Flavin’s Corner
11-9-01

What Time Is It?

Ticking away the moments that make up the dull day 
You fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way
From "Time," Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, Harvest Records, 1973.

Time is an imaginary nonspatial continuum designed to assist in the measurement of existence.  In reality, if I may be so bold, there is no past or future, only an endless series of now, now, now, ad infinitum. What we refer to as the “past” is an unrecoverable “now,” and the “future” is a guess of a “now” to come.  Time is artificial and illusory.  There’s only this moment, this instant, this now.  So, what time is it?  Attempting to answer that question is always more fun than getting over a case of the stomach flu... 


The 16 adjustments to the Doomsday Clock. Click here for more.

In 1947 the folks at the University of Chicago’s Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists proposed a unique method of estimating homo limitation (and perhaps all biotic forms) on Mom Terra by offering a “Doomsday Clock” which they believe represents our chances of achieving, or not,  a happily-ever-after.  They arbitrarily picked 7 minutes until midnight as a metaphor of how close they regarded the world was to self-destruction.  It was chilling art.  It remains so.  However, I’m uneasy about atomic scientists doing art.  They’ve changed the “time” on 16 occasions in an effort to get it right.  And, after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the atomic scientists have announced that they’ll convene in a couple of weeks to discuss changing the “time” again.  So, what time is it?

Some measure “time” by heartbeats, others accept occurrences one day at a time.  Paleolithic homos knew of the lunar cycle and several early civilizations created the concept of a “year.”  There have been (and remain) many calendars in use by different folks.  Early farmers created their own calenders, but it was the calendars of governments and religions which achieved the greatest use and acceptance.  Eric Blair (writing as “George Orwell”) declared in his dystopian novel, 1984 (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1949, Ch. 19):

 "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past."

Perhaps the answer to “So, what time is it?” involves who’s in control.

Many calendars and dating methods have come and gone, with new attempts of perception, regard, or exactitude, usually dismissed as a continuing dalliance in controlling measurement.  Being of Irish ancestry, I’m often embarrassed Celts continue to fight over religion, sent a letter of condolence upon learning of the death of Adolf Hitler, and relied too much on their potato crops during the nineteenth century.  Sure, it was a Celt (Alhwin, known as Alcuin) who invented the minuscule letters of our modern alphabet, but it was also an Irishman who decided Creation occurred at 9:00 A.M., Oct. 23, 4004, BCE.  The Irish prelate and bishop of Armagh (Episcopalian and married), James Usher, went through Christian and Hebrew scriptures, adding life-spans and adjusting dates, to arrive at his guess.  Sir Isaac Newton believed in Usher’s guess.  Many Christian fundamentalists still do.  And some people ask why the Irish drink so much...


Portrait of William Smith (1769-1839) by Abner Lowe.

I’m currently reading a book about William Smith, a pioneer of the science of geology.  His efforts were initially ignored and he endured intellectual and class bias, yet he’s now credited for our modern appreciation of how old Mom Terra is.  His spoon wasn’t silver and he was forced to endure terrible things.  Simon Winchester’s The Map That Changed The World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology (New York: HarperCollins, 2001) tells the tale of Smith’s accomplishments, rejection, and subsequent acknowledgment.  Smith spent fifteen years drawing a detailed map of the geology of the British Isles.  Natural occurrences of sedimentary layers resulting in geologic stratification is now an appreciated given.  Smith established the basis for stratigraphy and did a fine job of it.  Darwin later used Smith’s map to inspire his theory of evolution.  Mom Terra is older than Usher’s claim.  Much older.

So, what time is it?  I’d advise not walking into a local bar and betting twenty bucks a majority of the patrons are familiar with the Doomsday Clock.  Gambling and liquor is always a poor combination.  Likewise, if asked, and someone responds it’s “Howdy Doody” time, a change of venue is needed.  If someone questions the current “second” as not being a chirping resonance of 9,192,631,770 cycles of a caesium 133 atom, common sense requires striking up a conversation with someone else.  We are willing victims of time because we don’t agree about “time.”

Zombies ask “Who’s your daddy?” when confronted with time.  Those who claim “time” is a fourth dimension used to locate the other three have bong-water breath. Time is the Shemp dimension.  I never thought the Stooges were funny; they were before my time.  Iggy never got the credit he deserved.  So, what time is it?  Beat the Black Dog.  Let's rock.


Above art by Igor Kordey with Chris Chuckry.
From Heroes, New York: Marvel Comics, 2001.
Used without permission, but please give here.

President Bush ended his recent speech at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, GA with: “My fellow Americans, let’s roll."  Let’s be clear, Bush wasn’t appealing to those who roll their own tobacco.  Or pot, for that matter.  And it wasn’t another Bush gaffe.  Our President repeated the last words of a passenger on a hijacked airplane who knew the airplane was going to be used as a weapon and take lives not involved with the hijacking.  Simple words of action.  We begin.  Let’s get it over with.  No time like the present.  1,2,3, go.  Now.   I assume Bush meant we need to step up to and challenge terrorists, though we may lose our lives in trying.  Doing so is the right thing to do.  I don’t have a problem with that.  Let’s rock.

So, what time is it?  Now, of course.  It’s not yesterday or tomorrow, it’s today, it’s now.  Time is a metaphor, in that it transfers a “now” into a unit of consensual measurement most understand.  Most, but not all.  Some regard time as a dance, partnered with space, and moving to the rhythm of one hand clapping.  I don’t wear a watch so I usually haven’t a clue as to what time it is.  And I try not to care.  What time is it?  Click here if you want an answer.  William Smith understood that rocks roll.  I hope you do, as well.

Rolling a big one,
Rick

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