A unique signature of time

In the same way as Plato’s prisoners or Hawkins’ goldfish, are each of us seeing shadows of time, or a distorted view of it? How is it that each of us judge the duration of a second differently, just as each of us reproduce a uniquely shaped “0” when we hand write?

My teachers at school were always harping on about my poor level of handwriting as it clearly fell outside the margins of what was considered to be acceptable (to them).

It’s a fair point – we all try to write a “0”, for example, but each of us draws it differently – our handwriting is unique, despite each of us trying to replicate an identical shape. And if we are ‘too unique’, we call it “bad handwriting”.

Sure, there are some general patterns (bubbly, scrawly, etc.) but the point is that we all have our own personally unique interpretation of a common number or letter. Perhaps the same can be said too of art – that each of us would draw or paint a different picture even if we are given an identical object to reproduce.

Is it the same with personal time?

Not that we judge time differently. If a group of friends decide to meet outside a bar at 8 pm, it’s likely that there’ll be a spread of times of arrival, probably centered on 8 pm but perhaps with a spread of some +/- 10 minutes.

But whose version of the time is correct?

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave he postulates the idea of prisoners who are only able to see projections of shadows on a wall in front of them – they have no idea of the ‘real’ objects making the shadows, the light behind them, or the source of any sounds that the puppeteers may make and which echo off the cave walls. For them, the echoes and the shadows are the real world.

Image courtesy: http://theglobalelite.org/
Plato’s Cave. Image courtesy: http://theglobalelite.org/

Stephen Hawkins reproduced this idea with a fish who looks out of a goldfish bowl and sees a distorted view of things outside the bowl as the light travels through the glass. On a similar footing, that distorted view is the real world as it really is…for the fish.

In the same way as the prisoners and the goldfish, are each of us seeing shadows of time, or a distorted view of it? How is it that each of us judge the duration of a second differently, just as each of us reproduce a uniquely shaped “0” when we handwrite? Surely a 0 is a 0? There’s even a mathematical formula for a circle! Surely time is time?

Perhaps we’ll never know. Plato’s prisoners, once taken to the surface and shown how things really stand, were unable to accept the truth. And we all know that a fish out of water can’t survive. Could we?

A sundial never lies.
A sundial never lies.

In days old it was said that the camera never lies, but in modern times with digital photography, sophisticated editing software, or even basic filters, the final photo can often look very different from the image which first appeared in the view finder.

Some clocks and watches can [be made to] ‘lie’ too – a readjustment of a setting, or through mechanical fault. Except for a sundial. It’s much harder to tamper with the position of the sun…but isn’t it ironic that a sundial points the time…with a shadow? 😉

Paul

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