Thinking “About Time”
What are we without time? How do we recall memories and events without thinking of them in terms of time? We are a society, one of many, who are completely controlled by time. How much time we have to get ready in the morning, can we even afford the time it takes to eat breakfast? How much time will it take to study, to be in class, to work? How much time do we have to relax before bed? Ours is a world controlled and divided by time. Are we passive inmates in this prison of time, or do we dare to question time itself? Does time have a beginning? An end? Does time last forever?
In “About Time”, Davies charts the history of time for readers, giving us a jumping off point for asking questions, making connections and thinking about time in ways our minds had never been open to before. Davies breaks this excerpt down into sub chapters. It is my mission to represent some of these sub chapters and share my own questions and insights.
“The Quest for Eternity”
In this chapter, debates founded in religion and philosophy are called into question as Davies tries to untangle the many views of eternity.
According to Plotinus, a third century pagan, to exist in time is to exist
imperfectly. Pure being (i.e. God) must therefore be characterized by the utter absence of any relation to time. For Plotinus, time represents a prison for human beings, separating us from the divine realm—the true and absolute reality(p.24).
As I am with a lot of elements in my life, I sit in the middle of the argument mentioned in this chapter, that there can be no eternal God if there is a temporal universe. I believe that eternity and time can coexist, as one represents our mortal, physical lives and the other represents the realm of what is possible and what lies beyond. Living a life of faith opens the doors even wider to questions relating to eternity and timelessness. As I read the bible, I ponder, when did time begin? Will it end? Did God create time or did man? I can’t possibly know the answers to these questions but beginning to question these concepts, I believe, is the first step to understanding the possibilities. In the essay, Davies states that “in this existence, time does not pass, rather, God perceives all times at once (p.24)”.
“Newton’s Time and the Clockwork Universe”
This chapter discusses the major scientific advancements made in timekeeping. What follows is what I think is the most interesting passage of the chapter:
On 8 July 1714, the government of Queen Anne determined “That a Reward be settled by Parliament upon such Person or Persons as shall discover a more certain and practicable Method of Ascertaining Longitude than any yet in practice.” The prize offer was the princely sum of 20,000 pounds, to be awarded for the construction of a chronometer that was capable of determining longitude at sea within thirty miles after a six- week voyage. No event better symbolizes the transition from the organic, rhythmic time of traditional folklore to the modern notion of time as a functional parameter with economic and scientific value (p.30).
This is when time begins to become a scientific quest into the future as scientific demands are made, as well as becoming a commodity. What is interesting here is that the western people are recognizing that they need an accurate method of timekeeping, as time itself becomes more valuable. It is at this same time that Newton begins to push out the idea that time is not just a manmade construct, but an entity that exists free of external factors in the entirety of the universe. It is exciting to me, that with this commission from the Queen and Newton’s explorations in the meaning of time, westerners are warming to a society bound by time, creating a train of motion so powerful that it will never be stopped. This demand for keeping and understanding time will eventually go on to become or work and train schedules, the best times to buy and sell on Wall Street and the way we are programmed to remember significant events in our lives.
“Is The Universe Dying?”
This chapter discusses types of time: the arrow of time, linear time, pessimistic time and optimistic time, and asks the direct question, “is the universe getting better or worse?”
Biblically speaking, we might come to understand that the universe, or our world, at least, is getting worse: “The Bible tells the story of a world that starts in a state of perfection—the Garden of Eden—and degenerates as a result of man’s sin”. (p.34). Even scientists agree that the universe is slowly getting worse, as the sun burns its own fuel away, never to be replenished, which would lead to a “cosmic heat death”. It’s a little scary to think about, but that’s where optimistic time comes into play. This way of thinking states that biology creates order out of chaos and is progressive. I’m not sure what I believe, whether the universe is getting better or worse, but in terms of time, the universe is aging, which to me suggests degradation and wear and tear. And society may certainly be making the world, if not the universe a less than amazing place to exist.
When I think about time, I think about the hands on a clock or the days on a calendar page. I recall events in terms of time, almost as though the when supersedes the importance of the where and why. I am a product of my world, a slave to time.