Foundations of Physics

, Volume 18, Issue 12, pp 1159–1193 | Cite as

On the two aspects of time: The distinction and its implications

  • L. P. Horwitz
  • R. I. Arshansky
  • A. C. Elitzur
Part VI. Invited Papers Dedicated To David Bohm


The contemporary view of the fundamental role of time in physics generally ignores its most obvious characteric, namely its flow. Studies in the foundations of relativistic mechanics during the past decade have shown that the dynamical evolution of a system can be treated in a manifestly covariant way, in terms of the solution of a system of canonical Hamilton type equations, by considering the space-time coordinates and momenta ofevents as its fundamental description. The evolution of the events, as functions of a universal invariant world, or historical, time, traces out the world lines that represent the phenomena (e.g., particles) which are observed in the laboratory. The positions in time of each of the events, i.e., the time of their potential detection, are, in this framework, controlled by this universal parameter τ, the time at which they are generated (and may proceed in the positive or negative sense). We find that the notion of thestate of a system requires generalization; at any given τ, it involves information about the system at timest(τ) ≠ τ. The correlation of what may be measured att(τ) with what is generated at τ is necessarily quite rigid, and is related covariantly to the spacelike correlations found in interference experiments. We find, furthermore, that interaction with Maxwell electromagnetism leads back to a static picture of the world, with no real evolution. As a consequence of this result, and the requirement of gauge invariance for the quantum mechanical evolution equation, we conclude that electromagnetism is described by a pre-Maxwell field, whose τ-integral (or asymptotic behavior as τ → ∞) may be identified with the Maxwell field. We therefore consider the world of events in space time, interacting through τ-dependent pre-Maxwell fields, as far as electrodynamics is concerned, as the objective dynamical reality. Our perception of the world, through laboratory detectors and our eyes, are based onintegration over τ over intervals sufficiently large to obtain an aposteriori description of the phenomena which coincides with the Maxwell theory. Fundamental notions, such as the conservation of charge, rest on this construction. The decomposition of the common notion of time into two essentially different aspects, one associated with an unvarying flow, and the second with direct observation subject to dynamical modification, has profound philosophical consequences, of which we are able to explore here only a few.


World Line Static Picture Maxwell Theory Fundamental Notion Interference Experiment 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. P. Horwitz
    • 1
  • R. I. Arshansky
    • 1
  • A. C. Elitzur
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Physics and Astronomy, Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact ScienceTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael
  2. 2.Department of Chemical PhysicsWeizmann Institute of ScienceRehovotIsrael

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