Strapped For Time

It seems to me that we’re obsessed with time enough as it is, and by putting on watches we’re strapping ourselves to time even more literally! We want more degrees of temporal freedom – but there’s a paradox…

As time travel fans we often feel the need to understand the nature of time so that we can have an idea of how we can travel through it. Or scramble out of the River of Time and splash back into it at another time / location. Or some other way of bypassing time’s normal flow or passage.

However, the precise nature of time seems to elude us. Qualitatively, it’s unclear, but in some ways time travel is more concerned with its quantitative nature – how much of it there is. Indeed, it seems a logical prerequisite that in order to verify time travel we need a means of its measurement.

But why the clock?

Are we as time travel enthusiasts different from others when we obsess about one of the 4 dimensions? I don’t think so, especially when we consider that often we look more at the measurement of time rather than at time itself – how many time travel sites and authors use the image of a clock as an icon (ahem…look at the favicon of this site! πŸ˜‰ )

Other sites obsess over other dimensions and units of measure: health and fitness, weight loss (mass). Holidays and travel (temperature, distance), 18+ sites (size, proportions, not just linear, but their differentials (curves…)).

Of course – I’d argue that the dimension of time trumps the lot – it’s intrinsic to our state of being; when we talk about the meaning of life (love) we talk (and sing) about our hearts beating as one. Our heart defines our natural rhythm, “the old ticker”.

An obsession with clocks and watches

It seems to me that we’re obsessed with time enough as it is. From the moment the alarm clock goes off in the morning to when our body clocks alert us through some biological means that we’re tired and that we’ve had enough awake time, we depend on time.

By putting on watches we’re strapping ourselves to time. We catch the commuter train at a specific time (allegedly – bar delays and cancellations) to take us to work which begins (note: not ends…) at a set time. Meetings are scheduled to start at a set time – and we righteously become aggrieved when those meetings demand more time from us than originally allocated.

Everything is run by time. Einstein is quoted as saying that “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once”. Makes sense.

One handed watch
Would it make a difference if it was 3:41 or 3:42? Image courtesy:

I have a friend who showed me a watch he’d received as a gift from his wife – a special watch which at first I thought was faulty because it only had one hand! It turns out that’s its special feature!

Having only an hour hand means that he’s not tied to time – always watching the minutes and seconds and using them to dictate his life. He’s got a greater degree of freedom by vanquishing such precision – more room, more time for movement. He knows it’s around 2 pm, or somewhere between 2 and 3 pm.

Whilst such a watch won’t help me catch my train (though I suspect I’m sure that many train drivers use such a watch) I love the idea! Not being tied to time, not literally strapping ourselves to it and enjoying a certain kind of freedom! Surely it’s a better way to truly live in the present and to seize the day!

And when the day’s over? We turn to bed and sleep; our minds are untangled from time and we enter a place – the land of nod – where as the movie “Inception” reminds us, time flows at a different rate, or indeed, exhibits an entirely different behaviour than in our normal waking hours.

The paradox

Seems to be a paradox that we wish to free ourselves of time in some way, and perhaps this is one of the key drivers for a desire to time travel. Yet at the same time, in order to time travel we need to be keenly aware of time…


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A finger to the clock

The distinct resonant tock of an old analogue clock. A hammer hitting nails in the analogue coffin. Their time is up, their glory gone in a sonorous din.


I like the idea of analogue clocks because they measure time exactly.

For example, the position of a hand on a clock face can indicate when the moment of a third of a second has been reached, whereas a digital clock is inherently incapable of this feat – at best it shows an instant in time in decimal notation to a limited number of decimal points.

And for irrational numbers that’s not exact.

But my problem with analogue clocks and watches is this: that the glory of analogue and continuous monitoring of time is punctuated. And how irrational is that?


It is true that this is largely down to the inherent mechanical design of a clock or watch (although some models do have “sweep” hands) but what I find close to unforgivable is that the precise toiling of the cogs and sprockets and springs and things is deliberately engineered that it grates on the aural senses with an audible “tick tock”.


Not just every hour, or every minute, but every single second. Actually, sometimes more; smaller watches have the rapid tick-tick-tick-tick, a tick every half second or so.

This ticking and tocking is arguably worse than the Japanese water torture where the irregular dripping of water causes psychological neurosis. But the regularity of the tick-tock means that the next one is expected. So we wait for it. And the next, and the next and the…



It’s an irrational crime against Analogue to interrupt or to mark the passing of predefined moments in such a way.

Tick tock cuckoo.

In this post I revealed what a Dutch clock is. Dutch clocks and grandfather clocks are the worst culprits as the swing of the pendulum creates such a thud of a tock that the body reverberates in an anti-echo of antagonised yearning of peace; their analogue glory gone in a sonorous din.

And if that’s not enough, most models mark the passing of each hour – sometimes even each half and quarter hour – with further exclamations emanating from the time piece to remind us of their presence. Aargh, the distinct resonant tock of an old clock.

A hammer hitting nails in the Analogue coffin. Their time is up, especially for those which have cuckoos or hideous figurines which come out and make quite literally a song and a dance about the time.

Pepper pot, Zwolle
The “Peperbus” (“Pepper pot”) in Zwolle, the Netherlands. Image courtesy:

The chimes of Big Ben (London) are world famous. Not so well known is The Peperbus (Zwolle, Holland) plays a variety of songs (including the theme song to The A-Team) prior to donging local (and some not-so-local) inhabitants to near audible death. (Or how some Londoners might pronounce it, deaf! πŸ˜‰ ) Noise pollution. And yes (and bear in mind I say this as an unbiased practising Christian) I find the sound of a church bell untuneful, dull, and sickly lacking in sonic lustre or attraction.

Even my 2 year old daughter makes a more tuneful racket when thrashing a wooden spoon against the side of a baking tray (and admittedly I say that as a highly biased Dad!)

The thing about digital watches

The author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, made the comment in the first of that ‘trilogy’ (of 5…) that humans thought digital watches were “…a pretty neat idea”. And as a human, I tend to agree.

Digital clock

True, we need to read the time (numerically, in series) rather than ‘tell’ the time from a bizarre form of parallel (clock)face recognition.

And it’s true that some morons set their digital watches to make an hourly chime.

And it’s true that some digital watches have so many functions that the battery size required to power them all takes more space than my wife needs to parallel park.

It’s also true some digital watches and clocks are too faint to read in daylight, or too bright to allow sleep at night and burn red holes in your retinas as you desperately try to count sheep.

But digital watches and clocks are silent. There’s no noise with digital clocks. Silence is golden…they just simply let the time pass!

A final thought: If analogue clocks have hands, shouldn’t digital clocks have fingers? πŸ˜‰


Watch the time machine!

Place a thermometer into boiling water, and it will read 100 degrees centigrade. Now plunge the same thermometer into a bucket of ice. The difference in temperature is (at least) 100 degrees, but there is a lag with the thermometer reading. It won’t immediately read 0 degrees, but it will go through the intermediate temperatures (albeit quickly) from 100 degrees, down to 0.

It can easily be argued that the thermometer is in part reading the temperature of itself – it’s own internal temperature, rather than the true ambient temperature.

Keep this in mind as we take an instantaneous journey through time in a time machine…

In an earlier post I demonstrated how the progression of time through space is instantaneous. But how does time progress in a time emachine?

Consider this. A person goes in a time machine and is instantly placed from the present to say 100 years into the future (as far as “instant” is possible…let’s call it experienced time).

Will the watch he’s wearing read t = 0 and instantly transform to t = 100 years? Or like the thermometer, will it pass through all the intermediate times like the thermometer read intermediate temperatures? Will he?

It might seem that a watch, by changing from one state of time to another, intrinsically needs to go through the intermediate times. But this implies a non instant travel. It sounds a little paradoxical that instant time travel means travelling [instantly] through all times in between!

Alternatively, does the watch measure the moment of ambient time, such as a GPS receiver ‘checking in’ to a satellite clock signal? Or does it measure the progression of experienced time?

I mentioned that this particular time machine operates instantaneously. That is to say that the “experienced time” is zero. Ambient time, therefore undergoes an instant change. This raises the question of how is an instant change in time possible?

Let’s pause for a moment on a slight detour and consider a well known thought experiment. On a train.

A train is traveling at a constant speed of 125 mph towards the west. A fly is buzzing in exactly the opposite direction, on a collision path with the train.

The collision inevitably takes place, and I think it’s fair to say that neither the train or the fly are aware of the event.

Now let’s consider the movement of the train and the fly.

The train is moving to the west at constant speed, collides with the fly, and continues its movement to the west (with a very slightly reduced velocity owing to increased combined mass with the fly).

The fly was flying towards the east. It collides with the train, then moves with the train towards the west. This means that the fly’s velocity changes sign, i.e. it goes from an arbitrary positive, through zero, to negative.

At the moment that the fly had zero velocity, it was in contact with the train. It might seem logical to assume that the train must therefore also have a zero velocity…but we know from experience that this is not the case.

We have therefore defined an infinitesimally small moment in time, but how to explain it? (Aside – this is the great thing about time travel – one question leads to another! πŸ™‚ )

I was spinning on a roundabout with my daughters last week trying not to retch. They were fine; they were sitting near the middle, whereas I was on the outer rim. How was it possible that I had a greater linear velocity than they, and yet we were all in contact, much like the fly and the train?

The clue is that we were sitting on the same roundabout, undergoing the same angular velocity. Even the infinitesimally small point in space in the dead centre…was still rotating at the same rate as the rest of us.

And there it is. Angular velocity. I suppose that it’s not for nothing that people talk about the wheel of time! πŸ˜‰

So back to our question of how is local ambient time experienced in an instantaneous time machine. Could it be that the local time is compressed or contracted to a point of ‘zero time’, (not to be confused with t = 0, an arbitrary reference time point) and regrows back to a new time? This zero time point would be analagous to the ‘fly point’ of zero velocity, or the zero space point on the roundabout.

Progression along the radius of the roundabout maintaining constant angular velocity showed that these zero points are possible. How that can be translated to time, or get it to regrow again…well there lies the magic of a time machine!