Saturday, May 12, 2018
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.