By James Strauss
What is it? No one really knows. No one.
Time is one of those things that remain unexplainable within the framework of everyday human existence. It is explained only by analogy. It is spoken of as a function of speed (according to Einstein time slows as speed increases), or as being a result of atomic decay (entropy). Nothing in the known universe improves itself or moves to a higher order. The second law of thermodynamics explains this: all ordered things head inexorably toward disorder. Higher states of matter always degrade to lower states. Time is the single word used to describe the continuing result of this universal process.
But is that all time is?
And in light of the tree falling in the forest conjecture (does a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it make a sound?), observer phenomenon comes into play. Humans divide time into discreet segments called the past (time gone through and over), the present (right this very second), and the future (time to come), but is it that simple? Since human beings are constantly in motion through time, even the present becomes infinitely ephemeral. No human can truly live in the present, because it passes too quickly to be observed. By the time the present is observed it has already gone into the past, and then it’s being considered in what was once the future, but ‘now’ becomes this shifting, moving present. How can humans make sense of anything when life itself is ever shifting, and going by so quickly?
Human beings can stop time. Not physically, but with the power of our minds, with the section of our brain called the neocortex. The passage of order into disorder, and the process of decay described by entropy, never stop. But a human mind, in contemplating these processes, can sit back and reflect on it. In effect, this time of reflection stops time as it allows for recognition of its existence, invisible frame by invisible frame. Reaching absolute zero in temperature would stop the physical process of time’s movement, but all scientists agree that it is impossible to remove all heat from anything. At temperatures of absolute zero, minus 459.67 degrees (exactly) time, and everything else, appears to become unimaginably slow to the participants. Nothing can live at that temperature, so what does it matter? It matters because the human mind not only knows what the temperature is, it can speculate about what time means because of it.
In the real macro world, much warmer than absolute zero and much slower than the speed of light, time flows by unimpeded and is frustratingly difficult to accommodate or understand. Time measurements rule everything in the modern world, yet the partitioning of time is arbitrary, to say the least. Cesium measurements rule modern time. The ‘second’ is the smallest basic segment of time to be measured. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has established the second, as the amount of time radiation would take to go through 9,192,631,770 cycles at the frequency emitted by cesium atoms making the transition from one state to another. Cesium clocks are so accurate that they will be off by only one second after running for 300 million years. That beats the heck out of the systems known to be used prior to the seventeenth century, when time was measured using the movement of the earth and moon alone. For millions of years the only way to measure time at all was to look up, and try to calculate movement in the sky.
Was it better before?
Was it better when everyone (for the most part) went to bed when it was dark and got up when the sun rose in the sky? Evaluating today’s discretely segmented form of living through time is a physically complex, and mentally daunting process. Give or take, humans are given approximately eighty years of what we call life to spend on the planet. Apparently, humans live it all in ways that are relative to 186,000,000 miles per second. Einstein proved that the speed of light is relative to how fast you are going, and what the speed of something you are observing is moving. Einstein did not comment on how everything in the human universe is relative to everything and everyone else.
And it is.
Present day humans are having a hard time accepting that everyone has to fulfill their role as a steward of the planet. They are struggling to recognize that our only hope for long term human existence requires that we act as caretakers of all life forms and environmental components of the planet. It’s all relative, and it’s all interconnected. What is being dumped in the Amazon River, or the Hudson River, or the Yangtze River, is every bit as cogent and important to residents of Lake Geneva, WI, as what is being thrown into Geneva Lake. How one, human treats another human, relationship unknown or non-existent, is just as important as how that human treats a close family member or friend We can move through time without truly having a firm grasp of what time actually is. We should, however, have a clear understanding that we are moving through it, all together, instead of as separate, disconnected units.
After you finish reading this article, it will become either a remembered or forgotten part of your past. The present is simply too fleeting to provide humans much bliss. Only the expectation of a pleasing future, or a pleasurable reminiscence of the past, gives significant bliss, and that is often based more upon belief systems than reality. No one can effectively or consistently predict the future. Humans can only hope, and try and prepare for the future, realizing that in no way is there a guarantee of planned results. Redefine your own sense of bliss to accommodate unpredictability. For the most part, bliss is a state of mind founded upon a belief system only partially erected on a base of past planning, and present results. What do you believe? The most amazing thing about time is that, once truly reflected upon and even with all of its unpredictability, it can be lived in and through with great happiness because beliefs about it, past, present and future, are all changeable through adjustment of those beliefs, changing of perspective and moving relative to something else for observation.
There is time enough for everything.
You must define what the word everything means to you.
Enjoy Jim Croce’s poetry
Your Thoughts about Time