highway at the speed limit, 65 mph, and the road turns to the NorthEast. He is now moving both North and East. So, if he maintains his speed at the limit, 65 mph, he cannot continue to go at 65 mph in the North direction.

That is basically the point of my Flame Challenge video "Time - the fourth dimension". The absolute speed limit of the Universe is c, the speed of light, and, even when we are "at rest" in Space, we are going at c in Time. When we move in Space, that takes away from our movement in Time, just like the guy going at 65 mph when the highway turned NorthEast and his speed along the North axis reduced such that the vector sum of his North and East speeds equalled exactly the speed limit, 65 mph.

How did I come to the realization that travel through SpaceTime at an angle, Θ > 0, (i.e., both in Time and Space) yields a speed, in Space that is c multiplied by the Sin Θ, and that 1/ϒ, the Lorentz factor, is equal to the Cos Θ? Well, at some point in my academic and professional career, I memorized the Sine and Cosine of some key angles (0⁰, 30⁰, 45⁰, 60⁰, and 90⁰) to a few decimal places, and, while researching Time Dilation for my Flame Challenge video, when I calculated the Lorentz factor, I noticed that the numbers for 1/ϒ and c turned out to be exactly those values.

I still do not think I can possibly be the first to make the association between travel at an angle through SpaceTime and the Sine and Cosine of that angle being equal to the v/c and 1/ϒ of the Lorentz Factor equation.

Indeed, it is a mathematical identity that, for any angle, Θ, between the Time axis and the direction of travel through SpaceTime, the v/c of the Lorentz Factor equation MUST equal Sin Θ, and the solution for the Lorentz Factor, 1/ϒ, MUST equal Cos Θ.

As far as I have seen in my online research, no one has explicitly said that, nor have I found a diagram similar to mine. However, I have no doubt others have discovered these facts, and I will appreciate it when someone sends me a link to a published item.

Given these facts, I do not see any interpretation, other than the one Greene (and I :^) have come up with. Do you?

Anonymous said...

Time: Perhaps time is not what we think it really is. Maybe time doesn’t pass at all. Some say “time” is passing us by. Maybe time is actually sitting still, and WE are passing through time. We all have worked on something, only to stop working and realized some period of time has gone by. But we never felt it going by. We lost track of time. We were in the moment of whatever we were doing. Did you ever have a fall or accident? While that was happening, it’s like time slows way down. Some say, everything is happening “NOW”. The past we cannot change, and the future hasn’t happened yet. We are living in the NOW. There is no other time period that exists than the NOW (thank you E. Tolle).

What if everything that ever was and that ever will be is all happening at the same time. Compress the horizontal view of time we now have, into a single vertical point. Some among us have the ability to ‘predict’ or ‘see’ some future event. How could they possibly do this, unless that event has already happened? We simply have not experienced that event in our reality.

We have very nicely defined time as rotation of earth, around the sun etc. Scientists have already predicted the demise of our earth, even our galaxy. What of our definition of time then? If we were to go way out into space, and look at all the galaxies flying around, and way out there is the Milky Way, and way inside that is earth with is time definitions, then how would we define all of that in terms of time? are there multiple times in terms of what galaxies we are in? Nah...

It’s all happening NOW, the past, the present, and the future. We are racing through time to catch up to all our experiences. Time is sitting still. We are the ones moving through our experiences…

WP

Ira Glickstein said...