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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Clocks and Time

Clocks (watches) are everywhere. Perhaps you are wearing one right now. Earlier, you would have had one on breast pocket or in waist chain. There is one on bottom right of your screen. There may be one on your desk and couple on your walls. Perhaps your washing machine, dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave oven, car dashboard and mobile phone also have one. Modern man is so bound by time that he cannot escape looking at one frequently. Most of our activities are dictated by time but even if they are not, we are not comfortable without being aware of current time. Imagine if you had no access to time for one day. Would you be able to manage? Sun provides rough approximate of time but that’s usually not enough for for precision oriented man. 

A while ago I read a short story about a few prisoners imprisoned in a windowless room. Can you guess what was their most prized possession? A wrist watch. A watch which would tell them what time of day was. A watch which will guide them to passage of time, days and dates. It didn’t matter that that information was of no use. What mattered most was the concept of time was alive in their mind. And one day when watch broke, insanity followed. It may not difficult to imagine this if we note our own reaction of unawareness of time. While being fully free in open world, I can imagine sense of irritation, discomfort and panic in timeless world. This was not always so.

There was a time when mankind didn’t have clocks. People worked and planned according to position of sun and routine of daily activities. Perhaps phrase ‘when cows come home’ is derived from that era. Industrialization was the beginning of need of organized and official time. 200 years later time is very precious and looked after measure. With time, time gets meaning. Scientists across the world are devising devices capable of measuring time to smallest of the fraction of second. Synchronization across the world is done to the extent of a second across millennia. Science and technologies have shortened many things, yet we seem to have less and less time for anything. We are eager to learn tips or use equipments which saves time. For what? So that we may work more. We have become slave of time.

But what is time anyway? It’s always difficult to define the simplest concept. Stephen Hawking attempts to define it in his the most famous book A Brief History of Time — which, by the way, is claimed to be a book most bought and least read — as direction in which entropy increases. However, because time is such fundamental quantity that any definition has danger of becoming circular definition. Time may be 4th dimension or time may be figment of our collective illusion.