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Time for Philosophers, Physicists, Psychologists, and Politicians

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Message Daniel Smith

Time. That which as children, goes so fast that we never get to do all that we want.


Time: That which as adults seems to forever be demanding that this or that be accomplished before we stop for food, rest, or pleasure.


Time: That which as “seniors” we spend more than we once did on even the most routine necessities, leaving us to wonder to where it has disappeared.


In the Orient many regard it as metaphysically circular, thus permitting incremental progress towards achieving the purpose of existence. In the Occident, at least until the early 20th century, time was thought to be constant, linear, and uni-directional – and for some philosophers and prelates – purposefully directed toward the achievement of a goal.


Albert Einstein upset the ancient western image of a universe operating like a steadily ticking clock that, once wound, was invariable in its beat. In fact, time became the integral fourth dimension of the universe that “started” in the immediate after moment of the “big bang.” But unlike the other three dimensions, time is non-material. It cannot be “grasped,” only “apprehended” – and more than likely “understood” only by humans (although some animals exhibit signs of awareness of time-associated processes such as aging).


Moreover, Einstein postulated that time is not linear across the universe.  It varies minutely but measurably depending on the speed and the perspective (the frame of reference) of an observer relative to the object that is being observed (in its frame of reference) and its speed. Thought experiments, such as that of the space-faring twin who ages more slowly than her earth-bound sibling, were developed to illustrated the new physics. It would take half a century more before it became possible for humans voyaging to the moon to experience the changes in frames of reference vis-à-vis earth-bound humans by which they would be “younger” than had they never left earth.  


Yet if asked if they “felt” younger, the space travelers would probably demur – thereby creating a perceptional reality at odds with the objective condition. Here, albeit through the proverbial “back door,” the pursuit of time entered the psychological sphere wherein the usual concern is with the slowing of time – or rather with the perception of time slowing down as we age.


This too, is a modern phenomenon; at the turn of the 19th century, the average life expectancy of U.S. citizens was 47 years; it now is 77. Almost inevitably, such a rapid lengthening of life without a concomitant mutation or alteration in how the body ages, translates into more time expended to accomplish the same tasks and responsibilities.


Yet for all its significance to daily life, our experience of “time” is never of the “thing-in-itself” but derives from observing that all about us is in flux, constantly changing even where events are cyclical – e.g., day-night, moon phases, seasons of the year, and elections for the office of the President of the United States.


But unlike the natural rhythms, there is in the political sphere a counter-current in play: the drive to compress as much as possible into the time that is available. In the world of major U.S. political party caucuses and primaries, states vied for the “right” to go first, eventually pushing the initial two contests into the first eight days of the year. The “calendar” has become so heavily “front-loaded” that many believe the nominees may be all but selected by the end of February 5th – “Super Tuesday.”


Also this year, President Bush pushed the State of the Union speech back a week to January 28th, further compressing the time between that speech and submission of his budget request to the Congress. Considering:


-         the dismal economic “State of the Union”  that the American public is only now beginning to fully comprehend;

-         the state of the U.S. military after 75 months of continuous fighting in Afghanistan and 58 months fighting in Iraq –  especially the needs of the many veterans who have suffered traumatic mental as well as physical wounds;

-         the extent of death and destruction visited on Afghanistan and Iraq;

-         White House efforts to perpetuate de facto occupation of Iraq; and

-         White House attempts to perpetuate and justify the abrogation of civil liberties in the U.S. in the name of “security,”

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Colonel Daniel M. Smith graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1966. His initial assignment was with the 3rd Armor Division in (more...)

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