Monday, October 27, 2014

Time is Really Cool

Time [tahym]

The system of those sequential relations that any event has to any other, as past, present, or future; indefinite and continuous duration regarded as that in which events succeed one another.

I included that definition, not because I'm going to refer to it or anything, but rather because it's sort of the conventional way to start a discussion as narrow as this one will be (I have a very loose definition of "narrow")-- I guess that's so we're all on the same page before I start rambling on about something with which you may not be familiar, but, at least in this case, you would have been just as well off had you neglected to read the definition I (or, transitively, the internet) gave to you.

Time is really cool, guys. It's one of my favorite things. Time is this immutable constant (redundant, yes, but I like those syllables together-- I'm obsessed with the way syllables interact with each other, but I'll tell you about that another time); it's this thing which drives all of creation. We often like to say that we "manage" our time, but that's kind of dumb, right? We can't "take charge" of or "dominate" time; we're completely subject to its influence, and it's completely immune to ours, and, in a strange way, that's a very freeing idea. Humor me for... however long it takes you to read this.

Do you know what a second is? You probably thought you did, but you probably didn't, actually. That being said, you were just a Google search away from knowing that a second is "the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom." I'm not going to cite that source. Sue me. Anyway, that's what a second is, and it doesn't change. Tomorrow, a second is still a second and an hour is still 3,600 of them, and there's nothing you can do to change that. Now, some of you astute readers are sitting behind your computers thinking about those articles you've read and those rumors you've heard about time travel and the slowing of time and blablabla, but, if you're willing to take me at my word, I'm willing to spare you the majority of the details and just tell you that time does not change or contradict itself. Even if time seems to pass differently for objects moving at relativistic speeds, this is really just an artifact of their reference frames, and, should they be brought near each other again, physics would ensure that their differences would be reconciled as a result of the non-ambiguous turn-around which one of the objects would inevitably have to undergo. I don't know how to do this concept more justice with my insufficient words (this is practically redundant as well, but, again, I'll write about that later), but can we both just agree that the idea of something by which you're always bound but with which you can never interact is awesome? I'm sure we can.

That being said, I have to give a nod to the one way in which we humans can (sort of) interact with time. Probably my favorite aspect of literature is the way that the passage time is sort of up to the author's discretion. A writer can suspend you for minutes in just a moment by giving you more words to read than you possibly could in the time that passes from the character's point of view. Conversely, the writer, or director, or story-teller, or whatever has the ability pull you through years in just seconds. There are many other ways in which the author of a story can manipulate your sense of time, but I don't have time to go into all of them, so I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

Time drives (almost) all things forward. It's an integral part of the system which governs all things in the physical world. Chad is fast because he can run certain distances in less time than others can; if he could change or manipulate time, the concept of speed would become completely ambiguous because that immutable standard to which all runners were once compared no longer holds. Without the constant nature of time, there is no speed or efficiency; one could literally accomplish everything within the scope of our physical boundaries (this idea is clearly a contradiction, but we'll let that rest), could he manipulate time. It is this constant nature that secures the existence of a standard to which we can all be measured. "All in good time," people say (though I'm not entirely sure what distinguishes "good time" from "bad time"). Why do they say that? I've told you why: time drives (almost) all things forward. It's this intangible force which ensures that, no matter the situation, a new one will arise. Even if you have a test in an hour, and even if you aren't prepared for it, and even if you miserably fail that test an hour from now, it will still, eventually, be behind you because, say it with me this time, "time drives (almost) all things forward." Pretty cool.

I said that our inability to interact with time is a "freeing idea." This seems counter-intuitive given the common knowledge that we're all subject to the effects of time, which seems inherently restricting, but think back to the example of that test you're about to fail. Soon, it will be over. This applies to everything, and I do mean everything, on the horizon. Quick, think of all of your biggest concerns right now, all of those things that you went on Facebook or Blogger to distract yourself from-- bear with me, I'm not trying to stress you out. Eventually, you will be done with that test, you will survive the semester, you will get out of college, you will make a life for yourself-- you get the idea. Time is one thing (of very few) about which we don't have to worry; it's not something upon which we have to try to exercise our smothering control. It's the only constant that we treat as a variable. It's not restrictive-- it's dependable. It won't change from today to tomorrow: I call that a "freeing idea."

All of the ideas that I've discussed in the previous paragraph were just a segue-in-disguise meant to draw you into my final point, my very favorite thing about one of my favorite things. This, reader, is a big deal. Here it goes. The ties which bind us to time are some of the most foundational (only kind of a word) distinctions between God and man. We, humanity, are constrained to time-- this system of past, present, and future. We're obsessed with what happened yesterday, wrapped up in what's happening today, and blind to what will happen tomorrow. Man is so meager that he can't even comprehend the infinite, so limited that he can't touch time, and oblivious that he is ignorant to his own ineptitude. In contrast, God is so great that he is infinite, so unrestricted that he is both the beginning and the end, and yet so loving and gracious that he gave mercy to whom? Man. And all of this beautiful dichotomy is illustrated through time, the boundary that separates creation from the Creator. Where man can only have authority over the pages in a book or the pixels on a screen, God has authored all of time, with all of mankind as his cast and all of nature as his setting. And his story? His story is the greatest, most complex plot of all time, which climaxes with his return. I can't wait for that day.. but "all in good time."

PS:  Thanks, Jeff, for some edits.