Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care?
August 25, 2003 4:15 PM   Subscribe

What day is it? Depends who you ask... how we measure the passage of time varies in wonderfully elaborate ways worldwide, past and present. Some folks want to create a uniform calendar, and you may recall Swatch's quixotic attempt at "Internet Time." Colorful heuristics aside, there's always timelessness as an option.
posted by moonbird (13 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic post; I've already started bookmarking. But you might have mentioned that my time is not your time.
posted by languagehat at 5:26 PM on August 25, 2003

[this is good]

The World Calendar would be a great idea (unless you make or sell calendars for a living), as would some kind of decimal date/time system for maths dummies like me to be able to calculate times and dates easily. Sadly, the chances are slim of either happening.
posted by dg at 5:26 PM on August 25, 2003 [1 favorite]

Robert Anton Wilson on calendars.

here's some info on the Tranquility Calendar he mentions at the end.
posted by goddam at 6:00 PM on August 25, 2003

What is time?

I looked it up in Merrian-Webster and the only two ontopic definitions used the words period and continuum to describe it, as such:
a : the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues
b : a nonspatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another

I looked up period and the only ontopic definition that didn't use the word time in it was "the completion of a cycle, a series of events, or a single action." Similarly, continuum was defined as a "coherent whole characterized as a collection, sequence, or progression of values or elements varying by minute degrees."

So really, our contemporary understanding of time would have time as the progression of a sequence of events. If you're sitting still, would time be progressing? Either these definitions are wrong or we're lacking in our understanding.
posted by aphelion at 6:05 PM on August 25, 2003

Excellent post moonbird! (automatic boomark)

All events in the universe are measured against the backdrop of time. We have nothing to compare time to except itself. Relativity describes the relative behaviuor of time across different systems but, like its name implies, fails to set an absolute standard.

Time may end up being one of those deeply ingrained things which nevertheless end up being an artifact of our consciousness, of how we perceive the world (a simpler artifact is the concept of "color") The dictionary also sums up the state of current physics - as you try define what time is, you come up against circular definitions.
posted by vacapinta at 6:15 PM on August 25, 2003

boy, "internet time" sure was goofy. Hadn't heard about that before. Excellent post.
posted by untuckedshirts at 10:40 PM on August 25, 2003

Back in the 80s MTV was selling a calendar, who knows why, but I loved their slogan: "Because sooner or later you're gonna wanna know what day it is."
posted by JanetLand at 5:15 AM on August 26, 2003

I vaguely remember a science fiction novel about interplanetary warfare in which time was measured in seconds x powers of 10. Female author....hmmm....anybody else remember this? Anybody? Bueller?
posted by alumshubby at 8:58 AM on August 26, 2003

Great post, thanks.

Some thoughts :-
According to the second law of thermodynamics, order tends to decrease and correspondingly, entropy to increase in a system over time. It takes less effort to smash a window than to put it back together again. So, time flows in the direction of increasing disorder.

On the other hand, time could be a function or quality of how the human mind is 'wired', as vacapinta says (like the senses, language, or indeed the concept of 'mind' itself). There's no real way of knowing for sure. But this is a reason for thinking it may be impossible to ever communicate with other species (their minds - or equivalent - may well be wired in such a way that the points of reference are so different, you may as well try to talk to a tree).
posted by plep at 9:57 AM on August 26, 2003 [1 favorite]

What day is it?

Maybe it's tomorrow
And maybe it's not.
Maybe it's yesterday-
I done forgot!

posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:05 AM on August 26, 2003

almshubby: I don't know that one, but your question makes me think of a story from the mid-'60s about a soldier in a future war who gets called away from the front for home leave, goes back to his village, gets married, raises kids, then gets the notification that his leave is up and goes back to the front, where only an hour or so has passed -- there's a strong time gradient equivalent to the height gradient on topo maps, so that the farther away from the front you get, the slower time passes. Probably doesn't make any sense from a scientific or philosophical point of view, but it's a great story. Anybody know title/author?
posted by languagehat at 11:59 AM on August 26, 2003

Never mind, I found it myself. Even though I couldn't remember title or author, it turns out I instantly recognized the spine of the Judith Merrill anthology I'd read it in (The Year's Best S-F, 11th Annual Edition)—the mark of a true book nut. It's "Traveller's Rest," by David I. Masson. Masson is a Scot, a university librarian, and amateur stoneware potter, and keenly interested in the sciences; he wrote seven stories for New Worlds in the '60s, including another story that blew me away at the time but whose author I wouldn't have been able to tell you, "A Two-Timer," told entirely in the language of 1683. Now I badly want to find his collection, The Caltraps of Time.
posted by languagehat at 3:20 PM on August 26, 2003

aphelion, I'd say that definition of time as "the progress of events" is exactly right. If no events happen in the universe, no there can be no system in process by which events could happen in the future... so the future is identical to the present, so time has no meaning and there is no time...
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:20 AM on August 27, 2003

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