Time: Unreal or Surreal?

Recently I read A World without Time: the Forgotten Legacy of Gödel and Einstein by Palle Yourgrau.  He argues (at least in part) something that I’ve often contemplated, namely that time itself is not real.

I have put forward in conversation the idea that time is not real, that time is an illusion.  “But, wait,” you say, “time is whizzing past me like crazy!”  Well, events are whizzing all around us.  No doubt about that.  But time is merely the framework which we use to explain our ideas of now and later; of past, present and future; of what was, what is, and what will be.  Time is our mental construct to explain the passing of events.

Yourgrau’s contribution is to analyze the work of Einstein and Gödel in an effort to demonstrate not only that they both thought something a little different about time than we might expect, but that they each went a long way toward demonstrating a particular unreality of time.

Simply put, Einstein only stated that time needed to be considered as if it were a dimension in order to work out relativistic events.  It’s sort of like using time as a metaphor (or perhaps using dimension as a metaphor).  It is now common to take that metaphor as fact and fabric of reality.  Gödel comes in handily afterwards in his meticulous fashion and demonstrates that not only are time-looped relativistic universes possible, we may actually be living in one such universe—accidentally spawning the so-called grandfather paradox.

The book is loaded with personal correspondences between some of the brightest minds in the last century.

I have read a lot of books on the history of the sciences and mathematics and this is one of the better written, and I think anyone with even a peripheral interest in these subjects will find this to be a pleasant read.

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