“After a friend recommended that I reacquaint myself with Judy Collins’ poignant ballad ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’ I found myself in what many of her fans will recognize: a musically induced spell with muscles and nerves quivering at the same frequency. Though my language is incommensurate with what I was feeling, it was in this splendid, suspended but animated state that I proposed to answer the question that is her title.”—Skip Eisiminger
Skip the B.S.
By Dr. Skip Eisiminge
“Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” by Judy Collins.
I. “Stuck on Now”
In a digital age analog man
finds it hard to look back harder to plan.”—The Wordspinner
CLEMSON South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—1 January 2023—Perhaps it’s because I’ve waded and swum through so much time that I’m rather obsessive about it, but this fixation only intensified when I went from 79 to 80 in one savage night.
Was time gaining on me; was I gaining on my deadline, or is there a difference? Whatever it was, it’s the decades that get my attention, and, at 81, I have no time to spare, for my waking hours are crammed with living, and my sleep is haunted by dreams. I feel like a golfer requesting a do-over in the top half of a sandglass as the little sand remaining slips between his legs. Standing astride the narrow glass aperture like the golfer, I’m incapable of climbing into the future, and I fear tumbling into the past, but that’s where I’m headed. (My wife says she felt something similar when she was breast feeding what she knew would be our last child and milk was spilling onto her blouse.)
“Time in a Bottle,” by Jim Croce.
II. “As for the present it’s that last, wet dot
just as you ink it before the dry blot.”—The Wordspinner
Once, when I was trying to distinguish between spiritual and secular time for students who’d read Ron Rash’s novel Saints at the River, I said, “Take our classroom clock, for example. The sweep second hand behind me illustrates just how fast the present is passing.”
“But Professor,” a student said, “the second hand isn’t moving.” Indeed, for some reason, the second hand was just quivering in place as if held by an invisible hand. Falling back on my “genius,” I said, “Well, in that case, let me shift metaphors. Let that hand represent the eternal, the unchanging nature of spiritual time. That clock may have stopped, but the fire that burns within the clock and us has not gone out.”
Einstein’s theories imply that time has no existence without matter, or that there was no time before the Big Bang, but this layperson says, “Rubbish!” If I time the burst of light from an exploding firecracker, an eternity of time existed before I clicked my stopwatch’s start button, and, I’m confident, there will be an eternity thereafter. That’s why Webster insists that time is a continuum, an orderly succession without beginning or end, which, like dusty scales and rulers, still exists whether it’s measuring something or not. Einstein also stated, and this has been proven, that time slows as speed increases. Thus, when a galaxy or an atom reaches the speed of light at the edge of our expanding universe, it dematerializes, and becomes pure energy, but this wouldn’t prevent someone in a parallel universe from timing those speeding entities’ dematerialized states.
Other physicists say time moves to entropy like every energized thing in the universe, but eternal, infinite time is incapable of energizing anything by itself. I’ve read that a day for the dinosaurs lasted about 22 hours, but that’s because Earth was rotating faster on its axis, not because time passed any faster. As Webster’s definition of time (in my title) states, this irreversible continuum takes up no space. And when the universe finally collapses upon itself, as the Second Law, not Theory, of Thermodynamics predicts, there will be ample time remaining; there just won’t be any clocks or physicists to record it.
As for time travel, there’s the insuperable obstacle of making a body invisible, and the only conceivable way of doing that is to stop a body’s internal movement, which would kill it. However, if a wormhole should present itself, I’d much rather go back to my childhood than go forward to a time in which I know no one. Most of my progressive peers would prefer to go forward, but I’m content with the magnificent time machine we all possess, namely, memory and dreams.
“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” by Chicago.
III. “Skip had a watch made that pricked his wrist
should he ever forget on what time insists.” —The Wordspinner
Oscar Wilde thought punctuality was “the thief of time”; I say it’s a qualified gift, and here’s why. I haven’t ridden an American train in decades, but in Germany, I used to ride them with some regularity. When I realized how obsessively punctual German trains were, I amused myself by waiting until the last second to step on board. With one eye on the station clock, the other on the open door, I stepped aboard as the electric train soundlessly began to depart. Leaving precisely as the second hand reached twelve assured me that I would not “waste” time as I had done so often in US airports after missing a connecting flight.
I’ve never been to India, but I suspect their trains are not as punctual as those in Germany. I say this mostly because I’ve been a “conversation partner” for several months now with an Indian graduate student. Despite my initial warning that our partnership would be terminated, and his easy “A” would be an “F,” Raja has never understood that the time I spend waiting for him to appear (virtually), as much as 17 minutes on one occasion, while it might be convenient for him, is a “waste of my time.” My life hasn’t been shortened by his tardy appointments; I’ve just not accomplished what I’d planned to. “Waste of time” implies time may be saved, and it can’t. From now on, I’m packing a book to read to make the most of my time.
Suffice it to say that Raja and I are not quantumly entangled. Such a relationship is theoretically an indestructible bond or web in which a subatomic particle in one corner of the universe responds to its twin on the other side at “infinite speed.” True, this “timeless” phenomenon only operates today at the sub-atomic level, and I have no idea how this twin is identified, but as a metaphor, I read it as a wink from nature that gives hope to everyone who’s lost someone with whom they were “quantumly” entangled.
“Yesterday,” by The Beatles.
IV. “Today will be yesterday on the morrow,
and there’s no time out to buy or borrow.” —The Wordspinner
Before most people could afford a pocket- or wristwatch, factory owners often used time to their advantage: they’d speed up the company clocks during lunch and slow them during the workday. The Germans did something similar to humiliate and control the French after their successful invasion in 1940 by making Vichy clocks run on German time. Across the English Channel, since 1859, members of the British Parliament have told time using Big Ben’s clock, but the huge, four-faced clock needs to be wound three
times a week, and it takes 90 minutes to do it each time. Once after a flock of starlings landed on one of the minute hands and pushed time back five minutes, Londoners were left to wonder who was minding the time. I know the feeling because my wife and I have five clocks that need winding and setting every seven days. Our clocks are, thus, our pets, for the time we’re permitted to ignore them is limited.
Regardless of how we measure time, let’s say we move through it at a foot per second; of course, for some, it’s an inch; for others, it’s a yard, but let’s call the average one foot per second. The comic Steven Wright calls it “one second per second,” but I don’t find that helpful. “One second per second” reminds me of that classroom clock with the quivering second hand. That motionless clock may be helpful to monks and nuns, but I, like most of us, operate on temporal time, and I’m fascinated by the myriad ways we keep moving through time at one foot per second because there’s no “keeping” it:
· Our ancestors used the sun, moon, and the pulse at their necks to measure the temporal.
· Rabbis once measured sundown on the Sabbath’s eve as that moment when they could not tell the difference between a red thread and a black one.
· The comedian George Burns measured his time on stage by the area of the cigar ashes he’d knocked to the floor with his microphone during his monologue.
· Some Germans leave the measurement of time to a tiny cuckoo that pops from their wristwatch every quarter hour.
· People living on planets with multiple suns may have no conception of time, but that doesn’t make them immortal.
· And travelers beyond our solar system may one day need an optical lattice clock because turning a rocket’s engine on or off a nanosecond too soon might mean landing in the wrong galaxy. These optical clocks are projected to lose no more than a second in fifteen billion years, which is longer than the 13.8 billion years the universe has existed.
“The Time of My Life,” by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes.
V. “Dr. Day, who wrote the “law” for Chaucer and science fiction,
thought the present was just a tense beyond his jurisdiction.” —The Wordspinner
Second only to love songs are time songs. See how many song titles you can find in the following two paragraphs (the titles are listed at the end):
With no time on my hands and time running out, is it time to get away? If so, where would I go? Though time after time, having been told that time is on my side, I find
myself stuffing time in a bottle wondering, does anybody really know what time it is? And though it feels like the first time, it may be the last.
If time waits for no one, how can I be sure my time will come? I’ve had the time of my life, remembering yesterday and dreaming tomorrow. But closing time is approaching, and given the opportunity to turn back time, I’ll need time to think about it.
“If I Could Turn Back Time,” by Cher.
VI. “Standard Time
Position all the clocks to the same time,
and build one in Kansas with extra-loud chimes.” —The Wordspinner
After a friend recommended that I reacquaint myself with Judy Collins’ poignant ballad “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” I found myself in what many of her fans will recognize: a musically induced spell with muscles and nerves quivering at the same frequency. Though my language is incommensurate with what I was feeling, it was in this splendid, suspended but animated state that I proposed to answer the question that is her title. Each of us is born in and of the infinite Sea of Time, not some fresh-water river. At birth, we start swimming where the life-guard service is spotty. Slapped in the face by cold, bitter waves, we dog paddle at first, followed by the breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, and freestyle, after which we just float, buoyed, nourished, but ultimately defeated. The “Fabled Isles” where we can rest are just a myth. The sharks and ice floes, however, are real. Our movement, fast or slow, coordinated or clumsy, continues over a lifetime, with and without direction from other swimmers, until we succumb to cross currents and head winds. The Mother that birthed us, as I’ve said, is Time: its past, present, and future are unchanged and unchanging, invisible and unheard whether her swimmers are above or below the surface. Thus, Time is an indifferent odometer and chronometer to measure our days just as we might measure height and weight. Time may or may not propel us, and it may or may not lift us, but it does heal us if we give it time, and it always measures us as we sink or swim, yet it is no more to be feared than a yard stick or a scale. So to answer Ms. Collins’ question: Time is going nowhere; it’s the swimmers in the Sea of Time, who rise and fall, but, let’s hope, to rise again somewhere else at another point renewed.
To order copies of Skip Eisiminger’s Letters to the Grandchildren (Clemson University Digital Press), click on the book cover below or contact: Center for Electronic and Digital Publishing, Strode Tower, Box 340522, Clemson SC 29634-0522. For Wordspinner: Mind-Boggling Games for Word Lovers, click on the book cover.