Monday, July 20, 2009

What Time is It?

Does anybody really know what time it is?

That is not only a lyric from an old rock and roll song that I never much liked, anyway, but it is, apparently, a valid scientific question. At least the Science Channel thought enough of the question to film a really cute Brit flying around the world with his camera crew and his accent that was made to be imitated and his search for time.

I wish I had seen this when my younger brother was in high school. Frugal with his time as well as his money, he saw no reason to be in the building before his first period class. Homeroom, he felt, was optional. The attendance lady saw things in a different light, and their on-going tussles are the stuff of legend. "Mrs. Lemon, the hairdryer wouldn't work and it's humid outside and you know how Little Sister gets when her hair's not right so I couldn't leave until I'd fixed it." She'd sigh, and hand him his Late Card. He'd dutifully fill in the next empty line with his excuses- kidnapped by a band of roving gypsies , the refrigerator was running and I had to catch it - and stealthily shred the card as he neared the 10th (talk to the vice-principal) line. "Mrs. Lemon, what did you do with my Late Card? That last one had some good stuff on it." I wish he (and I) had known that physicists think that no one has the right to say what time it is. It would've been perfect for them.

I've heard of the fabric of time, but it's always been in a literary sense. Now, I come to find out, Einstein's theory involves thinking of space and time as similar entities. If space is "over there" then time is "over there" too. Or maybe over here. Or both? I'm not quite sure. But Albert Einstein (the first and only poster boy I ever hung on my bedroom wall) saw them as the warp and woof of our universe, woven together in an elegant tapestry...... ok ok ok...... but I have been watching the Science Channel and that's how they talk.........

So, time and space exist together and are smooshed by gravity. Time moves slower for you if you are closer to a large object than if you are further from the pull of the object's gravity. There's something about moving faster through space making time seem like it's moving slower for the people standing still, but that piece has been a mystery to me ever since Professor Silverman brought it to my attention in Physics for Poets back in 1971. You'll have to search elsewhere for enlightenment on that part.

The cute Brit found a slo-motion camera and filmed himself doing all kinds of goofy things with his face and his hair and water as he made a point which I lost in the joy of watching his cheeks sway side-to-side. I was able to see the tensile strength of water (an important concept in gardening - especially desert gardening) when he pricked a water balloon and the camera showed it holding its shape even as the cover shrank into the middle of the water's mass. That was quite cool but I'm not sure what it has to do with time.

Time could also be grainy, according to Fay Dowker, a theoretical physicist at an English college which looked to be older than The United States of America. She sees the moments of time unfolding and creating new moments as a perpetual rolling out of the future. She spoke about this as people punted on the river next to the tree under which they were lolling. She didn't know what time it was, either.

While I may not understand the underlying science, I know that one's idea of time is skewed by where you are. Daddooooo died at home, in New York, late on a Saturday night,. By the time the hospice nurse arrived to pronounce him dead, the clock had struck 12 and his coach had turned into a pumpkin. That is to say, his death certificate read Sunday morning. It was the law. It wasn't true, but it was legal. It doesn't really bother me. It would be a different date on the Mayan calendar or the Julian calendar and it moves around crazily on the Hebrew calendar (which the funeral home gave us to remember the anniversary - and how crazy is it to think you'd forget the day your dad died, unless the calendar they wanted you to use bore no resemblance to anything you encounter in your day to day life). For me, though, he died on the Saturday before Thanksgiving between the first and second commercials on Law and Order.

That's a moment in time.

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