The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.
– Abraham Lincoln
A few weeks ago, I watched the new movie About Time by Richard Curtis. The film revolves around time travel where a young man tries to change his past to have a better future. It was an easy movie and highly enjoyable, as Curtis movies often are.
Then this week there was a fascinating video published on one of my favourite publication websites, The Atlantic, about where time comes from. The video inspired me to write this brief and easy Friday blog post about time.
As we all know, time is a dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future, and it is also the measure of duration of events and the intervals between them. In our work, we plan projects based on time, on due date and calendar based milestones and the time it will take to deliver on tasks within a given budget and scope. Sometimes it works well. Sometimes people tend to waste our time. But is it really that easy?
Time is no-doubt of interest for all of us as it counts down our longevity in existence. The concept of time is self-evident. An hour consists of a certain number of minutes, a day of hours and a year of days. But we rarely think about the fundamental nature of time. It is just something that happens as we are busy doing things. We follow it with clocks and calendars. Yet we cannot study it with a microscope or experiment with it, and we can definitely not move around in it.
Philosophers tend to have two contrasting viewpoints about time. One view is that time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe – a dimension independent of events, in which events occur in sequence. The opposing view is that time does not refer to any kind of physical dimension that events and objects move through, nor to any entity that flows, but that it is instead part of a fundamental intellectual structure (together with space and numbers) within which we humans sequence and compare events. In this viewpoint it may very well be that other animal species experience time in a different way. This we will never be able to tell as we can only experience reality from our own senses.
Time is represented through change, such as the circular motion of the moon around Earth. The passing of time is indeed closely connected to the concept of space. According to the general theory of relativity, space, or the universe, emerged in the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago. Before that, all matter was packed into an extremely tiny dot. That dot also contained the matter that later came to be the sun, the earth and the moon, the heavenly bodies that tell us about the passing of time. Before the Big Bang, there was no space or time.
Time is also of significant social importance, having economic value (“time is money”) as well as personal value, due to an awareness of the limited time in each day and in human life spans.
The time that ends up on your smartphone and computer and that synchronizes GPS, military operations, financial transactions, and internet communications originates in a set of atomic clocks on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. Dr. Demetrios Matsakis, Chief Scientist for USNO’s Time Services, gives a tour. Below is the video from The Atlantic.