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Time is scarce these days, especially with the holidays looming. (Yes, it’s scarcely two weeks from Thanksgiving).
But taking an hour to tune in tonight to The Fabric of the Cosmos (check your local PBS listings) offers a whole new perspective on time as we know it. “The Illusion of Time,” the second episode in the PBS Nova series, suggests that time itself – or at least what our perceptions and experiences tell us it is – could be an illusion.
Time seems to flow differently: Faster during fun hours and frantic holiday seasons; far slower during long meetings and lengthy conference calls. It also seems to flow one way: There’s no undoing what was done yesterday. Shattered vases don’t get unbroken.
But as “The Illusion of Time” explains, physics confounds our everyday experience of time. Instead of a simple one-way flow, the more accurate view of time may be that it is a place where everything happens all at once – past, present and future.
In the first episode of the series, “What is Space?,” Brian Greene explained how the fabric of space is intertwined with the fabric of time. He takes this even further in tonight's episode by explaining what Einstein's discovery of a finite speed of light, regardless of frame of reference, means for our conception of time. For example, moving in time from past to present can be considered the same as moving in space from one step to the next.
As Brian Greene asks, “How could this be? How could we be so wrong about something so familiar?”
Experiments in the physical sciences can help us see through those illusions and discover a better understanding of our world. They may even open the way to new and unexpected applications.
Scientists at the Energy Department's National Laboratories challenge the familiar in an effort to discover these new and unexpected applications. For example, Joe Lykken, a theoretical physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) who appears in tonight’s episode, does research on dark matter and extra dimensions. Similarly, scientists at Fermilab are probing quarks and other fundamental particles that can reveal the secrets of space time. Meanwhile, others are researching the ghostly particles known as neutrinos. Scientists across the Office of Science study matter and energy, space and time, looking to pierce illusions that will reveal an even greater world of possibilities.
So tune in for tonight’s episode. It’ll only take an hour . . . and that’s hardly any time.
You can find more information on the Energy Department’s Office of Science here.