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r/explainlikeimfive
1.1k
Posted by2 months ago

ElI5: What Einstein meant by "the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion".

199 comments
93% Upvoted
level 1

It was sent in a condolences letter to a grieving family of his, now-dead, good friend.

It wasn’t meant as a philosophical statement on the nature of time. It was merely him saying that the dead in question would stay with them in spirit

1.4k
level 2

This is correct.

160
level 2
· 2 mo. ago · edited 2 mo. ago

He is describing the block universe concept he is famous for.

Edit: I’m being downvote but when you look at the fuller quote it’s clear he is talking about physics, it does have a deeper meaning

"People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."

It’s ridiculous to think that Einstein when describing, “Einsteins block universe”, isn’t referring in some respect to his block universe

Edit2: you even have papers on it

Throughout his scientific life, Albert Einstein thinks about the philosophical implications of his own work on time. From 1918, he makes a connection between the theory of relativity and the block-universe conception, according to which all moments of time coexist. Later, he clarifies this connection, explaining that the block-universe conception is the most convenient and objective interpretation of the theory. Einstein also develops the idea that, due to its deterministic commitment, physics as a whole allows to support the block-universe.

https://www.cairn-int.info/article-E_RHS_711_0079--einstein-about-the-block-universe.htm

64
level 2

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that's why we call it the present.” — stubbornly persistent illusion, probably

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level 2
level 2

He's just over the hill ... like that one ?

0
level 2

Nothing Einstein did was mere

0
level 1

Imagine a film reel. As you watch the movie, you can only experience each frame of the movie as it happens. However, if you go to the projector and pop out the reel, you can see that each frame exists all at once on the reel. The "past, present, and future" of the movie exists all at once and the way that we watch the movie is the illusion.

55
level 2

This is the right answer. Einstein was a determinist, he believed that the laws of the universe were ultimately deterministic, and if we had complete information about any point in time, we could determine the entire past, present and future. To that end, we are all just collections of particles following their paths, that could just as naturally be plotted in a spacetime diagram as lived and experienced, there's no privileged present.

23
level 1

Comments still have not ELI5 the block universe concept that Einstein was referring to. That is because it can be complicated and would take a lot of time to write up and describe. Instead here is a video that ELI5 the concept very well:

Does the Past Still Exist? by Sabine Hossenfelder

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwzN5YwMzv0

Description: Albert Einstein taught us that space and time belong together to a common entity: space-time. This means that time becomes a dimension, similar to space, and has profound consequences for the nature of time. Most importantly it leads to what has been called the block universe, a universe in which all moments of time exist the same way together. The future, the present, and the past are the same, it is just our perception that suggests otherwise.

11
level 2
Op · 2 mo. ago

Wow you linked to the EXACT video I was watching yesterday. I have been trying to better understand the whole "time is an illusion" thing in physics and have watched a lot of videos. I decided to ask here for a simpler explanation.

4
level 1
· 2 mo. ago · edited 2 mo. ago

Its a statement on block universe theory, that past present and future already exist, the entirety of space time can be thought of as a complete block. being three dimensional beings who experience time, we effectively move through the block and perceive a past present and future, but the block already exists in its entirety. The past and future are just as real as what we perceive as the present and all are equally existing continually.

This means that our perception that time "flows" is artificial, an illusion, and that instead time is something you move through (albeit we only move in one direction) just like any spatial dimension. All points in the block are equally real, past present and future, its just our perception that gives us the illusion of only the point we observe being real.

47
level 2

Yep, it seems like a statement relating to his view on the block universe rather than a direct statement on relativity.

6
level 1
· 2 mo. ago · edited 2 mo. ago

Because light travels at a fixed speed, people very far away from each other will see things happen at different times.

Because of this, theoretically, if you could teleport vast distance instantly, you could see (or do) an event in 'real time', and then blink millions of miles away, and watch it happen all over again at a distance.

Therefore, chronology is relative to distance, and so the idea that everything everywhere is happening at the same time is not only useless, but fundamentally incorrect. It is just a 'stubborn illusion'.

This gets weirder when gravity gets involved, but we're already way beyond an ELI5 question there.

Edit: Technically it's speed that makes time go funky as well, but I'm too sick for a special relativity ELI5.

98
level 2

But what you did still happened at that point in time, you moving faster than light to see the "old" light again some place else at a later moment doesn't mean the event time changed or it repeated right?

14
level 2

A bit like the way you can celebrate Christmas in New Zealand, then fly to Los Angeles, and suddenly everyone’s celebrating Christmas again. Well, OK, not like that at all, but I couldn’t resist saying it.

2
level 2

the time you see on the clock is actually the past.....people get upset when I try to explain that .

13

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