A Layman's Definition of Imaginary Time

Just watched a clip of John Oliver interviewing Stephen Hawking. When he asked Hawking which of his concepts he would most like the public to be able to appreciate and understand, Hawking responded that he would like it if more people got on board with the concept of “imaginary time.”

So I researched it – hoping to come across a layman’s explanation – and came instead to the conclusion that genuinely understanding the concept renders a person incapable of ever describing it in a way a non-physicist or non-mathematician can comprehend. Whereupon, I tried a different approach: opening my mind in the hopes of understanding it wholistically.

I imagined Heraclitus standing in the river – when he was struck by his famous “I can never step into the same river twice” epiphany. You can you imagine that, right? Maybe you’ve even thought about the philosophical ramifications of that observation (ie shortly after you first encountered it) while looking into a stream – and have a memory of that moment. 

Imagination and memory are two separate processes that enable human beings to revisit a singular event. Dreams may be a third way – although who can remember them well enough to say for sure?

A literal interpretation of the words “imaginary time” would lead one to believe that if you can imagine a time – you can in some sense relive it. You can touch the same water twice – in your imagination, your memories and possibly even in your dreams. In fact – that instant can be permanently accessible through imagination or memory. 

I don’t know how that relates to physics or quantum theory – or how the time that I have imagined would intersect with real time on a graph – but it seems to me that it’s as valid a perception of imaginary time as could be provided by a mathematical formula. And if it’s not, then perhaps Stephen Hawking et al should look into my concept of “imaginary time.” After all, we have alternative medicine – perhaps the time for alternative physics has come round at last. Maybe we can use astrology to exceed the speed of light.


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