3 min readDoes time really move in just one direction?

All the fundamental laws of physics does not change whether time moves forward or backward. But our experience shows that time only moves one way. Why is this the case?

For decades now, physicists know that all of the fundamental laws of physics are time-symmetrical. They do not change in respect to time, which means that there is no forward or backward movement of time. In the language of the everyday person, we might be experiencing a “present” as well as a “future” and a “past” all at the “same time”.

Though the fundamental laws of physics govern our daily realities, our own experience shows that time only moves in just one direction — forward. People grow old, trees grow bigger, coffee cools down. Why is this?

In this 2016 article written by Robert Lanza for the Discover Magazine, he says utilizes the results of researches in quantum physics to explain why the arrow of time (which follows the past > present > future route) moves in one direction based on the human experience.

He says that our experience of time moving forward exists because our brains store memories of events experienced in the past, while future to past experiences are associated with decreased entropy. Decreased entropy, on the other hand, leads to the dis-entanglement between memory and observed event. In short, our brains do not have the capacity to store future to past experiences, and without these memories, we only remember the past to present movement of time.

Implications for AI

Perhaps one of the most important drivers of AI research is the idea that we only have a limited time on earth. Humans live on earth for a specific amount of time. Children, like nature, need to take a long time in order to grow and flourish.

AI, like machines of the first industrial revolution, was built in order to maximize output from the same amount of resources used. If damaged soil cannot produce the amount of food needed to feed billions of people, we will create food through other technological means. If the body cannot heal itself in time before death settles in, we will eradicate death by getting rid of the body that dies.  If humanity cannot find the solution to old social problems, then perhaps machines will be able to do so. After all, they have done us well, so far.

What we fail to realize is that in the consequences, we have developed more damage. Let us consider a common scenario at work. With technology becoming even more advanced, everyone is expected to catch up – one must respond to their emails faster or turn in better quality of work at the least amount of time. One had best beat the deadline, unless you want a machine doing your work. This is the irony of technology. Now that we have the capacity to work less, most people are rushing towards something, often at the expense of their own well-being.

But what are we trying to catch up on if time doesn’t really exist? Shouldn’t we, instead of trying to maximize our “outputs”, be focusing instead with the quality of our “produce”? If Einstein was correct, and all moments were equally real, and we would be asked at any point if we are satisfied with the kind of life we are leading, and happy with the kind of society we are building, what would our response be?

In a research conducted by palliative nurse, Bronnie Ware, the top five regrets of the dying revolved around their inability to enjoy the present – to discover a meaningful life, co-existing and co-creating with the people that mean the most to them. Will these regrets change with the arrival of AI?

Reading this article also provides us with an important insight. If time exists only in our heads, is it possible then that a different law of matter governs our existence? [See article on Ilya Prigogine to explore this idea].

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