Jon de Vos – It’s about time
Winter Park, CO Colorado
About 7,000 years ago, the Sumerians lived in what is today southern Iraq. They decided that time was nothing more than a convenient way to divide the day.
Since then, nobody has ever figured out a better definition. You’ve heard it described: Time is Money, Time is of the Essence, Time is nature’s way to prevent everything from happening at once, and so forth. Scientists and philosophers have harangued each other for centuries about what exactly a century was.
Then one day they all got together, probably at a kegger and agreed, “We may not know what time is, but to make us sound smarter, we’ll call it ‘a fundamental element’.” They decided that time was one of those basics from which other things are derived. Velocity, for instance, is derived from time multiplied by distance, as in miles per hour and feet per second. You can’t multiply two things together and get time. Time is a basic building block.
In high school, most of my teachers were Jesuit priests with a surprising, no, make that a startling, predilection for the sanctity of promptness. When the bell rang, I was expected to be in my seat with the textbook open to the proper page. They tried for my soul but I left them with only battered knuckles.
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The measurement of time is a totally artificial construction, and not a very logical one at that. Travelers crossing the International Date Line that zig-zags across the Pacific, gain a day. “What did you do yesterday?” “I don’t know, I never had it.”
Isn’t it the same time everywhere? If something happens, doesn’t it happen just once? Television would lead us to believe that things happen earlier as you head west. Three o’clock in Denver is really 2 o’clock in Los Angeles. Why? You’ve heard of Greenwich Mean Time. Greenwich is a dinky little London suburb. It is not humanly possible for me to care less what time some tea-swilling Britishers think it is. They’re still ruled by the Queen Mum parading around in a tiara, for God’s sake.
Ephemeris Time is based on the orbit of the earth around the sun. Scientists admire ET because it is so uniform. Next comes Universal Time. UT is more accurate because it’s based on the solar time at … guess where? Greenwich, England. It’s exactly the same time as Greenwich Mean Time, but they’ve changed the name to confuse the disinterested.
Unable to leave well enough alone, science conjectured UT2 Time. UT2 Time is more accurate yet, but not very practical because it’s based on complex astronomical observations that take up a lot more time than they’re worth.
Then, in 1964, somebody, probably somebody in a lab coat, conceived of Coordinated Universal Time, abbreviated UTC, don’t ask me why.
UTC is more accurate than either GMT, UT, ET, or UT2, because it is based on the earth’s orbit, and measured by the vibration of cesium atoms. But because the earth is slowing down, it needs an extra second or two every year.
Now we also have International Atomic Time (inexplicably abbreviated TAI) which is nothing more than internationally averaged cesium clocks. But then, Pulsar Time, based on the pulsations of distant stars is much more accurate than Cesium Time requiring only that one is able to count very, very quickly.
And we’re still not finished. Radiometric Time, based on the decay of radioactive elements may make the most accurate clocks yet. But before we get all caught up in the detail, it would be best not to forget that all this tomfoolery is based on the brainstorm of some ancient Sumerian king who wanted things to happen one after another.
If you truly believe there’s a time for every purpose under heaven, why, you’ll never be late for another meeting.
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