Leaps and Lapse

We are living in an era where our lives are critically controlled by time
"After a series of arguments and counter arguments on this issue, it was on November 18, 2022 that the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) at Paris chose to eliminate leap seconds by 2035." [Representational Image]
"After a series of arguments and counter arguments on this issue, it was on November 18, 2022 that the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) at Paris chose to eliminate leap seconds by 2035." [Representational Image] Wikimedia Commons/ Kevin Gill

At this juncture when 2022 leaves and 2023 steps in, I make an attempt to play with the casual sense of time. For all practical purposes, time is what the clock reads.

A tick makes one second which is the time taken by a certain number of vibrations of Caesium atom. No other atom shows such consistent vibration and hence the choice. Therefore, this is the precise time or International Atomic Time (TAI), as measured by atomic clocks.               

There is another sense of time with us, due to rotation of earth. This is imprecise time due to long-term slowing down of the earth’s rotation. In the remote past, about 70 million years ago, the earth would finish its day in 23 and a half hours. Now it takes 24.

The track of this time is kept by astronomical observations. The civil time or Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) is a compromise between the two. To keep settling difference between the two, the facility of leap second was introduced in 1972 by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) and since then 27 leap seconds have been added to the Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) to stay in tune with the observed solar time.               

As technology began to advance, it became increasingly important for us to be acutely accurate, pristine and precise. We are living in an era where our lives are critically controlled by time. At office it is a dot arrival. From home it is a dot departure. On phone, it is to the point conversation. In the examination, time takes us ransom.

Time is segmented by alarm bells and ringtones.  Time is monetized. We seek it through appointments with a doctor or a government officer. It is our actual exchange currency.

It has a fixed duration with each one of us, which cannot be stretched further. Its value can be enhanced only by improving its usage and limiting its wastage.

Time is prime. It needs an exact marking and matching in such processes as global navigation satellite system and global positioning system. Therefore, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has since been demanding the elimination of leap second to avoid discontinuity.

After a series of arguments and counter arguments on this issue, it was on November 18, 2022 that the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) at Paris chose to eliminate leap seconds by 2035.

After that, the discrepancy may be allowed to grow to say one full minute which can be taken care in next 50 to 100 years.

So, the leap will lapse for long.  And we seem to have done a great deal of time management. But have we learnt well about time? Are we really short of time and ever running out of it. Despite the fact that time is all pervasive in our everyday conversations, describing the same doesn’t come straightaway.               

All animals live in a continual present but humans have a sense of temporal distinctions of past, present and future, due to memories in brain. In this context, to err is human and not the animal. The actual reality is timeless. Albert Einstein once wrote: People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

A general perception is that whatever has happened is past and whatever is unfolding is future. But in reality “past” is only a slice of the universe at an earlier location while the “future” is a slice at a later location.  If you call me from Chennai, no matter how fast the signal passes, it will always take some time to reach me here in Srinagar.

So, you are unable to access me while still being in your present. You have rather accessed me in future and I have connected to your past. Past, present and future run parallel. Similarly, if the sun stops to shine at this very moment, it would not affect us on earth at the same moment.

We would know about it after eight minutes. With the light that left the distant galaxies millions of years ago, we are looking at the Universe as it was in the past.

So are our birth and death moments already out there at some space time coordinates in Universe. Passing of time is instead an illusion. Moreover, the time that we perceive, runs at a different pace below the sea level and at a mountain peak.

From an elementary knowledge of Physics, we understand that heavy objects generate strong gravity due to large mass. Because of this, the light bends around them and the time runs slowly. In a weak gravity, the clocks run faster.

Therefore, time is only a mental construct. Has the past happened and is the future unfolding or has it always existed. This unique approach towards understanding time gives rise to a whole host of philosophical issues oscillating between free will and determinism.

Everything in this universe is bound to time. It provides the necessary conditioning for an act to happen or a wish to fulfil. Time is a great mystery of nature. A good number of scientists, philosophers and theologians have speculated on the true nature of time. It is an impersonal force, sometimes also identified as God.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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