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In Depth: Time Actually Behaves Like A Crystal – Here’s How

Time has remained an evasive topic. The more scientists attempt to unveil its secrets, the more it gets away from their grasp. Some physicists have even questioned how we perceive its very existence: a team of researchers have investigated the very structure of time and claim that it behaves like a crystal. Their revised paper is published in The European Physical Journal.


The researchers put forward the concept that the minimum time scale in the universe might be longer than Planck time which is the unit of time considered to be the smallest measurement of time that holds any meaning; otherwise, any smaller division of time would have no meaning. Planck time is the time light travels a distance of 1 Planck length (10 to the power of -43 seconds). As for its implications in the universe, it means that two events cannot be separated by a time smaller than this, and it is said that our world only came to be when it was already 10-43seconds old.

As per the proposal of the researchers, the shortest possible length of time would be several orders of magnitude longer than Planck time, but there would be a maximum value such that it would be no larger than a certain amount.

This can even be directly tested in experiments, says one of the authors of the paper, Nur Faisal from the University of Waterloo. The trouble with actually analysing Planck time directly, though, is that it is too short-lasting. However, its existence is heavily supported by evidence.

On the other hand, Faisal and his team have suggested experimental ways to test their claim that “time is discrete in nature” as opposed to what is generally thought that it is continuous. According to Faisal, the structure of time would constitute a crystal made up of “discrete, regular repeating segments”. They explain that they came up with their theory after measuring the rate of spontaneous emission of a hydrogen atom. According to the modified quantum mechanical equation, the rate of spontaneous emission would be slightly different. Also, the effects suggested by the team might be observed in the decay rates of particles, and in unstable nuclei.

Furthermore, according to Faisal, our physical universe is comparable to a motion picture: as though still images are shown off on a screen which produces an illusion of the images moving. The findings challenge the way we understand time: while we view it as continuously flowing, Faisal and his colleagues deem this to be but an illusion.

Faisal says that their proposal would thus make reality “platonic in nature”.

If these findings prove to be true, so many equations will have to be modified. For instance, the very basic equations of quantum mechanisms would have to be revisited. Most importantly, time as we know it will need to be redefined.


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