Alaska Robotics


Saturday, June 16th 2012 by Pat

The other night I was thinking about time. It wasn’t my fault, I was peeing and I went into autopilot and all of a sudden a thought popped into my vacant head.

What is time?

I’ve probably thought about that before but now that the internet lives in my phone I decided to follow up, and yes, I washed my hands first.

What is time, Internet? Tell me.

Time is what clocks measure. [#] Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future. [#]

Apparently irreversible. Heh. In going further down the Wikipedia rabbit hole I found out that some very smart people have some very different ideas about time.

One group says time is a dimension we travel through, a theory I’m more familiar with because it’s the basis for most time travel fiction. The other folks, including people like Immanuel Kant and Gottfried Leibniz believe time isn’t anything, it can’t be measured or traveled, it’s more like a sense.

The best I can understand and explain it is that we feel the passage of time in a way that is very similar to the way we feel any other sense. Touch and taste are abilities which allow us to interact and experience the world but they are also concepts with no structure.

You can feel that you are touching something but touch itself is not a thing. You can feel that you are timing something but time itself is not a thing. The idea of moving through time becomes a description of the way we experience that sensation. Sensations are not things.

I like this idea of time as a sense. I immediately wondered if insects have a sense of time. Turns out they probably do. [#]

I read about experiments and temporal distortion and people who study time and then I ran into something fascinating about the way individuals think of time.

Some of us are polychronic and others are monochronic. The link explains it pretty well but the basic idea is that we experience and relate to time differently.

Polychrons are multitaskers, they don’t want detailed schedules and might not do well with deadlines, they aren’t concerned with exact times and dates. Monochrons are punctual, they view time as blocks and see single tasks through to completion before starting another.

It seems to me that pople experiencing time differently could be the root of some much larger issues.

A country like the United States has a mostly monochronic culture while a place like Saudi Arabia is more polychronic. I wonder how much conflict arises from not understanding how another person might experience or perceive time.

Myself, I’m a polychron in a monochronic culture. I always knew I didn’t fit into the work-a-day world but this concept might point to why.

This poly/monochron concept is a life changing revelation for me… Either that or I’ve latched onto a convenient excuse for being easily distracted and missing deadlines.


[Note] – The illustration may look familiar, chronbot was a character I drew many years ago and this is just a re-imagining.

5 Responses to “Time”

  1. Arlo says:

    Interesting stuff. I especially like the poly/mono labels applied to different cultures. That’s something Oksana and I have seen a lot of in the last year or so.

    But it all comes down to just a label, though, doesn’t it? I get that this was a revelation for you, but how is it (going to be) life-changing?

    • Pat says:

      I think it’s life changing anytime we discover something about our fundamental nature. I know it’s just a label but it helps me frame some of my tendencies.

      I don’t think it’s a hard label, I can put on my monochron hat and be punctual but it’s always been an effort and this helps me understand why that might be.

  2. Jen Karnik says:

    I like the idea of time as a sense.

    Last night I was reading about starling murmurations (flocks of thousands) last night and how their rapidly shifting flight patterns are best described by the same equations that describe criticality systems (like crystal formation and avalanches). Since they don’t always live in such a heightened state someone suggested that starlings initiate event-related time distortion so they can respond to each other faster than we can perceive (a la The Matrix?). That got me wondering what the physiological mechanism for time perception actually is.

    We know certain drugs can alter our perception of time, but can we learn time dilation on our own?

    • Pat says:

      I think the answer is yes. It’s been shown that perception of time can be altered through hypnosis and we know there are techniques for self hypnosis so I do think you can learn to dilate time.

      Of course, you could just go sit in the waiting room at the doctor’s office surrounded by crappy magazines and time will dilate on its own.

  3. Bethany says:

    We’ve all heard of “island time” or “village time.” I defenitely believe that different cultures have a different “sense” of time. But, time isn’t the only factor, is it? Of course not. That would be too simple. There is also the fact that different cultures place different values on different things. I know, too many different’s in one sentence. In some cultures the career is more important, in some family, in some religion. In the U.S. I think this varies by region, by family, even perhaps by person.

    This revelation can be life changing if it helps you, or someone else, understand another person better and communicate better with them. For example, you may not be good at meeting deadlines. If you know that it is very important to someone else, or a society you are living in, you know that stretching yourself to meet those deadlines could make or break a deal, a relationship, etc. and you can decide if it is worth the extra effort on your part to submit to what the other person wants/needs.

    Ok, that was me rambling on… I really enjoyed your post on time. :)