Story is a metaphor for life written in time . . .
A Briefer History of Time
. . .
Casting long shadows to race along marked stones at their foundations, the pyramids were built, in part, as enormous sundials, with extraordinary accuracy to endure millennia. Some of the first machines were clocks and the notion of time lurks as a persistent undercurrent in human endeavor. Before the first clocks were actually made, the sky was our timepiece. Appearing each morning, the Sun peaks at midday and sets at day’s end. This celestial object has clocked human existence from the beginning, and the notion of time firmly entrenched in our bodies and DNA is primal to all human behavior.
Activity, motion, existence are meaningless without the notion of time. But that is what time is, a mere notion. It is an abstract, vague idea or feeling we have for the way things work together. It is the peculiar way we perceive reality as it plays itself before our eyes and the rest of our senses.
Time is fundamental to the way humans work. If we were to continually sit and muse about this abstract notion, and perhaps too many of us often do, we would get nothing done. So out of necessity, time has evolved into a very tangible, seemingly ordinary thing. We watch the second had of a clock and time is motion. We look at a digital watch and it is numbers. We’ve cemented the notion of time with the spirit of our machines, and time has become the steady tick, the persistent spatial regression, the continuous progression of numbers so that we need muse no further.
But sometimes we’re forced to muse. A dear friend has died and ceases to exist. A terrible catastrophe has occurred. The walls of reality close in hard and claustrophobic. The notion of time rears an ugly countenance as the grim reaper or the infinite unknowable . . . fighting gloom with optimism, the notion of time emerges saintly and serene. The ways of the world pass happily as they should.
Religious experience synthesizes the notion of time into feelings and symbols: often marvelous sensory extravaganzas of sounds, sights, and smells, typically rock solidly positioned in the enormity of stone cathedrals, temples, and mosques serving to heighten the effect and providing much needed security.
And those that do continually sit and muse about time as abstract notion – as mystics, artists, and philosophers – do they truly get nothing done? More likely they are sources of inestimable wealth, continually adding new depth to the awareness of time. They distort time’s acquired and affected, seemingly ordinary nature: the senses are denied or elevated; analytic thought is eliminated or heightened.
The profoundly religious in deep prayer or meditation or Zen fixation often attempt to limit the perceived movement of reality, reach out (or in) to a feeling of timelessness, actually probably approaching even closer the notion of time, to cease the distorted sense that time is motion. The senses are stopped down. Sharp, focused concentration targets dimensionless fixation. And as motion ceases, perception ceases also. In pure anomaly they strive to know by transcending perception.
Artists are great fun. They are tuned into time. And, contrary to popular belief their musings and doings are far from frivolous. They set the pulse of humanity, its fashions, and its trends; riding the persistent undercurrent of time, they continually create the fabric of humanity undulating and wonderful. They allow us to breathe deeply in the notion of time and make ourselves happy. They exalt the senses and perceive profoundly through motion, sounds, color, and whatever the senses offer. Religion knows their value and uses them well.
The student physicist’s first encounter with time is that time is t. Time has been reduced to a letter of the alphabet to be quickly and efficiently inserted into and manipulated by mathematical formulae. If a number exists for time, t becomes that number. If a number does not exist and other crucial numbers do, then the number for time is derived straightaway. Muse no more, time is just a number.
A major weakness of science is that while it attempts to explain many of the world’s mysteries, it tends to trivialize the grandest and most profound ones. The physics student is encouraged to the extreme, to think of time as demonstrated by the second hand of a clock or the digital display of a watch. The world is a great machine and has all the typical machine attributes. No mention is made that it is only humans that make machines. At best t is a tinker toy, a building block, a plaything; at worst an end-all. T is not time. Time is not even the word time.
Time is a very abstract, vague notion and when it is trivialized everything is trivialized. There is a functional reality and humans must carry on, but maybe it would be much more inspiring and productive for our scientific symbols not to be mere tinker toys but symbols of reverence, symbols for which we are always aware of vague abstract notions that things are not exactly as they seem. Religion certainly knows this.