Time and Tide wait for no man

Link to chapter 12

Time and Tide

By Chris Wilson

We have already seen that our lives are ruled, or partially controlled, by some factors which are which are difficult to comprehend or understand, but of all such factors is there anything more powerful yet more elusive than time? It has no physical parameters, it is beyond sensory detection, we cannot state for certain from whence it comes, and we certainly do not know when or how time might end, yet time, or the concept of time, enslaves us to this day. My aims in this chapter are fourfold, and they run as follows.

First we need to try and define the potential nature of time, in other words just what are we actually looking at. Then we need to look at how our perception of time has changed over the years. After this we will examine how accurate our time measurement capability may be, and then finally we need to assess how we view time to both look at our place in history, and then to see what we do with time on a daily basis. This is going to be a long chapter so grab a seat and settle down, but don’t worry; it is going to be an enjoyable ride.

So, let’s begin at the beginning, what is time? Immediately we are in trouble, as there are so many ways to define time depending on which angle of approach we take to such a subject, but one of the best definitions I have come across runs as follows. Time may be defined as a non-spatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through to the present to the future. This is one heck of a mouthful of a definition and, as we shall soon see, it may well only be part of the story, but let us assume, for the sake of both argument and clarity, that such a definition holds true. If so can we translate such definition into an object or concept that is more readily accessible for us all?

What if we were to visualise a river flowing at a constant speed that we could measure by accepted scientific parameters, but whose point of origin or final destination were possibly beyond our knowledge or comprehension, and whose physical dimensions we were unable to understand. We know that the river has a physical presence, unlike time, but at least we have transcribed such a concept into a physical reality that most of us can comprehend.

If we accept such a parallel, then we need to assess whether we control the river, or whether the river blindly passes all around us, totally unaware of who or what we are. Well we might partially alter its flow by putting in several obstructions, thereby causing a the components of the river to take a little longer to arrive at their final destination, but that is all we can do, as time itself is seemingly blind, and such a continuum generally carries on flowing through the universe without any real recognition of what lies in its path. So it is we have our silently running river that we might term time, how have we viewed such an idea over the millions of years we have been around?

If we look back at our early development evidence is a little thin on the ground, but considering the stock from which we come from, it is very likely we had little perception or need of accurately measured time as out lives were probably regulated in accordance nearly all life around us. On a daily basis we would have regulated our lives by the amount of daylight available, and over the course of the year the four seasons were assessed and recognised by reference to daylight hours, growing seasons, and a whole host of other environmental factors. As such there was no real need for measured time, as we were both attuned to the world around us as well as our own body clocks, so, for a while, it is probable that relative harmony prevailed. Then things began to get a little more complicated, as our lives became busier and our drive to measure, define, and divide or segment time kicked in.

We had no watches of course, such developments took much longer to kick in, but we soon realised that the sun apparently traversed the sky at a certain rate during the day, and that if we created a shadow across a marked dial or surface, an assessment of time could be made in accordance with our known ideas or parameters of time. Thus the sundial and similar devices were born, but there still remained one problem. I was great if it was sunny but come rain, darkness, or cloud and we were in trouble as no shadow was formed.

We are an inventive species though, so we fabricated a whole series of timepieces, beginning with water clocks, until we have come to the present day. Now we often lead impossibly busy lives and our knowledge of body, earth, and space time, let alone our accurate measurement of all three, would astound our ancestors, yet in following such a path, how much more about time do we really know?

Might it be the case that we now perceive time as if we were exploring an ever-expanding cave system, stretching far away into the darkness? Our ancestors know relatively little about the cave, apart from recognising its potential for shelter or harm so, they probably took a chance and did little exploration. Later on we explored the more accessible regions of the cave, but have we now gone deeper into the cave, do we not seek to explore chambers receding into the distance that we may never fully interpret or understand? Even worse are we not drawn irresistibly further back into the cave system where unknown dangers may lie?

This might seem to some to be a fairly negative appraisal but when you look at the way we have appraised time over the years, it is hard to escape such a conclusion. We will come to the difficulty of true time measurement later on, but first of all what do we mean by time. We will look at scientific viewpoints later on so, for the moment, let us turn to philosophy. From such disciplines two opposing theories emerge.

The theory of Newtonian time states that time is a fundamental structure or dimension within our universe, where events occur in sequence as if they were on a string. Opposing theories state that no such container or structure exists within the universe, and that time is an intellectual structure within which we sequence and compare events. So it is that even at such an early stage divisions and problems exist, but such problems of definition are nothing compared to how we assess time when it is divided into the past, the present and the future.

This division has always caused problems and to see why all we need to do is to see what happens when we try and pin down any causal event,  into one of the three categories. Look at what happens if we carry out even the simplest of operations, for example, if we answer a telephone that has just begun to ring, and then after a non-fixed period of time we terminate the call.

Physically we move over to the phone, answer the call, and put the phone down when the call is completed. If, however, we view such an event in light of our past, present, future continuum, then immediate problems arise. The past, to begin with, is relatively simple as, by our current appreciation of events; the past is any action or occurrence that occurred before the phone rang, but events or actions that still had some kind of connection. In order to answer the phone we had to be in earshot of the phone apparatus so, with reference to the event, the room we were in before the call becomes part of the event itself. Then the phone rings and the fun begins. If we look back at the physical sequence are the past, present, and future regions fixed, or do they continually move as soon as the phone rings, let alone as the operation proceeds. Let us say we are on one side of the room and the phone is in the other; when we get up and cross over have we enter the future as pick up the phone and has the area we have just moved from become the past.

If this is the case, and logically it would seem it must be so, then every moment we are going through elements of the process, such elements are continually jumping regions. There is another point to consider though. The phone call finishes, and you resume your seat, but in doing so are you then in the past, the present, or the future, and does it really matter when you have completed the sequence anyway.

If this is the case when such a simple operation is considered just think how much more problematical more detailed operations becomes. However philosophers are still with us, so what might they have to say

From it’s very point of conception Time has been a wonderful thing for philosophers as it has kept them entertained for years. They have an inexhaustible supply to play with, it has earned them pots of money, and when they talk about time they always sound remarkably profound. Philosophers have thought long and hard about time, and theses three subdivisions, and to the outsider all they seem to have done is to tie themselves up in impossibly complicated knots.

However from such depths three strands, by common agreement seem to emerge. Presentists say that only current time is important as the past has gone and immediately the future arrives it automatically becomes the present. The Growing-Block theorists however state that the past and present are real, one emerging from the other, but the future has no role to play, as it will always be an indeterminate or unknown factor. Finally the Block Theorists have their say and they state that the three regions or sub divisions of time are as one, as there are no ontological differences, and that any perceived differences are purely subjective. This last one sounds very confusing at first glance, but basically the advocates of this theory are stating that there is no difference in all three as they come from the same point of origin, and any differences we think we see are a matter of personal interpretation.

This is the most widely accepted theory of all three, which is not at all surprising as it allows for all manner of personal interpretations. It also leads on to the concept that any action in life is pre-recorded on one huge time line that we cannot see, and when events occur we are merely visiting a point on that time line that is already in place. Counter arguments state that that may be ok, but if you initiate a new event upon arrival at the time line, through accident or design, you automatically mess up the time line, so under such circumstances how can a predetermined time line ever exist? This argument like any other philosophical, or higher scientific argument for that matter, goes on forever, and all participants feel absolutely wonderful as it goes on and on.

Whether such matters are of any great relevance to us on a day to day basis will be dealt with later, but now it is time to move on for most of us live in the real world, and we need to know what the time is, rather than what is time. For most of this is simple, we simply look at our wrist watch, phone up the speaking clock, or seek some other device that might indicate the passing of time, yet how accurate are any of these assessments that all of us so routinely take for granted and are they a reflection of real time

To know what time is should we not first recognise a universal standard by which we can judge any other time period that may follow. This is actually quite simple, by name, for it is none other than the simple second that all of us now so well. To most of us it is no more than an inconsequential speck in time that merely precedes more important minutes and hours, yet without this humble little speck of time no other measurements would be possible; so what exactly is a second.  It is actually based on the frequency of radiation release from a Caesium 133 atom, and one second equates to 9,192,631,770 cycles of radiation per second. Even this is not the end of the story for, as of the year 2006, the smallest unit of time is now the Plank unit, who size mass, and mathematical derivation , I will leave others to describe

Mercifully most of us do not need to be directly aware of such deeper considerations, but they are included because they are the basic building blocks of time, and because they demonstrate the degree of accuracy of measurement that science has now achieved. In view of such accuracy it would therefore seem logical to assume that, at long last, we have now conquered time, and the measurement of time.  From such humble beginnings we understand world time by which time across the world is fully co-ordinated, and outside of our planet we measure sidereal time that measures time in relation to distant stars or planets.

The problem is that science has now gone several steps forward, and now casts doubt  on the non variable linear sequence of time, on the starting point of time itself., and even on time itself

When they first began to look at time scientists were very useful, as they gave us measurable time sequences that we use to this day, but now they are singing a very different tune. Now they talk of deviations in fixed rate time due to planetary interference, time stoppage at the centre of black holes, the possibility of parallel universe structures. They waffle on about  the discovery of new matter within our current universe, the effect of relative movement between two or more bodies as defined by Einstein’s laws of special and general of relativity and a host of other such scientific beauties.

Is it not strange however, that having being released from a state of perceived ignorance about time through science, it is now science itself that plunges back into the world of potential uncertainty whereby, it seems, time can travel at variable speeds and be warped through a process called time dilation. If this current trend were to continue where might science lead us to the end, for even if some of this is true, then logically the accurate measurement of time should be impossible.

This might seem a somewhat negative appraisal of time measurement, but currently our assessment of time seems to be based, scientifically, on time commencement with the big bang, and if we chose to hold to such a starting point, we immediately begin to hit problems.

For an explosion to occur there simply has to be something to explode, and if we rule out a sequence of instantaneous creation and destruction, then we have to accept that there was something before the big bang, and that such an article may have had a previous unmeasured time continuum of it’s own. Even if we accept the big bang point of origin how can time be a measurable fixed concept within our known universe, when such a universe is expanding, and when so many variations clearly lie within. If we envisage or give credence to parallel universe structures, how do we fare then?

The answer seems to be not very well, and to see why let us follow a straightforward logical sequence, so we might see where such a sequence leads us to in the end.

We are told that parallel universes may exist alongside our own, we term that brane cosmology models, and that big bangs, created by contact points may occur randomly or periodically, or that time may start randomly here and there as random quantum gravity foam. We are told however that as they are as yet unknown, they are therefore immeasurable and indefinable, but if they do occur they might have their own space-time continuum.

If such structures exist, and if contact, either singular or even multiple, can occur, then might not the time continuum’s coalesce to form a larger body of time; always assuming of course that systems would be compatible. Finally we are told that contact to such foreign structures may be possible at any time, anywhere, and of any distance or duration via structures such as wormholes and other exotic space creatures.

If all this is possible, and scientists will tell you it is possible, then how can they have the temerity to then turn around and state that they can accurately measure time? Under such conditions isn’t even the most potentially accurate calendar and timepiece rendered virtually useless?

How can we possibly state the age of our universe when we are unsure of it’s point of creation, and how can we measure time within such a universe when so many variations might be occurring at any time? In addition do we not seek to define such parallel universe structures by the laws of physics, astronomy, and mathematics that we apply to the universe we are in now? If we have not actually encountered such structures, then how can we assume that all such structures must follow the same rules, and if we allow such an argument, might time within such structures run in an entirely different way?

Is this the end of our story, no not really, as scientific theory now states that time may be reversible in it’s direction, and remember we have already seen that the occurrence of time may only be an illusion within the mind, but if we are to continue talking about time let us assume that time is real. What value is there in what we have been discussing? It may form part of a fascinating discussion that could go on forever, but is it of any value in our day-to-day lives?

For those involved in higher academic or scientific fields such values are both fascinating and vital to the work that they do, and in a sense they are also important to us, as though we might not use such information personally, we undoubtedly find the benefits coming from that research and evaluation very useful. In addition if we regard time as, let us say an apple tree, we have to understand how the roots absorb water and nutrients, so that we may enjoy the fruit that we collect from the branches above. We may not need to see the roots, or the internal structure of the tree as a whole, but if we ignore such hidden basics we would have no apples and therefore we would go hungry. The greatest benefit we all enjoy is the understanding and development of time as a reference point by which we can understand, organise, and control our lives, and it might be argued that time is only a reference point, as it has no real definable quality of it’s own. As such the measurement of time using such a reference point becomes far more important for most of us on a daily basis than the deeper meaning of time itself, and during the rest of this chapter the practical applications from such a reference position will be looked at in more detail. Do we use other reference points in our lives; of course we do, all the time.

What of our perception and understanding of the natural world? How else could we regulate, and then relay units or values of distance, colour, shape, sound, behaviour, and both vocal and body communication? Going on from there, what of our complex man made systems of finance, commerce and trade, and medicine? Could any of these activities exist without specified points of reference within each particular field? So we have our point of reference, what are we going to do with it now? How does it affect our bodies, our perception of inner identity, personal history, and sense of belonging; and how efficiently do we actually use the time we are given or the time that we somehow acquire?

Whatever we decide to do in the world around us, it is fair to say that, unless we are ghosts, we all have a body. Is our body affected by the passage of time, of course it is, for like any other life form we all have a natural life cycle and it is a cycle which runs within us all from the cradle to the grave. We actually have two cycles within us, for in addition to our longer-term life cycle we also have a 24 hr or circadian life cycle, and both run quietly side-by-side. How efficiently such cycles perform are utterly dependent on how we treat our bodies, and current medical advances; and we can describe the relationship between the two such areas as follows.

The better we treat our bodies, and the greater the degree of our self awareness we choose to deploy, the greater the life expectancy we can generally hope to enjoy. Unfortunately we seem to be somewhat masochistically suicidal, or at least careless as regards how we treat our bodies, both physically and at times mentally, and though future medical advances may give us the ability to halt or even reverse such damage, too many years are currently lost through casual or deliberate abuse. This seems to be absurd course for us to follow, especially as so many have both the cognitive power and option to choose, but it seems to be a course that, as a species, we will maintain over the foreseeable future to come

How do we do this in practice, look in an average shopping trolley, or go into a busy stressed work place, the evidence is scarcely difficult to see. Look at the incorrect and junk food we put into our bodies, look at how we poison our bodies through substance and solar energy abuse, and cause irreparable damage over the years. What of the adulterated sleep and other cyclical patterns we deliberately create through not recognising or listening to what our bodies are actually saying?

The stupid thing is that though we all know such cycles are within ourselves, and though we know they are actually very important, we rarely have the honesty to look at the personal damage we cause. We tell others of for such abuse all the time, often at great length and somewhat vociferously, but when we look at our own track record, we suddenly become very blind.

Can we carry on the way we are, certainly we can, there is no law that bans most of our chosen activities, but our lives will be shorter, and we should not be surprised if, in the end, a hard pressed medical practitioner loses patience and tells us of for being so stupid and irresponsible. We wreck our bodies then go to these poor devils expecting sympathy and a cure, only to leave the surgery or hospital bed to probably repeat the whole destructive cycle all over again. If we had no care about how long we lived, our own identity, and our own place in history none of this would matter but for most of us this simply is not so. Let us move on now, and moving outside our physical bodies, let us see who we really think we are, and how important we think we are.

When life is surging forward all around us, and when our bodies, as a total package are doing the same, it seems strange, at first glance, that we constantly look back towards both the past that we know about, and about past times that we have no knowledge of, or contact with, whatsoever.  Might the reason for our actions be as simple as the need to try and regain contact with our roots and ourselves, that has been lost through an exaggerated life growth rate that most of us enjoy today?

We talked earlier of an apple tree bearing fruit that we might enjoy, but what if we are that apple tree, what would happen to us if we suddenly began to grow out of all proportion?  Eventually the roots of the tree would be unable to convey sufficient nutrients to the upper branches, so die back would initially occur, and if the upper weight became too heavy the whole tree might fall as the roots simply might not be able to hold on. If we were that apple tree we could not think about what was going on, and nature would eventually take it’s course, but we do have a powerful mind and, as such, do we not use that mind to re-establish contact with our roots, and to try and evaluate how we are linked to both the past and the possible future, as well as giving us a sense of purpose, self worth, and inner security?

In addition do we not have a curious, if slightly arrogant, belief that somehow our existence is more than mere flesh and bone, and that we have a message or imprint within us, that we need to leave behind when we are gone. Why do I say such an assertion is arrogant? Simply because we have no evidence to say we have the right to claim ownership to such a belief, and because we do not transfer such a belief to any other life form around us. If this is so then how can such a belief be anything else but arrogant?

What is of greater importance though is how we access the past or anticipate the future for, both individually and communally; this seems to form an important part of whom we actually are. I question, at times, the desire for self or individual valuation as once more I think that arrogance or self glorification, might sometimes be an overriding factor, but casting such potential vanities aside, there does seen to be some merit or sensible reason for the efforts we constantly make.

To see how, let us first look back to the past, does such a period or concept serve us well? If we look back at events in history, or at developing life styles we can learn from both our mistakes and achievements, and by carefull evaluation we can decide whether or not certain events should be avoided or incorporated into the world that we know today. Additionally what of those individuals or communities that have been separated from their roots, either by accident or design? Think of those who have been adopted, or those whose roots have been severed through slavery, persecution, or any other form of mental or physical separation.

For such individuals the understanding of the past is absolutely vital as they often do not have the kind of secure past that most of us enjoy, so it is no wonder that so many groups, or individuals within such groups, constantly remember those who have gone before, and in consequence, desperately try to keep such memories alive. Is there any need for such memories to be sustained, surely there is, for do we still not see persecution, human trafficking, and deliberate cruelty that beggars belief? Such memories act as lighthouses that give us hope as we sail the stormy waters of life, and they give us hope and reassurance both now and over the years to come.

As regards the future that is a little trickier. Some of us might have some kind of a message to pass on to those who come, but most of us are of more common stock so, individually, I suspect there is relatively little that we will leave behind. Communally we do stand a better chance for, as we have recognised from studying our past, we can chose to leave a message or imprint that our descendents might chose to follow. They might of course turn their back on us and decline to deem us worthy of any merit or consideration, looking around, such a judgement would not seem to harsh, but let us hope that some consideration might be given.

Whatever the future or past might hold though, let us hope that we eventually find a better way of assessing who we are, and who we want to be. To repeat what I said at the beginning of the section, every other life form is moving forward into a new life to come, should we not be concentrating on doing the same, and though it is possible to do otherwise, most of would like to look ahead of ourselves when we are walking or driving around. In doing so we do at least avoid collisions and neck ache, and maybe we can actually see where we might be going.

Let us come right back to the present day though, how good are we at using the time that is available to us? As ever in life we are both good and bad at doing so, so why don’t we begin with the best side of our nature, it might help to sweeten the pill or the medicine later on. At our best we have a proven track record of utilising the time and space that are available to us a species, in order to achieve a bewildering array benefits over a considerable number of years. In addition most of us, on a daily basis multitask and manage any time available, to organise our lives in a way that a lot of other life forms would find impossible. As regards measurement of time we achieved an astonishing degree of accuracy as the years have rolled by and such technical expertise has brought many rewards to us all, some of which we now completely taken for granted. Not only that we have also, in part, circumvented potential time variations by creating buffer zones around events that have not yet occurred, or around events both in the present or in the past. How often do we state that we are going to meet someone at a specific time, or how often do we relate an event to a specific moment in time? Under such circumstances do we not use such supplementary phrases as “ish”, “ about”, “ there or there about”, or roughly speaking”?

Such phrases may detract from the specificity of time or of an event, but they are, in real life, incredibly useful as, somehow, we all seem to know what they might mean. The degree of efficiency by which we use time is best demonstrated though, if we observe what life would be without such using such reference techniques. If two people go their separate ways for a variable period of time how could they decide to when to meet up later on, or plan how they might wish to communicate during that time, if time, as a reference point, were not used. Let us say both parties agreed to separate at 9.00 am, talk by phone at 1.00pm, and then meet at a specified location at 5.30 pm, how might such detailed plans be relayed?

They could recognise when they separated, they could understand what a mobile phone was, and how it worked, and it would be very easy to specify where they were finally going to meet, but how could they relay a sense of time if they had no reference point to refer to?

We are an ingenious animal so we might track the movement of one object against another, but though this is certainly possible such an exercise would undoubtedly involve much more effort, and of course time. If such a simple operation would be difficult to complete just think of all the other time related operations that are occurring simultaneously and unrecognised all around us. If all current operations known to be regulated by time were to be accessed or run without the use of a common reference point, would our lives not become impossible? Additionally, what if we consider how we use time reference points to evaluate the past. It is true we interpret and evaluate some phenomena or objects in the past without a direct usage of time by usage of known data and cross reference to items we have discovered before, but how often do we rely of carbon dating to truly date any item or event in question, and is not such a system dependent on recognised and referenced time?

If we look back at the last paragraph it would seem that we have all become experts in the use of time, even if we might be confused or even ignorant of what it might actually be. Is this really the case though, or are we actually at a disadvantage to our ancient ancestors who roamed the world millions of years ago

If we look at the complexity and intricacy of nature, measure the number and complexity of certain tasks we often achieve in a given period of time, and if we compare our progress as a species over the centuries, our advancement cannot be denied. At what cost though, and if the rest of life had a voice, or a choice in such matters, what would they say about our progression? Additionally would they wish to follow the example we have set them? I am sure that some, if not most, of those questioned, would love to have the power we enjoy, as it would make their life and survival chances very much higher than they would otherwise enjoy, yet a soft murmur of disquiet might follow. Might they say that, in our race to utilise available time to the full, we often ignore the messages that our bodies are giving us, and additionally ignore the softer, older, natural cycles that surround us all. Might they also point out how we miss so much beauty that lies, ready and available, all around us, but then how can we see such things when our lives are so busy, and when we are so swiftly racing around in our cars and planes?

It would be hard to refute such allegations, and if we do end up suffering as a result of our own stupidity we have only ourselves to blame. It is a curious position we find ourselves in though, for the further and faster we go the, less that most of us seem to see, and even when such sights are available we often find ourselves duplicating our lives in a new environment, as we simply cannot find time to change the way we act or think. Under such circumstances what is the point of all our hard work if we fail to comprehend what is there for all to see?

Outside of such issues think of how strangely we view any time we have available? Under the influence of various hallucinogenic or other psychoactive substances do we not lose track of time, and even if our minds are clear is not our perception of time dependent on what we see in front of us.  Time always seems to move too quickly if we see somebody or something we find attractive, but all too slowly if we to sit upon a hot stove or on any other undesirable object! Think of how we claim ownership of time that can never be, and will never be ours to own, and how we often try and store such time for use at a later time or date. We all do it without thinking, when we say to someone

“ Do that later in your own time, you are in my time now, so …!”.

How often do we scrabble to gain time at the beginning of a journey, only to waste time at our journeys end? Even if we minimise such a journey time to the full, what do we do then? Most of us I suspect would traipse around our homes wasting all the time, and more, that we had saved, and if such a lack of activity were questioned, what would most of us say?

Would we not say that we simply did not have the time to do any jobs in question, and that; as a result, such failure could not be deemed to be our fault? Worst of all though is the damage that we cause to those we love due to neglect through the pressure of our busy lifestyle. Our partners, our children, our friends, they all suffer because we cannot give them time, and what of others in the shadows who, if we gave them the opportunity, would come into the light and greet us with warmth, love and a smile, three things that we all love to receive? There is sufficient time for all of us to use, it is our choice as to how utilise such an opportunity, and with the brain and mind we have been given, we only have ourselves to blame when we get it wrong.

At the end of the last chapter we stated that time was ticking and, should time ever actually tick, it certainly isn’t stopping now. New voices are whispering in our ear and they are the voices of the bank manager and the utility services, and both of them demand payment as soon as we can. To pay them we must earn some money and, for most of us, that means going to work This is where we head off for now, to the glorious world of work, that oh so wonderful world we all so enjoy.

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