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The Nature and Cause of Time

Science Mysteries

Time is God's way of keeping everything from happening at once

A personal view on The Nature and Cause of Time

by Ron Larter. Cert Math (Open)

Main theme: The cause of time and its physical nature derived from the transfer of energy between masses.

Contents: Mass and Time Basis, Change, Energy and Force, Principle of Action,, Particles of Time, Time Waves


Time has become one of the greatest mysteries of science and philosophy; which has been debated, investigated and written about for centuries. The answer to time’s dilemma always appears to escape us, not being able to come to any agreeable conclusion regarding its true nature. Have we been looking at time from the wrong angle? Possibly the answer lies at the atomic level, not with the concept of space-time. Energy is the source of all chemical, biological and physical events in one form or another, either directly or indirectly. This paper therefore puts forward assumptions that might call for a re-evaluation about the nature of time. Apart from seeing time as a mathematical concept having an inseparable connection with space, its physical concept can be shown to have a direct relationship with matter. It can be shown that energy is responsible for the continuous creation and decay of time, which gives rise to the product we call time flow. Logic, although not evidence in itself, indicates this is so. The purpose of this paper is to determine whether or not time does indeed have a physical existence, and the two central questions of my investigation has been: 'What is time', and 'What causes time'? Proof of time’s existence will be a tough ordeal, but this paper considers three basic assumptions about time, which leads to definable principles that can expose the nature and cause of time. If the assumptions and principles presented here can be accepted as valid, then perhaps we can at last draw an agreeable conclusion about the nature of time, showing that time does indeed exist and have physical properties.


In the beginning I had no preconceived ideas about time, except that it passes by every second of the day, and by that process we all grow old. My mind was open. I didn't consider time to be illusory, nor did I consider time to have physical properties. There was however, one central question brooding in my mind - what is time?

I soon realised there was no possible way of answering that question without first knowing what causes time. Investigating the cause of time therefore, became my first objective, and this paper is the result of that investigation.

Why have we failed to develop a good hypothesis or theory that haven’t as yet received a unanimous vote of acceptance?

Perhaps its because time has such a wide application in all fields of investigation, and as a result, has been interpreted in many ways according to the dictates of a particular field of study, leading to differing opinions of thought. There is obvious evidence of this in the field of philosophy and physics where each has differing schools of thought regarding time.

So, where do we begin? Well, for the purpose of this hypothesis we need to break away from the current concept of space and time being inseparably connected. I can agree that space and time have a mathematical relationship, and by virtue of this relationship can be considered inseparable in geometrical terms, but not in physical terms.

In physical terms, the strongest evidence of time is related to events that pass by every second of every day, so we need to assume that time is directly related to matter on the basis that it’s matter which advances through time.

Based on the assumption that time is related to matter, we need to investigate what that relationship is and how they relate, and whether or not it leads us to the concept of time having physical properties that can account for its behaviour? If we find it does, then we should be able to determine whether or not time exist, have a flow quality; whether or not the past and future exists and how it relates to the present and the moment we call ‘now’, and also allow us to define what time itself is.

To begin the investigation, let’s see what general assumptions we can make about the nature of time based on current understanding. Some of the questions may sound philosophical but they are deeply relevant to scientific enquiry.

Three General Assumptions: .

There appears to be two basic schools of thought with respect to time, namely:

  1. Time has no physical existence; it’s merely an illusion of the mind, therefore does not flow in the external world; so it can be assumed there is no future or past, and only the present is real.
  2. Time has real physical existence; so it can be assumed time flows, and there is a past, a present and a future.

How can we resolve this apparently opposing problem of time? In fact, both statements are true. School (a), the idea of time being an illusion, is a conscious response or an experience derived from physical time. The two schools of thought can be unified into one working component. However, the prime essence of this paper isn't to compare differing views of two schools, but to determine whether or not time has physical properties.

So let's begin with one of the most fundamental features of time that most can agree with, which is change. Everything in our universe changes, some slowly, some very quickly, some changes are almost instantaneous.

We have changes in size, mass, position, chemical make-up, physical appearances, etc. Without change, all things in nature would be static.

1st assumption:

Change is a fundamental feature of nature, therefore must be a fundamental feature of passing time. Without change there can be no displacement of mass and energy and no advancement or progression of matter and events.

Adding to this, Newton proposed that a body at rest or in motion, could not change unless a force acts on that body. This in effect is saying that ‘nothing changes unless there is something that causes a change’. The cause of any change will of necessity have to be a force or source of energy, which as we shall see is a key component to understanding time within this investigation.

2nd Assumption:

Change is the result of a cause derived from a source of energy or an applied force, which has an influence on the course of events and the passage of time. Even thought processes, which can have a direct influence on events and people, is energy related.

If energy is the cause of change, and change is a feature of time, then we need to assume there is a relationship between time and cause. Also, if cause can be related to a source of energy, and energy has it's origin at the atomic level, not only do we need to investigate the relationship between time and cause, we will also need to investigate energy and its link with atomic structure with regards to time and its cause.

3rd Assumption:

The passing of time appears to have energy as its source of origin derived from atomic activity, thereby creating 'cause' which creates the 'effect' of continuous change of matter. Therefore, it can be assumed there is a link between the atomic structure of matter and time.

From these three assumptions; ‘change’, ‘cause of change through energy or applied forces’ and its ‘relationship with the atomic structure of matter’, therefore is the basis of this investigation and for the formulation of a testable hypothesis or theory on the nature and cause of time.


A Tentative Hypothesis

In the General Concept of Time it describes how time and energy appears to be directly related, and even suggested they may two aspects of the same thing but defined differently according to the nature of their behaviour.

For example, when speaking of time in a general every day sense, we are usually referring to the passing of events that can be, and are, measured in units of seconds, hours, days, years etc. Time is also defined as distance divided by speed. But when speaking of energy however, we are usually referring to the work it does.

Although time and energy are described differently they can in fact be considered unified in their influence and effect on our existence in local space. If according to the general concept, time and energy are described as having a dual existence, then it should be possible to test that concept. It should be possible to create experiments that can show their relationship.

If time is directly related with energy, then we should be able to show that different measures of energy acting on matter will affect its time velocity, where time velocity is the 'rate of change'.

I need to explain here that 'time velocity', being the 'rate of change', relates to how quickly matter changes from one state, condition or form to another in its various processes, be it physical or chemical. Everything changes in one way of another, some very slowly some very quickly, and it's that speed of change I refer to as being the time velocity. Water for example can change from one state to another, from a gas to a liquid to a solid and vise versa by the application or reduction of heat. The greater the source of heat the faster the process and the lower the heat source the slower the process. Plants too can grow at different rates at different measures of temperature.

What about time flow? How different is it from time velocity? If the time effect is related to change, then time flow needs to be identified with the movement of change from one state, condition or form to another, while time velocity needs to be identified as the rate or speed of that movement of change.

Time can be identified with motion in two ways; the motion of passing time as found in clocks giving visual changes in numerical units as suggested by Aristotle, and by motion derived from a sequence of change as observed in the emergent of passing of events.

Both the measure of time and the sequence of physical events encompasses the idea of change, the change of a numerical value when counting time and the physical change of matter, both of which are inter-related.

Now, if time encompasses the idea of change then it would be logical to assume that the velocity of time flow ought to have a relationship with the rate of change. If the rate of change (time flow) increases then surely the time velocity increases and vise versa.

With that in mind, we know the rate of change of matter can be influenced by various forms of energy. Various levels of heat for example can affect atomic and molecular behaviour causing matter to accelerate its processes or slow down when the temperature drops.

As already mentioned, by using the ice model we can perform a thought experiment where an increase of heat can cause the ice cube to melt faster, thereby giving its solid form a shorter life-span. But if it was kept in an environment away from a heat source, such as a refrigerator, the ice cube could be visualised as exhibiting no change, therefore no time flow, and having no time flow would mean it has a time velocity of zero. the ice cube would last indefinitely.


The General Concept:

Nucleons – the 'mass' of substance

Time, we are told, is inseparably connected with space, giving what has been coined the ‘space-time continuum’. Although space-time might be an excellent model to use mathematically, it has however given rise to all kinds of theories and speculations about time and time travel, which in my opinion are way out of tune with reality and will never lead us to answer the question of time itself.

The most logical line of research into the nature of time is to investigate its connection with matter, which after all, is the stuff that moves and ages in time. It seems, after a long period of investigation, that the answer to time can indeed be found within the structure of matter. Time is not a mysterious entity that many seem to have us believe. Time can be illustrated as being a natural occurrence of nature, a by-product of physical and chemical behaviour.

To repeat, time is assumed to be inseparably connected with matter, the stuff that makes up the material of our universe. Matter is the essence of our existence that moves and ages in time, from freshness to decay, from youth to old age, from simple atomic elements to highly structured forms that can breathe, think and reproduce itself. It’s the material that makes up our planet, a world that’s in a state of constant change from one day to the next. It also makes up the countless billions of stars of the cosmos as well as our own sun that provides our need for light, warmth and food.

Matter is made of substances or a mixture of substances that have atomic elements as their base structures, and these atomic elements are the building blocks of matter, from the smallest microscopic object to the largest cosmological object. Within the structure of these building blocks we find packets of interacting fundamental particles - the proton, the neutron and the electron, and each one of these particles have mass, which is the property of heaviness, and the greatest portion of this mass is located at the nucleus of atoms by way of protons and neutrons. The mass of these two particles is found to be much greater than their surrounding neighbours, the electrons. From this it was concluded that the nucleus contains practically all the mass of an atom, while the mass contributed by an electron is almost negligible. Therefore, I felt impressed to consider the first fundamental principle of matter and its relationship with time.

Principle 1: The presence of mass at the centre of an atom is to give matter a Mass Basis. Without it, nature could not create the variety of atomic elements we have in existence.


Electrons – the platform of time

A nucleus of centralised mass by itself however, is of no use as far as creating matter is concerned; it requires something else to allow it to function as an atomic element. That something else is the electron; which, as previously mentioned contributes almost nothing towards the mass of an element, yet its presence appears to make a vital contribution to matter. It must therefore be quite an important particle with a special function or principle applied to it. Let’s see what it might be.

Within the structure of an atom we find negatively charged electrons distributed around its nucleus in various energy levels, or shells, that act as stabilisers for the positively charged protons of the nucleus. Also, the electrons of the two outer most shells have been found to act as platforms for the energy of exchange through the emission and absorption of quanta particles.

During the exchange of energy an electron either jumps to a higher energy level when absorbing energy or to a lower level when emitting energy. It’s this action alone that drives chemical and bio-chemical processes, and even physical events through time by one of time’s fundamental characteristics, the process of change. The idea of time operating by the process of change is not new and has been a common thought since the days of antiquity.

No matter what form of change is taking place, the process of change is always linked with some form of force or energy transfer. Without this fundamental process of nature time could not manifest itself. It’s through change that we see evidence of growth, progression, motion, ageing and decay; and it’s this change from one condition to another that creates the experience of our passage through time.

The presence of electrons therefore is vital in the creation of ‘matter with a time function’, with moments of time being created whenever an electron emits quanta energy; and where moments of time decay by the absorption of quanta energy. Without it, matter could not progress from one state or condition to another, therefore the flow or passage of time would cease. The electron therefore appears to be the platform or stage where time is created through the process of atomic change, and as long as atomic processes are going on time will always manifest itself. Therefore, we can assume time has a direct relationship with the electrons of atomic elements.

Principle 2: The presence of electrons around a nucleus creates atomic elements with a time basis, which endows matter the ability to change and progress with a time factor.


The Event Horizon

The transfer of energy is the only means by which chemical change can occur when an electron trades energy for an atomic event. The outer energy level or atomic boundary is the area of action, which I view as being the point where time and events interact that can be defined as being the ‘atomic event horizon’. At the atomic event horizon atomic, (AEH), atomic events result in the making and breaking of chemical elements, thus changing the state or composition of matter.

A solitary atomic event contributes nothing but one discrete moment or single step in time, but when there are billions upon billions of atomic events, the result is an explosion of continuous change we observe and experience as being the passing of time.

Principle 2:1 The Event Horizon of Atomic Elements.
The outer electrons of an atomic element is the boundary where the making and breaking of chemical elements take place. It's the event horizon of atomic events, the stage where a discrete moment or particle of time is created or decays by virtue of a chemical change.


Energy - the principle of action.

So far we have two key principles, one that sets up the mass basis of matter and the other setting up the time basis. However, matter cannot function with these two principles alone; something else is required to get things moving, and that something else is a principle of action, commonly defined as work.

Work is the operative influence that causes something to change, and change, as we have already assumed, is a fundamental feature of passing time. Without work, (which is the application of energy or force), nature would remain static and unchanging, therefore it’s logical to assume time will cease to exist. It seems therefore, time is dependent on the transfer of energy from one body or form to another, which strongly suggests that energy is the root cause of time. In fact, I am making an assumption that time and energy are one and the same.

Consider for example what the physicist and mathematician, James A Coleman, said when he explained that mass has an affect on time, which fits in nicely with my assumption [1]. He suggested that the emission of one photon could be viewed as one tick of time corresponding to one vibration, and the vibrations of a nucleus could be considered as acting like the ticking of a clock. When the frequency of vibration decrease, the nucleus clock is slowing down, therefore a decreased frequency could be interpreted as a slowing down of time itself.

Physicist, Paul Davies, declared that in quantum physics, energy always go hand in hand with time. The amount of energy determines the rate at which time passes - the beat of the quantum clock, if you like. No energy means the quantum clock ceases to tick.[2].

If energy is largely derived from photons that appear to act like the ticking of time, and with energy being the principle cause of change, we therefore have a direct relationship between time and energy. Although Coleman nor Davies never stated it directly, it would seem as though time and energy are one and the same. This implies time has a physical existence, an existence that relies totally on the exchange of energy from one body to another, which strongly suggests that energy is the root of time flow.

Principle 3: The passage of time is energy dependent where energy is the source of work that causes change, therefore energy can be defined as being the root of time.

Work and Energy.

We can take principle 3 further by expanding the idea of time’s dependency on work and energy. One of the fundamental principles of physics tells us that energy has the capacity to do work; it can activate chemical, biological and physical events. It can make rain, change the weather, change our environment, boil an egg, create new stars and planets, and even create life and activate thought processes.

These acts of change are the results of energy at work, causing matter to flow on its natural course through space and time.

By setting up a simple model using ice we can visualise the progression of time flow motivated by the application of a source of energy, which in this particular model is heat.

 Fig 1 - Energy at Work

(Time Flow Model)

ENERGY -----------------> WORK  --------------> CHANGE
                                           (Cause)                                                                                (Effect)



---------------------- >    direction of time flow  ------------------------ >


When a source of heat is applied it agitates the frozen water molecules to the point where they begin to vibrate to such a degree that the electrical bonding between them loses its grip, until eventually the molecules begin to break away, rolling over each other as a flowing liquid. This model shows at a simple level, the progression of matter through time by the process of change brought about by work that was put into effect by a flow of energy.

Principle 3:1 - Work and Moments.
The passage of time is directly linked with change, and the act of a change is the result of energy at work; energy that comes from the motion of a wave possessing a succession of quanta that can be defined as moments of energy at points described as wave crests.

Moments of Energy

An addition to principle 3:1 can be made that expands on the idea of moments of energy, giving a deeper insight into the properties of time.

All energies possessing a wave structure such as those found in radiant energy, acoustic waves and even water ripples have wave crests corresponding to moments, or points of action; where each moment of energy could be related to a single instant of time.

Returning to principle 3, it states a photon could be viewed as being one tick or quanta second, but it may be more appropriate to refer to it as a moment of time, and would suggest that the measure of a moment would be the same for all moments, but the frequency of moments can vary according to the frequency or rate of atomic vibrations. Duration however, is derived from the space found between each wave crest or moment, which can be short or long, depending on the frequency of the wave in question. The higher the frequency the shorter the measurable duration between moments, and if it were possible to reach a frequency that equals the moment of a time particle then duration would be equal to a moment in measure.

Time need not only be photonic in nature; it could be any fundamental particle that exists collectively as a waveform, such as the electron beam for example. Here, the speeding electron has the property of moments by virtue of its relationship to the crest of a waveform, therefore has the energy to produce work, causing change.

We can go further and include the more coarse natured acoustic waves and water ripples, both of which have waveform behaviour with moments, where the particles of its medium has energy, therefore the capacity to do work.

Acoustic waves for example convey useful information by way of its moments of energy, which we perceive as sound with its change in pitch, loudness, softness, coarseness, sweetness and duration creating the time effect. Not only can useful information be carried within its frequencies; its energy can react violently with matter and carry it through time in a most destructive manner, thereby changing matter in physical terms.

The same applies to aquatic waves. Although they don’t usually convey useful information in the same way as sound waves, they do however have an effect on matter through the moments of its energy. Its energy can influence matter in physical ways such as the erosion of river banks and shorelines, of shifting sand, sediment and rock etc; adding to the overall effect of passing time, as in all other instances, through the process of change.

Principle 3:2 - Moments
The moment of any waveform could be defined as being an instant or moment of time that has energy to do one particle of work.


Photons – the particles of time

In wave mechanics, the German physicist Max Planck proposed that radiation was given off in chunks of energy he called ‘quanta’, which creates electromagnetic radiation containing many billions of quanta, or photons, speeding through space as waveforms.

These pulses of energy, as Coleman had suggested, appears to act like the ticks of time, with each pulse or quanta emission and absorption being the result of a change of an electron level.

That's how I perceived time to be. Each and every individual photon behave as though they were particles of time, each particle being one tick, one instant amongst countless billions of instances. It’s the continuation and amalgamation of these particles of time from the whole that creates the seemingly endless flow of time, wherein we observe and experience constant change.

Principle 4: Photons behave as though they were particles of time, with each photon emission and absorption being one tick, one instant or quanta second of a larger event. It’s the endless waves of quanta energy as a whole that creates time flow in the microscopic and macroscopic world.


Fig 2: Creation of Time Particles

Time Waves

A solitary photon, if it could exist in such a condition, would make no contribution towards the time flow effect; but with a cycle of photons the result is a flow of energy in the form of waves from which time is born.

Waves in all their forms present time-based information of one kind or another, which would endow them with the description of being time waves, and there are three good reasons for this description:

  1. Waves supply information.
  2. The information held within waves is of past events.
  3. Waves, being an energy form, have the potential to cause future changes.

The moment of creation or decay of photons via the time basis at the atomic event horizon is the ‘where and when’ time is created and decays. The emission or absorption of a photon relates to the moment now, being the moment of activity causing a change of an electron position to either a higher or lower energy level within an atomic element.

After emission from the time basis the photon is a free agent, joining billions of other photons to become part of a time wave. As a free-moving particle the photon inherits a past factor after the event, but in due course it is eventually absorbed by another time basis, and that inevitable future event gives the photon a future factor.

Not only does the photon possess a past and future factor, it also has a now factor by virtue of being its own record of the original event. While outside the time basis of an atomic element, a photon becomes an existing now particle, and continues to be that moment now for the duration of its existence outside the time basis between its moment of creation, (emission), and eventual decay, (absorption). A now particle therefore, is a physical, discrete existence of the moment ‘now’, together with a past and future factor. It remains with that identity as an individual and separate quantum particle-part of an atomic event possessing a past factor, a now factor and a future factor, until its eventual decay at the moment of absorption.

This view of time led to an assumption that the past, the moment now and the future are unified within what we call the present, the stage where events unfold.

The usage of the terms 'now' and 'the present' is found to be too generalised; both being used synonymously to mean the same thing. With reference to time physics they need to be more specifically defined. The term, 'now', needs to be defined as the moment of action, the smallest moment or tick of time, which is the quanta second, a measure of time that is currently measured to be 10ˉ43 seconds according to Planck's time. It's one solitary change at the event horizon of an atomic element, just one fractional part of a longer sequence of events found in nature.

Principle 4:1 – Time waves and the moment ‘now’.
Photons, the moments of a time wave, possess three factors; a past factor, a now factor and a future factor. This creates a condition where ‘past, now, and future’ are unified into a time wave that exists in the present, the stage where events unfold.

Forces – the controlling factor

Finally, there’s one other principle that needs to be taken into account, and that is the effect of forces. Forces are a universal requirement for all existence and are the prime factor in the creation of energy, matter and time. Without it, nothing could come into being. If forces didn’t have the ability to influence each other, its influence on matter and energy would be zero. Mass, energy and force would melt into the vacuum of space.

However, forces do exist, and they have two fundamental roles within our universe:-

  1. They are responsible for the creation of 3-dimensional space in which form can exist; having length, width and height.
  2. They are also responsible for the creation of energy, the motive power of all activity and change, thereby creating the flow of time.

Although a number of fundamental forces have been discovered or assumed, there are two forces that appear to relate to time more than any of the others, which are gravity and the electric force.

The electric force, as well as being responsible for chemical bonding, is also responsible for the creation of electromagnetic radiation, which we found in principle 3 is the root of time flow. The process of breaking and making chemical bonds, activated by radiant energy, which this hypothesis claims to be the very essence of time itself, is the process that carries matter along the mathematically measurable 4th dimension of time from creation to decay.

Gravity, says Einstein, has an influence on photons, and this influence can affect their rate of emission, therefore has an affect on the rate of time flow [3]. That statement by Einstein strongly indicated to me that time itself is indeed energy based, which leads to the assumption that time has a particle/wave nature. He stated that the more massive a body the greater the effect would be. But when mass becomes too great it will collapse under the force of its own gravity. In such conditions it is believed that time, (waveforms), will bend back on itself, or it may even cease to function because of the colossal force of gravity. This has been one of the views of time existing near or inside black holes, and also at velocities close to that of light where mass increases to such a degree that time functions are slowed down. Gravitational mass it seems has a direct link with the rate of time flow, and the fact that radiant energy cannot escape from a massive force like that of a black hole where even time stops, leads to a very strong argument in favour of time and energy being two features of the same thing. These two major forces, the electric force and gravity, alongside the others have the ability to influence mass, energy, time and space.

Principle 5: The fundamental forces of nature are the controlling factors of our existence. They create the 3 dimensions of space, holding matter together to give them form and substance. They also provide the means for energy transfer, from which motion and time flow are born.


With this basic model in mind, it would appear time’s physical existence is not only related to space, but has a more direct relationship with the atomic structure of matter where time itself is created at the time bases, (the outer boundary or atomic event horizon) of atomic elements. The emission of energy is the cause of time flow that has power to move matter forwards along the time dimension towards its future of ultimate death or destruction and total decay.

Time has been shown to be continuously created by the emission of energy; and after emission, it exists as a flow of moments in waveform (time waves), which eventually decays on absorption by other masses. It can therefore be assumed that time is the product of energy transfer between masses.

The assumptions of this hypothesis points to the conclusion that time has physical properties. It has a particle/wave duality, which can explain a long standing question regarding the dilemma of past, present/now and future and that time has a discrete nature. The past, now and future are all unified into one particle, where each of these three factors of time are relative to its origin of emission, it’s current status, and final event of absorption.

If someone asks, ‘What is Time’, our answer might be, ‘Time is energy; and if that question was followed by, ‘What is the cause of time’ we might say, ‘It’s the transfer of energy between masses through the influence of a force’?

This conclusion can therefore unify the whole hypothesis into one ‘all-inclusive principle’, which states:

Atomic elements possess a mass basis and a time basis that combines under the influence of fundamental forces; and when coupled with a source of energy, being the power of change, matter is set into motion with a time function.

Fig 3: Atom with Mass Basis and Time Basis

Source of References:

[1] James A Coleman: Relativity for the Layman, pages 118-119. Penguin Books 1972

[2] Paul Davies. About Time, page 180. Published by Penguin Books 1995

[3] Albert Einstein: Relativity. The Special and General Theory, page 180-181. Translation by Robert W Lawson, published by Methuen & Co Ltd., 1920, reprinted 1962.

Copyright by Ron Larter
Reprinted with permission

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Note about the Author

Ron Larter, an undergraduate working towards a degree in physics and
an independent researcher, has spent many years investigating the nature of time. Even before he embarked on a degree course he came to the conclusion that time itself has a direct link with energy, in fact, time and energy appears to be two aspects of the same thing, or perhaps are indeed the same thing.

Having shared his findings with colleges, some academics have agreed with his proposal while others strongly opposed it. The most recent reader of his paper was the physicist, Joseph A Rybczyk, who said that he can agree with much of his work. However, he had some reservations about his conclusion that time might have some form of physical properties.

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