Where we learn that friction can slow you down in the present but expand what’s in the past.
Sure sure, time is a construct, yes indeedee. But it’s also math.
And I’m finding that ye ol time is doing that thing again, that thing that reminds me of what it was doing in March 2020 where hours and days don’t feel like they’re tracking as I am used to having them track, and when I don’t know how to manage let alone fix something that I really want to at least figure out how to fix – or at the very least understand why it is such a challenge to fix – I will turn to mathematics and see what it can offer me which, at the absolute very least, will point me in a direction of further discovery.
War(s). Kidnapping. Innumerable social injustices. A mega important national election on the collective precipice. Yippee.
We must learn to think of the world not as something that changes in time, but in some other way. Things change only in relation to one another. At a fundamental level, there is no time. Our sense of common passage of time is only an approximation that is valid for our macroscopic scale. It derives from the fact that we perceive the world in a course-grained fashion.“Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity”
by Carlo Rovelli (pg. 182)
No surprise, there’s a formula for calculating time.
Yes, the intent with this particular formula is calculating the duration of physical time, but trust that we need to onboard some awareness for ya with this before I’m gonna proceed to the construct of time – such as it is something to be experienced. Soooo, this formula comes in handy when you need to go from here to there and you have a good idea of how quickly you may be moving – perhaps you just figure out what your average speed will be – and voila, you are now in fair competition with your preferred location app.
The whole concept of time is loaded with a bunch more math & science, calculations whose components need to take into consideration not just distance and speed, but also things like velocity (the rate of change of position over time) and acceleration (the rate of change of velocity over time). Though I really want to get in to this now but, it’s too much too soon (though please let me know if you want me to get in to this at a later time).
The moments that alter the overall fluidity of the motion of time – the pauses, the stops, maybe even the tangents or turns – these are known as intervals.
The French philosopher, Paul Janet, proposed that our personal reference to time is in relation to the amount of time that’s already been spent, and our perception of its speed accelerates in proportion to the amount of time that’s already been lived. That’s a pretty good take.
So, the whole length of time that took totally 4EVA when you’re a kid – like, the entire thirteen years of school, from Kindergarten through senior year of high school? Quantitatively, that same amount of time seems to pass by soooo much faster as you blow out more candles each year. Truth.
Okay, now that we have that info let’s get out of observing the physical world and into observing the mental self-experience world. I invited you here to explore the concept of time in the construct of, well, let’s call these past few weeks what they are for a broad expanse of folks: these aren’t just some times, these are some trying times.
…our perception of time’s passage depends upon the amount of new perceptual information we are subjected to from our environment. The more novel stimuli, the longer our brains take to process the information. The corresponding period of time seems, at least in retrospect, to last longer.“The Math Of Life And Death: 7 Mathematical Principles That Shape Our Lives”
by Kit Yates (pg. 36)
The flow of time feels reeeaalll different when you are distilling a new experience as it is happening, trying to make sense of things. The flipside of that is time feels like it is dragging when you are going thru the motions, doing the same thing, day in & day out.
Your experience of how time is passing has a lot to do with what gear your brain is in in order to maneuver through the actions of that day. Low gear, moving slowly, navigating a path that may be unfamiliar to you, learning something new or attempting to comprehend something shocking, hard to process, or even a traumatic experience – as you’re experiencing it, time will seemingly chug right on by ya. In a higher gear, you may be doing the same thing you’ve done many times before, it could be something repetitive or where your brain isn’t particularly challenged nor engaged in any emotions, you’re not doing anything that’s getting your juices pumping. Well, in the words of a great rock band of the 1980’s: “Aw, man, I think the clock is slow.” When you’re in the thick of that happening, familiarity takes less time to process.
Time is an elusive concept. It’s passing constantly, yet it’s so hard to feel. It’s like lying in the grass, trying to feel the Earth rotate. When changes are both small and constant, we can’t grasp them.“For Small Creatures Such As We: Rituals For Finding Meaning In Our Unlikely World“
by Sasha Sagan (pg. 35)
I can grog with the way mathematician and author Jordan Ellenberg refers to this, describing our brains as a sort of counting machine (bloop-bloop): “What happens today will happen tomorrow,” when you just look at time as this successive process, that’s always rolling along at the same cadence.
In an arithmetic progression, the increase each day is the same…. The rule for figuring out each day’s increase is the same tomorrow as it was today. And under our slightly more dressed-up model, what happens tomorrow is whatever the bloop-bloop machine makes out of what happens today. The rate of growth may differ from day to day, but it’s always the same machine.“Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy and Everything Else” by Jordan Ellenberg (pg. 238)
But, then, there’s also something wacky in how we recall a moment in time – especially when it’s a personal memory of a particular time period.
Communication and memory“Time Travel: A History”
are entropic processes.
by James Gleick (pg. 119)
Now, I’m gonna take a bit of liberty here with my generalized definition of entropy (it’s a little bit
country math and a little bit rock-n-roll physics) but essentially entropy is the quantity of disorder that is put upon some sort of system, whether it’s the friction applied to a car speeding down the highway or to you as you’re in the middle of a life-altering experience.
What’s an example of self-imposed entropy? What’s the thing that not only becomes that interval in real time but, when it’s a part of your recall in the future, remains in the same point-of-friction role? Is it those moments of watching tv to just chill out? Or scrolling through a social app? How about the ever popular doom-scrolling; where the hell does that fit in with all of this?
And then there’s another component of time recall, when you witness a ‘new event’ through a filter of some sort. Like, say, alcohol.
Alcohol interferes with recall, in some situations preventing the brain from forming new memories. In other words, it’s not that you can’t retrieve what happened but that the memory never even took shape in your brain. In alcoholic blackouts, one’s actions, words, and memories can all be obliterated.“How To Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency“
by Akiko Busch (pg. 159)
I’ve watched plenty of procedural crime dramas, and people are hypnotized all the time in order to recall a presumed long forgotten memory. I didn’t know that in some circumstances, depending on the source of that memory blockage, there’s a chance that that memory was never recorded in yer brain in the first place. That alcohol is like, “Oh, my bad, did I lean on the console in your brain and hit the pause button on what it was recording? No worries, your recording will resume once you consume a gallon of water and have a deep nap.”
In the late 19th century, a person by the name of Hermann Ebbinghaus was conducting research on memory and forgetting. So, it’s been recorded but honestly misplaced.
Ebbinghaus noted that the rate of forgetting was roughly exponential: that is, forgetting is rapid at first (soon after the material has been learned), but the rate at which information is forgotten gradually decreases. So the rate of forgetting is logarithmic rather than linear.“Memory: A Very Short Introduction”
by Jonathan K. Foster (pg. 9)
This is time that is not only forgotten, but – considering that ‘forgetting is rapid at first’ and looking at that OG mathematical formula to calculate time – I’d presume that the ‘distance’ taken (the amount of information processed) when divided by the ‘speed’ (the pace of delivery of that information) would be like a 2 minute speed-dating experience.
Earlier, I had mentioned intervals and what they might look like during a physical passing of time and how those brief moments can, in a sense, become earmarked. In your self-experience, these are the moments in a conversation or news story where a sentence may have stood out and then becomes your earmarked thing, your recall hook. It’s the “oh yeah, now I remember what you’re talking about. I totally forgot about that conversation till you said that.”
Are these moments – these interval markings – in time, the ones we recall as a part of our memory, do they have any relationship to what mathematician Jordan Ellenberg refers to as “time scales”? If the intervals are the recallable moments in the continuous timeline of one’s experience, then the time scales are the increments of time in between those intervals.
In mathematics, when those time scales are actually measured in some way, those measurements are known as differentials, and by calculating differential equations you can come up with a way to (mathematically) describe those moments of continuous change.
Any physical system whose evolution in time can be described in terms of its current state is governed by a differential equation.“Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy and Everything Else”
by Jordan Ellenberg (pg. 240)
I want to find the real world translation of a differential equation. I want to be able to describe not just the intervals, not only the moments in time that registered in my brain (upon reflection). I want to have access to and be able to recall the time scales.
I get that our brains likely don’t have the capacity to hold that whole continuous flow of info. And folks have attempted to remedy this by inserting as many intervals as they can into their real-time flow. Hello photos! Hello selfies!!
Perhaps I need to figure out a way to slow down time.
I think I know how to do that.
Because time does not pass in the same way everywhere in the world. In some places it flows more quickly, in others more slowly. The closer you get to Earth, where gravity is more intense, the slower time passes.“Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity”
Time does not work as we customarily imagine it does…we must think of time instead as a localized phenomenon: every object in the universe has its own time, running a pace determined by the local gravitational field.
by Carlo Rovelli (pg. 177-178)
Time is such a sensitive thing 🙄 that living at sea level will slow it down compared to living up in a mountain range. This is known as the gravitational potential, represented by 𝑈ɡ .
I know that oven temperatures can vary if you’re baking something at sea level as opposed to at a higher altitude and in turn the amount of baking time would also need to be altered (something about there being less air pressure the more elevation you gain…) but what I most certainly didn’t know, what I had never realized, is that that whole concept applies to time itself. Like, my experience and your experience of a particular time, together.
I’ve spent a lot of, errr, time 😌 thinking about time. Here’s my closing take on it.
Thanks math, you’re the best.