Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Did you ever wonder how time moves forward when it runs in a circle? If so, you will have asked why is a clock round? Why does time go from 12 to 12 and then start over again? Why is the 24-hour day based on a circular rotation of the Earth? Why is a year based on a circular orbit of the earth around the Sun? And why do those days and years keep repeating, just starting over and over again, even though we count them as progressing in a line? Why do seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, all count up and then reset and count over again? And what really changes in those quantities of time – Are we different from second to second, hour to hour, day to day or even year to year? We are still standing here watching the sun come up, in the same place it did last year, we are still orbiting that star we call the sun, round and round and round again. Do we really get older as we add up the years, or is this just an illusion? A straight line drawn on top of a circle.
Of course things change, things develop, things progress – at least they seem to. Maybe it’s just the same old scenery, but since we have looked at it so many times, it just seems to change. That store wasn’t there before, nor was that freeway, there are more people here now, more traffic, I have less time than ever before, yet that clock still moves in a circle, and we are still spinning at 1000 miles per hour.
When we travel, we go from point a to point b. Maybe we add in some detours, some back roads, even end up where we started, but we feel like we have experienced a whole lot, met new people, seen new buildings, eaten new foods, spoken new languages – yet, after we get back on the plane, and plug in our ipod, turn on the TV and watch a few old movies, we are right back, right back at home, and soon enough we are at home, in our own kitchen, drinking out of our own favorite coffee mug, watching the sun come up from our favorite chair – and what has changed? We have a memory, a really indefinable experience, we feel like something happened, we can still taste that hot chili tom yum, we can still smell that lemongrass, we can still imagine that wat, but its not here with us, its over there somewhere, on another part of the circle. Now it begins to get really strange when we go back to those parts of the circle to which we have already been. Step off the plane in Bangkok, that thick air greets you, those same food vendors make your soup, and you drink that same lemongrass tea, and yet your calendar, your watch, and your vacation schedule, tell you that it is different – it has to be different. It’s next year - or next decade.
So we count time, we add time up, we get older, we travel, we “see” more, we “know” more, we are wiser, we can do better at crossword puzzles, we can order Thai soup in America and discuss how it differs from that in Chang Mai – yet despite all of our best efforts, time still flows in a circle, beginning each day where it ended the day before, our watch moves from 12 to 12, round and round, same to same, and we are still spinning and orbiting in the same place. Even our whole solar system is going round and round, on galactic time, just spinning away we travel billions and trillions of miles, and yet there we are, holding that favorite mug, drinking that coffee. Are we really older? Wiser? Changing? Or are we just spinning in circles?