Messier 15Recently I went to look at M15 again. It’s been a while, but I have seen it probably a couple of dozen times at the Chabot Space & Science Center. I realized I’ve look at it so many times that I actually forgot many things about it.

For example, it’s 12 billion years old. The entire universe is estimated to be 13.8 billion years old, so M15 is *hella* old. I mean, come on, it’s impossible to even visualize so much time. It’s got about 500,000 stars in it. It’s 34,000 light years away. That means that when I look at it, I am actually looking back in time 34,000 years.

It’s the last fact that struck me. The telescope had become a time machine. Then I thought: how is it I can look back in time 34 THOUSAND YEARS, but I can’t look forward in time for even 1 second? I mean, that just seems crazy.

I brought this up with J. and apparently he’s been pondering this for decades. He also had quite a lot of information about the topic, such as the idea the on the sub-atomic level, there is no time. That is, on our level of scale, if you film something and play the film backwards, you can see that it is backwards. However, on the sub-atomic scale, if you film the motion of particles and reverse it, it looks the same. He said that based on what he understands, the main reason we sense time is because of entropy. A tree doesn’t become an acorn. Ashes don’t become burning wood. He also said that we perceive time as motion, but it’s really a dimension like space.

I pondered the last idea for a while. I guess it’s not possible for me to really grasp that time doesn’t have any motion to it. I thought of how if I try to see it like space, I get caught up in the idea that how could you possibly see all the points? For instance, now I am sitting and typing this, but in a moment I’m going to walk to the kitchen and get some water. How could a being perceive all the almost infinite individual points of time involved in my standing up and walking to the kitchen?

Then I realized that we don’t perceive space that way. When I look at the floor, there are billions of atoms. I don’t see them. I don’t see the molecules. I don’t even see the individual planks of wood unless I focus on it. I just see “wood floor”. I see where the floor meets the wall, where it is under the rug.

From this I can imagine that if I were a being who could perceive time as I perceive space, that is, not a thing of motion, I wouldn’t have to see every millisecond or even second. I would just see certain forms or shapes of time, certain delimiters of time. It’s still not possible for me to picture it, but it gives me an idea of how it could be. However, the kind of being would live in a place where time was another static dimension would be so different from how we are. They would evolve differently, exist differently, perceive differently. It’s hard for me to conceive of this place, but it’d be just as hard for them to perceive of time having a trajectory and motion.

You can read more about spacetime here, with more science and less nerging.


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