Science My Time is not your time


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Mike Sterling

My Time is not your time

(stand still to synchronize your watches)

As the end of the year approaches, we are all the more conscious of time running out for our 2011 resolutions.  Time is so illusive.  It seems to be speeding up as we grow older, but at the same 'time', it is ever more annoying.

The other day I mentioned to some friends that I can't stand to put coffee in the microwave and watch the time tick down as I loiter.  What can I do that is productive in that time span?  Can I do some pushups or clean the sink?  Wasting time is awful as one grows older. I've done a lot of wasting.  So much to do and so little time.

There is a sign near the Art Gallery in Southampton that says:  "No loitering 9 pm to 9 am".  If I was doing pushups at midnight near the Gallery, could I avoid the stigma of loitering.  What is the legal definition of loitering.  It probably involves some unit of time.

The worst part of time for me is that I don't understand it at all.  Sure, I can walk down the street and ask a perfect stranger the question:  What time is it?  Nobody seems to object to that question.  It isn't asked so much anymore in the personal gadget age.

When asked, people will try to answer.  If you live in Southampton, the Town Hall clock keeps ticking on all four sides and it is there for all to see. We don't need a person, watch or a hi-tech phone to tell us what noon is in Southampton.

But, if you ask any stranger what time is, they will come back with gibberish.  They might say "Time is what happens when my watch ticks or better still what happens when some atomic clock ticks off its very precise counts. They are proud of that answer.  Of course this is a dodge of the question.  It tells us little of the nature of time.

People interested in physics don't know what time is either, so we are in good company.  What they do know is that it is very strange.  Questions like "What happened 'before' 13.7 billion years ago?", bother us  The Big Bang seems to have originated time.  Things certainly started to vibrate.

What is before and what is after?  Did time somehow warp in the first few 'whatevers' after the Big Bang?  Theoretical physics people don't know for sure.  Physics says very little about the nature of time.  Time seems linked to things that vibrate and move.  No movement, no time. No vibration, no time. A totally 'quiet' universe does not have tick tocks and is dead indeed.

Some of you will be familiar with a 1930's crooner named Rudiy ValeeHe predated Crosby, Como and SinatraHis theme song was "My Time is Your Time".  He was all wrong with that.  Well, that's a little unfair.  He did not write the song. 

In 1905 Einstein showed that time is relative and not fixed for everyone.  It all has to do with how we are moving relative to each other and especially how fast, which is a loaded word too.  It's just not a ticking clock of our microwave either, it is our biological clock too.  My time for sure is not your time!

If I had a twin (that would be fun), and that twin took off with Spock of Star Trek fame, then I'd suspect that the adventurous twin would push Captain Kirk  to proceed  at Warp Speed, whenever possible.  Returning to earth, my twin would have aged less than I would have.  That's an important artifact of Special Relativity.   So my time would not be my twins time at all.  His or her watch would not be synchronized  with my watch or body clock.

Surprisingly, there does not seem to be any reason for time not to flow in more than one direction, but to us it seems to always flow to the future and never to the past, whatever those two terms mean. We never think of time flowing sideways either.

A dozen eggs can be turned into an omelet over time, but an omelet does not seem to give birth to 12 eggs. So frustrating to not know what all this means.  Maybe that's the definition of heaven.  Everything will be clear and connected in good time.

I was playing with these mental concepts and decided to make a picture of how strange it is.  To do this, I had to do the picture in a number system that is unfamiliar to most, but we won't get into that.  The pictures above shows how strange time can be.  The explanation in the right hand column confirms how bizarre it all is.  It's kind of fun to feel free to go back to the future and even perpendicular to the past future vector.

Ignore this column until you've read the left column

We made the picture in the upper left with two green planes cutting through the surface of time and velocity to illustrate time warping. One plane is small and it is up on one of the peaks as it cuts through the surface

The curve of intersection shows time dilation relative to anyone standing on the centre of the saddle below or any point below and looking up.  If you are on the saddle, points above have a clock that runs slower and points below have a clock that runs faster.

The larger green plane intersects the surface in an ellipse-like figure. Every point on that ellipse illustrates time running at the same rate, which is faster than every point on the saddle and faster still for any object on the intersection of the small plane with the future peak.

So clocks run slower above and faster below.  One twin on the intersection of the small green plane ages slower than the other twin on the ellipse like figure below.

You can think about it as us in our world living on the saddle and every point on the peaks above has a clock running slower than ours and every point below has a clock running faster. You are able to see time 'running' forward and backward, hence the two peaks or poles over the complex number plane.

Also, it is worthy of note that we've just shown a patch and the surface is of course infinite in extent and is asymptotic relative to the rate of the clock. That is, as you get further and further from the peaks, the clock' s tick, tick, tick is faster and faster, if that word has a meaning and it only does relative to an observer above it on the surface.

Correspondingly, the peaks would show a clock running slower and slower relative to any observer below.  As we go faster and faster toward the speed of light, we climb the future peak.  We never achieve the speed of light, but as we get near it our clocks run slower and slower relative to an observer below.

On the peaks, the tick deltas are longer and longer as measured by an observer below looking further up toward the peak(s). 

Does this have any practical value?  Yes, of course as our GPS units and the satellites that are whirling above us have to be re-synched every so often otherwise the road to Mandalay will not be

"where the flyin'-fishes play. An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!"

Here is the interesting thing. As is now known things going away from us go faster and faster (Click Here) with their clock ticks constant to them, but slower to us. Our  pictures show this quite well.

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Monday, December 26, 2011