Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Why Time Flies — A Review

Time, time, time See what’s become of me… starts the famous song “A Hazy Shade of Winter”. What really is time though?
Some time last year I met with a car accident. An iron rod fell from the back of a truck in front of me and hit my car. I could clearly see the rod falling from the truck, the car moving to a side as I tried to evade it and eventually feeling the rod hit the back tire. The whole incident would have lasted a couple of seconds at the most, but to me it was as if it happened in slow motion. I could very clearly see every step of what had happened then. Did time slow down really for me?
During the summer of 2000, I had been to Iceland for work. We landed late at night and I went to sleep immediately. I woke up to a bright and sunny morning and panicked that I was late for work. When I got ready and went downstairs I realized it was just 3AM. The very next day, I woke up and saw the sun shining. I told myself that it would be early morning and didnt get out of the bed, till I got a call from my boss asking if I am going to turn up to work. It was 10Am. It was as if my body clock went cuckoo, because of the unfamiliar stimuli from the sun which never set and because of the jet lag from the travel across time zones. So what makes the body clock tick?
I read a WSJ review of a book on time — Why Time Flies, by Alan Burdick. The review promised that Alan Burdick has answered the questions I had on time and more. That caught my interest and I reserved the book from Austin Public Library ahead of the release. And APL had it for me just days after the release.

Physicist Richard Feynman says “What really matters anyway is not how we define time, but how we measure it.” And Alan takes us through an interesting journey on time to prove that by talking about time from the smallest measure to the largest.
Did you know that scientists have succeeded in calculating time to an attosecond (10−18 second)? Do we have one clock inside us that regulates what we do or do we have millions of them? Is a lump of coal a clock? Does time tick faster as you grow older? Why do we feel time stood still when we are doing something unpleasant and feel time flies when we are enjoying what we do.
But beware, the book is not a breezy read. Alan Burdick is no Bill Bryson. Despite some lighter sections, the book is mostly serious and scientific as the author promises. But if you do persist, you get to understand Time and may be you can even claim part of the ‘Timing Mafia’ as one of the scientists quoted in the book says. Should I say, time well spent!
Time may stand still, time may fly but time is well spent when you listen to this maestro sing this beautiful song about passage of time! (This is a song in the language Tamil, sung by Sanjay Subrahmanyan, a virtuoso of Carnatic Music — a classical art form from South India.)