Real – Real

  All of our concepts and experiences in life, including time, are relative and yet still ‘real’.

 And while space-time banishes temporal time from its formulas, such theoretical circumstances do not banish the reality of time from our experiences because the space-time of physics and our proper earth-time of experiences are not mutually exclusive- both are real.

Yet there is still a lot of confusion about ‘time’ today and this misunderstanding can be traced back to the early nineteenth century and Einstein’s Theories of Relativity.

In 1922, French newspaper headlines fairly shouted out “Time does not exist, says Einstein”.  (Thibault Damour, 2006)

But Einstein did not say time ‘does not exist’ ; roughly speaking what he said was that we cannot ascribe an ‘objective time’ to the physical universe, that there is no ‘absolute time’ in the Newtonian sense, which up to then had been the accepted view.

Einstein’s full thoughts about time can be seen in a response he made regarding an eminent philosophers’ confusion about those changing notions of time when he did say:

“… the philosopher’s time, I believe, is both a psychological time and a physical time; on the other hand physical time could derive from the time of consciousness” (Thibault Damour, 2006)

In understanding time consider this: while there is no scientific ‘universal’ or ‘objective time’ that is absolutely ‘real’ and applicable in all places of the universe simultaneously, time is still ‘real’ and indispensable because our awareness cannot functionally arise and proceed without our ‘psychological time’ to begin with: our consciousness is dependent upon time.

Psychological time is produced initially by our sensory receptive fields where the intensities, locations and durations of stimuli from our environment are encoded into charged pulses; streaming toward the brain at speeds that can reach hundreds of miles per hour, 11,000,000 bits of pulsing, electrically charged sensory data flood into our central nervous system every second producing the framework of our awareness of reality.

This data is not a ‘stream’ of uninterrupted information like a video or a direct ‘window’ into reality, but is parallel processed in the brain.   Different objects of a visual scene and different aspects of each of those objects is sent to various discrete areas of the brain for processing before being brought together with other associated stimuli such as sound and scent in producing the rolling millisecond motions of our time ordered perceptions.  

And to top all of this off, because it takes our sub-conscious mind about a half a second to process our sensory perception of reality into our conscious awareness, our perceptions are  ‘back-dated’ to the ‘time’ the data first entered our brain.

Our perceptions of reality, of what is ‘real’, are created and enacted under the auspices of the ‘proper time’ of our psychological perceptions.  Time is inextricable from the three-dimensional world in motion around us: time, space and motion- and our perceptions of them- are real.

The fundamental difference between this ‘time’ of our experiences and space-time is that our ‘time’ of experiences occur in a single, local time-frame where our sensory awareness is designed to inform us of what is going on right in front of us or a few yards away or even a few miles away, so that we can react to the changing circumstances directly around us.   

Space-time on the other hand, is what is going on say, 95 thousand light-years away from us on the other side of the Milky Way galaxy or deep within the sub-atomic quanta of atoms- these examples are beyond our sensory awareness and this is when we turn to space-time for our understandings.

When we attempt to understand events in deep space, the ‘proper-time’ of our sensory experiences is inadequate and useless; our temporal awareness is limited by the speed of light and the idea of a single, comprehensible frame of reference between us and an event 95 thousand light years away is simply meaningless…

“…no absolute meaning can be assigned to the conception of the simultaneity of events that occur at points separated by a distance in space. Rather, a special time must be allocated to every… system. If no… system… is used as a basis of reference there is no sense in asserting that events at different points in space occur simultaneously. It is in consequence of this that space and time are welded together into a uniform four-dimensional continuum.” ~ Albert Einstein, Space-time (1926)

Because of this our earth based concepts of time have become a hindrance to astronomers and physicists:  

“The solution of the present difficulties about time is just to forget about it… Some physicists believe we should think the unthinkable and abolish time altogether. …. the notion of time is meaningful only in a small range of physical situations in the universe, such as human experience.”    ~Carlo Rovelli, Theoretical Physicist (Michael Brooks, 2008 )

While time as  real experiences and concepts arises with our perceptions on planet Earth, today our technology extends our awareness far out into a universe more than 93 billion light-years across and deep into the molecular, atomic and sub-atomic systems of the physical world where only ‘space-time’ makes sense.

 And these concepts of space-time and ‘proper time’ are not mutually exclusive; they are juxtaposition and both are valid, both are ‘real’ and meaningful because as Rita Carter reminds us:

“Concepts… are essential for consciousness because they turn information into something meaningful, and the only things we can experience are those which have meaning.” (2002)

We require both space-time and temporal-time for our 21st century experiences and while space-time demolishes the concept of an ‘absolute time’, it does not influence our earthly ‘temporal-time’, which emerges unscathed from all of this conceptual change and exists within our subjective, psychological experiences.

As Dean Rickles, a philosopher of physics at the University of Sydney in Australia says:

“… time… is just reducible or non-fundamental, in the same way that consciousness emerges from brain activity…” (Amanda Gefter, 2009)

Our human consciousness and ‘time’ are both emergent and very real.


(1) Damour, Thibault (2006), Once upon Einstein, trans. by Eric Novak,
      (Wellesley, Massachusetts, A.K. Peters Ltd.), p. 27

(2) Ibid, p. 32

(3) Einstein, A., (1926) ‘Space-Time’, From the article by: Jeans, J., ‘Relativity’, (1926),

      The Encyclopedia    Britannica, 13th Edition,

(4) Brooks, Michael (2008), What makes the universe tick?, New Scientist, 19 November 2008,

(5) Carter, R., (2002), Exploring Consciousness, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, p. 144

(6)  Gefter, A.,(2008), Is time an illusion? New Scientist, No. 2639. 19 January 2008
      retrieved from:

General biology/physiology references:

(1) Rita Carter, Susan Aldridge, Martyn Page, Steve Parker, (2009).  The Human Brain Book, New York, NY,

      DK Books, pp. 186-187

(2) Widmaier, E.P., Raff, H., Strang, K.T. (2004), Human Physiology, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, p. 209

(3) Myers, D, (2010), ‘Psychology’, Holland, MI, Worth Publishers, p.242