By Beverli Jinn
What is time, anyway? According to our calendars, here we are at the end of another year. It’s difficult to know whether this is a good thing or a bad. On the one hand, we’re reminded that we’re physically different than we used to be. Of course, this apparent fact is there in our brain for the duration of our life—or lives, if you’re inclined to consider the possibility that we’ll have to keep on existing in some form until we finish whatever it is that we’re here to accomplish—whoever “we” are.
On the other hand, what has really happened? Our physical body certainly changes. We don’t look like we used to. We can’t do many of the things that we used to. We can do things that we once were not able to.
Someone, a long time ago, decided that human beings need to keep track of all this, that we need to know exactly when everything happened, that we need to plan our lives so that we can be where we’re supposed to be in the future (whatever “the future” may be). When? What does “when” mean?
Alan Alda, the actor who played Hawkeye Pierce in the long running television show “M*A*S*H,” has recently sent out a challenge to the scientists of our day. “What is time?” Alda asks. An important facet of the challenge is that the definition must be understandable to an 11-year-old (whatever an 11-year-old may be).
What is time?
At its most basic level, time is a construct invented by human beings to enable them to measure the activities of humankind. Without time, we would have no way of knowing when to turn on our television sets so that we can watch “Jeopardy.” Without time, we wouldn’t know when to go to work, when to go back home after a long time on the job, when our favorite sports teams will be playing, when to show up for our wedding, when to take the next dose of a medication.
Oh, sure, we’d learn how to cope with most of these situations. Obviously, human beings before us figured out how to schedule their activities without clocks . . . without calendars, without computers. Almost certainly, prehistoric hunter/gatherers noticed that they could count on daylight and darkness to enable them to plan their work week to a certain degree. It probably didn’t make a difference to them how old they were or what time the wife got dinner on the table.
Somewhere along the way, though, somebody figured out that there was a pattern to the behavior of those celestial bodies. Somebody figured out that it was possible to keep track of the sun and moon and even some of those other lights in the sky. It was possible to plan the events of their lives. Somebody invented time. OMG! What a concept. Life would never be the same.
This did not mean that time was anything in and of itself. The heavenly bodies continued to do their thing. Early man could make use of this behavior, but he had no way (nor would he ever have a way) to control what was happening. Sophisticated modern man’s ability to make use of the concept of time has become an obsession. Almost everything we do is influenced by time.
So here it is; the year 2013 is upon us. The Times Square Ball is poised to descend as millions join in the countdown. Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians played their final Auld Lang Syne on radio 40 years ago. Dick Clark, who took over in producing the TV version of the ball drop made his final appearance in 2012. And so it goes. Humankind continues, life after life after life, methodically pretending to keep track of that which exists only in its collective awareness of itself.
In Dana Point, you and I join in, somehow believing that the change in our physical and spiritual selves can be measured in terms of an arbitrary number that we assign to it.
How old am I? Maybe as old as the eternal universe itself.