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The Hare and the Tortoise: The race is not to speedy (IV). What is time anyway?

Do you ever get anywhere? The hare asked with a mocking laugh…

The Hare and the Tortoise Fable. By Aesop.

Today is all about beginning to understanding the meaning of time.

Regardless of how you wish to quantify the time, time is simply undergone and experienced, by living it. I wouldn’t be here writing about time, if we don’t feel the effects of time in our lives, in our nature, in our tangible assets or goods, and in our plans for the future. There is something about time that we can’t define but we can see or observe, listen, feel, taste, touch, and smell every day, regardless our religion, country, culture, background, economic situation, or degree of intelligence. And those are the effects of time in the reality of us and around us. We feel it. We see it. We touch it. We taste it. We smell it. And we can sense how time passes by… Whatever I am writing now, is nanoseconds to become past. Even though the immediate future is foreseen, we can’t control it… but we perceive that we can do it. And that is not true, we can´t control our future. A little virus came to teach us that we are not God to determine the shape of our future times. The only thing we can do is to learn from our past, to change our present times. And then, only then, when we open our eyes to the “time” is when we begin to notice the consequences of time. So, what is time anyway?

Towards an integral definition of time. When preparing my mind to begin this post, I thought how can I overcome the technical rhetoric of quantum physics, or philosophy, or the technical timekeeping definition of time, without leaving it outside… How can we conceptualize an integral definition of time…? And as I mentioned above, because we can’t control our future, even though we wrongly believe that we can; the only thing that we can measure with exactitude is our past. So I thought of starting with our history. As usual, it is stamped in Eleonora Escalante Strategy style to understand the past of our notions, before starting over. Particularly, we are interested to reflect on how did we arrive at what we conceive now as a popular definition of time. Thereby, let’s begin to dig into what we can observe of the “time” notion with our most ancient civilizations.

From the dictionary. Time is defined in our dictionaries as a Physics phenomenon (physics is the science of matter and energy and of the interactions between these two), the notion of time has evolved through thousands of years, and centuries of our ancestor’s works. Time in physics has been defined in different stages of our history by different theorists. Each erudite and wise physics studious that dedicated their lives to understanding the concept of time, took us to a quasi-definition, but never to the integral notion of it. And “time” was defined for centuries, in terms of a measurement unit by observing the stars, the earth rotation, and the celestial bodies. That is how we land into the most popular definition of “time” that we can find in a dictionary.

Analyzing the dictionary definition of time. Let’s proceed to read it:

“Time is a nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past to the present into the future”.

The American Heritage College Dictionary.

Let’s analyze that definition from the point of view of us, the corporate strategists. “Time is the progression of events from the past to the present into the future”.  And if you read attentively the last sentence, the words progression of situations and the continuum of past-present-future are sending us to another concept: the interval separating two points on this continuum. This interval or period has been measured with a mathematical number and specific units of time scale (seconds, minutes, hours, days, years). These units of time scale were established by observing the stars, the sun, the moon, and the repetitive natural Earth rotation cycles.

The origins of the astronomers. Believe it or not, just because the sun and the stars appear to rise each day in the east and set in the west, that simple situation triggered the astronomy career. Each of our most legendary ancestry civilizations produced astronomers that tried to understand the “time” by understanding any singularity that undergoes a time interval or duration of continued events: days, nights, the seasons, the epochs, the equinox… These natural events and their connections with the celestial bodies defined time as a physical quantity.

By trying to understand the time, our ancestors aligned into the stars. I dare to specify that without the wonder of trying to understand time, our ancestors wouldn´t have founded the laws of mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, biology, and so on. When the wiser astronomers of our ancient times (regardless its respective civilization), were trying to set time scales based on the regularity of the motions of celestial bodies (stars, moon, sun, planets, etc); and fixed their orbits by gravitation, that was the beginning not only of the astronomy as a science but in parallel different subject matters such as mathematics, chemistry, geology, geography, biology, also arose.

When the first astrophysicists of our times invented the time units and their respective calendars, they did it because they knew their own life was finite.  The stargazers of the Sumerians (and further Babylonians), the ancient Greeks, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Chinese from the Shang Dynasty, the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas; paved the way to understand the notion of “time”. Afterward and more recently, other “time gurus” appeared, some of them trying to retake the works from the wise astronomers of the past, meanwhile, others were trying to discover the new notions of “time”. We can’t forget names of men such as Ptolemy, Eratosthenes, Aristarchus of Samos, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi (the Persian), Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler,  Galileo Galilei,  Isaac Newton, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Hermann Minkowski, and others which have contributed (or confused us more) to understand the notion of “time”.

By now, we anticipate that you are now calibrated with our belief that the definition of time has been evolving through a “work in progression” timeline. From one studious human being to another one of the next generation. Our current definition of time (the one that you read in the dictionary), took more than 6,000 years to be written and accepted.

Carefully, even this most popular “time” definition of the dictionary, is still reviewed simply because it lacks spatial dimensions. If the notion of “time” is a work-in-progress activity that has passed from generation to generation, how could it be that it is accepted as a dogma, when the erudite community and the most relevant physicists of our times, are still trying to understand it?

Of course, we had to stick to something, to a clever definition of the variable “time” as a fixed one, in order to continue with other subjects of every single discipline on earth that requires investigation, research, and development based on the “time” variable. But do we really know what is time?

The only reason why astronomy got linked to timekeeping, started with our ancestors. The past astronomers work in progress and evidence has been left and registered in history, particularly once humans learned and began to write. If star-watchers kicked-off their jobs because of time-keeping, then what has happened nowadays, that scientists affirm that no time scale can be proved to be uniform by measurement but only what they define as “atomic time”. Why are the astronomers of our time more interested in the cosmology, or in other things than “time”. If their “main object of affection” was time. Why are they decidedly following the path of finding life outside planet earth, instead of sticking their research to finish to understand the concept of “time”. What happened during the last century, that astronomers lost their original briefing roadmap? What has happened? Why have astronomers devoted their research into advancing space science and exploration because of trying to find life in other planets and galaxies, instead of focusing their efforts to understand the variable “time”?

To finalize this article, let’s reflect a bit: if the wisest physics specialists do not know what is time yet; but only the measures of timekeeping; do you know what is time anyway?

Our next episode will be about time from the point of view of the philosophers. See you on Friday. Blessings and thank you for reading to me.

Bibliography utilized to get some ideas when writing today.

Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, the majority of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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