I suspect that in some sense, most of us are acquainted with that most Latin of maxims, tempus fugit. ‘Time flies, so don’t waste it,” or something to that effect. Proust would certainly have known about it, since he dedicated a seven-volume landmark of modernist literature to finding this lost time.
In another piece published by The Bloc, I briefly explored what time is, ontologically speaking. At this point, I’m more drawn towards the views on time put forth by Aristotle in the Physics and Augustine in the Confessions, in which time might be considered a tracking or measure of sequential motion.
Sidestepping an issue to which people might devote an entire book rather than a blog post, let’s assume that Aristotle and Augustine are right on this one; that time is a simple measure of planetary motion following the Earth’s orbit in our Solar System.
According to some research, Benjamin Franklin was the first person to propose the adjustment of clocks forward during summer months and backwards during winter months in order to capitalize more on sunlight.
Bear in mind that Ben Franklin lived well before the light bulb was commercially available. For him, sunlight would have been far more important than it is for us today.
Nothing came of Franklin’s proposal, however. It wasn’t until later on into the 19th century, when railroad networks began taking root in the U.K. and the U.S., that it became increasingly practical to have some kind of temporal standardization in place.
This makes sense, I think. Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re Butch Cassidy, or his associate, Sundance Kid. You have a party of expert bounty hunters after you whom you just can’t shake off, and you decide to flee to New York City ASAP in order to make your escape to Bolivia. You have a train ticket that’s set to depart from Wilcox, WY to Chicago at 9:00 a.m., but you have no idea when the hell 9:00 a.m. is.
Traditionally, people would tell time simply by looking at the sun. A day has pretty much always been measured in terms of the time it takes for the Earth to complete a new rotation on its axis, so that it looks like the sun moves east to west across our sky. Hence, you could have a fairly decent idea as to the time of day just by looking at the sun’s position in the sky.
According to this system, each place would more or less operate on its own local time. Since the sun’s position in the sky at the same time wouldn’t be the same for observers at different longitudes, there would be discrepancies in the measured time of day for each of these places as well.
If you’re a country like England, no biggie. You don’t have a vast expanse of land east to west, and so, time discrepancies can’t be all that drastic, right?
Not so for the U.S., however. If you board that train at Wilcox with Butch Cassidy and get off in Chicago, you’ll have traveled forward through time such that observed time at your origin isn’t in the least bit relevant at your destination.
It was in response to issues like this that railroads in the U.S. and Canada began operating under standard time, demarcated by time zones, in 1883. Time zones were legally established as temporal standards by the Standard Time Act of 1918.
There’s fairly good cause for the implementation of Standard Time, since it keeps thing running … you know, smoothly.
But even after the copious research I’ve done this morning, I’m not very sold on Daylight Savings Time. Apparently, it was originally implemented to shift an hour of daylight in the northern and southern hemispheres from the mornings to the evenings, in order to make better use of the day.
We have light bulbs now though, so for better and for worse, we can do a lot long after sunset. That being said, I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t see why, other than outdated convention, we continue to set our clocks back in the fall and forward in the spring.
Given that I’ve chosen to agree with Aristotle and Augustine—and, more contemporarily, Einstein—on what time is, I can’t claim that time itself, and therefore, how we track it, is real per se. I can’t “trap time in a bottle,” like that one song says.
No; the best we can do with our time is use it. I’ve spent time which I will regain in writing this article, and you’ve spent it in reading. Let’s hope we’re all happy with that, huh?
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of wikimedia.org.
Horus Alas is senior philosophy major and can be reached at email@example.com.