The Book of Time
The Secrets of Time,
How It Works, and
How We Measure It

Adam Hart-Davis
One of my favorite pastimes when I was growing up was to address the many clocks in our house (except the big ones --- the Grandfather's Clock, for one) and remove the faces so we could see the inner workings, the spring lolling in and out, the wheels and the stopcocks, the gears. I am not so sure why I had to do this, but I consider it to be prescient: both as to present design of wristwatches, and the final design of time itself.

Hart-Davis seems to believe in time, which I suppose is good because many of us lose faith in it long before we get too much of it. He shows his faith with solid reflections of its supposed presence: sand glasses, mechanical clocks, water clocks, sundials, Indian water clocks, and immediate predecessors to the clock, such as the Antikythera Mechanism. This is a corroded mechanism brought up from the Mediterranean Sea near Crete. X-rays suggest a machine in which one could dial in a date, and the positions of the sun, moon, and planets would appear on the instrument's dials. The author notes, "It was not, strictly speaking, a clock, and had no source of power, but it is the oldest known mechanical calculator."

The 13th Century Zen master Eithei Dogen said that the day consisted of 6,400,099,180 moments, so fleeting that we can never keep up with them: "Which is why we feel we can't keep up, and why we suffer." And the Buddhists --- anticipating the Big Bang by 2,500 years --- advised that everything "exists together in a moment."

Time is, as we know, a device to keep all the hours ahead from bonking into those behind. Richard Feynmann said that "time is what happens when nothing else does." And people are always trying to push time around. The ancient Chinese used a ten-day week. The Maya and Aztec made it thirteen days, and the silly Soviets changed it to five days (1929), then six days (1931), and ... boo ... seven days (1940). Islamic years are measured from 16 July 622 (Roman time) when Mohammed moved from Mecca to Medina. Three of the months in the Olmec calendar that I especially like are 13Ben, 2Men, and Ok. OK?

The Book of Time is fun and filled with splendid pictures, but goes into overtime towards the end with studies of how many barrels of oil the Department of Transportation saves every month (300,000), how fast light travels, the Doppler effect, and the fact that you and I go into the future daily --- more so when we travel through space: car, bus, plane, foot. With these you are always traveling into the future). There is a chapter on the end of time, not done half as artfully as the one by H. G. Wells (see The Time Machine). The shortest segment of time, "between a nonosecond and Planck time,"

    comes the femtosecond, which is one millionth of a nanosecond. The peaks in a light wave arrive at your eye a few femtoseconds apart.

After all this, the time study we prefer above all others comes to us in three short segments out of The Sound and the Fury. This is Quentin on his father's watch:

    And so I told myself to take that one. Because Father said clocks slay time. He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. The hands were extended, slightly off the horizontal at a faint angle, like a gull tilting into the wind.

And this:

    When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight o'clock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather's and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it's rather excruciatingly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father's. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools."

And the final main, which is and I suppose will always be misquoted everyplace it appears. Note that this is how it should appear, and you might want to memorize it in case they try to fool you out of it:

    and i temporary and he was the saddest word of all there is nothing else in the world its not despair until time its not even time until it was
--- C. A. Amantea
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