Ti– i– ime Is On My Side, Yes It Is

Cyclical Time

The cycles of nature have been known to humans for hundreds of thousands of years, and the nature of those cycles pondered just as long . The daily cycles of the sun and stars, the monthly lunar cycle, the yearly cycle of the earth, these were at first all measured by astronomical phenomena, clearly and unmistakably so. Likewise, people are born, grow old, and die, but they live on corporeally in their children, and less tangibly in the memories of their loved ones and friends. On this viewpoint, the universe itself can be thought to do the same, being born anew as it dies, like some cosmic phoenix rising from its own ashes. There is no well defined start or end, and one may choose to start the clock ticking, so to speak, at an arbitrary point within a given cycle.

Linear Time

In much of the Western world, our own common short–term experiences seem to make genuine distinction between past, present, and future. Events seem to unfold consecutively, having originated or been caused, then existing or unfolding for some finite period, then coming to a close, to exist no more. All things seem to have a definite beginning and end, and at least in modern times, this is thought to characterize the universe as a whole.

The History and Philosophy of Time

The ancient Egyptian Pthahotep (around 2600 BCE), may have been the first to write about time, but he dwelt more on the proper use of time than on its actual nature. Hindu texts not much younger describe cycles of creation, destruction, and rebirth lasting over four million years each. Incan culture made no distinction between space and time, a single entity called pacha.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative

The passage of time is above all else a measure of the rate of change of a physical, mental, or spiritual process. Clocks are the quintessential embodiment of this notion — tick and tock are defined by changes in a mechanical or electronic process, such as the motion of a pendulum or balance wheel, or the oscillation frequency of a resonant circuit. Without change there can be no time. The physics of space and time is necessarily quantitative, measurable, represented by numbers. But we all are familiar with the indefinite nature of experiential time. Who hasn’t felt the excruciating, interminable passage of an unpleasant or tedious experience? “Will this never end???” And yet, tempus fugit, which in English is usually translated “time flies”. The expression comes from Virgil’s Georgics as fugit inreparabile tempus: “it escapes, irretrievable time”. In contemporary vernacular, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” or “Where did the time go?”.

The Beginning and End of Time

So, has the universe existed for all “time”, for lack of a better word, or was there actually a beginning to the universe as we know it? It seems there was, by numerous lines of evidence. It seems to have begun with the sudden appearance of an unimaginably tiny volume of space and time, with incomprehensibly large density and temperature. All the matter and energy that exists now or ever will exist was there at that cosmic birth, which we commonly call “The Big Bang”. Since then, the universe has expanded and cooled to the size and with the structure we observe today.

Down The Drain? Or The Other Way?

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Rex Saffer the AstroDoc

Rex Saffer the AstroDoc

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Retired Physics Professor, Motorcyclist, Bridge Player, Voracious Reader, Philosopher, Essayist, Science/Culture Utility Infielder