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How clocks define physical time

Evans, Peter W. and Milburn, Gerard J. and Shrapnel, Sally (2023) How clocks define physical time. [Preprint]

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It is the prevailing paradigm in contemporary physics to model the dynamical evolution of physical systems in terms of a real parameter conventionally denoted as 't' ('little tee'). We typically call such dynamical models laws of nature' and t we call 'physical time'. It is common in the philosophy of time to regard t as time itself, and to take the global structure of general relativity as the ultimate guide to physical time, and so consequently the true nature of time. In this paper we defend the idea that physical time, t, is rather better defined as an operational modelling parameter: we measure relations between changing physical quantities using bespoke physical systems---i.e. clocks---that coordinate local coincidences. We argue that the sorts of physical systems that make good clocks---what we call precision clocks---are those that exhibit self-sustained oscillations known as limit cycles, which are ubiquitous in open, driven, stable, dissipative systems. We develop the physical and philosophical ramifications of this conception of physical time, particularly the notion that physical time does not track something 'out there' in the world. As a result, we speculate that physical time is perhaps not as different from manifest time as many philosophers of time (and apparently general relativity) seem to suggest.

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Item Type: Preprint
Evans, Peter
Milburn, Gerard
Keywords: physical time, clocks, relational time, manifest time, thermodynamics, limit cycle
Subjects: General Issues > Scientific Metaphysics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
Depositing User: Dr. Peter W. Evans
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2023 15:27
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2023 15:27
Item ID: 22565
Subjects: General Issues > Scientific Metaphysics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
Date: 21 September 2023

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