What Is Time, I Wonder?

“Are you in a hurry to achieve something important today? Then slow down, and you probably will.” FitOldDog.

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It doesn't matter how big or accurate a clock we build, I suspect that we cannot capture time.

It doesn’t matter how big or accurate a clock we build, I suspect that we cannot capture time. We just capture the illusion. Photo by FitOldDog.

I consider the questioning of ‘the obvious’ to be a critical component of a full human life on planet earth, as a result of which, from time to time, I find my self wondering about the nature of time.

Watching the hand of a clock turn relentlessly, or the sun rise smoothly in the morning and fall at night, does not mean that time moves in such a continuous, analog manner, it just means that it appears to do so. When the concept of space-time emerged as a feature of the Laws of Relativity my mind bent itself into a pretzel. In fact, I find it easier to visualize n-dimensional space than I do the concept of gravity bending space-time, or gravity in fact being the result of a distortion of space-time.

Einstein's Dreams Book CoverYears ago, I read a fascinating little book entitled, ‘Einsteins Dreams‘, in which he imagined many (I think it was 18, though time has passed and I forget), different kinds of time, including a circular form (think Ground Hog Day). At the time I was busy building an oscillating sphere microrheometer (to measure the properties of mucus), with an intense physicist named Nick. Time and timing played an important role in the construction of this fascinating device, which I enjoyed playing with for hour after hour. In fact, one day I set aside the entire day to just do this, with instructions to all my colleagues to leave me alone (please!) – I worked on calibrating our wonderful machine, using white noise as the input to the toroidal magnet.

I worked, or should I say played, away for hours from early in the morning, until eventually my stomach decided that it was time for lunch. Up I got, somewhat reluctantly, and wandered towards the exit of our small institute, and to my surprise it was dark outside. I checked the time and it was 9:00 pm. – no cell phones! I was late going home, hadn’t eaten for about 14 hours, and I’d had the time of my life. I was completely in the moment, a place with no time – I was living in NOW.

One day I asked my physicist collaborator of several years, “Nick, what do you think about time?” To my surprise he twitched, noticeably, and almost screamed at me, “Don’t talk about it. It drives me crazy!” A couple of months later he fell in love, and disappeared from my life. Hope he had a good time.

Time is passing slowly for Willbe, he's bored! We are having a great time, enjoying a glass of wine and a chat, and time is flying by! So what is actually happening to time itself?

Time is passing slowly for Willbe, he’s bored! We are having a great time, enjoying a glass of wine and a chat, and time is flying by! So what is actually happening to time itself?

In fact, this makes one wonder about the very local point of time called now. Where is it! The study of differential calculus takes you to such a place, where you can calculate with great accuracy the speed of an accelerating aircraft at a moment in time, but at a moment in time it isn’t going from point A to point C, it is sitting, however infinitely briefly, at point B, immobile, in a place where time stands still – NOW. Like canoeing down a river, you look down at your feet and they seem to be immobile with respect to the floor of the canoe. I guess my fellow abdominal aortic aneurysm sufferer, Albert Einstein, got it right when he emphasized the importance of context and coordinate systems in such matters.

For us, and our dog amongst others, time seem to pass quickly when we are entertained and slow to a crawl when we are bored.

So, what is time? I still don’t know. Do you? Is it a wave, or perhaps a ‘particle,’ like the postulated graviton – the chronon perhaps [there it was, to my surprise, in WikiPedia]. Guess I should go read some more physics.

-k @FitOldDog

PS Thank you Andy for the link to that lovely YouTube video on the music machine. Like following the score, but better!



  1. Testing

  2. Testing. I love the picture of Willbe and Deb at the bar.

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.