# The Naked Scientists Forum

### Author Topic: Does time tick?  (Read 24016 times)

#### ries van Twisk

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##### Does time tick?
« on: 05/03/2009 05:30:03 »
ries van Twisk  asked the Naked Scientists:

Chris,

I am a frequent listener to your programme and it's great!

i do have a question for you :

since everything seems to vibrate at some sort light light has waves, electrons move around atoms, and I believe that string theory is based on these vibrations as well.

I was wondering if there is evidence that Time Ticks, or is time continuously?

Thanks,
Ries van Twisk

What do you think?

#### syhprum

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #1 on: 05/03/2009 08:59:52 »
Quantum mechanics assumes that the smallest unit of time is that which light takes to travel the planck unit of distance.

Planck time 5.391 * 10^-44 seconds

Planck length 1.616 * 10^-35 meters

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_units#Base_Planck_units
« Last Edit: 05/03/2009 09:06:03 by syhprum »

#### DoctorBeaver

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #2 on: 05/03/2009 09:00:14 »
If time is quantised then it wouild not flow smoothly but, rather, it would take discrete steps. These steps would obviously need to be incredibly tiny; maybe the Planck time - 10-43 seconds.

I think syhprum meant to say "Quantum mechanics assumes that the smallest unit of time is that which light takes to cross the planck unit of distance". I believe that is how the Planck time is defined.
« Last Edit: 05/03/2009 09:02:29 by DoctorBeaver »

#### swansont

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #3 on: 05/03/2009 17:26:10 »
Planck scale units can be derived from solving for the point where a quantum theory of gravitation is needed (for some, but not all, formalisms).  What actually happens at the Planck scale is quite another story — we don't have the ability to do experiments at that level.  Planck's original determination happened before QM, and were just a convenient unit system from setting c, G and hbar to 1.  So take any statement that says the Planck time is the smallest unit of time with a quantum of salt.

#### DoctorBeaver

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #4 on: 05/03/2009 17:37:48 »
OK, I shall bear that in mind.

#### Vern

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #5 on: 05/03/2009 18:26:26 »
I think the second is defined in relation to the number of times the caesium atom changes states under a defined condition. I guess you could count those changes of states of the caesium atom to be ticks.

Those ticks would be pretty short though; I'm not sure how they would compare to a Planck length.

Quote from: Wikki
A "cesium(-beam) atomic clock" (or "cesium-beam frequency standard") is a device that uses as a reference the exact frequency of the microwave spectral line emitted by atoms of the metallic element cesium, in particular its isotope of atomic weight 133 ("Cs-133"). The integral of frequency is time, so this frequency, 9,192,631,770 hertz (Hz = cycles/second), provides the fundamental unit of time, which may thus be measured by cesium clocks.
« Last Edit: 05/03/2009 18:29:24 by Vern »

#### DoctorBeaver

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #6 on: 05/03/2009 19:09:40 »
That isn't time ticking, though, is it. It's just atomic decay.

#### Vern

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #7 on: 05/03/2009 19:27:35 »
That isn't time ticking, though, is it. It's just atomic decay.
I think the second is defined in those terms. They synchronize the time piece with the vibrations of the atom; vibrations we used to think of as orbiting electrons.

#### DoctorBeaver

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #8 on: 05/03/2009 19:28:54 »
But a second is an artificial construct. It isn't "time" per se.

#### yor_on

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #9 on: 05/03/2009 20:03:19 »
There is no experimental evidence for time being events.

You could say that Feynman diagrams could be seen as some sort of proof for time being 'events' perhaps, as they can go 'both ways' in time?

But we have tested the idea down to 'attoseconds'
(One quintillionth (10^-18) of a second) without being able to see any proof for it being 'events'.
I think it's a 'flow' :) like we are 'fishes' inside 'times ocean'

#### DoctorBeaver

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #10 on: 05/03/2009 20:08:52 »
I've heard it said, although I'm not sure of the reasoning behind it, that the Planck length is the smallest unit of length that has any meaning. If time is just another dimension, as is thought by some, why should that also not have a smallest measurement that is meaningful? If that is indeed the case, then it would not flow linearly but would have to pass in discrete steps.

#### yor_on

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #11 on: 05/03/2009 20:36:58 »
Yes DB, you are quite correct, I read the same.
Even though it gives me problem to see spacetime as having a 'smallest length'.
But then the definition seems to be more like 'having a meaning for us'.
http://www.scribd.com/doc/11157955/Planck-Length-and-Time

#### DoctorBeaver

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #12 on: 05/03/2009 20:49:09 »
Yes, that is certainly what that article seems to imply (paragraph 3).

(I had to take that from a screenshot as it doesn't allow copy & paste.)

#### syhprum

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #13 on: 05/03/2009 21:28:21 »
Dear Doc

« Last Edit: 06/03/2009 08:20:48 by syhprum »

#### DoctorBeaver

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #14 on: 05/03/2009 21:47:11 »
A free sign? I wasn't trying to download anything, just copy & paste from the site.

#### LeeE

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #15 on: 06/03/2009 01:19:04 »
This question falls within an area of theoretical physics that is little discussed but which is of special interest to me.  I think it is little discussed because it concerns an aspect of reality that we don't, in general, even think to question.

Cutting to the chase, if you consider an object that has zero length in the direction that it is moving, it is apparent that it can only move in discrete steps in that direction; any change of position of a zero-length object must result in a displacement greater than the length of the object (which is zero) i.e. there must be a discrete (non-zero sized) gap between it's former and current positions.

In fact, having zero length just high-lights the broader issue of the change of precisely known values; any precisely known value can only change by values greater than zero, so once again, there must be a discrete and non-zero sized gap between any two precisely known values.

The significance of the Planck Length and Time units, is I believe, probably one of the single most counter-intuitively understood aspects of science and physics.  While the Planck Length and Time units are part of a scheme that allows the normalisation of many of the constants in physics to the range of values between 0 and 1, it is the interpretation of the Planck Length and Time units as being the smallest divisions of those dimensions that has any meaning that is most interesting here; if the Planck Length is the smallest measure of distance that has any meaning, and the Planck Time is the smallest duration of time that has any meaning, then the slowest possible constant speed would appear to be 'c'.  It would, of course, be possible to achieve lower speeds, but only by moving less than the Planck Length in the Planck Time duration, or by only moving the Planck Length in multiples of the Planck Time, but this then begs the question; 'if it only moves one Planck Length in two Planck time units, where was it after only one Planck Time unit?

In any case, the idea of something moving just one Planck Length distance in multiples of the Planck Time unit soon runs in to other problems; to achieve a perfectly smooth and continuous acceleration from zero would require an infinite number of Planck Time units for the initial movement of one Planck Length away from it's original position; any other solution still results is a series of discrete jumps.

The logical solution then, to describe constant movement at lower speeds than 'c', is to require the locations and velocities of the moving objects to be imprecise, rather along the lines of the Uncertainty Principle.

#### DoctorBeaver

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #16 on: 06/03/2009 10:00:53 »
LeeE has managed to baffle me with science yet again.

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #17 on: 06/03/2009 11:26:11 »
Me to DB.I am trying to get my head around how something with zero length can exist.For that matter zero height or zero width?.

Cheers

#### Vern

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #18 on: 06/03/2009 12:14:50 »
But a second is an artificial construct. It isn't "time" per se.
Yes; you're right; maybe the ticking of time is simply a conceptual construct to allow us to think about it. Time itself may flow smoothly along, impervious to our attempts to explain it.

#### yor_on

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #19 on: 06/03/2009 12:47:57 »
Perhaps one could see time as 'whole', but in it we have phenomena relating to either QM or our macroscopic spacetime? What we see as distance seems to be connected to our 'relative' motion and acceleration macroscopically. It seems to me that we can't say that distance is anything else than a 'property' between two frames of reference. And as we can't say that anything is 'standing still' in spacetime either, as our 'frames of reference', as far as I understand, always will be defined as being relative someone else's frame.

--

I'm not sure I'm expressing myself 'explicitly enough' here (no surprise huh:)
What I try to say is that to me there is no correct 'definition' of 'distace'.

It's just a concept describing a relation between two frames.
You and whatever you are measuring against. That as you will be at some frame, not able to define its possible motion without referring to another 'frame of reference'.
That we have an 'Earth standard' doesn't make it a 'preconception universale'.

---
Well, thinking of it I do have one for the 'shortest path' though :)
The one costing you the least energy :)
Like light through spacetime's geodesics.

---------

It's like the whole question of plank length. there is nothing hindering us from saying that a plank length is double the distance we have measured, relative those other definitions Plank used for defining.
That is, as long as we change those too to keep the relative 'balance' in check between them, sort of:)
Or is there anything that we can say won't be possible to change numerically as long as we keep their 'intergroup' relations correct?

So if we agree on that the frames of reference we use are 'arbitrary' in that meaning then there is no 'gold standard' for 'distance'. That we think so comes from what we are used to historically it seems to me.

Now one could say that the 'intergroup' relations will be there anyway, and I would agree on that. But what I want to put forward is that the concept of 'distance' doesn't have any meaning in spacetime other than defining a relation between two frames. So ' meaningful for us' seems a very appropriate concept here, like describing a 'tool' we use for giving us a 'meaningful' comparison.
« Last Edit: 06/03/2009 22:45:35 by yor_on »

#### swansont

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #20 on: 06/03/2009 19:07:13 »
That isn't time ticking, though, is it. It's just atomic decay.

Not decay; it's a spin-flip of the electron.  But there's nothing inherently fundamental about the choice of Cesium or that transition — that was one of utility (it's a measurement which can be realized with good precision and accuracy)

#### LeeE

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #21 on: 06/03/2009 20:13:31 »
The idea of zero-length objects does seem to be very counter-intuitive but they seem to be implicit in any theory that can handle n dimensions; that is, any theory that isn't limited to just three spatial dimensions, no more and no less.

If we consider a three-dimensional object, everything seems fine; that's how the universe appears to us, but then how long is that three dimensional object in the fourth, fifth, sixth etc. dimension?

The existence of 'n' dimensions is debatable, of course, but we do accept four-dimensional space-time, so it's valid to ask the question; "How long is a three-dimensional object in the fourth dimension?

Interestingly, the idea of zero-length avoids a big problem that appears in n-dimensional theory that occurs if one insists on a QM style non-zero sized object; if an object has to have some size in every dimension then every object must exist in all of an infinite number of dimensions, unless the number of dimensions is arbitrarily limited.  If you allow zero-length in a dimension though, you then don't need the object to exist in all of an infinite number of dimensions because it can have zero length and presence in them.

#### DoctorBeaver

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #22 on: 07/03/2009 18:28:58 »
That isn't time ticking, though, is it. It's just atomic decay.

Not decay; it's a spin-flip of the electron.  But there's nothing inherently fundamental about the choice of Cesium or that transition — that was one of utility (it's a measurement which can be realized with good precision and accuracy)

Oh, sorry. I thought it was atomic decay.

#### yor_on

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #23 on: 09/03/2009 15:14:12 »
LeeE that sounds like it's coming from string theory?
I guess we need the concept of zero-length to explain how we can have those 'curled up' dimensions existing simultaneously with us, presuming that an object needs to be spatially extent in all dimensions. If we look at it as some does with photons, there, but only at the moment of interaction then it seems to become another question. As photons could be said to represent a 'zero length' object.
Or a photon 'somewhere else' might be seen as only one filling up that dimension totally, perhaps? :)
« Last Edit: 09/03/2009 15:18:37 by yor_on »

#### DoctorBeaver

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #24 on: 09/03/2009 15:53:43 »

If we consider a three-dimensional object, everything seems fine; that's how the universe appears to us, but then how long is that three dimensional object in the fourth, fifth, sixth etc. dimension?

It isn't "long" at all in those other dimensions. It will demonstrate an increase in mass proportional to its motion in other dimensions.

I often wonder about the heavier types of particle in the Standard Model; the muon, for example. It is identical to the electron apart from its mass. If electrons can travel in spatial dimensions other than the 3 with which we are familiar then their motion would show as increased mass but every other characteristic (charge, spin, etc) would remain the same. Isn't that exactly what we see? (Can we for now ignore the magnetic moment anomalies of the muon? Please?)

There are 3 generations of electron in the Standard Model (electron, muon & tau). Could the disparity in their mass be a function of their motion in our normal dimensions plus 2 other dimensions of different size? For instance, the muon is travelling in the 5th dimension so its mass is increased proportional to the size of that dimension. The tau could be moving in the 6th dimension alone, which would need to be large enough to account for all the tau's extra mass, or combined motion in a 5th & 6th dimension.
« Last Edit: 09/03/2009 16:04:34 by DoctorBeaver »

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##### Does time tick?
« Reply #24 on: 09/03/2009 15:53:43 »