Friday, July 9, 2010

It's About Time

Given my interest in the philosophy of time, the following strikes me as especially intriguing.

Previous to 1883, almost every city (and even some villages) had no standardized time of which to go off, so those traveling across the country by train would have to reset their watches to the local time as many as 200 times on a single trip, in order to keep up with schedules. However, on November 18, 1883, the Railroad imposed a uniform time to which all stations must adhere. These were the four standardized time-zones that we still have today. Not soon after, the rest of the world followed suit and 24 time-zones in all were imposed, separating the different regions on the Earth. Until then, time - in its most elementary, and commonsense notion - was relative.

And the recent earthquake (2010) in Chile has reminded us once again about the relativity of time. The quake was so powerful, in fact, that it altered the Earth's axis - only to a miniscule degree, but nonetheless, enough that it shorted the Earth's days by a measurable amount (about 1.26 nanoseconds). See that story HERE.

Nevertheless, we are reminded just how dependent our conception of time is on the surrounding (albeit expansive) environment. Indeed, the Mayans had a different notion of time than we have - a much more complex notion at that. The commonsense view perceives time as linear, one dimensional, and asymmetrical. The scientific view holds that time is meshed with space, inseparable, and in some aspects probably not as asymmetrical as our simple minds comprehend it to be.

Needless to say, I find the concept of 'time' to be very fascinating. And I wonder if better understanding the nature of the universe will force us to eliminate time (and space) from our ontology altogether.

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