Sunday, March 14, 2010

Time, the flexible dimension

[From Joel] I was lying in bed this morning noting that the clock somehow had not sprung forward. I lay there thinking about time and in particular about waiting. At the moment, I'm waiting for some oral surgery to heal and anticipating the moment when I can eat some serious solid food. There's nothing like waiting for a wound to heal to turn your attention to how much of our lives are spent in anticipation of a future event.

Generally speaking, I try to avoid waiting. If there's a long line to go to a movie or participate in a buffet, I'll forgo the film or go hungry before I'll wait on line. But, waiting to heal is not something voluntary and sometimes the discomfort doesn't let you do other things that would normally let you ignore the wait. There seem to be at least two approaches to such a situation. Some people "bitch and moan" to pass the time while others just curl into a ball and make the world go away.

We have various interesting expressions concerning waiting. We sometimes call a hobby or a sport like golf a "pastime" from the French "passe temps," literally "pass the time way." Obviously, pastimes are diversions (another French word) which distract the mind from focusing on what seems like the interminable wait until we achieve our end state. The trouble is that sometimes the "diversion" is just that. It relieves the pain of waiting but also postpones or even prevents the achievement of the goal. Beer parties keep one's mind off waiting to complete one's education, but graduation never arrives for many who overindulge. We use the expressions "time marches on" and "time and tide wait for no man." Humans, like most animals and plants, have biological rhythms, known as circadian rhythms, which are controlled by a biological clock and work on a daily time scale. These affect body temperature, alertness, appetite, hormone secretion etc. as well as sleep timing. Our illusion of time slowing down or speeding up in emergencies is at conflict with our biological clock. Or is it?


Ira Glickstein said...

The time dimension is a mystery. It seems so different to us from the three space dimensions. In our experience time goes only one way. Yet, we can run a movie backwards or forwards just as easily.

According to string theory, there are 10 or 11 dimensions, with 6 or 7 "curled up" where we don't experience them. I believe Einstein said time is actually like the space dimensions but we are incapable of seeing it as such.

It takes energy to go up and we regain energy when we go down, yet we can move in the other space dimensions without changing our energy state. How is it that we see the up/down space dimension as the same as the forward/backward or left/right dimensions. Perhaps 2D "flatlanders" would have brains that could not understand that up/down was the same as the other two space dimensions. Are we simply flatlanders once removed?

You mention your "clock somehow had not sprung forward" with daylight savings time. I assume you have an WWVB Radio Controlled Clock that tunes into a low frequency radio signal from WWVB in Ft. Collins, CO.

We have three of them and only the newest one had sprung forward on Sunday morning. The second one jumped forward that afternoon and the third didn't get updated until Monday morning!

As for waiting, I guess those of us who led active work and personal lives are used to meeting all our obligations, so many of which were tied to time. Now that we are retired, the situation is different unless we are active in clubs and other things that are time-sensitive. It used to be that we had to be at our TV set at a certain time for the evening news or for our favorite progams, but now we have TIVO (or DVR cable boxes), or ON-DEMAND cable TV, or Internet TV, and can watch at our convenience.

We now have "all the time in the world" yet we chafe at waiting for a seat at a restaurant, or waiting for our wives to come out of the store, and so on.

What is the rush? In truth, All of us are on a long waiting line for the end of our lives. Those of us retired in The Villages are near the front of that line :^) What is the rush?

Ira Glickstein

Stu Denenberg said...

And how about the expression, "killing time" which usually means doing nothing (important). I remember a relative who when questioned about a particular activity (golf as I recall) replied, "It helps to pass the time" and it saddened me to think that he was wasting his time. The Inuit have an interesting aphorism that sums this up: Tomorrow is Ashes, Yesterday was Wood, Today is Fire.

So, if Life is Motion and Motion is Space traversed over Time then we can say that Space-Time allows Motion. But is it just as plausible that Motion creates Space-Time? Or perhaps both are true in a symbiosis?

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Stu - please grace us with your wise comments more often. (We value them like diamonds. And for the same reason, their scarcity :^)

I've been reading and thinking a lot recently about Space/Time and Energy/Matter. Since I'm retired, I guess you could call this mental masturbation "killing time". All animals are in a long line waiting to pass away and you and I and most of our friends are close to the head.

Time exists only as a measure of the order and relative chronological spacing of change. Thus, Motion causes Time. The Past cannot be changed and the Future is unknown, so we have no choice but to seize the instant "Carpe Diem".

If, as I believe Einstein taught us, Time is the same as the three dimensions of Space and differs only in that we humans and other animals seem to be able to travel in only one direction at a fixed rate along the Time axis, then it is that travel (Motion) that makes Time different from Space.

I try to imagine Time as a Space dimension, perhaps as a stack of frames from a 3D movie. As you move up and down in that stack by running the movie forwards and backwards, causality is maintained and neither direction is harder or easier to attain. Yes, it is strange for us to see the rain fall upwards and the pieces of the cup join together and rise from the tile floor and the custard pie smeared over a face to come together and fly towards the outstretched hand that will catch it, and so on. But, imagine a child, from birth, was allowed to see only backwards movies, would he or she not be amazed at the order of things in what we call real life?

Ira Glickstein