Time Shapes So Much of Our Lives. Yet We Understand It Hardly at All
What is Time, Anyway?
Seems a simple question, but there is little agreement out there among people who cogitate on such musings. For most of us, time is a given. It is what provides the benchmarks and guideposts of life. When we think of life’s events, we often think of when they happened, and in what sequence. Time and events, life as a whole, seem intertwined inexorably.
But there is a serious coterie of scientists who think time is not a real thing but is just something we incorrectly perceive. Maybe all this rethinking started when Einstein posited the now proven theory that space and time can be bent. Huh? If we can bend time, what does that mean? Some think that everything that has ever happened or that ever will happen all occur simultaneously, in endless parallel universes. Who knows? Could be.
Looking at Time in More Manageable Scales
For most of us, time is very real indeed, and a valuable tool to measure life and the universe. When one reflects on the amount of time it would take us to visit even the very nearest galaxy with the best propulsion systems we can imagine, we conclude we are very small and isolated indeed. Most of the known universe is beyond any prospect of visiting, or even seeing. Time shapes our thoughts about our relative place in the universe.
Two examples of more mundane, daily examples of time’s imprint on us all.
Where Did the Week Go?!
I am fortunate enough to be healthy, especially for a guy in his eighth decade (How did THAT happen? Time, that’s how.). I take just a couple of meds regularly and a few off the shelf supplements that the docs and I have decided at least do no harm. It is just enough to make losing track easy to do, so I have one of those plastic cases in which I put a week’s worth of supplies out, one bunch for each day.
It never fails that every week I am surprised to find it is time to fill that case again. How is it possible that another week has gone past? I bet you have similar reflections with yourself.
A Spider’s Perspective
Let’s scale down even further. I walked up to a sink the other day to wash my hands and found a very small brown spider in the sink, probably a domestic brown spider, but not an area I know much about. I suppose in an earlier time, I might have gone ahead and washed up, sending the little brown fellow to a watery ending. But no longer. I thought about it an decided that any living creature deserves its shot, for however long it might normally live, so I went elsewhere to wash up and let this little fellow go about his business. For all I knew, he was helpfully consuming other household pests. Glad to have him aboard.
I speculated that so small a creature likely had a lifespan of days or weeks. Imagine my surprise when I looked it up in preparation for this article to find that 2-3 years is common, and some as long as 20 years. In any event, their life cycle is much shorter in time than ours. I am glad I gave him/her a shot at continuing on. I should note, however, it seldom ends well for them. If it is a male, the spider mates and then is most often eaten on the spot by his new mate. If a female, she lays her eggs, then promptly dies. Must be hard to write spider romance novels.
What is a Lifetime?
One wonders how many species are out there in space with life spans so long that ours would seem only momentary to them. If they came across us, would they wash us down the drain, given the limited time we live, or would they decide we too deserved a full shot of time, whatever that may be? Maybe better if we don’t know the answer to that one.
It seems to me time’s most powerful element is its ability to slip past us so quickly. Most people learn as they age that the perception of passing time does not slow over the years. If anything, it seems to pick up speed. It only seems slow when you are very young, waiting for a later bedtime, the ability to drive, etc. For the rest of life, we seem so engaged with what is going on that the clock often seems to slip past us.
Here’s a thought. Take some time occasionally to reflect on time. How much have I experienced? How much might I expect to have available to me in the future? What might I wish to do with it? Tick tock, tick tock…. Tempus Fugit, indeed.
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