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I read a couple of Physics books and I think I learned something (maybe)
It was the dreaded 10th-grade school exams. I walked in, eyeballed the physics paper, and decided it was a good time for a silent prayer. I looked to my right and caught a close friend mirroring my expression of impending doom. We exchanged a glance, smiled as we grasped how doomed we were, realized that it was too late for prayer, and started going through the paper, hoping we knew enough to pass. (We did, so yay!)
To our credit, we both did more than all right in our 10th Science boards. Yet, we vowed to never touch a Physics book again! That was more than a decade ago. (Shucks, time flies. Or is it relative? Get it? Physics joke. Please don’t unsubscribe)
So with more than 10 years of “wisdom” (a word used loosely), I have broken my vow. Now don’t get me wrong, I still don’t care much for physics equations or diagrams or anything in between. Nevertheless, having a slightly better understanding of the universe is not a bad thing. Also, not being lost in a Nolan film is a handy side benefit.
A couple of years ago, I decided to pick up a few physics books: "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics" by Carlo Rovelli, "Six Easy Pieces" by Feynman, and "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry" by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I must confess I have not finished any of them. And yet, I recommend them all.
A whole lot of Googling ensued as I started reading them. So, go check them out, even if you strongly disliked physics growing up.
For now, though, I want to leave you with a pretty “simple” question.
What is time?
My immediate inclination was to think about seconds, minutes, and hours. However, those are merely man-made measurements and not a true representation of the essence of "time" itself.
Then there's the perception of time, the way we experience it. Think about watching a football game. If the club you support is chasing a goal, every minute is a flash. But if your club is defending a goal, time seems to move at a leisurely pace. This aspect of time is more than just numbers; it's emotion, engagement, and human subjectivity interwoven.
The renowned philosopher Immanuel Kant brought his insight to this topic when he touched on the idea of not looking at time as something external but rather, as a fundamental part of human cognition. An internal framework that shapes our perception of reality – a mental model, if you will. (More on mental models here)
I like how he thought about it. Time is perhaps, the most important and fundamental mental model. It is a requirement to function in society. It orchestrates our daily lives, dictating when we wake, eat, work, and rest. It synchronizes our interactions and commitments. Without it, we fall into chaos.
Moreover, time is essential to make sense of cause and effect. It weaves events together, allowing us to perceive patterns, consequences, and relationships. Imagine trying to understand the sequence of events in a story without the concept of time. Without it, history would lose its narrative arc, reducing the past to a jumbled collection of disconnected fragments.
Sir Isaac Newton, envisioned time as analogous to a universal clock, ticking away with unwavering consistency. He perceived time as a steady and unchanging river, flowing uniformly for all, regardless of the events it carried. It was constant.
While Kant's perspective differs from Newton's, it's interesting that both of them aimed to provide a structure and order to the concept of time, even though their approaches and underlying philosophies diverged.
And then came Einstein! He proposed that time isn't as absolute and constant as Newton thought. Instead, it’s relative. He suggested that time can be affected by factors like motion and gravity. Imagine a planet with an immensely strong mass, so strong that its gravity is mightier than our Earth's. On this planet, time would slow down due to the powerful gravitational pull.
For my nonscientific brain,
More mass = More Gravity = Slower time
It’s fascinating to think about where we are headed. With space travel inching its way into prominence, who knows how our relationship with time might transform? The very act of traveling around the cosmos at mind-boggling speeds could force us to finally come to terms with Einstein's time dilation. Until then though, we can watch Interstellar from the comfort of our homes.
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PS - I obviously am far from an expert on this topic, and so, if I got a view wrong, I apologize.