Talking of Time

I submit to you that few things are more categorically a figment of our imaginations than is time

You never fail until you stop trying… keep digging.
— Einstein (1879–1955) & Heaney (1939–2013)

Tick Tock, “tick-tock” goes the atomic clock. We wore analogue watches, we had windup grandfather clocks we now wear digital smart watches and have LED wall clocks that listen passively to all that we say. Timing is everything, we time-stamp our every move (Google maps, WhatsApp chats, Snapchat geotagged videos). The hour, day and date of our birth is documented as is the day and date of our death (unless we are born into a wretched war zone or killed by a ten ton nuclear bomb). The pious are governed by the calls of bells (Sunday worship, evening song, midnight mass) the muezzin’s calls (like clockwork at the following prescribed times: al-fajr at dawn, before the sun rises; al-zuhr midday, when the sun’s the hottest; al-‘asr the late part of the afternoon; al-maghrib, just after the sun sets and then al-‘isha, midway between sunset and midnight). Today, now, at this moment in time, “Time management” self-help courses are easily found on YouTube, packaged, for instance, into six-parts of circa nine minutes an episode.

Our days are controlled by university bus timetables, course and class schedules. Punctuality is praised; lateness is loathed. It is binary, a 0 or a 1, we are either “present” or “absent,” of Enlightenment or Romantic persuasion, we can’t be both. There’s an “L” for late but, is it 5 minutes or 10? As somebody said: you can’t both have your New York cheesecake and eat New York cheesecake. 12*2 is 24, how many times have I told you, 5 past the hour equals an A not an L. In my university’s foundation program the key lesson we learned was punctuality. It was the lesson the Instructors liked the most. I mean other points were kind of given to us on a plate. We were told what to read and how to construct an essay, sentence by sentence. But let me tell you, my time spent there was divine. I lived, I totally ‘lived’ in those classes. I had an American man, a South African lady, a sweet Turkish lady then and finally a large British man. It was their accents, habits and personal stories that excited and fascinated me. It was during that period of time that my mind (but not my body) got freed from the village mentality and the backward closedminded thinking that for 18 years had been my be all and end all. They liked me. Why? Because I respected time. I obeyed and submitted willingly to the university’s synchronised wall clocks (they clicked audibly each and every minute).

Time’s invisible, time’s invaluable (much like radio waves, and WiFi – Q: is it so that all that’s dearest to us can’t be seen, heard or touched physically?). Time is at the heart of so many songs and so many sonnets. Timeframes, there are so many! I challenge you: what’s a jiffy, an eon, a score of lustrum (halve it for a jubilee) and for top prize: how many seconds go into a Day of Brahman? Let us consider the International Date Line. It is an imaginary line drawn in the middle of the Pacific ocean from bottom to top. It controls time zones, the opening and closing of the world’s stock markets and a billion other human activities too. These days most of what was imperial has gone metric but time wont change sides.

The 12-hour clock is a time convention in which the 24 hours of the day are divided into two 12 periods: a.m. and p.m. (in Latin, ante meridiem = before midday; post meridiem = past midday). We know from ancient Egyptian stone sundials that their clocks and time management was 12 hours of daytime and 12 hours of night-time. The hour was split into sixty minutes worth of sixty seconds because of the Babylonians. They used a sexagesimal system for their astronomy and for their bookkeeping. This they took from the Sumerians who were using it back in 3500 BCE. In terms of this sexagesimal system (counting in 60s, 24s and 12s) there is sound logic! It has the advantage of 12 being divisible by two, three, four, six and itself (5 options). Metric ten has only three divisors (two, five and itself). However, telling the time is confusing and I don’t mean the past and to the hour. I am pleased to say that Wikipedia agrees that it is cause of confusion and writes, “it is not always clear what times ‘12:00 a.m.’ and ‘12:00 p.m.’ denote.” Normally it starts at 12 midnight (usually 12 a.m.) and continues to 12 noon (usually: 12 p.m.) and then continues – as the hot sun chases after the cool moon – to the next midnight.

Now to the philosophical bit. I submit to you that few things are more categorically a figment of our imaginations than is time. I mean, it’s not actual, it’s not factual; it is intangible. It has no mass it has no meaning (other than an abstract unit of measuring things). We cannot see, hear, taste or touch it. We call it priceless but time ‘is’ money (how much per hour? What’s the nightly room rate? Banana boat rides, only 100 dirhams for 15 minutes). Nonetheless, time is more real than anything physical. [Please stick with me here.] We all want more time to think, more time to love, more time to live. (I swear to the Lord) I trust no human who says that isn’t so. Time then, while wholly imagined (akin perhaps to blind faith), does in fact shape and chain us in an acutely tangible physical sense. Unfortunately, time moves on regardless of what we do to fight it. Hair dye; Botox; Skinny jeans on middle aged legs. We want it to stop. We want it to last forever.

And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence … Entropy always increases.
— William Shakespeare, Poet (1564–1616) & Brian Cox, Scientist (1968– )

Then again! Sometimes we do in fact want time to fly by; such as during a soul destroying STATISTICS class. Speaking of time, look at the time! It is totally fine. It isn’t the time but the word count. I’ve hit 999 (give or take) and, these texts aren’t allowed to take more than five minutes of you precious and priceless time;* a good constraint I think.


Inspirations and/or Recommended Readings

Heaney, S. (1966). Death of a Naturalist. London: Faber & Faber.

Lightman, A. (1993). Einstein’s Dreams. New York: Vintage Books.

Popova, M. (2012). Brian Cox Explains Entropy and the Arrow of Time with Sandcastles and Glaciers. Retrieved from, brainpickings.org/2012/03/29/brian-cox-arrow-of-time/

* It is said that average readers only manage to ‘read’ around 200 words per minute of time. Fascinatingly for me the average person will ‘speak’ about 120 words per minute, which is two words per second and that’s 3.333 syllables a second!

Author: bidoonism

Just another number