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Time's Arrow:

Can physics explain the nature of time?

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Jim Al-Khalili, Craig Bourne, Angie Hobbs, Raymond Tallis. Quentin Cooper hosts.

Time appears to be the ultimate form of progress: an unavoidable direction imposed on the universe. Some physicists claim this is an illusion. How should we make sense of time? As a dimension, a flow, a place, a process, a social construct, or something altogether more mysterious?

The Panel

Physician, poet and thinker Raymond Tallis, philosopher and broadcaster Angie Hobbs, theoretical physicist Jim Al-Khalili, and philosopher of time Craig Bourne go in search of time's direction.

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Joanna Kavenna, Hilary Lawson, Parashkev Nachev, Jamie Whyte
Beyond the Machine
Colin Blakemore, Joanna Kavenna, David Malone, Rupert Sheldrake
Rise of the Machines
Lillian Edwards, Peter Hacker, Hilary Lawson, Henrietta Moore, Alan Winfield
Jump to what you want to see in the debate
  • Jim Al-Khalili
    The Pitch
    Celebrated physicist's case for the absolute nature of time
  • Raymond Tallis
    The Pitch
    Modern polymath dismantles time's arrow
  • Craig Bourne
    The Pitch
    Philosopher of time uncovers the mystery Now
  • Angie Hobbs
    The Pitch
    Plato scholar adds the dimension of ancient wisdom
  • The Debate
    Theme One
    Is science the right tool to understand time?
  • The Debate
    Theme Two
    Do we need alternative accounts of time?
Join the conversation

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T MM on 02/02/2014 12:39am

The Hubble expansion I.e. expanding universe, could be used as a common cosmic time indicated. See https://sites.Google.com/site/zankaon/

Lucian on 17/10/2012 7:41pm

Hello Emilie

We're working on setting up user profiles in the near future, so watch this space!

On the limits of our understanding of reality through science and language, try The New Romantics with Iain McGilchrist, Henrietta Moore and Joanna Kavenna, and for a more poetic spin on how our metaphors and language construct our reality, Blinded by the Light?. Both of these can be found by searching for Philosophy from the homepage.

Emilie on 13/10/2012 2:46am

just clicked the linked time in my last comment and found the section again! So, my point: the woman seemed a little mad and I was not sure where she was going, but then it hit me. She's articulating that EXACT thing about time that is the best refutation of the physicist's claim to 'understand more about time than the philosophers' think we do'!

And that is this:- he's embedded within time. He's claiming to talk about time. But what he's saying isn't actually about time qua TIME - "actual" and not human time - it cannot be! She might not explain this so well, but the embedding within time problem is the exact issue of perspective that plagues all talk. We're embedded within talk, too, in language. Both physics and language are things that we can't use to talk ABOUT themselves!

Rather:- physicists talk and that talk reveals how a physicist thinks about physicist time. A philosopher talks and he does the same - except he's going to be inclined to refer to this limitation.

What does this tell you about philosophers? Clearly that they are more honest?

(unless... you think that the philosopher talking about time and the problems with talking about time is just another example of not actually talking about the limitations on philosopher's understanding of time, because he is embedded within that too...)

It's an infinite regress, potentially. If there are any debates here that can reveal a little more about those then that would probably be most useful at this point!

Emilie on 13/10/2012 2:30am

I found this and got quite excited about the contents of the second theme from 28:43, then when I signed up and logged in and tried to find the part I was interested agian by cliking on the 'Play from theme two' button, it kept skipping to the beginning music bit. Funky music though you do have, disrupt the user-experience it did!

So amid my confusion I feel less like commenting on the nature of time. Also, is it possible to set up a user account like on ted.com? Because I like using that profile as a kind of accumulation of my past posts etc. I suspect it's the new form of social networking since the recent catastrophic decline of facebook and its sell-out conventional counterparts. Where's my profile? Where's my equally philosophically curious compatriots' profiles? And I want to respond to their comments specifically! User experience etc.

Cathy on 04/10/2012 4:15pm

Thanks Terminatrix, I've the very 1st iPad that came out !

Cathy on 04/10/2012 4:13pm

Great topic and well chaired by Quentin. I'm going away to find out if or why Zeno was an idiot!

terminatrix on 04/10/2012 3:28pm

works fine for me, i'm using the ipad 3

Cathy on 04/10/2012 3:17pm

Settled in to watch this as I'm a new member by 10 mins, but will have to watch another time as the sound is so faint. Full volume on iPad (95% charged)?but I can hardly can hear the debate. I have soundboard turned down to approx 2/3rds when viewingn on YouTube..

DavidandGoliath on 04/10/2012 1:15pm

I agree that there are lots of questions about time that physics people can't answer, but I'm not sure if they are even trying to answer most of them. The point of physics not to ask about how time feels, but instead about how we can understand it for the purposes of scientific theories. Like infinity - not something that we can even imagine, but mathematicians use it on a daily basis. Surely that's all the understanding of infinity that we actually need?

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