Thursday, May 22, 2008

About Time

"Dad, why are there sixty minutes in an hour?" said K to me the other day.

I didn't know the answer, a recurring feeling these days, but have since googled it and discovered that the ancient Babylonians used to like counting to a base of sixty. This morning I rang K and told her the results of my research. She was on the bus on the way to school but, even though there was lots of showing off in front of her friends to be done, she seemed suitably interested and keen on me explaining it to her friend Anna.

K's continual thirst for knowledge has been evident since she was very young. She went through that thing that little children go through, when they ask "why?" to everything, but she kept going. It's endearing and taxing and keeps most around her on their toes.

When she asked me the question, although I didn't know the answer, it led to a brief disussion about the concept of time, though as I've written it I realise the phrase "a brief discussion about the concept of time" is one of the most oxymoronic phrases I've ever written, perhaps just a bit influenced by Stephen Hawkins, who clearly isn't a moron of any kind.

Time fascinates me. Maybe it's a factor in my passion for drumming, that whole thing about keeping time and subdivisions is a fundamental element of drumming, as is having a car big enough to carry a drum kit.

K asked me what "they" did before time was invented. The way kids and even adults talk about "they" is amusing isn't it? Like it's a group of people elected by the general population and their role is to invent things. Maybe "they" would have morning meetings and brainstorming sessions, although I don't think brainstorming had been invented in those days, so they would have just been called "sessions".

Perhaps "they" would decide, in the Tuesday morning meeting, that they'd invent the wheel that day. But how could they decide on that if time hadn't yet been invented? Or did time always exist, but it was man who decided how to measure it? How could they know that it was Tuesday morning if they hadn't come up with the concept of measuring time? Unless they called Tuesday something else, like Wednesday. I guess morning would have been quite easy to figure out as it was that bit before lunch and after breakfast, but then someone would have had to sort out what time to serve them. Presumably it wouldn't be the same people who decide what time to serve breakfast in hotels, because they're just cruel. Or German. Or both.

K and I were discussing the time thing for a while, or a time. We knew that a year is the time it takes for the Earth to go around the sun, or thereabouts. It's also the time it takes for the Sri Lankan calendar to have exactly four times the number of public holidays as the rest of the world put together. After that we were a bit stumped.

She asked me what "they" did before time was subdivided by man. She didn't use the word "subdivided", but she meant it. It's really got me thinking about the man made aspect of time. As far as I'm concerned time exists, it's just there hanging around whether we like it or not, a bit like the heating always being on in my parents' house.

Maybe in the future we'll be able to travel through time. That in itself would be wild and interesting. We could play tricks and do silly things. I'd immediately come back and write this post with some incredible insight to make you think I was a scientific genius. Imagine if Sir Arthur C and those other brilliant science fiction writers were / are actually time travellers who have come back and conned us all.

What if the reason they're so insightful is because they've actually seen the things they write about? "They" could make a film about that sort of thing, with a time travelling kid in a American / Irish crap sports car converted into a time machine. Remember where you heard the idea.

K and I chatted and pondered aloud. It's nice when we have one of these spells. She has this kind of advanced intelligence mixed with a childish curiosity about almost everything and I have childish intelligence mixed with advanced curiosity, so it all balances up quite well. We contemplated life without clocks and man made measurement of time.

A day would be sunrise to sunset. A week wouldn't have existed and each day would have been a natural progression from the previous one. Presumably my Sri Lankan cousin A, the sniffing one with no concept of time whatsoever, would have existed in a state of equilibrium. Anyone meeting him would never complain about him turning up three hours late as hours hadn't been invented. The sniffing would still bother them though.

But time always did tick away quietly in the background, it was us who came up with the way of measuring it. For so many years man must have existed without measuring time so accurately and specifically. Then "they" must have invented the watch. In one of their Tuesday, or Wednesday morning, or before lunch meetings, one of the chaps would have been proudly displaying his new Casio G shock.

The problem would have been that no one knew what it did. Fellows around the table would have stared at it and marvelled at its ruggedness and its ability to deflect magnetic fields, but they wouldn't have known what the hours, minutes and seconds stuff related to.

Until that chap at the back, the one who never said much since he came up with that idea about the round thing that rolls, the wheel he called it, said

"Hold on a minute lads, I've got a great idea..."


Indyana said...

My goodness! K's questions reminded me so much of my eldest! He's the one that had me putting on my thinking cap searching out answers from wherever I could,and at times my own rusty mind for his scarily intelligent questions!It always made me feel really dumb! And still does!

Anonymous said...

I think , a considerable amount of one's vocabulary would also not the ending "wait a minute guys..."
BTW it can't be G shock , because I think it claims for battery life of 10years!!

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Indyana - Scary stuff indeed!

Anon - Good point, I hadn't thought of that. Unless they'd scratched that bit out and made it read

"Battery life of ???? units still to be invented"