The world is not a clockwork - a physicist reflects on time.

Prof. Dr. Anton Zeilinger
Head of the Institue for quantum optics and quantum information at the austrian academy of sciences in vienna

„Modern physics views time as the fourth time-space dimension. Space and time therefore form a unit. There is no such thing as absolute time – time is something that clocks measure. Any time-dependent process can be used as a clock, including biological processes. Time as a scientific term evolved from the movements of the stars. For eons they were the most accurate clocks. Today, atomic clocks are considered the reference for exact time measurement.

They make use of the precision with which nature has defined the energetic differences in atoms. The most precise atomic clocks lose just one second in a thousand million years. This is the accuracy with which we can measure constants innature and formulate the precision of the laws of nature.

The shortest unit of time is Planck time, named after Max Planck, the man who discovered quantum physics. It measures a mere 5.39106 x 1044 seconds. There is also a Planck length, which is the smallest unit of length. Anything less than Planck time and Planck length is known as quantum foam. It is an area where space and time lose all significance.

Whether or not time has a beginning and an end is an open issue. According to the Big Bang theory, to which the majority of physicists subscribe, the Big Bang marked the beginning of time – in other words: there was no time before this event; this is where time began. Whether or not the universe will cease to exist and with it time itself is equally as open. The answer to this question depends on knowing exactly how much dark matter and dark energy there is in the universe.

Chaos is the opposite of a regular clockwork movement. The term is used when movement is unpredictable or, if at all, then only for a brief period of time. This applies, for instance, to the weather and road traffic.

Personally, I find the relation between time and coincidence most interesting. Is there a precursor to everything that happens? An explanation in the form of a cause? According to quantum physics, this does not apply to singular events. Therefore, the world is not a clockwork that runs according to defined rules.

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