Friday, July 29, 2005

Does anybody really know what time (it) is?

In a post in his excellent "Political Animal" over at Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum strays a bit from politics to link to this article in the July 29th Wall Street Journal. He finds a bit of humor in the thing, as do I, though for a different reason: the article raises/reminds us of that basic question, Just what IS time, anyway? And, more to the point of the article, once you've got the What is time? thing worked out, how can you resolve the competing, almost-proprietary claims by those with vested interests in how time is measured?
But now, I realize, I've placed those questions in reverse order: as the article would seem to indicate, it appears that those whose claims are determined to be the greater ones will determine how time is measured.
It's an odd problem, seen from a philosophical perspective (full disclosure: yes, my mother did see "Doctor of Philosophy" on my diploma and said, "But I thought you were studying English;" but I'm not THAT kind of philosopher). We know that our measuring of time is tied to the rotation of the earth and its orbit around the sun, but we also know that those physical phenomena are ignorant of and oblivious to the devices we've designed that, we claim, measure those phenomena. Thus, leap years and leap seconds. In other words, we have a slippage between the reality of physical phenomena and their representation as clocks and calendars. What's more interesting, now that I think about it, is that, true to our postmodern condition as described by Fredric Jameson, we are forced by Nature to compensate for the rhythms on which we base our mechanical time, but we refuse to consider just conforming to those rhythms as they change over, er, time. No: instead, machines and their requirements, because they cannot conform, rule us and isolate us still further from Nature. We choose to make natural phenomena appear to conform to our (inaccurate) measure of it. And then fight over who has a greater say in getting to set the rules for that inaccurate measurement.

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1 comment:

6r15u said...

I've read only the first few sentences of your article. I'm really interested in this question, so that I've started a own section fot it in my blog. I think this article could interest you too, m regrettably it's in german.
The main subject of the artice is that Kurt Gödel made a proof that there's no time and Albert Einstein couldn't disprove this proof.
Well, probably you understand the artice, if not sorry.