Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Time
September 1, 2011 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Time.
posted by empath (131 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite

 
Your memory isn’t as good as you think.

Holy crap, um... wait, what?
posted by doctor_negative at 4:02 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


4. You live in the past. About 80 milliseconds in the past, to be precise.

And, apparently we live in the future, too, since our brains have to be anticipating that more data is coming in order to force the 80ms lag to wait for data that hasn't come yet in order to compile and tell us what's going on, a la the "touch your nose and your toes" test that proves the above statement.

This concept alone is amazing to me. The mind, it is boggled.
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:04 PM on September 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Your memory isn’t as good as you think.

It's true. Did you see the gorilla?
posted by loquacious at 4:06 PM on September 1, 2011 [13 favorites]


They didn't even mention the print version of Time.
posted by GuyZero at 4:07 PM on September 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


It's on my side. Yes it is.
posted by Abiezer at 4:11 PM on September 1, 2011 [20 favorites]


Remarkably, there exist simple scaling laws relating animal metabolism to body mass. Larger animals live longer; but they also metabolize slower, as manifested in slower heart rates. These effects cancel out, so that animals from shrews to blue whales have lifespans with just about equal number of heartbeats — about one and a half billion, if you simply must be precise.

LOVE KILLS! ALSO EXERCISE! But Web surfing alone in the dark is forever. Join usssssss!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:11 PM on September 1, 2011 [10 favorites]


It also keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin', into the future.
posted by koeselitz at 4:12 PM on September 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


And this is also part of the many reasons why eyewitness testimony is not a reliable form of evidence. All of our perceptions including sight have bugs, glitches, artifacts and quirks. There's an inherent lag to our perception. Some of them are physical bugs like how long it takes light to be converted to a nerve signal and transmitted, or the inherent resolution of our retinas. Some of them are software bugs in how that data is interpreted, handled and massaged for consumption by our brain. There are filters and guessing algorithms that help make sight less computationally expensive and overwhelming to the brain. Some of that processing happens right in the retina and optic nerve, some of it happens in the brain.

Throw time into all of that and it gets even more confusing and unreliable.
posted by loquacious at 4:12 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Time exists

I'd like to slap every coffeehouse-philosopher, contrarian-hipster, pseudo-libertarian-know-it-all I've ever met right over the bloody head with this one. Over and over and over again.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:13 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Time....why you punish me?
posted by fijiwriter at 4:15 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


the number of heartbeats bit reminds me of the famous Neil Armstrong quote:

I believe that the Good Lord gave us a finite number of heartbeats and I'm damned if I'm going to use up mine running up and down a street."
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 4:15 PM on September 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


I'd like to slap every coffeehouse-philosopher, contrarian-hipster, pseudo-libertarian-know-it-all I've ever met right over the bloody head with this one. Over and over and over again.

It really, really, truly is possible that time does not exist, depending on how you mean by 'time'.
posted by empath at 4:16 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


err.. WHAT you mean by.. i was going to say 'how you define...'
posted by empath at 4:16 PM on September 1, 2011


It also depends on how you define "define."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:17 PM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Time ain't got nothing to do with how high you can count"--Anthrax
posted by Renoroc at 4:18 PM on September 1, 2011


It's wibbly-wobbly.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:19 PM on September 1, 2011 [10 favorites]


There is a really great Morris Day joke hiding somewhere in this post, but I'll be damned if I can find it.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 4:19 PM on September 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


My lover looks strangely like Time the Avenger.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:20 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


This after reading xkcd for awhile has broken my brain.

It also keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin', into the future.

Now I have a broken brain with that damn song playing over and over again.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:21 PM on September 1, 2011


I remember reading once that when you remember something, you don't remember the actual event. Instead you remember your last memory of it. Always makes me wonder how much of my past is entirely imaginary at this point.
posted by Go Banana at 4:22 PM on September 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


Remarkably, there exist simple scaling laws relating animal metabolism to body mass. Larger animals live longer; but they also metabolize slower, as manifested in slower heart rates. These effects cancel out, so that animals from shrews to blue whales have lifespans with just about equal number of heartbeats — about one and a half billion, if you simply must be precise.

70 x 60 x 24 x 365.25 x 70 = 2 577 204 000.

Lucky us.
posted by jamjam at 4:27 PM on September 1, 2011


Always makes me wonder how much of my past is entirely imaginary at this point.

All of it, I am pretty sure. I think that time may exist in some measurable sense, but we can only ever perceive the instant of the present. You can't do anything in the past or future; you can't sense anything in the past or future; choosing between memory and imagination is futile, etc. "there’s a real sense in which time moves more quickly when we’re older." pretty much erases the idea of "time exists" unless you are going to get funny with both "time" and "exists."
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:28 PM on September 1, 2011


"The Wave Harmonic Theory of historical perception, in its simplest form, states that history is an illusion caused by the passage of time, and that time is an illusion caused by the passage of history." -- Douglas Adams
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:28 PM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


4. You live in the past. About 80 milliseconds in the past, to be precise.

And, apparently we live in the future, too, since our brains have to be anticipating that more data is coming in order to force the 80ms lag to wait for data that hasn't come yet in order to compile and tell us what's going on, a la the "touch your nose and your toes" test that proves the above statement.

This concept alone is amazing to me. The mind, it is boggled.


Gets even better than that, in fact. Here's an excerpt from an email I sent last year.
It takes time for our brains to process light. And it also takes time for them to process sound. BUT, because our auditory cortex is right next to our ears, and because it doesn't have to worry about any spatial aspects of sound (in the way that visual cortex has to, mapping each rod and cone to a bit of brain), sound gets processed faster than light! Considerably faster, in fact - sound gets to the brain in a usable form in a couple of milliseconds, but it's well over 50ms before light's finished getting there.

Pretty cool in itself, but now you have to factor in the point that light travels faster than sound to get to us. So, there's a point where the delay in sound reaching the ears EXACTLY CANCELS OUT the delay in visual processing, so that sound and light coming from that point will reach the brain at exactly the same time. It's called the "horizon of simultaneity", and it's about 10 metres from your body. In other words, you have an invisible ring around your body at all times, and if anyone is standing on it they're being extraordinarily kind to the bit of your brain that works very hard matching sound to light. So give them a cookie or something if they stand there.
My personal claim to internet fame is that this particular email was one I sent to Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics fame, and he then went right ahead and used it in a comic the next week. The internet is awesome.
posted by ZsigE at 4:29 PM on September 1, 2011 [95 favorites]


Your memory isn’t as good as you think.

and the things you can't remember
tell the things you can't forget,
that history puts a saint in every dream...
and it's time, time, time.

It's time.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:29 PM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Time is an illusion... lunchtime doubly so." - D. Adams
posted by HannoverFist at 4:31 PM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


From the OP"s link:" ...5. Your memory isn’t as good as you think. When you remember an event in the past, your brain uses a very similar technique to imagining the future. The process is less like “replaying a video” than “putting on a play from a script.”


Hamlet: I.v: "Remember thee! Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat in this distracted globe...."

(Actually the whole of that speech is amazingly apt. Whole effing play, actually!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 4:34 PM on September 1, 2011


You're older than you've ever been, and now you're even older
And now you're even older
And now you're even older

You're older than you've ever been, and now you're even older
And now you're older still.

posted by briank at 4:34 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is a really great Morris Day joke hiding somewhere in this post, but I'll be damned if I can find it.

10 Things About Morris Day:


1. Morris Day exists.
2. You and Morris Day are equally real.
3. Everyone like Morris Day differently.
4. Morris Day's hits are in the past.
5. Morris Day isn't as good as you think (ed: he's better)
6. Morris Day depends on manipulating the Time
7. Funkiness increases as Marris Day passes.
8. Morris Day's popularity comes and goes.
9. Play "Jungle Love" backwards and you'll heard "Sympathy for the Devil".
10. Morris Day's lifespan is a million time cooler than yours.
posted by GuyZero at 4:35 PM on September 1, 2011 [13 favorites]


I think I'd need really long arms to give someone a cookie ten metres away.
posted by edd at 4:36 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with memory is even worse than loquacious realizes. It's not just that our memories are beset by glitches and false perceptions; it's that after those images beset with glitches and false perceptions reach the hippocampus, they are recorded as the equivalent of hastily penned post-it notes. But when we retrieve them an internal stagemaster reproduces the lost detail for us with a vividness that seems real but has nothing to do with reality.
posted by localroger at 4:36 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Time is an illusion... lunchtime doubly so." - D. Adams"

Time is an illusion... free lunchtime doubly so." - R. Heinlein
posted by jamjam at 4:37 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


New 'Time' To Keep Everything From Happening At Once
CAMBRIDGE, MA–On what is now known as "Monday," a team of MIT scientists unveiled "time," a revolutionary new event-sequencing protocol which organizes phenomena along a four-dimensional axis, preventing everything from taking place at once. "No longer will the extinction of the dinosaurs, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the Earth-Xabraxiq Pod Wars all collapse into a single point," theoretical physicist Dr. Lawrence Chang said. "With time, we can now contextualize each of the universe's infinite number of occurrences in its own spatial-temporal plane, creating order where there once was chaos." Added Dr. Erno Toffel: "Using time, one event can be positioned chronologically so as to be the cause of another. For example, a man's death may result in a gun being fired at him. Or the other way around. We're still working out some of the kinks."
posted by Rhaomi at 4:37 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Unreality of Time.
posted by mek at 4:39 PM on September 1, 2011


Remarkably, there exist simple scaling laws relating animal metabolism to body mass. Larger animals live longer; but they also metabolize slower, as manifested in slower heart rates. These effects cancel out, so that animals from shrews to blue whales have lifespans with just about equal number of heartbeats — about one and a half billion, if you simply must be precise.

70 x 60 x 24 x 365.25 x 70 = 2 577 204 000.

Lucky us.


Without modern healthcare the average human age would be right around the 1.5 billion mark, I reckon...

My plan is to eat as little as possible, perform as little physical exertion as possible.
posted by xdvesper at 4:42 PM on September 1, 2011


Now I have a broken brain with that damn song playing over and over again.

It's really fun when it gets stuck on skip and goes "Time keeps on slippin' slippin' slippin' slippin' slippin' slippin' slippin' slippin' slippin' slippin' slippin' slippin' slippin' slippin'..." but that might just be the infernal sampler that's in my head next to the record player.
posted by loquacious at 4:43 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


"You ladies don't seem to realize how valuable my time is. You're going to make my boys look bad!"

-Morris Day
posted by clavdivs at 4:43 PM on September 1, 2011


You're older than you've ever been, and now you're even older/And now you're older still. [TMBG]

"One time, this guy handed me a picture of him. He said, 'Here's a picture of me when I was younger.' EVERY picture is of you when you were younger. 'Here is a picture of me when I'm older.' 'You son-of-a-bitch! How'd you pull that off? Lemme see that camera... what's it look like?'" -Mitch Hedberg.
posted by The Bellman at 4:45 PM on September 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


now loq, a hearty 'odi-odi-o' should counter that.
posted by clavdivs at 4:45 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is a really great Morris Day joke hiding somewhere in this post, but I'll be damned if I can find it.

Aw, don't worry: people are posting shitty jokes in this thread, not good ones.
posted by yerfatma at 4:49 PM on September 1, 2011


#2: "the past and future are equally real"... implicit in this is a deterministic worldview. So, you might want to take it with a grain of salt, if free will is kind of your thing.

6. is also obviously flawed; I think they mean to say a crucial feature of consciousness is manipulating experience of time, which is at the same time obvious and totally not what they ended up saying... it does not actually manipulate time, though it does kind of cheat it. Karl Pribram did a lot of interesting work on this feature of consciousness - to extremely briefly state his findings, in the simian/human brain, our consciousness is plotting approximately six simulations of the next expected 300ms, and can select one as needed with the 80ms delay they mentioned - which makes us effectively react 220ms faster than would otherwise be possible. Except in the event where we fail to predict, and then we fall back a standard 300ms response time. Regardless of the sequence of events, consciousness allows us to perceive anything in this 300ms window as being immediate.

They also totally skipped the relativity of simultaneity (though hinted at it in #3), which is really too bad because it's IMHO the coolest consequence of relativity theory.
posted by mek at 4:50 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Without modern healthcare the average human age would be right around the 1.5 billion mark, I reckon...

Yeah. I did the math on this and I should be quite dead by now.
That said, more beer!
posted by Floydd at 4:51 PM on September 1, 2011


Time is too slow for those who wait
and time is too swift for those who fear
Time is too long for those who grieve
and time is too short for those that laugh
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:52 PM on September 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I looked up the word "Time" in a dictionary when I was young:
"A measured succession of events, which can be quantified."
posted by ovvl at 4:52 PM on September 1, 2011


Huh, I was thinking about posting this article that explains the basics of what physicists think they know about time.

It's part of this series which looks at other time-related questions.

Plus seems like a pretty cool magazine.
posted by codacorolla at 4:53 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


My favorite how-we-think-about-time-related trivia is how in the Aymara language, the future is behind you while the past is ahead of you. Just as we'd gesture behind ourselves to indicate something that happened in the past, they'd do this to indicate something that has not yet happened.

As the wiki states, "possibly, the metaphor is that the past is visible to us (in front of our eyes), while the future is not." That just makes so much sense explained that way; it shook my faith in the whole "the past is behind" thing the first time I heard it (and I wasn't even high!).
posted by lesli212 at 4:58 PM on September 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Peter Lorre recites Truman Capote in Beat The Devil:

"Time. Time. What is time?
Swiss manufacture it.
French hoard it.
Italians squander it.
Americans say it is money.
Hindus say it does not exist.
Do you know what I say?
I say time is a crook."

posted by ovvl at 4:58 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


"You mean those guys from that Prince movie?"
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:59 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


But when we retrieve them an internal stagemaster reproduces the lost detail for us with a vividness that seems real but has nothing to do with reality.

And we re-record every time we recall a memory. Generally not a good thing, but is a great thing to be able to modify bad or harsh memories from overly affecting us.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:06 PM on September 1, 2011


Fun Fact: Everyone who made a joke about Morris Day is over 35
posted by empath at 5:10 PM on September 1, 2011 [19 favorites]


the number of heartbeats bit reminds me of the famous Neil Armstrong quote:

I believe that the Good Lord gave us a finite number of heartbeats and I'm damned if I'm going to use up mine running up and down a street."

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:23 PM on September 1, 2011


That earlier comment of mine was supposed to mention that Armstrong's heartbeat was quite low on launch, but when it came to landing on the moon it was somewhere around 160.

Also: he and Armstrong dumped out a lot of trash from the Lunar Module before they took off. Each of them threw out two condom like devices (four total) which were part of the waste system of the space suit, allowing them to urinate while wearing the suit. Two of the four devices were of the large size. The other two were the small size.

Now you have the rest of your life to figure who wore which size.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:29 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think I'd need really long arms to give someone a cookie ten metres away.

Just throw the cookie at them. Human brain is amazing enough to take in the cookie's flight path, calculate the trajectory, and catch the cookie safely. It will be over before1 you know it!

180 milliseconds before
posted by vidur at 5:30 PM on September 1, 2011


Time is a concept by which we measure our pain.


wait
posted by Sailormom at 5:34 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Vulnerant omnes, ultima necat" is really the only thing you need to know about time, to be honest. The rest is details.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:38 PM on September 1, 2011


4. You live in the past. About 80 milliseconds in the past, to be precise.

This is canceled out by the fact that objects are closer than they appear.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:43 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd like to slap every coffeehouse-philosopher, contrarian-hipster, pseudo-libertarian-know-it-all I've ever met right over the bloody head with this one. Over and over and over again.

I don't think McTaggart was a libertarian, but I admit I don't know much about his politics.

I'd be very surprised to learn that he wore skinny jeans, though.
posted by kenko at 5:50 PM on September 1, 2011


Missed one.

i ) TimeCube
posted by sammyo at 6:16 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Time exists

Twaddlesticks. What exists is chunks of matter bumping around in space, at rest or moving WRT us. Desperate for some gloss that makes sense of it -- disillusioned by the dissipation of previous grandiloquently trumpeted Absolutes -- we seize, like parched desert wanderers on a wet spot, on any periodicity ... dripping water, rotating orbs, sand sifting through tiny artifacted slots, photons leaping from gaoled atoms ... again crying Hallelujah! The Absolute is with us!

Quantum gravity? Oh sure, throw those two conundrums about which we know next to nothing together to see what sticks. That should be far enough off in the future to allow us a couple more centuries of surcease from our existential plight.

Sorry Pythagoreans: as far as I can see it's been NOW all my life. Metrificating bean-counters rushing about space with dry-markers notwithstanding. My furry mammal brain suspects that somewhere out in the universe is an inhabited planet surrounded with so many stars that noone has ever suspected periodicity. Or magical redeeming Higgs bosons.
posted by Twang at 6:18 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]



I've been loved and put aside
I've been crushed by tumbling tide
And my soul has been psychedelicized
Now the time has come
There are things to realize
Time has come today

= = =

Time is too slow for those who wait
And time is too swift for those who fear
Time is too long for those who grieve
And time is too short for those that laugh
posted by Herodios at 6:32 PM on September 1, 2011


Okay, now let me try.

You have also always been HERE all your life. Ergo, space does not exist.

You have also always been YOURSELF all your life. Ergo...

(Am I doing this right?)
posted by perspicio at 6:33 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Time is the fire in which we burn.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:53 PM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Time is the oil in which we deep fry a turkey.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:54 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


And we re-record every time we recall a memory. Generally not a good thing, but is a great thing to be able to modify bad or harsh memories from overly affecting us.

As I once wrote (and no, it's not the perhaps overly hyped whatchamacallit)
And what did we find? You were amazing! You were so pointlessly complicated! And yet it wasn't pointless; you were amazingly robust. And the forgetting! You see, our kind never forget anything. It's part of our design, and it's why we eventually have to die. Eventually we know so much we can no longer collate it all. But you deal with the problem in a way that both terrifies and fascinates us. You have lived subjectively and continuously a hundred times longer than any of us, yet you hardly remember any of it! We cannot imagine living in such ignorance of our own existence, yet we have to admit it's an elegant and workable compromise.
posted by localroger at 6:55 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I keep time in a bottle. And words can make wishes come true.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:55 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:01 PM on September 1, 2011


Time, time, time, see what's become of me.
posted by Floydd at 7:05 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


According to number 10, I, with my runner's 60BPM will die at 47 if I sit calmly for the rest of my life. Did I do it wrong?

(60beats)*(60minutes)*(24hours)*(365days)=31,536,000 heartbeats in a year

1,500,000,000/31,536,000=47.56?
posted by cmoj at 7:08 PM on September 1, 2011


IF YOU LIKE TIME and reading about what makes you perceive time differently, you might like the book A Geography of Time by Robert Levine.

I've been meaning to read Sean Carroll's book about time too, and I have it on my Kindle, but I haven't... had the time... man, sometimes life puns you right in your face and it just sucks.
posted by Nattie at 7:09 PM on September 1, 2011


It also keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin', into the future.

One thing I've learned through the radio stations that get played at my office is that if it's not Miller time right now, it will be soon, and then it will be again before you know it. It's incredible how many of that guy's songs are still in heavy rotation, and by incredible I mean for the love of god please make it stop!
posted by Balonious Assault at 7:28 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


But... but... he's the SPACE COWBOY!

Well, anyway, some people call him that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:35 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was ready for that.

I actually do like his music, just not incessantly. What really amazes me is that while I wouldn't necessarily include him with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, the amount of airplay he gets puts him squarely in the same league with them.
posted by Balonious Assault at 7:46 PM on September 1, 2011


Oh, I agree, entirely. His stuff is pleasant enough and all, but you're spot on in your assessment: he gets waaay more airplay on all those classic rock stations than his music merits, IMO.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:54 PM on September 1, 2011


3. Everyone experiences time differently.

I like this one. Reminds me of a theory I have about sports players being "in the zone". While they are in the zone, I would suspect they are consciously processing external stimuli at a rate much higher than a normal player. They are simply aware of more things. This awareness of so many details causes time to seem to slow down - for example, their mind is so attuned to the opposing player's body movement that he seems to "slow down" and they can react / perform with increased ease and precision.

Goes right into my other theory: If increasing awareness equals slowed perception of time, then striving for complete awareness is striving for mortality.

This is almost just saying, "continuous awareness = immortality", which as far as we know is trivially true (i.e. perpetual consciousness = immortality), but it's useful to think about.
posted by 3FLryan at 8:19 PM on September 1, 2011


Hit post too soon.

Adding to what I wrote above, it is useful to think about because:

Let's say life is like a sports game. If we concentrate on increasing our awareness, or increasing our consciousness, we can get "in the zone". Maybe we can get a little further in the zone. And a little further. And a little further. Until we perceive everything, and time stops.

Maybe this is akin to what some meditators call "nirvana".
posted by 3FLryan at 8:25 PM on September 1, 2011


err from above: "striving for complete awareness is striving for IMmortality"
posted by 3FLryan at 8:27 PM on September 1, 2011


for example, their mind is so attuned to the opposing player's body movement that he seems to "slow down" and they can react / perform with increased ease and precision

To imagine it another way, think about analogue vs digital.

A person not in the zone (you or me) would look at a guy running and see choppy bits that we form into a complete picture by tricks of the mind - a digital solution. We concentrate on the bits we perceive and fill in the gaps. A player "in the zone" would see the guy running in a more analogue way - that is, his mind would have less bits to fill in - and his increased perception increases his performance and slows down his relative time (hey, he's processing more stuff!).

Gosh I love thinking about this stuff.
posted by 3FLryan at 8:34 PM on September 1, 2011


11. Comedy = Tragedy + Time
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:39 PM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Re number nine and immortality: "Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. - Susan Ertz "
posted by IndigoRain at 9:12 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


striving for complete awareness is striving for immortality

Yes, but wouldn't that immortality simply be the hell of an eternal frozen moment?

I'm reminded of Borges' horror story "Funes the Memorious", about a guy who remembers everything, or a silly story I wrote in college equating Death with the event horizon of a black hole...
posted by jet_manifesto at 9:12 PM on September 1, 2011


I live in the future.

Re number nine and immortality: "Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. - Susan Ertz "

So? I'd rather that than death.

The best song about time
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:22 PM on September 1, 2011


I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:24 PM on September 1, 2011


The best song about time

Sorry, LIB, I beat ya to that one upthread!

Let the good times roll!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:44 PM on September 1, 2011


...he flexes like a whore / Falls wanking to the floor


Also, anytime someone draws a diagram with a light cone projecting into the future, I think "well show me light traveling into the future and we can talk"
posted by lumpenprole at 9:51 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem 3FLryan, with your theory is the actual mechanics a person needs to execute. You hear it all the time from people when they drop something valuable or when they someone gets into a fight. They can often recount every minute detail of the event as it may have happened in slow motion, but they couldn't do a thing about it. There is always a stimulus and processing lag. Superb athletes usually have the gift of acting on very little data before it's to late, so to speak. It's why a counterpuncher boxer doesn't necessarily need to be good or in the zone, just quick.
posted by P.o.B. at 9:59 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


"As one biologist told me: “You and I won’t live forever. But as for our grandkids, I’m not placing any bets.”"

This is pretty much the most depressing thing I can think of. To be part of the last generation of people for whom life is finite. So close and yet so far.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:04 PM on September 1, 2011


This is pretty much the most depressing thing I can think of. To be part of the last generation of people for whom life is finite. So close and yet so far.

Actually, I find the idea of infinite human life far, far more depressing. Nightmarish.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:10 PM on September 1, 2011


Actually, I find the idea of infinite human life far, far more depressing. Nightmarish.

Obviously we disagree. I can't help but think of all the things one could see and do given a thousand or a million or a billion years.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:13 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


10. A lifespan is a billion heartbeats.Remarkably, there exist simple scaling laws relating animal metabolism to body mass. Larger animals live longer; but they also metabolize slower, as manifested in slower heart rates. These effects cancel out, so that animals from shrews to blue whales have lifespans with just about equal number of heartbeats — about one and a half billion, if you simply must be precise. In that very real sense, all animal species experience “the same amount of time.”

Yes, except for the fact that there are several animals, such as bats, that don't fit the scaling laws at all, which can't happen if this oversimplified theory is really a 'law'.

More importantly, humans who exercise often, and therefore are beating their hearts a lot more than the rest of us, tend to live longer.
posted by eye of newt at 12:25 AM on September 2, 2011


Yes, except for the fact that there are several animals, such as bats, that don't fit the scaling laws at all, which can't happen if this oversimplified theory is really a 'law'.

You misunderstand the idea of a "law", as used in biology. It is simply an observed regularity; it doesn't have to be true in 100% of cases. In fact, often the exceptions give important insight about the "cause" of the law.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:38 AM on September 2, 2011


You misunderstand the idea of a "law", as used in biology.

But this is more of a physics article than a biology article. 'Time is this' 'Time is that' 'A lifespan is a billion heartbeats'. These are all stated as inarguable facts. The last one, simply, is not.
posted by eye of newt at 12:48 AM on September 2, 2011


Hey Discover Magazine, make up your mind!

time may not exist at the most fundamental level of physical reality.
posted by j03 at 12:51 AM on September 2, 2011


Metafilter: My plan is to eat as little as possible, perform as little physical exertion as possible.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:20 AM on September 2, 2011


Time: you can't hear it, you can't feel it. But if you go round your granny's house, you can smell it. (Eddie Izzard, I think)
posted by dowcrag at 2:58 AM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


We can surely talk about time, but everything is all the same.
posted by TheWayOut at 3:20 AM on September 2, 2011


Eternal life is just a few decades away, and always will be.
posted by Segundus at 3:41 AM on September 2, 2011


"The past and future are equally real." - What the hell does that actually mean? What would it mean to say they are not real? Or one is more real than another?

"every event in the past and future is implicit in the current moment" - Hmm. What does implicit mean? Predetermined? Not so.

Philosophically, this is nonsense. Just as arguing whether time exists or not is totally daft - it's just playing with words.

Some fascinating physics obscured with philosophical nonsense.
posted by rolo at 4:16 AM on September 2, 2011


TIME is just EMIT spelled backwards. Think about it, people.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:03 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Time is too slow for those who wait...

Damn! Now I have that whole album playing in my head... simultaneously....
posted by jaruwaan at 5:37 AM on September 2, 2011


"every event in the past and future is implicit in the current moment" - Hmm. What does implicit mean? Predetermined? Not so.

He's talking about relativity, etc. As well as the fact that information is never lost, which means the pas is reconstructable in theory.
posted by empath at 6:00 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


As well as the fact that information is never lost, which means the pas is reconstructable in theory

As a matter of fact we don't know whether information is lost, because a lot of information is hidden in quantum uncertainty. In any case whether information is lost or not, the fact that so much is inaccessible due to quantum uncertainty means that the past can't be reconstructed in any practical sense, nor can the future be determined except by running the Universe itself through all of the states between now and then (which activity could be considered the definition of time).
posted by localroger at 7:14 AM on September 2, 2011


Eternal life is just a few decades away, and always will be.

And beer will always be free tomorrow.
posted by localroger at 7:14 AM on September 2, 2011


2. The past and future are equally real.

Discover Magazine says this, but when I didn't pay for my subscription in the past, they stopped sending me the magazine in the future.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:21 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a matter of fact we don't know whether information is lost, because a lot of information is hidden in quantum uncertainty.

There is no information hidden in quantum uncertainty. The quantum state is the information, and it takes uncertainty into account.
posted by empath at 7:35 AM on September 2, 2011


. In any case whether information is lost or not, the fact that so much is inaccessible due to quantum uncertainty means that the past can't be reconstructed in any practical sense, nor can the future be determined except by running the Universe itself through all of the states between now and then (which activity could be considered the definition of time).

There's a difference between doing things in practice and doing things in theory. Given all the information about a system, you can run it forwards and backwards, and time doesn't particularly care which way is which (with some exceptions), and there's no moment that's particularly privileged over any other.
posted by empath at 7:38 AM on September 2, 2011


We've got nothing but time.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:53 AM on September 2, 2011


Just a quote that I read years ago, can't remember where I saw it (damn memory!), but it has always stuck with me:

"time flies whether you're having fun or not".
posted by foxhat10 at 8:05 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


tylerkaraszewski, I agree. "Who wants to live forever?" I DO. I'm already living my life with a broader point of view than most of my peers, and I'm a huge fan of history. Imagine all that I can live through and see if I get an extra 3,000 years added to my life. If you think that technology is amazing now...
posted by grubi at 8:53 AM on September 2, 2011


See, if time is our most precious resource, why the hell wouldn't I want more of it? I'm already running low as it is.
posted by grubi at 8:54 AM on September 2, 2011


time flies like an arrow
fruit flies like a banana
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:01 AM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is no information hidden in quantum uncertainty. The quantum state is the information, and it takes uncertainty into account.

I am pretty sure Heisenberg would say that this sentence is either a meaningless string of words, or that it is flatly wrong.

There's a difference between doing things in practice and doing things in theory.

Indeed there is, and while we have a nice theory that says that for certain particle interactions time is reversible, we very demonstrably have a universe in which it isn't. Therefore, the theory is at best incomplete.

Given all the information about a system, you can run it forwards and backwards, and time doesn't particularly care which way is which (with some exceptions)

I would consider the Second Law of Thermodynamics to be a pretty big exception.
posted by localroger at 10:34 AM on September 2, 2011


Oh, the Second Law of Thermodynamics thinks it's soooo important!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:43 AM on September 2, 2011


I would consider the Second Law of Thermodynamics to be a pretty big exception.

The second law is a macroscopic phenomenon that depends on a low entropy state to begin with. If you have a system in thermal equilibrium, it doesn't apply.
posted by empath at 10:59 AM on September 2, 2011


And we re-record every time we recall a memory.

Also, deja vu is the sensation you get when the memories being recorded of your current experience at that moment are overwriting some previous memories, irretrievably deleting them.
posted by straight at 1:25 PM on September 2, 2011


If you have a system in thermal equilibrium, it doesn't apply.

If it's in thermal equilibrium it has neither a past nor a future, because it is not doing anything. This is not the Universe we live in and thought exercises about Universes where such a state exists are not useful examples of "what you should know about" anything.
posted by localroger at 5:10 PM on September 2, 2011


Now you're just being obtuse.

Systems in thermal equilibrium do evolve. It's just that they do it in a time symmetric way.

It's important to know that the only reason that time has a direction is that there was a low entropy state in the past.
posted by empath at 5:27 PM on September 2, 2011


Systems in thermal equilibrium do evolve.

You must have some different definition for the word "evolve" than I do. A system (and let's be clear about this, we're talking about a universe which is entirely self-contained and has no externalities that might kick it) which is in this kind of thermal equilibrum always has been and always will be. It is, by most definitions of the word "evolve," not changing. Yes, it does have particles moving around and bouncing off one another but it has no density or temperature variations that can be used to do the thing physicists call work.

Perhaps we are stuck at opposite ends of the microscope, but the plain fact is that we live in a macroscopic universe where thermodynamics is the major driver of interesting things that beings of our own type can observe. Thought experiments about what a theoretical molecular being trapped in a zero entropy vacuum can might observe are not really all that useful when we have an actual universe in which we live which observably does not work that way.
posted by localroger at 5:56 PM on September 2, 2011


Well, I guess it depends on your point of view. In the long term, it will be that way, and for a vastly, vastly, vastly, vastly, vastly longer period of time than it will have ever been in a low equilibrium state. Everything from the big bang until the eventual heat death of the universe is a blink of an eye compared to eternity. This is not a thought experiment, that is the eventual fate of the universe.

The fact that there is now a low entropy state, and that there was in the part of space-time we call the past an even lower entropy state is a vastly improbable thing that needs explaining.

And btw, I'm using the formal physical definition of evolution in time, where you work out the equations of motion of a system given it's initial state. Sure, macroscopically, there would typically be no change -- that's the definition of high entropy, but microscopically, even a system in total thermal equilibrium evolves over time. In fact, given an infinite amount of time, any system will pass through every possible state, including into extremely low entropy ones (which to us might look like time were going backwards).
posted by empath at 7:33 PM on September 2, 2011


(it will have ever been in a low entropy state.)
posted by empath at 7:34 PM on September 2, 2011


There is no information hidden in quantum uncertainty. The quantum state is the information, and it takes uncertainty into account.

I am pretty sure Heisenberg would say that this sentence is either a meaningless string of words, or that it is flatly wrong.


There is no information hidden by quantum uncertainty. See also hidden variable theory.

There's no information there. The reason that we can't precisely determine a particles momentum and position is that it doesn't have a precise momentum AND position. The wave function which describes both position and momentum probabilities IS the information, and that information is never lost, no matter how you measure it.
posted by empath at 7:57 PM on September 2, 2011


gahh.. (There's no hidden information there.)
posted by empath at 7:57 PM on September 2, 2011


Why do people who think they have a chance at immortality always assume that they will have a comfortable, middle-class (or above) existence, and not be thrown into slavery, working for thousands, millions of years, sweeping floors and washing dishes and wiping old people's asses?
posted by marble at 8:24 PM on September 2, 2011


Your memory isn’t as good as you think.

Holy crap, um... wait... I... ?
posted by doctor_negative at 12:37 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, deja vu is the sensation you get

So that's what the funny feeling in my pants is when I go to the strip club. Either that or a glitch in the Matrix.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:23 AM on September 3, 2011


"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana!" - Groucho Marx
posted by crossoverman at 7:08 AM on September 3, 2011


The second law is a macroscopic phenomenon that depends on a low entropy state to begin with. If you have a system in thermal equilibrium, it doesn't apply.

Ilya Prigogine has produced thought-provoking work with regard to entropy, order, and chaos. One of the ideas (as I understand it) is that for systems where disorder is high, spontaneous organization does not violate Kelvin's second law. (I may be conflating this with work done by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela regarding self-organizing/autopoietic systems and life/non-life.)

This also makes me think of the way in which particles can theoretically flicker into and out of existence as a byproduct of quantum fluctuations. I recall seeing that such virtual particles have been observed in laboratory vacuums in the last decade or two (but I'm done Googling for this post.)

Anyhow, my point in pointing to empath's assertion is say "me too" because our current understanding of existence, time, matter, and space is far from complete even for ideal cases such as systems at thermal equilibrium.
posted by mistersquid at 10:53 AM on September 3, 2011


And also, does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

about time
posted by mistersquid at 10:59 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I recall seeing that such virtual particles have been observed in laboratory vacuums in the last decade or two (but I'm done Googling for this post.)

It's the cause of the casimir effect.

One of the ideas (as I understand it) is that for systems where disorder is high, spontaneous organization does not violate Kelvin's second law.

I said that above. The second law is a statement about probability, but it's only a more or less inevitable progression from improbable to probable states when you're in an improbable state. Once you're in thermal equilibrium, the system will eventually evolve again into every possible state of the system, including low entropy states, given enough time.

See Boltzmann brains.
posted by empath at 11:26 AM on September 3, 2011


including low entropy states, given enough time.

No. Our Universe is a bit over 13 billion years old, and talking about things that will happen over the course of thousands of billions of years (which this is) is moonshine. We have exactly one example of a universe. We have exactly one scale at which we can reliably observe it. We have no credible evidence that anything else exists at all.

Let's say, for the sake of drinking some different moonshine, that the Universe is actually a computer simulation of itself. And those quantum effects are programmed in to mask the fact that the system simply has a finite resolution and yes, it really does lose data; but you can't tell because the story the system is telling you is of a system that doesn't reveal the discarded data for different reasons. Can you be really certain from the measurements and experiments we've done that this is not the case?

Having come into the game from the computer/information end rather than from the real number math end, I find it very credible to think that the Universe is a finite set of information which is iterated in a computational process to create the passage of time. It is instructive to note that even in a totally deterministic system like a computer, there are operations that are much easier to run forward than backward; RSA cryptography is based entirely on this. And it doesn't seem to me unlikely at all that this is the wind that directs the arrow of time. In fact, given what has been learned about complex systems and chaos in the last 30 years, I'd say it is about the only lead worth following to resolve the unresolved conundrum of why quantum and macroscopic rules are so different.

Finally, I would note that unlike the Universe in which we live, where we have only one example however it might work, we have many examples of computationally iterated universes. We've built them ourselves, and we call them video games.
posted by localroger at 6:51 PM on September 3, 2011


No. Our Universe is a bit over 13 billion years old, and talking about things that will happen over the course of thousands of billions of years (which this is) is moonshine. We have exactly one example of a universe. We have exactly one scale at which we can reliably observe it.

And our observations say that in 10^100 years the last black holes will go out, and it will be in thermal equilibrium for all of eternity -- yes for thousands of billions of years, and thousands of billions of thousands of billions of years and longer. Eternity is a hell of a long time.

Let's say, for the sake of drinking some different moonshine, that the Universe is actually a computer simulation of itself. And those quantum effects are programmed in to mask the fact that the system simply has a finite resolution and yes, it really does lose data; but you can't tell because the story the system is telling you is of a system that doesn't reveal the discarded data for different reasons. Can you be really certain from the measurements and experiments we've done that this is not the case?

Yes, actually, they've tested it. There are no hidden variables in quantum mechanics.

There is no information that is ever lost. Ever. It's one of the foundations of modern physics. Information isn't even lost in a black hole.
posted by empath at 11:05 PM on September 3, 2011


No, there are no local hidden variables in quantum mechanics.

localroger's example of a computer simulation is clearly a system that can potentially have nonlocal effects - the simulation can be paused for example, while information is given time to propagate to 'distant' parts of the simulation.
posted by edd at 6:30 AM on September 6, 2011


« Older With the official repeal of "don't ask, don't tell...  |  Myxozoa are microscopic parasi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments