We are a young and arrogant species. Throughout our short span of antiquity we have observed our world and tried to comprehend its meaning. Some of us observe and say, “This is so!” these are the philosophers, the governors, and the clergy. Others observe and ask “Why?” these are the scientists, the engineers, the architects, and explorers. For the “why” askers the ability to quantify and calculate the measurable elements that govern the behaviors in our existence is paramount. In their effort to try to understand and predict events in our world the “why” askers have taught us the concept of measurement. To measure something we have derived a simple comparative process. We devise something, a scale, a device, an equation; we then call this a unit, and compare what we experience against that unit to determine how many units we now have. This theory works well as long as the unit you describe is unchanged by time or the elements, universally understood, and clearly definable for everyone everywhere.
In our own simple “third rock from the sun” mentality we have derived all of our units of measure from earthly constants. A pound, a gram, a degree, a foot, a meter, or a second; these we have come to understand and have attempted to standardize and make “universal”. Over time we have changed the standards, English to Metric, Fahrenheit to Celsius, and yet these standards remain based on a system that only the inhabitants of this planet, the solar system where our planet resides, or the galaxy that our solar system inhabits would understand. Where our planet exists in the universe time is a constant. This may or may not be true for other parts of our own galaxy, but time seems immutable where we live.
In our world time simply “is”. Anything that has a beginning and an end has time inherently embedded in it. Every unit that we have defined as a species to measure some aspect of our lives has time associated with it. We have come to understand that time is the delta between the beginning and the end from one moment to the next. A second, a minute, an hour earthly, man-made units for sure, but they can be measured with accuracy and each one of us has the ability to say when the unit begins and when it ends. We can then answer the question of “How long?” and reproduce that length of time again.
Our lives are filled with annuals, bi-annuals, seasons, and change. Each person has a beginning and an end which happens to be approximately 70 to 80 revolutions around the sun, that’s it! We call this a lifetime. I suggest that time, whatever it is, exactly, is still undefined to us in the universal scheme of things, but it exists. Like rays of infrared light, we cannot readily see them, but they exist and we have come to understand their source and meaning. Perhaps time is the simplest form of energy in the universe. As energy it exists in that moment and then is exhausted used up and expelled as events, purpose and meaning. Without time we could not get from one moment to the next. Without time would everything cease to function? Perhaps the Big Bang was something winding the universal energy clock, and swinging the universal time pendulum. What happens when we run out of time?
The problem with time is not whether it exists or doesn’t exist. The problem with time is that we are limited by our human perceptions and beliefs. Drawn by a sparkling star, we insist on knowing where it is. We agree to use time to understand. According to our time calculations, this star is one hundred million light years away. We all agree this makes sense. Except, we’re looking at a star when it existed at that time. The star no longer exists in our time frame. We’re looking at a picture conjured by human thoughts in an attempt to understand what is no longer there.
The concept of time has no foundations. Humans believe in time because we remember the past and fantasize the future. “Live in the moment of now” is the catch phrase of the day. Please show me the moment of now and I will live there. The second I look for the moment of now, it has passed. Capturing this moment frustrates us, because it’s not possible. Outside forces alter our now, and we struggle to fit the mismatched pieces into our moment. This time concept laughs at our inane attempts to control it. We’re prisoners of our imaginings.
We worship time, but abuse it. We break our rules of time ruthlessly, even as we are governed by it. Who cries foul?
The familiar story of the time difference between doctor and patient illustrates this quixotic conception of time. If your doctor’s appointment is at three pm and the doctor sees you an hour later, why label time? Doesn’t the doctor know three pm is not four pm? Doctors break the rules of time and we forgive them. The doctor heals the ill, his crime justified. The frantic receptionist labels her hour as disaster, attempting to control the angry patients. Our friendly receptionist accepts the doctor’s fracture of time because her time is paid for. The patient, or you and I, experience this hour in our world of misery. When it comes down to it, three pm isn’t three pm at all. It’s a container of emotions.
Why do we use time? Did we establish rules to slow down the pace of life to compensate for human intervention on nature? We all want equal time to abuse this planet. In the simpler days of farming, people worked from before dawn to dusk. Work was plentiful and everyone labored according to the rules of the moon and sun. As our population swelled, we required more time. Sunrise to sunset no longer served us. We drew tighter lines of time, giving more people a chance to work. Eight hour days standardized the work force. The continuing growth of population soon choked on the eight hours and time was further delineated.
Now, we have twenty four hour stores, swing shifts, night shifts and part-time working hours. Adding confusion to perceptions, what prompted us to add global time lines, or spring ahead, only to fall behind the next year? My mind and body puzzle over this bizarre change of time, crying out, “What do you mean we’re not getting up at seven am?” “No,” I tell it, “seven am is eight am today.”
Close to the equator, time changes confuse children. An eight pm bedtime last night made sense. The soft blanket of dark comforts and reminds them play time is over. Try telling a five year old to go to sleep when we spring ahead. Seven pm is now eight pm. “The sun is still up Mommy”, they wail. Time is nonsensical and stressful to mothers. Surely confusing children and upsetting mothers is a crime of time.
What strange entities are we, allowing the imaginary goddess of time to rule us? Remember how the doctor thinks three pm is four pm? What if we die while we’re waiting? At the autopsy, the coroner determines the cause of death, “Time.” What if we have to stand on trial for abusing time? “Your honor, I said I had time to kill before my appointment. I didn’t really kill it, I only thought of it.” The judge asks you “Where is the time if you didn’t kill it? We have eyewitness swearing they watched you waiting with time on your hands. This jury finds you guilty of premeditated murder in the first degree. You are sentenced to ten years in jail creating time to replace the time you killed.”
Does time exist? Believing in time breathes life into time. We create time to live and die within it. We experience time and it changes us. Yes, time exists. The problem is, we messed up when we defined it. Time is not about a clock with hands and the passing of days. Time is emotion. We are time.