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Time is of the essence
Published in Ahram Online on 22 - 09 - 2020

We have become tired and weary of sitting idly with time on our squeaky clean hands.
We wait impatiently for this apparent absurdity to end, when our tormentors will be convinced it is time to resume our normal life. What a waste of precious time, for time is precious — a subject we started to ponder in our spare time.
We almost wish we had not. Little did we know we were opening a can of worms — no — dragons, monsters, giants.
The concept of Time has haunted man, since the beginning of time.
Did Time begin when God created the moon and the stars?
How often have we used the word? How often do we use it in our daily lives?
The state of understanding Time is less than what a reader might want to know.
Learning about it is no easy matter. A bull in a china shop would have fared better. With a million questions spinning in our minds, there were 10 million opinions out there, by scholars, philosophers, scientists, analysts, physicists, meta-physicists, paleontologists, molecular biologists, chemists and the rest of them.
There is one potential agreement among philosophers —that Time is continuous. It has an intrinsic direction. It moves forward. We do not experience it moving or going backwards. Though we sometimes use the term ‘Time stopped'. Time never stops. Events keep progressing from past to present to future, but only the present exists for us.
Does Time have a substance? What is it made of? Does it have a beginning? An end? So many theories have been put forward through the centuries.
The ancient Indians and Greeks were among the first to confront the question: was Time linear or cyclical, endless or finite?
Aristotle. Galileo, Newton, Kant plus a zillion others have had their say.
The measurement of Time began with the invention of the sun-dial by the ancient Egyptians, prior to 1500 BC. For three millenia the basic unit of Time was the period of daylight.
Time was one of the most mysterious concepts, argued about up to the Middle Ages.
During the Age of Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries) early modern philosophy began once again questioning the nature of Time. Is it real or absolute, or merely an abstract concept that humans use to sequence events?
Immanuel Kant provided the first philosophical expression in modern thought: “Time became the pure and empty form of everything that moves and changes.”
In the 19th century, philosophers began to question whether the present was really an instantaneous concept or a duration. Conventionalists and phenomenologists made their contributions, leaving us without a definition of Time.
Physicists define Time as the progression of events from the past to the present into the future. Basically, the system is unending. It is timeless.
So, by now do we know the meaning of Time? No.
The word Time has several meanings, one can mean the direction of events, as when we say, “it took us a longer time”, or it can mean the temporal location of an event, as “the time he arrived at home”. It can also mean the temporal structure of events, as, investigating time rather than space.
What if instead of Time there is no Time? There is no one answer agreed upon as to why our universe contains Time instead of no Time, why it contains physical laws instead of no physical laws, or why it exists, instead of why it doesn't.
Physicist Alan Guth of Princeton University believes “the laws of physics can exist even if the universe does not.”
There needs to be something outside of the universe and outside of Time in order to bring the universe and its time into existence. We, or most of us, believe that it is a supernatural force, we call God. Needless to say, this is a philosophically, scientifically, controversial assumption.
Early in the 20th century a revolution in physics occurred in the work of one Albert Einstein.
In 1905 Einstein challenged the notion of absolute time. Time is nothing more than an illusion created by our minds. Past, Present and Future exist at the same Time. They are all happening simultaneously because there is only one moment in time that exists.
This is the picture of the universe created by Einstein and the Theory of Relativity, published in 1915. How they clapped, and cheered and approved and praised and complimented this German genius.
Undoubtedly, he is a genius — a giant in the field of physics — a prophet of the concept of Time.
Despite the number of publications, 3,789, against his theory, most physicians around the world applaud Einstein.
In his own words, “People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between Past, Present and Future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” The past and future do not exist and are only concepts used to describe the real isolated and changing present.
We would be remiss if we fail to mention that Einstein is a believer in God Almighty. However, the universe started with his Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago. It was not his original idea, but he adopted it. No time to go into the quantum theory, but all in all Einstein is regarded as the greatest scientist in history.
As we twiddle our clean thumbs we wonder if now we know what Time is.
“What is Time? If no one asks me I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him that asks I do not know.”
St Augustine (354-430 AD)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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