Admittedly, the idea of time travel has always given me a smirk. I suppose that is because to me it has always sounded like a fantasy that could never be actualized. Hence, entertaining the idea of its possibility felt like a waste of time. Nonetheless, as I encounter this concept more and more often these days, especially as a part of intellectual conversations and philosophical speculations, I must admit that somehow time travel keeps me wondering. My momentary contemplations, however, do not necessarily focus on whether it is practically possible to travel to a certain point in the past or in the future. Rather, they help me deep dive into the nature of time itself.
Defining time may, at first, seem quite straightforward. After all, we are all familiar with the idea of time in the sense of duration and its measurement. However, what time is in its essence is a much more difficult question, with a long history of philosophical disputes and still no agreed definition.
Our most common intuition tells us that time is a passing phenomenon. What this entails is that space (or the physical universe) is in a fixed or static position and time, like a film running through an old projector if you will, comes and passes through the universe. As time comes, it brings all the changes with it. In other words, the universe changes through time.
Alternatively, one can also see this relationship between time and space in the reverse way. As my friend once said, “Time is not passing. We are the ones passing through time.” In this sense, time can be imagined as a static line consisting of past, present and future points. However, unlike the previous view, in this case the one in motion is believed to be space (or physical reality). In other words, space and everything in it move along the line of time. As it progresses the points it leaves behind are deemed to be the past, the point it is standing on is considered to be the present, and the points that it has yet to encounter are the future.
In both of these views, time and space are seen as separate entities with the potential to intersect at a certain point. It is only this intersecting point that has real existence. Outside of this intersecting point, time on its own without space conjoined to it, has no reality whatsoever. Note that the intersecting point is always the present. The points (or times) we refer to as past and future, being outside of this intersection, are not in existence. Hence, they are not real. To put it differently, time becomes real only at the point it meets space. Any point outside that is not existent.
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