The arrow of time is a concept that defines the unidirectional flow of time. Simply put, it tells us that time flows in one direction from the past to the future. Although this idea is decades old, scientists have not yet made much progress in unraveling the mysteries behind this phenomenon. A new study has now shed light on the concept, ‘decomposing’ the arrow of time to observe the interactions between different parts of the system.
The arrow of time stems from the second law of thermodynamics, which explains that the microscopic order of physical systems moves from order to disorder. According to this theory, if a system becomes more perturbed, it becomes harder for it to bounce back and return to an orderly state. This also theoretically strengthens the arrow of time.
In the study, researchers at the CUNY Graduate Center Initiative for the Theoretical Sciences (ITS) found ways to deconstruct the arrow of time by observing specific parts of the system and the interactions between them. An example of such areas would be the functioning neurons in the retina. The team looked at one moment and showed that the arrow of time can be broken into different pieces. These include those produced by parts working individually, in pairs, in triplets, and in more complex configurations.
Following this discovery, the researchers examined existing experiments on the response of neurons to different films in the salamander’s retina. One film shows a single object moving through the scene, while the other shows the entire complexity seen in nature.
In both films, the researchers noted that the arrow of time arose from simple interactions between pairs of neurons, rather than large and complex groups. In addition, it was also found that the retina exhibited a stronger arrow of time during random motion than during natural viewing.
“Our findings provide a first step toward understanding how the arrow of time that we experience in everyday life emerges from these finer details,” said Christopher Lin, a postdoctoral fellow in the ITS program. He is one of the authors of the paper Published In Physical Review Letters.
Lin added that the results could be useful for neuroscience researchers and hoped that it would provide answers if the arrow of time works differently in brains that are neuroatypical.
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