Tuesday, March 31, 2009


A new noun, irrelativity: The notion that time actually passes according to human experience, as opposed to an orderly flow as it is normally assumed to be.

To us as humans, time obviously flows at a uniform rate. After all, if we set up a clock, it will tick away, measuring specific increments of time. Right?

But, oh how different this is from our actual subjective perception! Standing in a line-up at the grocery store can be an excruciating experience. Seemingly hours can go by. Time, in these circumstances, just drags, now, doesn't it?

Time can fly, though, too. Think of how often we're amazed at how quickly something seemed to go, relative to how that clock was ticking away over in the corner.

And with those experiences where time drags, we can be equally amazed at how relatively little time actually passed.

There's a sub-set of those experiences, though; there are times where we will glance at our watches, stare at the clock on the wall, and basically obsess about those little moments ticking away.

Maybe we want to be doing something else, maybe we have an appointment and can't be late. The opportunities for frustration abound. And it almost seems as if the more we observe how slowly things are going, the more slowly they actually seem to go. Time literally drags.

How can our experience of such a "uniform force vary so greatly?

Here's where Einstein missed the boat. He concocted his entire theory on the presumption that this thing called time was regular, predictable, and uniform, and the definition he used was based on the velocity of light - how fast it is moving. It is inherently time-dependent.

The ticking of our clock dictates how much "time" is passing from an objective standpoint. Each interval is carefully measured, in a uniform fashion, giving us an objective evaluation of the passage of time. That's the yardstick we use to measure how long things happen.

Thank God for the clock. If we didn't have it, how would we measure our day? How would we know when the doctor will be able to see us? Or, how would we know when he's supposed to, given that he's usually late?

Well, that clock we use to measure everything was invented by a human. Imagine, for a second, a Swiss craftsman working away at a mechanical watch, building a true quality timepiece.

By that craftsman's determined efforts to install those little tiny gears and springs, the watch comes together, a piece of machinery that will last for years, and keep good time. It will do the same thing over and over and over, namely tick. At a constant rate and in a constant fashion.

The watch gets purchased by a businessman who must closely observe his schedule. The quality and craftsmanship assure him that he will always be on time. All thanks to that Swiss watchmaker who painstakingly made sure, indirectly, that this businessman would always be on time.

The woman standing next to him in a queue, though, won't appreciate that when she asks him for the time. She's gotta be home before the ex drops the kids off, and she still has a gazillion things to do, and this line is taking for frickin' ever. When she asks for the time, the businessman glances down at his quality timepiece and tells her its current measurement.

From an objective standpoint, both of them now know what time the Swiss watchmaker's device reads. But both treat the result of that reading very, very differently.

From the moment the first clock was invented, that idea grew in its manifestation and set the referential point from which all things would eventually be measured. Other clocks would follow, and become synchronized. The proliferation of identically-set clocks allowed for the exact measurement of a passage of time according to the pre-established rate, based on that first human observance, recording, and reproduction of it.

But how does time pass for a tree? If a tree had eyes, would it see us as a blur? Relative to itself, of course, which exists for many decades in the same physical location.

For that matter, how does a rock perceive time? Or a crystal? Or a mountain?

The only answer I have is: much, much differently from us.

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