Time is a measured or measurable period,
a continuum that lacks spatial dimensions. Time is of
philosophical interest and is also the subject of
mathematical and scientific investigation. It is a component of the measuring
system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of
events and the intervals between them, and to quantify the
motions of objects. Time has been a major subject of
religion, philosophy, and science, but defining it in a
non-controversial manner applicable to all fields of study
has consistently eluded the greatest scholars.
In physics as well as in other sciences, time is considered one of the few fundamental quantities. Time is used to define other quantities – such as velocity – so defining time in terms of such quantities would result in circularity of definition. An operational definition of time, wherein one says that observing a certain number of repetitions of one or another standard cyclical event (such as the passage of a free-swinging pendulum) constitutes one standard unit such as the second, is highly useful in the conduct of both advanced experiments and everyday affairs of life. The operational definition leaves aside the question whether there is something called time, apart from the counting activity just mentioned, that flows and that can be measured. Investigations of a single continuum called spacetime brings the nature of time into association with related questions into the nature of space, questions that have their roots in the works of early students of natural philosophy.
Among prominent philosophers, there are two distinct viewpoints on time. One view is that time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe, a dimension in which events occur in sequence. Time travel, in this view, becomes a possibility as other "times" persist like frames of a film strip, spread out across the time line. Sir Isaac Newton subscribed to this realist view, and hence it is sometimes referred to as Newtonian time. The opposing view is that time does not refer to any kind of "container" that events and objects "move through", nor to any entity that "flows", but that it is instead part of a fundamental intellectual structure (together with space and number) within which humans sequence and compare events. This second view, in the tradition of Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, holds that time is neither an event nor a thing, and thus is not itself measurable nor can it be travelled.
Temporal measurement has occupied scientists and technologists, and was a prime motivation in navigation and astronomy. Periodic events and periodic motion have long served as standards for units of time. Examples include the apparent motion of the sun across the sky, the phases of the moon, the swing of a pendulum, and the beat of a heart. Currently, the international unit of time, the second, is defined in terms of radiation emitted by cesium atoms. Time is also of significant social importance, having economic value ("time is money") as well as personal value, due to an awareness of the limited time in each day and in human life spans.