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Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, to the future. Time is a component quantity of various measurements used to sequence events, to compare the duration of events or the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change of quantities in material reality or in the conscious experience. Time is often referred to as a fourth dimension, along with three spatial dimensions.

Time has long been an important subject of study in religion, philosophy, and science, but defining it in a manner applicable to all fields without circularity has consistently eluded scholars. Nevertheless, diverse fields such as business, industry, sports, the sciences, and the performing arts all incorporate some notion of time into their respective measuring systems.

Time in physics is unambiguously operationally defined as “what a clock reads”. Time is one of the seven fundamental physical quantities in both the International System of Units and International System of Quantities. Time is used to define other quantities – such as velocity – so defining time in terms of such quantities would result in circularity of definition. An operational definition of time, wherein one says that observing a certain number of repetitions of one or another standard cyclical event (such as the passage of a free-swinging pendulum) constitutes one standard unit such as the second, is highly useful in the conduct of both advanced experiments and everyday affairs of life. The operational definition leaves aside the question whether there is something called time, apart from the counting activity just mentioned, that flows and that can be measured. Investigations of a single continuum called spacetime bring questions about space into questions about time, questions that have their roots in the works of early students of natural philosophy.

Temporal measurement has occupied scientists and technologists, and was a prime motivation in navigation and astronomy. Periodic events and periodic motion have long served as standards for units of time. Examples include the apparent motion of the sun across the sky, the phases of the moon, the swing of a pendulum, and the beat of a heart. Currently, the international unit of time, the second, is defined by measuring the electronic transition frequency of caesium atoms (see below). Time is also of significant social importance, having economic value (“time is money”) as well as personal value, due to an awareness of the limited time in each day and in human life spans.

Generally speaking, methods of temporal measurement, or chronometry, take two distinct forms: the calendar, a mathematical tool for organising intervals of time, and the clock, a physical mechanism that counts the passage of time. In day-to-day life, the clock is consulted for periods less than a day whereas the calendar is consulted for periods longer than a day. Increasingly, personal electronic devices display both calendars and clocks simultaneously. The number (as on a clock dial or calendar) that marks the occurrence of a specified event as to hour or date is obtained by counting from a fiducial epoch – a central reference point.

Two contrasting viewpoints on time divide prominent philosophers. One view is that time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe – a dimension independent of events, in which events occur in sequence. Isaac Newton subscribed to this realist view, and hence it is sometimes referred to as Newtonian time. The opposing view is that time does not refer to any kind of “container” that events and objects “move through”, nor to any entity that “flows”, but that it is instead part of a fundamental intellectual structure (together with space and number) within which humans sequence and compare events. This second view, in the tradition of Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, holds that time is neither an event nor a thing, and thus is not itself measurable nor can it be travelled.

Furthermore, it may be that there is a subjective component to time, but whether or not time itself is “felt”, as a sensation, or is a judgment, is a matter of debate.

In Philosophy, time was questioned throughout the centuries; what time is and if it is real or not. Ancient Greek philosophers asked if time was linear or cyclical and if time was endless or finite. These philosophers had different ways of explaining time; for instance, ancient Indian philosophers had something called the Wheel of Time. It is believed that there was repeating ages over the lifespan of the universe. This led to beliefs like cycles of rebirth and reincarnation. The Greek philosophers believe that the universe was infinite, and was an illusion to humans. Plato believed that time was made by the Creator at the same instant as the heavens. He also says that time is a period of motion of the heavenly bodies. Aristotle believed that time correlated to movement, that time did not exist on its own but was relative to motion of objects. he also believed that time was related to the motion of celestial bodies; the reason that humans can tell time was because of orbital periods and therefore there was a duration on time.

The Vedas, the earliest texts on Indian philosophy and Hindu philosophy dating back to the late 2nd millennium BC, describe ancient Hindu cosmology, in which the universe goes through repeated cycles of creation, destruction and rebirth, with each cycle lasting 4,320 million years. Ancient Greek philosophers, including Parmenides and Heraclitus, wrote essays on the nature of time. Plato, in the Timaeus, identified time with the period of motion of the heavenly bodies. Aristotle, in Book IV of his Physica defined time as ‘number of movement in respect of the before and after’.

In Book 11 of his Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo ruminates on the nature of time, asking, “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not.” He begins to define time by what it is not rather than what it is, an approach similar to that taken in other negative definitions. However, Augustine ends up calling time a “distention” of the mind (Confessions 11.26) by which we simultaneously grasp the past in memory, the present by attention, and the future by expectation.

Isaac Newton believed in absolute space and absolute time; Leibniz believed that time and space are relational. The differences between Leibniz’s and Newton’s interpretations came to a head in the famous Leibniz–Clarke correspondence.

Philosophers in the 17th and 18th century questioned if time was real and absolute, or if it was an intellectual concept that humans use to understand and sequence events. These questions lead to realism vs anti-realism; the realists believed that time is a fundamental part of the universe, and be perceived by events happening in a sequence, in a dimension. Isaac Newton said that we are merely occupying time, he also says that humans can only understand relative time. Relative time is a measurement of objects in motion. The anti-realists believed that time is merely a convenient intellectual concept for humans to understand events. This means that time was useless unless there were objects that it could interact with, this was called relational time. René Descartes, John Locke, and David Hume said that your mind needs to acknowledge time, in order to understand what time is. Immanuel Kant believed that we can not know what something is unless we experience it first hand.

Time is not an empirical concept. For neither co-existence nor succession would be perceived by us, if the representation of time did not exist as a foundation a priori. Without this presupposition we could not represent to ourselves that things exist together at one and the same time, or at different times, that is, contemporaneously, or in succession.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1781),


Immanuel Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, described time as an a priori intuition that allows us (together with the other a priori intuition, space) to comprehend sense experience. With Kant, neither space nor time are conceived as substances, but rather both are elements of a systematic mental framework that necessarily structures the experiences of any rational agent, or observing subject. Kant thought of time as a fundamental part of an abstract conceptual framework, together with space and number, within which we sequence events, quantify their duration, and compare the motions of objects. In this view, time does not refer to any kind of entity that “flows,” that objects “move through,” or that is a “container” for events. Spatial measurements are used to quantify the extent of and distances between objects, and temporal measurements are used to quantify the durations of and between events. Time was designated by Kant as the purest possible schema of a pure concept or category.

Henri Bergson believed that time was neither a real homogeneous medium nor a mental construct, but possesses what he referred to as Duration. Duration, in Bergson’s view, was creativity and memory as an essential component of reality.

According to Martin Heidegger we do not exist inside time, we are time. Hence, the relationship to the past is a present awareness of having been, which allows the past to exist in the present. The relationship to the future is the state of anticipating a potential possibility, task, or engagement. It is related to the human propensity for caring and being concerned, which causes “being ahead of oneself” when thinking of a pending occurrence. Therefore, this concern for a potential occurrence also allows the future to exist in the present. The present becomes an experience, which is qualitative instead of quantitative. Heidegger seems to think this is the way that a linear relationship with time, or temporal existence, is broken or transcended. We are not stuck in sequential time. We are able to remember the past and project into the future – we have a kind of random access to our representation of temporal existence; we can, in our thoughts, step out of (ecstasis) sequential time.

Modern philosophers asked: is time real or unreal, is time happening all at once or a duration, If time tensed or tenseless, and is there a future to be? There is a theory called the tenseless or B-theory; this theory says that any tensed terminology can be replaced with tenseless terminology. For example, “we will win the game” can be replaced with “we do win the game”, taking out the future tense. On the other hand, there is a theory called the tense or A-theory; this theory says that our language has tense verbs for a reason and that the future can not be determined. There is also something called imaginary time, this was from Stephen Hawking, he says that space and imaginary time are finite but have no boundaries. Imaginary time is not real or unreal, it is something that is hard to visualize. Philosophers can agree that physical time exists outside of the human mind and is objective, and psychological time is mind dependent and subjective.

In 5th century BC Greece, Antiphon the Sophist, in a fragment preserved from his chief work On Truth, held that: “Time is not a reality (hypostasis), but a concept (noêma) or a measure (metron).” Parmenides went further, maintaining that time, motion, and change were illusions, leading to the paradoxes of his follower Zeno. Time as an illusion is also a common theme in Buddhist thought.

J.M.E. McTaggart’s 1908 The Unreality of Time argues that, since every event has the characteristic of being both present and not present (i.e., future or past), that time is a self-contradictory idea (see also The flow of time).

These arguments often center on what it means for something to be unreal. Modern physicists generally believe that time is as real as space – though others, such as Julian Barbour in his book The End of Time, argue that quantum equations of the universe take their true form when expressed in the timeless realm containing every possible now or momentary configuration of the universe, called ‘platonia’ by Barbour.

A modern philosophical theory called presentism views the past and the future as human-mind interpretations of movement instead of real parts of time (or “dimensions”) which coexist with the present. This theory rejects the existence of all direct interaction with the past or the future, holding only the present as tangible. This is one of the philosophical arguments against time travel. This contrasts with eternalism (all time: present, past and future, is real) and the growing block theory (the present and the past are real, but the future is not).


The Essential Dialectic of Time is:

{Present-Past ⇆ Past-Present ⇵ Present-Present} ↻ Past-Past


The Complete Dialectic of Time is:

{Past ⇆ Present ⇅ Future} ↻ Eternal



The Equivalency Dialectic of Time is:

{???? ⇆ ???? ⇅ ????} ↻ ????