Times (They Are a Changin’)

September 30, 2006

Okay, I don’t really know where this idea came from. Maybe the idea has been rolling around in my head for a while now, ever since I read a passage from Instant Enlightenment about the human conception of time. Add to that a dash of Richard Dawkins’ TED Talk, and you have the culmination of my (not entirely new) conception of time.

The idea, in its present form, visitted me while travelling back on the XC bus from our meet yesterday (wooh, Lehigh!). I felt really tired, needless to say, and just kind of chilled out, listening to a podcast about Darwin. Evolution came up, of course, along with the reason some people find evolution so hard to understand: we don’t see the evolution happening on a human time scale.

And that’s where it hit me. Humans have a very specific scale by which they tell whether or not something is happening.  For example, in the human time scale, grass “isn’t” growing. We never actually see it grow. We just see it at one length in one instant and at another length in some future (maybe a day, maybe a week) instant. The grass doesn’t grow to us. Not to say we don’t realize that the grass is growing, but we still don’t ever see the grass grow, so it might as well not.

Or try this one out. Say you haven’t seen a small child for a very long time. Maybe a year. You see that child again, and he looks completely different. Yet the parents see the child and see no difference between the two points in time. You have two spread out frames of reference (the time a year ago and now), while they have a continuous string of instants that the child “grew up” within.

I think I’ve gotten a little off point, so let me pull it all back together. Humans have a specific frame that they measure change in. Too fast, and we don’t even notice it. Too slow, and we notice the change, but not the changing. So, geologic time scale is too slow. Cosmic time scale, not even comprehensible. The life of a flea is too fast. The decay of certain radioactive elements, impossible to reason with. But all of these “things”, assuming that they could have a subjective experience, would  experience time in a very different way. The experience of what we call a year, to a flea, is an eternity. But to the universe, it’s the blink of an eye.

I don’t really know why I found this so interesting. Or important. But something about it just rang a bell with me. It just made something inside me go “hey, that makes sense.” Because if the passage of time is subjective, that means we can control how fast something ‘happens’ (I know, I’m going out on a limb here). A cool thought. Almost a super power.

So, have you exercised your super powers today? Did the time it took to read this blog post feel like an eternity, or an instant?



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