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It's About Time
by Serge Kahili King

There is a lot of confusion about the concept of time, so I'm going to add to it.

In the English language, and in many (if not all) Indo-European languages, we have the ability to turn practically any word into a noun. Usually, a noun is defined as the name of a person, place, or thing, but Merrian-Webster nearly covers the field with this definition: "a word that is the name of something (such as a person, animal, place, thing, quality, idea or action)."

Where does time fit into that definition? The only possible way is to define it as an idea, and an idea is an abstract concept. To be more clear, Oxford Dictionaries defines abstract as meaning to "exist in thought or as an idea, but not having a physical or concrete existence."

A big problem arises when an abstract idea is turned into a noun, because most people--and that includes scientists--automatically consider anything with a name as a person, place or thing. Time is obviously not a person, so it is usually thought of as a place or a thing.

English has many phrases that demonstrate this, such as "time flies," "a time and place for everything," "running out of time," "wasting time," "losing time," "going back in time," and on and on.

Both fiction and science make use of time as a place or dimension (a measurable area) that we can go to or come back from and many stories and hypotheses deal with the potential effects of changing the past to affect the future (both "measurable" dimensions).

Let's begin our confusion by looking at how time is measured.

In the modern world for the most part we still use the ancient Babylonian system of dividing the year into twelve months, a day into two periods of twelve hours each, an hour into sixty minutes (12x12), and a minute into sixty seconds. We also divide a circle into 360 degrees (12x30) and estimate that the sun apparently moves through the sky about fifteen degrees/hour, giving us our phenomenon of clock time.

Let's disregard the fact that this is quite inaccurate, that most countries totally ignore it with their use of time zones and daylight savings time, and that some cultures use a completely different system in order to get to the essence of what I'm writing about.

You see, although we often say that "time passes," it really doesn't. The truth is that events happen and we experience and measure the interval between them. Not only that, we arbitrarily decide which events we are going to focus on and what measurement we are going to use. We often call this measurement "duration," which puts our attention on the interval and not the events.

The crux of the matter is that time is not a place or a thing. It is no more nor less than a measurement of a relationship between two events or objects. In terms of Earth time it is a measurement of the relationship between the movements of two objects, the Earth and the Sun. In terms of clock time, it is the measurement of the relationship between one or more objects (called "hands") and the static numbers on a clock face.

Events happen before, during and after the arbitrary points that we measure, but the measurement is just that, a system of measuring. We can talk about a yard or a meter as a measurement of space between objects, but neither one is physically real, even though it measures the space. We can talk about an hour or a day as a measurement of time between events, but the measure isn't any more real than a yard or a meter. Time doesn't exist except as a measure.

Hows does that relate to Einstein's hypothesis of relativity? Well, I'm not a mathematician, so let's look at that in a non-mathematical way.

Einstein is most well known among non-mathematicians for the following formula: E=mc2. In plain words, this means that energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared. He also proposed that the speed of light is unchangeable. However, if it's unchangeable, how can you square it? Actually, Einstein needed what is called a "constant" to make his formula fit mathematical rules, and that's where the c2 comes from. Energy and mass are what are called the variables.

In any good formula, increasing one side of the equation increases the other side. So, increase the energy and you increase the mass; increase the mass and you increase the energy. You can't increase the speed of light (as a matter of fact, you can't square it, either in any real sense) because it's a constant in the equation. All you can do is increase mass and energy. Einstein did some "thought experiments" (a fancy term for using his imagination) about the effects of light and movement and time and observers and came to conclusions about time and space and mass and energy that cannot be demonstrated, but that have sparked a lot of creative thinking.

Time to look at time in a different way.

Many people around the world place a huge emphasis on events that no longer exist, and they locate them in an imaginary place call "the past." In a lot of cases, individually and as a group, what happened in "the past" is much more important than what is happening in the present

There is no such thing as "the past," folks. There are only memories--direct or indirect--of events that are over. Using those memories to improve your life and make the world a better place is a good thing. Using them to justify harming oneself or others is not. Once any event has happened it becomes a memory, no more. You can't physically see it, hear it, touch it, taste it or smell it. It's over. You can't change the past itself. You can, however, use the memory of events and even change the memory in order to influence and change current events.

There is no such thing as "the future," either, waiting for you to bump or stumble into it. There are only expectations. As with memories, you can use expectations to create good or evil right now.

"Right now" is the key phrase. The present moment is all there is, but that moment can be as expansive as your awareness can make it. In this present moment we can interact with what previous events have produced. That's how I'm writing this article and enjoying the sight of all the artifacts I brought back from Africa. On the other hand, in this present moment I can no longer interact with my cottage in the community of Kapoho or swim in my tidal pond there, because they no longer exist. What I have are memories of what was, expectations of what will be and whatever pleasures I can manage to enjoy here and now.

Just for fun, here are a couple of experiments you can do with time.

1. Slow down a clock.
a) Sit down facing a clock with a second hand.
b) Close your eyes and imagine or remember a vivid experience for about 15 seconds or so (you can experiment with the amount of time).
c) Open your eyes quickly and look at the second hand. In many cases the second hand appears to be moving more slowly than usual, then picks up speed as you keep looking at it.
2. Slow down or speed up the passage of time (think of the sayings, "A watched pot never boils" and "An unwatched pot boils over").
a) Pick an event of some kind to watch, perhaps a ball game.
b) Watch every detail. It will seem to last a long time.
c) Pick the same event or a different one.
d) With eyes opened or closed, imagine or remember something.
e) Look at the event again. It will seem as if a lot has happened and time sped up.
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