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Is there an end to time? If there is, is there any way that we change when it happens?

Asked by: Aaron Singer
School: Whitney Point High School
Grade: Class of 2
Teacher: Mr. Peck
Hobbies/Interests: Computers, football and baseball
Career Interest: Computer Science

Answer from Stanley N. Salthe

Visiting Scientist

  Research area: Natural Philosophy Additional interests: ecology, evolutionary biology, semiotics, systems science, thermodynamics PhD school: Columbia University Family: Wife, Barbara: two children: Becky and Eric Interests/hobbies: woodland gardening, nature walks, (all) the arts

This depends on what you mean by "time".  Time as used in clocks and calendars has no end because it is a logical construction used to measure the progression of moments.  It has no end any more than numbers have an end.  It is scaled to 'sidereal time', based on how long it takes for the earth to circle once around the sun, as measured with respect to the fixed stars.  In this system the moments just go on and on before and after this yearly transit during the March equinox.  This is the time used in science and engineering, except on the largest scales where cosmologists use space-time in their General Relativity models instead.

What we experience as the flow of our being is duration.  This too has continuity, just like measured time, and so we could count off our passing moments (if we had nothing else to do).  Duration is analog, while clock time can be digitized. For every dynamical system, from things like tornadoes to ourselves, duration comes to an end when the system is extinguished.  The perception of this duration appears to vary with age.

Children are very often bored, while old folks complain that the days go by too fast.  This seems to be based on metabolic rate, which starts out relatively fast and gradually slows down as we age.  The result is that when we compare our internal experience of duration with the passage of external clock time, the hours seem to go by ever faster the older we get.

Last Updated: 9/18/13