Einstein on Time

At the end of his book Philosophy of Science: Bolinda Beginner Guides (The Philosophy of Science: A Beginner’s Guide), Geoffrey Gorham has mentioned the words of Einstein on time on occasion of Besso’s death. I have found in Internet to this end:

Time and its Relationship to Consciousness
An Overview, Mansoor Malik & Maria Hipolito
http://www.jcer.com/index.php/jcj/article/download/82/80

When his lifelong friend Besso died, Einstein wrote a letter to Besso’s family, saying that although Besso had preceded him in death, it was of no consequence,”for men who have knowledge of physics know that the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.

It happens that this statement is quite popular in Interent. It is hard to say who first has written it. See for example also

http://everythingforever.com/einstein.htm

An interesting paper about Kurt Gödel and Albert Einstein that give more insight on Einstein’s statement:

TIME BANDITS
What were Einstein and Gödel talking about?
by Jim Holt
http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/02/28/050228crat_atlarge

Decades later, Gödel, walking with Einstein, had the privilege of picking up the subtleties of relativity theory from the master himself. Einstein had shown that the flow of time depended on motion and gravity, and that the division of events into “past” and “future” was relative. Gödel took a more radical view: he believed that time, as it was intuitively understood, did not exist at all. As usual, he was not content with a mere verbal argument. Philosophers ranging from Parmenides, in ancient times, to Immanuel Kant, in the eighteenth century, and on to J. M. E. McTaggart, at the beginning of the twentieth century, had produced such arguments, inconclusively. Gödel wanted a proof that had the rigor and certainty of mathematics. And he saw just what he wanted lurking within relativity theory.

But Gödel came up with a third kind of solution to Einstein’s equations, one in which the universe was not expanding but rotating. … What makes this rotating universe truly weird, Gödel showed, is the way its geometry mixes up space and time. By completing a sufficiently long round trip in a rocket ship, a resident of Gödel’s universe could travel back to any point in his own past.”

Einstein was not entirely pleased with the news that his equations permitted something as Alice in Wonderland-like as spatial paths that looped backward in time; in fact, he confessed to being “disturbed” by Gödel’s universe. Other physicists marvelled that time travel, previously the stuff of science fiction, was apparently consistent with the laws of physics. (Then they started worrying about what would happen if you went back to a time before you were born and killed your own grandfather.) Gödel himself drew a different moral. If time travel is possible, he submitted, then time itself is impossible. A past that can be revisited has not really passed. And the fact that the actual universe is expanding, rather than rotating, is irrelevant. Time, like God, is either necessary or nothing; if it disappears in one possible universe, it is undermined in every possible universe, including our own.

A certain futility marked the last years of both Gödel and Einstein. What may have been most futile, however, was their willed belief in the unreality of time. The temptation was understandable. If time is merely in our minds, perhaps we can hope to escape it into a timeless eternity. Then we could say, like William Blake, “I see the Past, Present and Future, existing all at once / Before me.” In Gödel’s case, Rebecca Goldstein speculates, it may have been his childhood terror of a fatally damaged heart that attracted him to the idea of a timeless universe. Toward the end of his life, he told one confidant that he had long awaited an epiphany that would enable him to see the world in a new light, but that it never came. Einstein, too, was unable to make a clean break with time. “To those of us who believe in physics,” he wrote to the widow of a friend who had recently died, “this separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, if a stubborn one.” When his own turn came, a couple of weeks later, he said, “It is time to go.”


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