# Understanding the Frustrations of Time in Physics

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Every child grasps the concept of time; it's an omnipresent force in our lives. We cannot envision existence devoid of it. Time is both the essence that gives us life and the force that concludes it. Born and living within its confines, we encounter time in every theory we devise about the universe.

Yet, physicists grapple significantly with defining what time truly is. It remains the ultimate puzzle, akin to a Zen Koan in theoretical physics—a dilemma we'd prefer to sidestep, yet it continually demands our attention, revealing its contradictions.

But what causes these contradictions?

Physics comprises several broad theories, mainly general relativity, quantum physics, and thermodynamics, each contributing its unique perspective on time. Unifying these theories has been a formidable challenge; for over a century, physicists have wrestled with reconciling relativity, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics.

Moreover, within each of these branches, there are significant interpretative dilemmas. How do we, as scientists and observers, influence the theories we develop?

I will provide a brief overview of how these theories conceptualize time. I don’t possess solutions; instead, I will share my frustrations concerning time, which are plentiful, as it is indeed a perplexing phenomenon.

Yet, despite its annoyances, we are irresistibly drawn to it, and contemplating time fills me with wonder at the world's bewildering nature.

## 1. The Direction of Time

> "Time is a game played beautifully by children." — Heraklitus

The direction of time is evident; we do not wake up in the evening, binge-watch shows, go to work, eat breakfast, and then return to bed. Evolution does not regress us to a primitive state, although some may argue otherwise in specific contexts.

**The direction of time shapes our existence.**

However, Wikipedia refers to the direction of time as "one of the unsolved questions in general physics." This is because the laws governing physics appear indifferent to it. They exhibit time symmetry, known as **Time-Reversal Symmetry**. Under microscopic scrutiny, every process appears reversible. The interactions of fundamental particles can unfold both forward and backward in time, with energy and momentum conserved.

The direction of time becomes apparent only at larger scales, where thermodynamic principles dictate the flow. The second law of thermodynamics asserts that entropy invariably increases in every physical process, establishing a preferred direction for physical occurrences.

Yet, entropy itself is as elusive as time. As von Neumann advised Shannon regarding the naming of his uncertainty function:

> "You should call it entropy, for two reasons... Nobody knows what entropy really is, so in a debate, you will always have the advantage."

Is entropy merely an information-theoretic construct that arises within our theories? Does it stem from our skewed perspective of the universe's initial conditions during the Big Bang, which may not be as improbable in other interpretations (such as Penrose's cyclic universe theory)?

Introducing another perplexing quantity to explain time appears inadequate, but what alternatives do we have?

## 2. Time-Reversal Symmetry: A Slight Break

I must confess: time symmetry does experience some disruption at a fundamental level.

**But only slightly.**

Quantum mechanics is generally believed to uphold time-reversal symmetry according to the Schrödinger equation, excluding measurement considerations. This symmetry falters, however, in quantum field theory.

A foundational theorem for ensuring a renormalizable field theory is **CPT symmetry**, which stipulates that the combination of **C (charge)**, **P (parity)**, and **T (time reversal)** must be conserved for a theory to be Lorentz invariant.

While details are complex, CP violations were observed in certain Kaon decays by Cronin and Fitch in 1964, challenging the concept of T symmetry. For CP to be broken and CPT to remain intact, T symmetry must also falter. More recently, direct T violations have been detected in Kaons.

These experiments are sparse and revolve around niche areas of particle physics, making it even more dissatisfying that such obscure Kaons violate time symmetry.

## 3. Time in Quantum Physics

Quantum mechanics is represented through the mathematics of Hilbert space, with physical realities depicted by wave functions residing in this space. Connecting these functions with spacetime involves projecting them into position space.

The conventional interpretation by Born associates the square of a wave-function's amplitude at point x with the probability of finding a particle at that position. However, this connection between Hilbert space and spacetime is not straightforward; Hilbert space's non-locality yields measurable consequences, especially with entangled states.

This non-locality is highlighted in Bell inequalities, which extend to time via the Leggett–Garg inequalities, suggesting that time exhibits non-locality akin to quantum mechanics, with entangled systems spanning across time.

This concept leads to bizarre, counterintuitive outcomes (fully explaining these would exceed this article's scope).

As Aharonov illustrates, we can design experiments to weakly measure a quantum system before projecting it into an eigenstate through a strong measurement. Notably, the outcome of this strong measurement can depend on the observer's choice of axis, made long after the weak measurement.

Upon receiving results from the strong measurement, we can analyze weak measurement data and discover that the outcomes align perfectly with our later-defined axis, demonstrating the peculiarities involved in measuring quantum systems.

It's crucial to note that this preserves the light-cone structure of special relativity; we cannot predict the future based solely on weak measurement results. While we can't send useful information backward in time, this thought experiment underscores the strange role of time in quantum mechanics.

Furthermore, time and energy are linked through the time-energy uncertainty relation, reminiscent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. However, time is not a quantum observable but merely a parameter of the theory. Constructing a **Hermitian Time Operator** would render the energy operator unbounded from below.

Thus, time measurement in quantum theory remains elusive, as all observables are evaluated through Hermitian operators.

The implications of this are debatable, but they undoubtedly contribute to the confusion.

## 4. The Interpretation of Time in Quantum Mechanics

As observed, Quantum Mechanics is notoriously challenging to interpret, and time is central to this complexity.

While the Copenhagen interpretation has dominated for decades, it is unsatisfactory for various reasons. A notable issue is that it introduces a measurement process that explicitly disrupts time-reversal symmetry by collapsing the wave function, which cannot be undone.

The question remains: why do we, as observers, hold the power to so overtly disrupt time-reversal symmetry?

To maintain time-reversal symmetry, we require a new interpretation, such as the many-worlds theory or Aharonov's two-vector formalism, which reconsiders quantum measurements.

However, as debates over interpretation persist and the physics community remains divided, we are still uncertain about the ultimate role time plays.

## 5. The Absence of Simultaneity

> "Time is what the clock says." — Albert Einstein

In relativity, space and time intertwine. Time is not isolated from space or motion, leading to perplexing scenarios such as the twin paradox.

Simultaneity issues arise directly from relativity. This differs from other temporal challenges, as the theory is unequivocal, albeit difficult to comprehend.

In relativity, we cannot assert that two events occur simultaneously. An observer in another reference frame could perceive those events as occurring in a different order or not simultaneously at all.

Therefore, discussing simultaneity becomes logically inconsistent. We cannot assert that something is happening "now" in a distant part of the universe. This contradicts our intuitions, but if we haven't abandoned our intuitions by this point, we have only ourselves to blame.

## Conclusion

> "Time must never be thought of as pre-existing in any sense; it is a manufactured quantity." — Hermann Bondi

Time is ubiquitous in physics. Yet, as Bondi suggests, its omnipresence might stem from our inability to exclude it from our theories. In Kant's *Critique of Pure Reason*, time is portrayed as a necessary lens through which we perceive the world, intrinsic to our subjective understanding and fundamental to epistemology.

Time is vital for our intuitive comprehension of the universe, yet it remains elusive in our theories.

This can be incredibly frustrating, but it also represents a wonderful challenge, motivating us to delve deeper and inch closer to understanding the peculiar nature of reality.