Time, arrow of

Time, arrow of

The uniform and unique direction associated with the apparent inevitable flow of time into the future. There appears to be a fundamental asymmetry in the universe. Herein lies a paradox, for all the laws of physics, whether they are the equations of classical mechanics, classical electromagnetism, general relativity, or quantum mechanics, are time reversible in that they admit solutions in either direction of time. This reversibility raises the question of how these fundamentally time-symmetrical equations can result in the perceived asymmetry of temporally ordered events.

The symmetry breaking of temporal order has not yet been fully explained. There are certain indications that an intrinsic asymmetry exists in temporal evolution. Thus it may be that the fundamental laws of physics are not really time symmetric and that the currently known laws are only symmetrized approximations to the truth. Indeed, the decay of the K0 meson is not time reversible. However, it is not clear how such a rare and exotic instance of time asymmetry could emerge into the world of essentially macroscopic, electromagnetic phenomena as an everyday observable.

Another, more ubiquitous example of a fundamentally time-asymmetric process is the expansion of the universe. It has been speculated that this expansion is the true basis of time asymmetry.

Alternatively, even a time-symmetrical universe will have a statistical behavior in which configurations of molecules and localizations of energy have significant probabilities of recurring only after enormously long time intervals. Indeed, such time intervals are longer than the times required for the ceaseless expansion of the universe and the evolution of its component particles. Time's arrow is destined, either by the nature of space-time or the statistics of large assemblies, to fly into the future. See Statistical mechanics