Here we go with another of funningforrest’s scintillating sciencey soliloquies. You can substitute “soporific” for “scintillating” if you wish.
We have all the time in the world to think about time but when do we ever take the time to think about time? I do it so you don’t have to, and then make you suffer through what I come up with.
The Daily Bucket is a nature refuge. We amicably discuss animals, weather, climate, soil, plants, waters and note life’s patterns.
We invite you to note what you are seeing around you in your own part of the world, and to share your observations in the comments below.
Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the phenological patterns that are quietly unwinding around us. To have the Daily Bucket in your Activity Stream, visit Backyard Science’s profile page and click on Follow.
In the text-box template thingamajig above (there’s a name for the thing, I think) you’ll see the word “phenological”. What does this mean, and how is it related to time?
1: a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (such as bird migration or plant flowering)
Ah. “periodic”, meaning cyclical, repeating, occurring at intervals of time. We like to believe we know what time is, but do we? How “real” is our sense of time? The late Stephen Hawking, in his book A Brief History of Time, talks about “real time” as three directional “arrows”:
In this chapter Hawking talks about why "real time", as Hawking calls time as humans observe and experience it (in contrast to "imaginary time", which Hawking claims is inherent to the laws of science) seems to have a certain direction, notably from the past towards the future. Hawking then discusses three "arrows of time" which, in his view, give time this property.
Hawking's first arrow of time is the thermodynamic arrow of time. This is the given by the direction in which entropy (which Hawking calls disorder) increases. According to Hawking, this is why we never see the broken pieces of a cup gather themselves together to form a whole cup.
The second arrow is the psychological arrow of time. Our subjective sense of time seems to flow in one direction, which is why we remember the past and not the future. Hawking claims that our brain measures time in a way where disorder increases in the direction of time – we never observe it working in the opposite direction. In other words, Hawking claims that the psychological arrow of time is intertwined with the thermodynamic arrow of time.
Hawking's third and final arrow of time is the cosmological arrow of time. This is the direction of time in which the Universe is expanding rather than contracting. Note that, during a contraction phase of the universe, the thermodynamic and cosmological arrows of time would not agree.
Let’s think about the second arrow first, psychological. That’s our sense of yesterday, today, and tomorrow; time passing, as it were. But doesn’t every moment feel like it’s just now? One second ago it was “now” but all of a sudden it’s “then”. One second from now it will be the future, which hasn’t happened yet, but it just did and now the future is now. Yeah, back then was now and it’s tomorrow without really seeing it happen. It’s so confusing.
But no, somehow our brain makes sense of it all and it’s not confusing. Heh heh, until you get old (like funningforrest), that is, and you spend almost the entire day thinking it’s Thursday when it’s only Wednesday or vice-versa something like that. Or when you get in a sensory deprivation tank. Otherwise, even without a watch or a clock we pretty much always know about what time it is. The sun sets our circadian rhythms and along with our pineal gland we usually get along just fine.
Circadian rhythms exist in all types of organisms. For example, they help flowers open and close at the right time and keep nocturnal animals from leaving their shelter3 during the daytime when they would be exposed to more predators.
In people, circadian rhythms coordinate mental and physical systems4 throughout the body. The digestive system produces proteins5 to match the typical timing of meals, and the endocrine system regulates hormones to suit normal energy expenditure.
The circadian rhythms throughout the body are connected to a master clock,6sometimes referred to as the circadian pacemaker, located in the brain. Specifically, it is found in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. At different times of the day, clock genes7 in the SCN send signals to regulate activity throughout the body.
The SCN is highly sensitive to light, which serves as an critical external cue that influences the signals sent by the SCN to coordinate internal clocks in the body. For this reason, circadian rhythms are closely connected to day and night. While other cues, like exercise, social activity, and temperature, can affect the master clock, light is the most powerful influence on circadian rhythms.
Now then, this is a sciencey diary, and psychology and biology are science good enough, but let’s get disorderly.
Entropy is a good measure of time. Entropy is how we know time is real. Entropy is the Law of the Universe that says in a closed system with no external energy input nothing gets neater, more ordered, over time, only more disordered. A volume of gas in a cylinder (like a scuba tank filled with regular air) never spontaneously separates into its constituent molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. Your bookshelf never straightens itself, your bed never makes itself, your dusty fireplace mantle only gets dustier over time if you never dust it off.
Every living thing eventually dies, then decays, then utterly disassembles into myriad randomly scattered subatomic particles.
Sure, that’s not the most heartening thing to think about, but that’s just the reality of the way the universe, our world, is. So don’t squander time. What little we have is all we’re going to get.
Now It’s Your Turn
What’s up in your sciencey world? What have you noted happening in your area or travels? As usual post your observations as well as their general location in the comments.
"SPOTLIGHT ON GREEN NEWS & VIEWS" WILL BE POSTED EVERY SATURDAY AT NOON PACIFIC TIME AND EVERY WEDNESDAY AT 3:30 PACIFIC TIME ON THE DAILY KOS FRONT PAGE. BE SURE TO RECOMMEND AND COMMENT IN THE DIARY.