In this manuscript we initiate a systematic examination of the physical basis for the time concept in cosmology. We discuss and defend the idea that the physical basis of the time concept is necessarily related to physical processes which could conceivably take place among the material constituents available in the universe. As a consequence we motivate the idea that one cannot, in a well-defined manner, speak about time ‘before ’ such physical processes were possible, and in particular, the idea that one cannot speak about a time scale ‘before ’ scale-setting physical processes were possible. It is common practice to link the concept of cosmic time with a space-time metric set up to describe the universe at large scales, and then define a cosmic time t as what is measured by a comoving standard clock. We want to examine, however, the physical basis for setting up a comoving reference frame and, in particular, what could be meant by a standard clock. For this purpose we introduce the concept of a ‘core ’ of a clock (which, for a standard clock in cosmology, is a scale-settin
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