(The following was published in the Newsleader on January 8, 2010)
We just finished our first decade of the twenty-first century. That has caused me to wonder about the meaning of time. What is time? A friend once told me, "Time ain't nothing to a hog eating corn." As a matter of fact, time means nothing to any animal except a human. Measuring time is a human invention. It is, at first consideration, both a brilliant invention as well as one of the more stupid accomplishments of humans. If there was no measurement of time you wouldn't know whether you were twenty-one years old or eighty- one years old and you probably wouldn't care. To the natural world there is day and night. That's all. Sure there are seasons but still there is just night and day. There is no time to go to bed or a time to get up. There are no meal times. If you are sleepy, you go to bed. If you are hungry, you eat. If you get cold, you seek warmth and if you are hot, you seek coolness.
Humans, however, are way too sophisticated for this simplicity. Humans have to have seconds, minutes and hours. They must have days, weeks, months, and years. They must have meal times and bed times. Think about this. What if you didn't have a way of telling time for an extended period? Let's just say that you found yourself in the mountains without electricity, no radio or television, and no means of communication with the outside world. How long do you suppose it would take before you found that you didn't need to measure time? It would soon become a matter of day and night and that's all. If you got thirsty, you would drink. When you got hungry, you would eat and when you got tired, you would rest. It really wouldn't matter whether it was one o'clock in the morning or one o'clock in the afternoon. Besides, you wouldn't know.
If the weather got cold, you would look for a way of getting warm. It the weather got hot, you would look for shade. If someone asked you your age, you wouldn't know because you would have no way of measuring it.
In the natural world every thing is controlled by the amount of daylight and darkness. That determines the flowering of plants as well as when they go to seed. It decides when geese fly south and then return to the north. The amount of daylight and darkness alerts animals and plants when to reproduce. Are we any better off identifying these periods by an artificial measurement? Could humans exist without time measurement? How would life be different?
One of the great things about writing essays and columns is that I don't have to have any answers, only questions. Look at your normal existence. How much of your life is consumed and controlled by time? Is it time to eat, to go to work, to go to bed, to get up? Are you of legal age? Are you old enough to retire? If there was no official time measurement, how would you know any of these things? Most of us are slaves to time. Time controls our entire lives. Those lives incidentally are also measured by time.
We all know of people who died young and those who have lived long lives. I don't know about you but when I look at the obituaries, I automatically look to see their age. I don't know why I do, I just do. I guess there is some standard that we impose and when that standard is exceeded either way, we need to know. It must be a part of that slavery I spoke of earlier.
Personally I don't know if we would be better off without the invention of time measurement. We have a certain order that this measurement brings us but I have found the older I get, the less I am concerned about time. Maybe that is good. Maybe as I see time fleeting I am better off not paying much attention to it.
Ron Scarbro January 4, 2010 Somewhere in time.
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