Keeping track of time

This weekend, we switch from Daylight Saving Time back to Standard Time. The sunset that used to happen at 6:00 p.m. will now happen at 5:00 p.m.

This weekend, we switch from Daylight Saving Time back to Standard Time. The sunset that used to happen at 6:00 p.m. will now happen at 5:00 p.m.

Did we gain an hour? Or lose one?

An old saying advises, “Spring forward, Fall back.” So in spring, we move the hands of a clock ahead; in fall, we move them back.

We have trouble describing time. We have much less trouble with the other three dimensions we live in – length, width, and height. We can compare distances, sizes, weights, all functions of those three physical dimensions.

But time is a fourth dimension, and one we cannot ignore. I am not the same height (or weight!) that I was 70 years ago. Kelowna’s population changes every year. Even the stars have moved since Ptolemy defined the constellations 19 centuries ago.

Unless we include the dimension of time, any definition is only partial, and may be suspect.

But we tend to describe time in three-dimensional terms. We move clocks forward, or back. We have more time, or less.

So we will re-set our clocks this Saturday night, probably at bedtime. Eleven o’clock becomes 10:00 – it sounds like losing an hour. But it will actually take one hour longer to get to midnight, so that day must have 25 hours. Instead of an hour less, we gained an hour. And when we get up the next morning, we can sleep an hour longer, because dawn will have come an hour sooner.

Is that confusing enough?

I suspect that our confusion comes from applying spatial measures to time, as if we could pin time in place.

So when the date for a meeting changes, from Friday to Monday, for example, we move the note about it ahead on the calendar. But is that really ahead? If the meeting changed from Monday to Friday, later the same week, we could equally well speak of moving it farther ahead.

Time is not an object – it’s more like water that runs through our fingers no matter how hard we try to grab it.

Modern technology enables us to overcome some limitations of time. I can listen to a “live recording” of musicians who died decades ago. Television programs “recorded live before a studio audience” continue forever in re-runs. Photographs show people as they used to be.

Fascination with time seems to distinguish us from other creatures. Animals, being mobile, must be aware of three-dimensional space. Some animals are also aware of time, in the short-term — they know it’s time for food, they fear being herded into a slaughterhouse, etc. But they don’t, apparently, obsess about the past, or worry about the future.

We do.

Perhaps you can follow the fluidity of time in this message (quoted from memory) that Steve Roney recorded on his answering machine years ago:

“I’m sorry I’m not here to answer your call – no, wait, I am here now, but you’re not. But when you’re here, I won’t be. Anyway, if you leave a message, I will try to call you back when we’re both here at the same time…”

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author of 17 books and several thousand magazine and newspaper articles. He welcomes comments; rewrite@shaw.ca.

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