How many times do you use? What time phrases suits you? I’ll be with you in a heartbeat. It’ll be done in three shakes of a lamb’s tail. Only six sleeps to your birthday. The empire lasted five generations.
‘Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.’; an old joke is a new tease for grandchildren. Does time really advance like the arrow or is that an illusion? Isn’t it interesting how spacetime can bend with gravity as does the trajectory of the arrow over distances longer than are common in olympic archery?
Is your philosophy of time about the process or what is manifold? Could you ever fear the past or regret the future?
The time of your life is likely diurnal, and seasonal and finite. Your day splits into unequal parts that are light and dark depending on your distance from the equator and the depth of the season. You probably don’t know the three seasons as inundation, growth and harvest and yet others once did. Pluviôse, Germinal and Messidor failed to take root despite French revolutionary zeal.
You are a baby, a teen, an adult and if long lived, an octogenarian, in turn, by times. You have an innate sense of time unless you have severe schizophrenia or constantly ingest hallucinatory substances. Is this inner clock the ticking of the proton pumps of which we are constituted?
The astronomical day lasts 86,400 seconds. The duration of each second is determined from atomic clocks that both generate the time signal and measure it without apparent conflict of interest.
My idea of time will differ from yours if only because the labours of my profession was scheduled daily and reported weekly; our data was measured in milliseconds in order to characterise the rocks into ages, epochs and periods.
This time last year we visited the Pech Merle caves in France to see the sketches that have survived more than twenty thousand years. The cave paintings may well have been art, teaching aids, religious iconography, graffiti, communications or perhaps all or none of these. How they were done in the dark of the caves may be almost as interesting as why.
The world has changed since the caves were decorated. Such things as aurochs are now extinct. Could the ‘artists’ have imagined such a legacy, a lifespan of 20,000 years for their primitive art and no time at all for the species they hunted ? I suggest that not everything happens by design.
It’s clear to me that that the velocity of light and the value of zero were meaningless to the people who did the cave drawings. The precise speed of light nor the wavelength of the colours in their pigments had no relevancy. It might have been struggle enough to have described the pigments by qualities or perhaps they had names. I hope they they didn’t struggle with the value of zero, a danger that may sometimes have manifested as having nothing to eat. Let us assume the ‘artists’ survived and thrived and multiplied while the velocity of light and the value of zero remained useless to them.
Such knowledge is not useless to us today as you know while reading this on a device with innards that rely on physics. Our society is increasingly reliant on knowledge, so much so that we are probably evolving from small, tight knit family groups as might paint caves to increasingly complicated groups where we are the sum of our knowledge. Urban assimilation is globally replacing rural isolation. Is the Borg coming? Cars transport us. Washing machine clean our clothes. Households and offices run on appliances that still require our manipulations. For how long?
Einstein gave us the notation C for the speed of light as in E=MC². Einstein helped us to see the relativity of time and this knowledge is used in every satnav calculation. The satellites orbiting the planet suffer time dilation, a drift due the change in gravity over the 20,000 km distance to where the satellites orbit. Time isn’t constant within our local orbit so what wonders of time or space-time or gravity await us if we ever venture beyond the moon?
So what is time? The notion of time has been harassing me over the last few days. It started with the reading the phrase ‘status quo’.
The Latin phrase is generally used in the context of the existing state of social or political affairs. Change is what I grew up with, the inverse of status quo. I used to worry about the accelerating rate of change of technology in some of our geophysical projects. We were often in danger of commencing technological work only to find there was a newer and better way to go. We also had to future-roof, over specify, for computing technologies that might arrive many years in the future. The status quo was never an option. We always wanted the next state of the next art.
20,000 years ago, the cave ‘artist’s were among no more than four million humans on the planet. Back then, and until 1700 or thereabouts, the global population was growing by some 0.04% per annum. At Christian calendar year one, the global population was 190 million. That number would only rank a country 8th between Nigeria and Bangladesh today.
In those twenty millennia, the status quo could last a long time before a change was required. Many of these changes were caused by disruptive or ‘black swan’ events, unpredictable outlier events. And not every new development was recognised as significant. For example, the very competitive British Navy took over 50 years to adopt the proven cure of adding citrus to prevent scurvy, losing over 100,000 to scurvy and just 1,500 to combat in the meantime. And after that, American civil war was dogged by scurvy over 120 years after the cure was published. I suggested earlier that not everything happens by design. I also suggest that change can’t happen without re-design.
I’ll continue and conclude this stream in a later journal …
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