If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it make a sound? If time doesn’t exist, can there be just-in-time manufacturing?
Those are the kinds of vapid thoughts that pass through a foggy early morning brain before a jolt of joe has a chance to clear things up. Especially after reading an intriguing (well, at least to the more nerdy among us…) article in Discover questioning if time really exists.
There is a temporal realm called the Planck scale, where even attoseconds drag by like eons. It marks the edge of known physics, a region where distances and intervals are so short that the very concepts of time and space start to break down. Planck time—the smallest unit of time that has any physical meaning—is 10-43 second, less than a trillionth of a trillionth of an attosecond. Beyond that? Tempus incognito. At least for now.
Efforts to understand time below the Planck scale have led to an exceedingly strange juncture in physics. The problem, in brief, is that time may not exist at the most fundamental level of physical reality. If so, then what is time? “The meaning of time has become terribly problematic in contemporary physics,” says Simon Saunders, a philosopher of physics at the University of Oxford.
But… well, never mind. No need to create a headache so early in the morning.
A sizable minority of physicists believe that any successful merger of the two great masterpieces of 20th-century physics [relativity and quantum mechanics] will inevitably describe a universe in which, ultimately, there is no time. “It’s quite mysterious why we have such an obvious arrow of time,” says Seth Lloyd, a quantum mechanical engineer at MIT. When I ask him what time it is, he answers, “Beats me. Are we done?”
Maybe Toyota figured this out early and that explains why they devote vast resources to squeezing every wasted second out of their processes? Are they preparing to be successful in a world where we’ve discovered time doesn’t exist? Where a new Camry… simply appears?