The Flow of Time

The flow of time is relative. There really isn’t a now in the universe. I often marvel about what might be going on RIGHT NOW in the world somewhere. When watching the Olympics late at night and realizing that it’s a completely different time of day in Russia “right now.” When thinking about my daughter on vacation in Thailand  and realizing that the time zones are just about opposite. But these are just simple comparisons of the flow of time on earth. It is quite possible to think about what is happening “right now” and it still makes some sense.

This gets more fascinating when I think about historical alignments. A friend reminded me that a long time ago it blew her mind when I told her that cowboys and Beethoven were contemporaries. Then she sent me this link that points out some more such alignments, for instance that Harvard University was founded before calculus was invented. This reminded me of a few other such comparisons.

The oldest pyramids were built in 2600 BC. Did you realize, for instance, the Cleopatra is closer in timespan to us today than to the building of the pyramids? In other words, the pyramids were more ancient to Cleopatra than Cleopatra is to us. Or you can use Jesus Christ for this example too, since he was born about 30 years after Cleopatra died.

I was born closer to Hitler’s death than 9/11 is to now. So anyone born today would think about 9/11 as further back in history than I did about Hitler.

I lived and watched the moon landings, which were, at the time, the height of science and technology. A person born today, 45 years after the first moon landing, would be as far away from that time as I was from 1911.

5th Ave 1911
New York City, 5th Ave, 1911

The cars in the photograph above in New York City were still a new-fangled invention, coexisting with horses.  They were about as new a technology then as the Internet is to us now.

Here is one that will truly blow your mind: Tyrannosaurus lived closer to our current time than to the time of the Stegosaurus. I wrote a whole post in this blog about that not too long ago. Try to wrap your head around this one.

Then, of course, things get much trickier when we consider space travel. Today we are used to instant communications. We can text message with somebody in Australia and clearly be in the same moment together, even though it’s night there and day here. But when we send people on a trip to Mars, which apparently several different space-faring entities, NASA being one of them, are now contemplating for the next 10 to 20 years, it will get more complicated. Due to the distance of Mars, and the trajectory of a spaceship to get there, it could take up to 10 minutes each way for the “instant” message to travel. So a person on such a spaceship, texting a message to me, or sending a “facetime” instant video, would have to wait 20 minutes for a response. When is NOW in that context? That lag would expand to years should we ever travel to other stars in the very distant future. Truly, the concept of NOW is much more complicated.

For a final thought, it often occurs to me that there are other intelligent life forms in the universe, most likely billions of civilizations, right now – whatever “right now” means.

The flow of time is definitely relative.

Leave a Reply