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What Time is It? Well, It Depends  

I write every so often about political issues but quite frankly I am not a political creature. The subjects I enjoy the most are often related to scientific fields and more importantly produce wonderment. I often get accused of not believing in anything and the fact of the matter is just because I personally place a clear difference from knowing as opposed to believing does not mean I do not have a fine appreciation of what is possible, especially when it relates to matters of our existence or the condition thereof. 

It is the case that often the matters that seem the most simple and the ones we may take for granted are the very ones, which may be multifarious. Such is the case of time. 

Time is part of our everyday language. Do we have time to go? I have to be at work on time. What time is lunch? You have too much time on your hands. Time is working against us on this one. Baseball is America’s pass time. Time flies when you are having fun. The Rolling Stones sang, “Time Is on My Side”. Jim Croce wanted to put “Time in a Bottle”. 

Venture to say that if you ask anyone if they know what time is the answer will be a quick “yes.” But if you ask that same person to define time the conversation will get a bit more interesting. 

A dictionary style definition of time narrates the concept of time as it more or less relates to our everyday experience with it. This would be a continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future. A close examination of this definition reveals that it is more a description of what happens while time passes, but not what time really is.

Human civilization has always measured the passing of time. One of the easiest ways to do that was to monitor what was happening overhead. We still refer to the Sun rising and setting across the sky measuring off the beginning and end of days.

Of course, the Sun doesn't really rise or set. It is the Earth’s rotation that produces the effect of the Sun, Moon, and other bright objects in the sky passing overhead and different cultures have devised various calendars to keep an account of the passing days. Some cultures also accounted for the passage of time by observing the seasons and other natural events.  

The step pyramid at Chichen Itza is a structure built by the Mayan Culture consisting of 91 steps on each of the four sides with an extra step on one side adding up to 365, corresponding to the days of the year. They believed they had to help or feed the Sun across the sky through their worship. 

The Gregorian calendar today serves as an international standard for civil use. The year is 2017. On the Jewish calendar the year is 5777. The Islamic calendar indicates 1438.  

Please realize that all of these calendars and dates have been devised by different cultures throughout the history of civilization as a concept of governing time as it relates to those cultures. These dates are arbitrary considering that the Earth existed for billions of orbits around the Sun before there was even a hint of human life to count these orbits as years or place them on a calendar. 

The big question may be did time begin with creation? We can pretty accurately gauge the age of the universe at about 13.75 billion years by retracing its expansion. Light is also a good measuring stick of time because it travels at a constant rate. The Sun appears in the sky as it did eight minutes ago because that is how long it takes the light from the Sun to reach the Earth. In the same way instruments such the Hubble Telescope have detected light from the far reaches of space, some of it beginning its journey billions of years ago. 

The general accepted notion is that time begun with the Big Bang. If this is the case, there was no yesterday before the Big Bang. The Big Bang was in fact the moment of creation and the beginning of time. But what if something caused the Big Bang? Well, if something caused the Big Bang we can reasonably conclude that time did exist beforehand, but what else? There are theories that suggest that time always has existed. One such hypothesis asserts that membranes existing in parallel universes collided and produced the Big Bang. If that is the case, our time and our space began at that moment but other times and places may exist. 

People have created devises to measure the passage of time. Any timepiece must repeat a certain count with regularity. A clock, for example, ticks. A clock with a pendulum is using the pendulum’s swings as a resonator and the mechanism in the clock keeps track of the time by counting the resonations. Let’s say, for example, the resonation is a frequency of one swing corresponding to one tick per second. Digital clocks use either the oscillations on the power line, which are 60 cycles, or that of a quartz crystal as the resonator with a digital counter-keeping track. 

An atomic clock is more accurate than the rotation of the Earth and uses the resonance frequencies of atoms. Atomic clocks make possible GPS navigation and help determine the position of the planets with enough accuracy for space probes to be launched. Cesium is the substance used, and if any atom of cesium is made to resonate, it will resonate at exactly the same frequency as any other atom of cesium. Cesium-133 oscillates at 9,192,631,770 cycles per second. A cesium atom always resonates at the same known frequency. This in essence gives an atomic clock 9 billion ticks per second and never changes. Atomic clocks keep time better than any other clock and by the way are not radioactive. 

Albert Einstein suggested that there was a relationship between space and time. In fact, the two are mixed up as a fabric of space-time. Time ticks differently depending on where you happen to be, who is moving relative to whom, and at what given speed. When someone moves through space relative to me, I will perceive their time as moving slower than mine. No one can claim that their time is the time. 

Einstein's conclusions also showed that gravity has a relationship with the fabric of space-time. The more mass an object has the more it bends the fabric of space and time. Newton could predict the force of gravity with amazing accuracy. However, he could not come up with a firm conclusion as to what energies were behind the strength and action of gravity. 

Science fiction writers and others have exploited aspects of these theories many times over, often to the point of exaggerating other scientific principles way out of proportion. It makes for a great story to be able to go back in time and stop the Lincoln assassination. It is also fun to theorize about what the past, present, and future may really be.

In this classical view of time, I may be walking down a path. What I have left behind me on that path is still there. I am standing on the path where I am now. Where I will be is just up ahead on the path as well. 

This poses an interesting philosophical question, is my path fixed? Whether it is spiritual or theoretical speculation, I do not believe in predestination. There is randomness to existence. In my opinion, in this randomness we as human beings can make decisions that help direct our path. In this way the idea of probability and outcome plays out. 

In scientific terms quantum mechanics, pertaining to the sub atomic world, considers probabilities. Quantum mechanics can certainly spark wonderment along with all out confusion. Some of the theories pertaining to quantum mechanics suggest that space-time collects as small bits, not a continuous uninterrupted flow of past, present, and future. 

I do believe the future grows out of the past. All of us and the world we live in are products of events that happened before us. The question as to what ultimately started everything and when it started we cannot answer at this time. 

What is for sure is that we, as human beings, have too few ticks on our individual life clocks. A lifetime is a mere fraction of a second compared to geological and cosmic time frames. Time really is precious, more so than wealth or power. Sadly, we as the human race, waste too much time preoccupied with our petty differences. 

All of us wish we would have more time to spend with our loved ones and the beautiful Earth. If I had my choice of either figuring out how time began or putting it in a bottle, I would opt to save a little extra. That is, a little extra of whatever time may really be.