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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?

George Carlin was a brilliant observer of and commentator on our times. He was also a brilliant analyst of American English. But he didn't get everything right. No shame there.

In his funny routine about time he said we "invented" it -- that before we invented it, time did not exist: "We made that whole thing up. There is no time."

I can't agree. It is true we invented something relevant to time, but it wasn't time itself. What we "invented" was a labeling system, conveniently synced with the movement of the earth and moon, so we could organize our lives. Now it's light; whoa, now it's dark. It's not both at once. (No reason to belittle that, which I think Carlin wanted to do.) It is no point in his favor that different civilizations have had different labeling systems. They are all labeling the same thing; they just started at different points or had different methods of labeling.

But what we all label is real because even without a labeling system, there would still be past, present, and future; then, now, and not yet. Did we invent dogs because we "invented" the word dog? Would dogs not exist because a civilization had no word for them? Does it matter that different languages have  different words that mean "dog"? I don't think so.

We don't get born, live our lives, and die all at once. Each show Carlin did, like each of his bits, had a beginning, middle, and end. At every one of his appearances, there were jokes he told, was telling, and would tell. We didn't imagine that. Who would have paid big bucks for tickets if everything had happened at the same -- dare I use the word? -- time? There was a kind of real "space" (but not physical space) between each of the things I've mentioned.

Many things happen in sequence; that is, they require time. Even light has a speed limit, which means instantaneity is not absolute; as Einstein showed, it is relative to one's frame of reference. By the way, if time slows down as the speed of light is approached, it must be real.

Duration can be too small to notice, but it is there. I don't mean to say that things can't happen at the same time. You and I drop can watermelons at the same time, but they will need time to reach the ground.

Time is real, George, not an invention. I love you and miss you, but in this case you uncharacteristically sacrificed the truth for a laugh, for which I am happy to forgive you.

1 comment:

August said...

I think when we use time correctly we are measuring movement in relation to some other object or multiple objects. Time is basically just measurement, and the 'belngness' of time is really the reliability of certain objects (like the planet) to be there.

We imagine things are in the future or in the past, but I think there is only 'now' and we are the ones either present to it or not. Even the time it takes for messages to pass through the neurons means we are always behind the now. The labels- future, past- are useful, but the unfortunate sense of direction 'forward' is not.

I remember hearing a physicist saying some of the equations they were working with with regard to the universe worked better if you disregarded time. This makes sense to me because movement probably cancels out and doesn't matter much on that scale. But it is hard for us to think that way because movement can matter very much to us personally- don't want to be in the path of a bullet for instance.

Space seems more real to me, but even there it is not clear how much beingness does it have. The universe actually has stuff in it, and they say there is nothing outside of it- not even space. This is another thing that is hard to wrap one's mind around- what does it mean to have no space? Does this mean that nothing could travel outside of the universe? Or would space travel with the thing?