January 1, 2004 4:03 AM   Subscribe

Interesting article on how science will change our understanding of time. [Via AlDaily]
posted by gregb1007 (16 comments total)
This couldn't help but remind me of a famous cartoon by Rea Irvin published in the New Yorker many years ago.

It showed a busy New York street, with a doorman, a policeman, a street sweeper, a matron, a small boy and others all looking thoughtful and pondering, with the caption, "People slowly accustomed themselves to the idea that the physical states of space itself were the final physical reality." -- Professor Albert Einstein
posted by kablam at 8:58 AM on January 1, 2004

Alas, the article fails, as the author surely knows it will. Before I abandon the "illusions" of time and space, I'd like to know what advantage that would give me. For instance, when I see a beautiful woman walk into the room, instead of thinking "I would like to have sex with her," I could simply say to myself, "My attraction to this creature is an illusion generated by biochemical reactions evolved to assure the continuation of certain strands of DNA which -- by the merest coincidence -- currently inhabit the billions of cells framing the temporary illusion I call my 'self.' She is, in fact, a mound of decaying flesh, inhabited by millions of bacteria, exuding waste matter in the form of carbon dioxide, and other poisonous substances, molded by evolution into volumetric shapes intended to trigger a glandular reaction on my part, leading to an act that will merge the strings of our DNA to survive yet another generation."
What would be the point of that? The only advantage would be that it might provide some consolation for the fact that this woman would never sleep with me in a million years. On the other hand, I would be depriving myself of the brief exhilaration you get whenever you see a beautiful women, whether you're going to sleep with her or not. It also represents the death of hope.

In the same way, thinking "time does not exist" might only be of value (as the author suggests) in helping us to bear bereavement. Maybe. (Our loved one is not really dead. He or she is out there, somewhere in the static realm.) In any case, it's a pretty poor exchange for the spiritual pleasures of greeting the dawn of each day, and experiencing the rich unfolding of events in time.
posted by Faze at 9:06 AM on January 1, 2004

Interesting indeed. Thanks for posting this. I keep planning to watch that PBS program online (which the author of the article is behind), but it hasn't happened yet... this makes me want to dive into it.
posted by edlundart at 9:08 AM on January 1, 2004

Faze, I don't know that the article fails, as I don't think it's trying to argue that this new thinking about time is going to make your life better or worse, necessarily. However, you raise interesting points. The article doesn't discuss "emotional time" much, and that to me is a concept as interesting as those discussed here. Meaning -- how come I experience one hour as though it was five hours if I am bored or anxiously waiting for something, while another hour passes by in what seems like a few minutes? And, touching on your comment, why do we tend to trust our watches more than our own senses? For instance, I might say "that drive felt like it took 3 hours, but my watch says it only took 1. How wrong was I!?" Well, maybe I wasn't wrong at all. Maybe it's the watch that is wrong.
posted by edlundart at 9:19 AM on January 1, 2004

edulndart, Expand your post to book length, title it "Emotional Time," and I predict it will be a bestseller. I have noticed that 8:30 in the morning passes incredibly quickly on any given work day, while 3:15 in the afternoon hangs around for an eternity.
posted by Faze at 9:43 AM on January 1, 2004

Well, I *have* been wondering what I might write a book about... I just need some kind of kooky punchline to the concept. Something that explains in one or two sentences how it all hangs together. Like, "everything is everything at once, we are simply not able to process everything fast enough. The resulting delay is what we think is time."
posted by edlundart at 10:09 AM on January 1, 2004

Fascinating. I hardly think the article "fails." Knowing the forces that DNA applies under the surface of garden-variety lust can be quite useful to put one's own erotic life into perspective.

And in a virtual synchronicity, while physicist Brian Greene deconstructs "absolute" time from the post-Newtonian perspective in the Times, Oliver Sacks does so, from the neurological perspective, in the New York Review of Books.
posted by digaman at 10:10 AM on January 1, 2004

Einstein's journal article in which he proves:

When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.
posted by vacapinta at 11:31 AM on January 1, 2004

Edlundhart, have you read The Vehement Passions by Philip Fisher? Fisher talks about 'emotional time' using literature, economics, game theory, and philosophy -- I just finished it, it's an amazing book (and a well-balanced take from the more spirited side of the debate about materialism).
posted by josh at 1:16 PM on January 1, 2004

Time is just a magazine.
posted by mikhail at 1:19 PM on January 1, 2004

I also recommend James Gleick's Faster.
posted by john at 3:47 PM on January 1, 2004

john, I read faster. He made a compelling argument about automated technologies like elevators that allow us to skip walking, microwaves that allow us to skip cooking, etc.... He said that while these technologies shorten the time it takes to complete a task, they also make time go by slower. So walking down the stairs than waiting for an elevator feels like it's longer. Or time flies fast when we cook something manually but when we just pop into the microwave and watch the seconds go by, it feels like time goes by slower.
posted by gregb1007 at 8:08 PM on January 1, 2004

Correction for the last post: it feels longer to wait for the elevator than to walk down a flight of stairs. Also it's supposed to be "when we just pop it into the microwave"... I forgot the "it."
posted by gregb1007 at 8:12 PM on January 1, 2004

It works even better without the "it." (The modern equivalent of Einstein's "sitting on a hot stove.)
posted by languagehat at 8:29 PM on January 1, 2004

languagehat, i dont think I could really pop into the microwave cause I am too big to fit into it. Unless I got a really big big microwave.... But jokes aside, I've read of stories of cats popping into the microwave, kids locking them there and heating them up. Kids can be cruel. Very cruel
posted by gregb1007 at 9:02 PM on January 1, 2004

v.interesting, no wonder i always feel smeared out!

we are on the verge of another major upheaval, one that will pinpoint the more elemental concepts from which time and space emerge

wheeler proposed an 'it' from 'bit' paradigm, expanded upon since with variations thereof, which could relegate relativity to a matter of communication and maybe allow for such things as conservation of information and computational equivalence :D

like i think that's where the graph theory approach viz smolin (and egan :) is coming from? oh and maybe it could help resolve differing interpretations of measurement and decoherence!
posted by kliuless at 9:24 PM on January 1, 2004

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