Time is a fascinating and often incomprehensible thing. Our everyday lives are defined by it, our language almost treats it as a physical entity. We find it, we waste it, we make it, we take it, have it, we even kill it. Despite its extreme relevance to our ordinary functioning as humans, we often don’t take the time (I couldn’t think of a better way of saying this) to consider exactly what it is, what it is doing and how we know it is doing it.
In the studies of geology, evolutionary biology and astronomy, time is often referred to a ‘deep’, (a wonderful example of of metaphor in science if I have ever heard one). This term is attempting to come to grips with the shear magnitude of the time we have found to exist. Our seemingly important lives are less than a single atom in the ‘ocean of time’. We give it numbers in this context. Billions of years. In reality I doubt very many people are able to appreciate the significance of this. A billion years is not something our brains were evolved to understand (I am constantly troubled by the fact that I contemplate such weighty topics with a brain that is essentially a really good food detector).
James Hutton (arguably the first modern geologist) said: “…there is not vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.” He was criticized, as he was thought to be implying that time was infinite, but my interpretation is that (like any good scientist) he simply didn’t know about such philosophical matters . He simply knew that time (and by extension Earth processes) was old beyond human reckoning.
Of course, when you move away from such physical sciences and into the realm of physics (ironic really), time becomes a whole lot messier. Some would say that time itself does not exist, that what we experience as time is really just our experience of change. To others time is a dimension, a strange one, unlike the spatial dimensions we are able to sense. It goes in only one direction, it cannot be turned on and off, or shaped by human intervention.
I hope I have given you something to think about, this article is by no means and end to itself, but more of a stimulus for discussion. Please comment if you feel you have something to contribute, but even if you don’t, think twice next time you look at your watch.
Time is an amazing phenomenon, it still strikes me as strange that people are so intent on creating new mystery, replacing their world with imagined ones in an attempt to ‘bring back wonder’ that they claim has been taken by our modern understanding of the world. In reality, their creations could never exceed the wonder and mystery that is our own, rationally revealed world.
That last paragraph was a bit of a personal cause, it can be ignored if you wish.