Time in today's world, History of Time
There have been many advances in how we deal with time in today's world. As well as now being able to measure time much more accurately than before, the birth of modern science has arguably enhanced our understanding of how time works. Let's look more closely at these developments.
Our measurement of time
Shortest time interval measured
Scientists now claim that they can measure down to extremely small fractions of a second. It is said that we can now measure the changes which happen within 100 attoseconds. An attosecond is one billionth of one billionth of a second. This means that if we were to stretch an attosecond so that it became a second, that would be the same as stretching a second so that it became 300 million years. This new interval has been measured using short pulses of extreme ultraviolet light, the primary aim being to produce images of electrons. The implications of such advances means the future looks very promising for extremely accurate timekeeping. Previously, the most accurate time measuring devices were atomic clocks, the measurement of time consisting in counting the number of times caesium atoms jumped back and forth between different energy levels. But this could only happen at microwave frequences. With the new laser technology, we can potentially count ticks at optical frequencies, meaning much shorter intervals can be measured.
The most accurate clock ever
A new clock has been developed by researchers which is more precise than any current clock that technology has produced. Using the new method which uses optical light, it is estimated to only lose 1 second in 100 million years. This means that it can be 100 or even 1,000 times more accurate than the atomic clocks we have been using until now. This development concludes a long process of amelioration in our methods of time-keeping since the medieval period. In 1088, the most accurate clock was a so called 'water clock', which lost about 100 seconds a day. By 1995, developments had shown huge changes, with the best atomic clocks accurate to a second every 15 million years. Now this latest innovation in time-keeping offers more than just interesting statistics, for example navigational tools which make use of satellite can be greatly improved, and not only that but even more progress could be seen in day-to-day things like the Internet.
Clock the size of a pollen grain
Not only have there been great developments in time-keeping itself, but our whole concept of time measurement has changed in recent years. One example of a surprising advance in clock production is a clock which is the size of a single grain of pollen. Produced by scientists in New Mexico, it actually consists of moving parts and works perfectly, even though it is not even visible to the naked eye. The clock works not with conventional gears and wheels but, instead, with the help of a minute vibrating tuning fork which uses micromachine technology. The clock can only be appreciated through a microscope, where very fine strings can be seen (small enough to all fit on a pinhead at the same time). These strings can be seen vibrating off the body of the clock which itself is as small as a red blood cell. Although no more than a remarkable feat at the moment, many experts expect a palpable impact on future clock design.
The aesthetics of time measurement
In today's world, the measurement of time has been given a more visual element, at least in casual day-to-day use. Traditional looking clocks are often undesirable in favour of more modern-looking clocks which can vary in colour, shape, size and style. Many companies produce so-called 'designer' clocks which match interior room designs. The quality of the clock is often determined as much by how the clock looks, and one will find all sorts of clocks suited for different age ranges and purposes. Digital clocks vary even more than analogue ones. There are clocks that talk, waterproof clocks for use in the shower, clocks designed to look like cartoon characters, clocks that are combined with radios and so on. Some people even produce clocks in flowerbeds for use outside. The same can be said for watches, which can be both digital or analogue, full of features or simply beautiful fashion accessories. The clock and watch market is therefore versatile in many ways and is in no way restricted to accurate timekeeping.
Our understanding of time
What is time?
There are still many philosophical disputes about the nature of time. Many philosophers insisting using various arguments that time is unreal. However, science has compensated for such disputes in the last century and taken more of a lead on the subject.
Our modern conception of time is based on Einstein and his theory of special relativity. Under this view, time is closely linked up with space, with space and time together forming Einstein's view of spacetime. According to the theory, time is relative to one's spacial reference frame and therefore, one cannot say, "I wonder what is happening in that distant galaxy at this time" as this makes no sense: a distant galaxy's present would not be the same as ours. This is a radical change from the traditional view promoted by Newton, Galileo and most other people who thought that time was fixed everywhere. Even the temporal order of events is now said to be unfixed. The only temporal aspect of the universe that is fixed according to Einstein is the past and future, which are defined by so-called light cones. Another idea that stems from Einstein is that time slows down as an object approaches the speed of light.
Is time travel possible?
Einsteinian relativity has led people to think that maybe time travel is possible if we can surpass the speed of light. Even though time travel features highly in science fiction (for example in modern films such as Back to the Future and The Terminator), there are many problems with this notion. Not only are there numerous paradoxes associated with the concept of time travel (such as the famous grandfather paradox), but there is also the seemingly impossible idea of any object being able to travel at the speed of light, especially considering that under the same Einsteinian theory, the object would then have an infinite mass.
Another plausible idea in the science of time travel is that which concerns the possibility of a wormhole, a sort of 'portal' in space. The term was coined by the American theoretical physicist John Wheeler in 1957, who used the analogy of a worm getting to the other side of an apple by burrowing its way through the centre rather than going round the outside. A wormhole is a theoretical construct which is seen to resemble a tunnel. It is a shortcut in space, allowing us to travel back and forth through time. If wormholes exist then we have the potential not to only to travel through time, but also travel many light-years from Earth in only a fraction of the amount of time that it would take us with our usual space travel methods. The concept of wormholes is often not taken as a serious possibility: scientists claim that it is only hypothetical conjecture with very little evidence thus far.
Time and the Big Bang
Most recent scientific theories favour the idea that time itself started when the Big Bang occurred. One prominent advocate of this stance is the Cambridge professor Stephen Hawking, famously known for his work, A Brief History of Time. Under his view, we cannot talk about what happened before the Big Bang as this does not even make sense. There is still some disagreement amongst scientists, especially given that there is no possible way we can know what happened exactly at that point. However, scientists have reached a tentative consensus on what happened as close as 10 to the power of -35 seconds after the Big Bang.
Modern psychological views of time
Many people feel that as we grow older, time passes more quickly. This is in fact an illusion but one which is grounded in an interesting psychological observation. It has been suggested that the reason we feel that time moves more quickly later is because, as we grow older, each segment of time is a smaller and smaller percentage of a person's experience to date. This means that whereas a year for a young child can be 20% of their life so far, it can be 2% of life so far for an adult. Thus time seems to 'take longer' when we are younger, but this is only because of how little we have experienced so far. This simple proposition illustrates the fundamental point in considering man's interaction with and contemplation of the concept of 'time' - a melange of the deepest scientific or philosophical theories and a dab of common sense - and perhaps that's what makes it such an enduring and provocative issue.