Time and time again

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d...
English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d’Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is often said that Einstein considered time to be an illusion, and web sites which collect notable quotes often just claim that Einstein said “Time is an illusion“. This a classic case of taking a quote and posting it out of context. What Einstein actually said was more complex and more subtle.

He actually said:

The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

He did not claim that time is an illusion, but that the moment of “now” is an illusion. In fact his equations give time the same status as space. For instance, the square of the space time interval between two events is defined by combining the square of the space interval minus the square of the time interval interval. (Provided all values are expressed in the same units.)

Time dilation spacetime diagram06
Time dilation spacetime diagram06 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The details don’t matter too much here. The point is that time is treated equally with the space dimensions, and no one is claiming that Einstein was arguing that space does not exist. There are many references to be found on the Internet which explain Einstein’s ideas with variable clarity and accuracy.

I said above that Einstein argued that the instance of “now” is an illusion, but I was over simplifying. What I believe that he was saying was that while we experience a “now” now, we also experienced a “now” ten seconds ago, and one second ago, and one instant ago. There is nothing special about the “now” moment and all instants of time are “now” moments.

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This isn’t that surprising really. If you consider where you are at a particular place and at a particular time, not only is there a “now” moment, there is also a “here” place. When you move to another place, you have another “now” moment, and another “here” place. To experience an event you have to have both.

If we are taking a road trip we have no difficulty with the concept that the “here” place changes continually and that a place we have passed through was a “here” place when we passed through it, and that a place further on will later be a “here” place. Where ever we are we are “here”.

You might argue that time is fundamentally different from space, in that we can see what is in front of us in space but we can’t see what is in front of us in time. This is true, but maybe we just don’t have the physical equipment to do so. We can use sight to look around as see what is not “here”, to some extent, but we don’t have complete visibility to things around us.

If we did we would not bump into things and fall off of things as much as we do. We use sight to build a picture of things around us, but we don’t have physical access to those things until we move up to them.

Human hand icon
Human hand icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since we don’t have “time vision” we have use whatever abilities we can to work out what is in the future, such as reason and intuition, both of which have limited success. We do have some ability to fairly accurately guess the future, as evidenced by our abilities to catch a ball thrown to us. If you have ever watched a top table-tennis match, you will no doubt be amazed at how accurately we can so this, as the ball whizzes from end to end of the table.

Time is measured in seconds and space is measured in metres (or hours and yards or other equivalent units). This seems to be a difference between the space dimensions and the time dimension.

Time dilation spacetime diagram05
Time dilation spacetime diagram05 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However it is easy to show that there is little fundamental difference. Distances are often measured in terms of time – astronomers refer to a light year, which is the distance that light travels in one year. It is not often, however, that the opposite is true. Times could be measured in terms of light metres, or the time it takes light to move a given number of metres, but this is not usual, possibly because a light metre is such a very short period of time.

Interestingly some people claim to be able to “see” the future. They are claiming that they have a sense similar to vision which they use to determine what is going to happen in the future. While it is possibly conceivable to have such a sense, there appear to be no organs in the body which could be used to “view” the future.

Panoramic view of the future Phoenix-Lake from...
Panoramic view of the future Phoenix-Lake from the observation deck of the Phoenix-Lake Infopoint (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Such organs would have to have receptors which would have to receive information about the future just as the eyes receive information about things that are relatively distant, and that information would have to travel in time from the future to reach the receptors in the present. This appears to be counter to all known physics. Possibly “unknown physics” would allow this, but I suspect not.

In any case the human body doesn’t appear to have any receptors which could possibly serve this purpose, and although not everything is known about the human body, such organs, if such existed and could be used by some people, would be probably be apparent.

English: "Sight" - First of a series...
English: “Sight” – First of a series of 5 engravings illustrating the five senses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What about the brain? Could the brain perhaps receive information about future events in some way? Well, the brain is an organ for processing information, not for receiving information from the future.  There is nothing like a receptor in the brain, though it is connected via nerves to receptors which terminate those nerves and when stimulated excite the nerves which then pass the stimulation to the brain.

In my opinion, which of course could be wrong, there is no way that information from the future could be detected by the human body, and in particular by the brain acting as a receptor. That does not mean that time is in any way different from space as a dimension. What it does mean is that we are able to perceive the dimensions of space differently from the dimension of time.

Diagram of human brain
Diagram of human brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That doesn’t address the question as to why the space dimensions are accessible to vision and time is not. It only addresses the question of why we can “see” the space dimension, but cannot “see” the time dimension. Something links the space dimensions into one seeming whole, while the time dimension seem singularly different.

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Cute Baby
Cute Baby (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you saw a human being whose body was only three times the size of his/her head instead of the usual six times, who lacked the ability control his/her limbs and bodily functions, who was almost unable to communicate and who needed round the clock care, would you conclude that they were unfortunately seriously physically disabled, or would you lean in and say “What a cute baby!”

When the characteristics of a baby are listed like that, it makes it seem very unattractive, but, unless the baby is playing up in some way, most, but not all people, would find it appealing. There is something in our natures that is attracted to babies and young children.

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It’s not just the young of our own species that we find attractive. A small bumbling puppy or kitten very often causes us to go “Awww!”. We often have an urge to cherish baby animals, and this urge appears to extend to other species to some extent. It is not infrequent that a mother of one species will care for the young of another species, even species that would normally be prey for the mother.

That’s quite astounding when you think about it – the mothering instinct has completely suppressed the predatory instinct. Of course, if food were scarce, possibly the mothering instinct would not be as strong as the predatory instinct.

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Obviously the pleasure that people get from babies (and pets) outweighs all the negative aspects of looking after them. Babies can be demanding, annoying, frustrating and downright unpleasant to live with, if the truth be told. And they are expensive to look after!

Other people’s children will sometimes cause you to wonder why the parents didn’t practise birth control, and your own will frequently be an embarrassment to you, but overall society tolerates the anti-social behaviour of children to an amazing extent. Of course, parents tend not to take babies and small children to events where they would cause chaos and mayhem, such as a musical concert or a play.

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We could term this attractiveness of young children to adults “cuteness”. “Cuteness” invokes the parental instincts that can in some circumstances overcome the instinct of self preservation. In having produced offspring, a parent has performed almost all that is necessary for the propagation of the species, and the only task left is for the parent to ensure that the child gets the best start in life that is possible.

The cuteness of children allows such human institutions as fostering. A child can be looked after by a non-relative, if the parent (and all the child’s relatives) are unable to bring up the child for any reason. Sometimes, maybe often, a fostered child comes with “problems”. They may have been mistreated, for example, and have become reserved or disruptive.

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Foster parents are often special people, who take in unwanted children and do their best to sort out any problems and issues that they have, trying their hardest to break through any barriers that the child may have put up, earning the child’s trust if possible, and even their love.

That is important, because the parent/child bond is bidirectional. The parent loves the child, and the child loves the parent back. I suspect that the parent loves the child first and the child learns from this to love the parent back. When a child is born, it is barely aware of its surroundings and parents grow to love their child even before the child learns to and is capable of responding to the parents.

George and Barbara Bush with their first born ...
George and Barbara Bush with their first born child George W. Bush, while Bush was a student at Yale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a tragedy that so many parents either don’t know how to love their children, or their love fades quickly over time. I guess it is not surprising that in a few cases parents don’t know how to love their kids, and I also guess that this can be the result of the parents’ parents not showing their kids much love.

However,  that is pure speculation. It’s reasonable, I’d say, but not definite, so far as I am aware. Certainly, children who come from environments where the mutual affection in a family is apparent will most likely prove to be loving parents themselves.

English: Russian Family
English: Russian Family (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is hard to watch when a child goes wrong, or is caused distress by something external. Older children of even loving parents sometimes go “off the rails”. They may indulge in drugs, or alcohol, or indiscriminate sex, or may develop mental or physical illnesses. They may simply develop world views that are opposed to those of their parents. They may even vote for the wrong political party!

This wayward behaviour is often worst for parents who have rigid world views, such as those who are religious or are philosophically rigid. It may indeed be this very rigidity of viewpoint that has pushed their kids away. Most parents encourage their children to develop their own personalities, but sometimes these personalities clash with those of the parents.

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The innate tendency to find children and the young of pet animals cute serves as the glue to bind the parents to a very demanding entity in the child. The cuteness of a child is only partially visible to others though, and there may be conflict between parents and other adults in places like restaurants and planes and busses.

As children get older the cuteness factor tends to wear off. By the time that they leave the family home the bonds between parents and children have transitioned between child/parent and young adult/parent. Though the bonds are still there they are qualitatively different to the original bonds formed just after the birth.

English: Golden Father and Son Deutsch: Golden...
English: Golden Father and Son Deutsch: Golden Vater und Sohn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes the cuteness idiom is probably taken too far, as in the Japanese quality of Kawaii. In Japan many older children and young adults dress and behave in ways which in younger children would be considered cute. In my opinion this is decidedly dubious, as the Kawaii quality is too easily linked with sexual attractiveness, and making oneself more attractive by acting younger than one’s age can possibly cause younger children seem sexually attractive.

In contrast, in Western cultures children will try to dress and act older than their age when they begin to feel that they need to be attractive to others. While this is not ideal, it does mean that sexual attractiveness is directed to older looking partners, and not, as in Japan, to younger looking ones.

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Who’s a good boy, then?

Brygos Painter
Brygos Painter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We love our pets and they, so far as they are capable, love us back. In particular dogs reciprocate when we shower our affection on them. They are so grateful to us, and more than repay us for adopting them and looking after them, providing them with food, housing and the aforementioned affection.

Cats on the other hand, do not appear to be so grateful for us letting them into our lives, and some cats seem to have an air of disdain for anything human related. I’m told by cat lovers that they are as affectionate as dogs, but it all seems to be very much on their terms.

English: British Shorthair Deutsch: British Ku...
English: British Shorthair Deutsch: British Kurzhaar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe that’s the way it should be. But maybe it is sheer hubris to assume that we are the top mammals, and that we should be treated as such. Cats are perhaps showing us that there are other ways to be superior.

There are other pets of course, such as birds and budgerigars, fish, rabbits and small rodents such as guinea pigs and hamsters, not to mention mice and rats. Some people have even more exotic pets, such as lizards and snakes, and even spiders.

Cuban Tarantula
Cuban Tarantula (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While one can’t have as close relationship with these creatures as with dogs or cats, owners claim that these animals do show affection for their owners often in subtle ways. I’m sceptical that fish, snakes and spiders do so, but I’m willing to concede that the rodents probably do show affection to some small extents.

It’s probably that people began keeping pets as a convenient food supply. In some places rodents such as guinea pigs are bred for food, and the rabbits which have become pests in some parts of the world were definitely introduced as a food source. Apparently rabbits were introduced into the UK by the Romans as a food source, and it’s hard to realise that rabbits haven’t always been in the UK these days.

Meat-type rabbits being raised as a supplement...
Meat-type rabbits being raised as a supplementary food source during the Great Depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Larger animals, such as pigs, sheep and goats and other animals that are kept for their meat sometimes end up as pets. Maybe the child of a farmer may have hand-reared the animal when something happened to the animal’s mother and become attached to it. This is often seen as a waste by the farmer, but he may indulge the child and allow the animal to live.

In most cases of such larger pet animals, the animal does not live with the owners, but merely gets special treatment from the owners. It is a sort of half and half pet animal. In rare cases the pig or other animal may actually live with the humans, but this is considered eccentric. Often media will use such cases for “human interest” stories. I often wonder if the pig on the couch is really happy with the situation or whether it would prefer to be grubbing around outside.

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Some people keep horses. While horses are usually considered pets, but are working animals, some people get very close to their horses. It more of a close companionship than a really human and pet relationship, but horses do in many cases reciprocate when the humans show affection.

Showing affection implies some sort of consciousness behind the pet’s eyes. Some people argue that while animals do respond to human affection that their response is merely a stimulus/response reaction of the pet to the environment, which of course includes the human being. While pet seems to recognise that the human is being affectionate, the pet is a philosophical zombie, and there is nothing else going on.

English: Golden Retrievers posing for a photo ...
English: Golden Retrievers posing for a photo at Affectionate Pet Care Dog Daycare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find this argument to be dubious. We after all are conscious beings, and this consciousness must have evolved in our ancestors from scratch. I don’t just mean our human ancestors, but the ancestors of us, apes, cat and dogs, pigs, and horses. In other words all mammals, and maybe even the ancestors of other types of animal. I’d like to think, for example, that Tyrannosaurus Rex had some dim idea of itself and its place in the world.

This is, of course, the view that animal rights’ activists and vegetarians and vegans have of animals as sentient beings. While I have certain sympathies for their points of view, I feel that humans have the right to eat meat as part of their diet, just as any carnivore like a lion or a tiger has the right to hunt, kill and eat other animals.

Male Lion (Panthera leo) and Cub eating a Cape...
Male Lion (Panthera leo) and Cub eating a Cape Buffalo in Northern Sabi Sand, South Africa. Italiano: Leone maschio (Panthera leo) e un cucciolo mentre mangiano un Bufalo nel Nord di Sabi Sand in Sud Africa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are have evolved from hunter-gatherers whose diet included meat from animals that we hunted and killed and our bodies have developed (maybe even evolved) to subsist on such a diet, and we have issues if we try to exclude meat from our diets. Vegetarian diets tend to favour beans and other plant proteins which our bodies are not adapted to digest and plants do not contain much of some nutrients which our bodies need.

Pets are probably kept more for companionship than anything else. The mutual affection between a pet and its owner probably arises from that. Some people (as in any group of humans) tend to go to an extreme, as epitomised by the familiar “cat woman”. Such people often have psychological problems and tend to be somewhat withdrawn from society, and may form an extreme connection with their cats, and have a disregard of their own well-being.

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I prefer dogs over cats, because dogs interact with humans in a more human way than cats do, and kids who grow up with dogs will have seen all the training and looking after that their pets need, and themselves learn about responsibility. A pet dog is totally dependant on a human for housing, feeding and exercise. If the dog becomes ill, they learn that the owner is responsible for seeing that the illness is treated, and when the dog dies, they learn how to cope with death and grief.

When the human race expands to the stars, if we ever do, we will almost certainly take our pets with us. The dog, the cat, the guinea pig and the budgerigar will travel to the stars with us. They may be riding on our coat tails, but that is a measure of the success of their species and their connection to the human race.

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English: The loneliness of Culloden Culloden i...
English: The loneliness of Culloden Culloden is one of the few areas that I leave feeling full of sadness. This lonely tree at the sight says it all. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Robinson Crusoe was marooned for years on a tropical island. At first he succumbs to despair, but later he starts to make things easier for himself, at first rescuing goods from the shipwreck which is fortunately accessible at least for a while on a reef.

He has no one to talk to, until Friday, but he is kept busy just surviving. This business, wondering where the next meal was coming from, how to provide himself with shelter, all the minutiae of just living would have initially staved off all sense of loneliness.

Robinson crusoe rescues friday-1868
Robinson crusoe rescues friday-1868 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later on though, when his immediate needs were catered for, he must have reflected on the fact that he was totally alone on the island. (I read the book years ago, and I’m speculating – I can’t recall if he ever got into a philosophical mood or not). It would have been a driver to explore the island and finding no other people would have been a blow.

People in general need other people. In the book Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Ben Gunn is marooned on an island for years and become slightly unhinged by the loneliness. He spent a lot of the time on the island dreaming of one thing – cheese. However, he does not completely lose his senses and is able to take part in the events that follow.

The Black Spot. Illustration by N. C. Wyeth fo...
The Black Spot. Illustration by N. C. Wyeth for Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people choose to isolate themselves from the rest of the human race, mainly, it seems for religious reasons. It is possible for such hermits to voluntarily return to the human race, something which is not possible for those who are marooned on an island, and this may make the separation more bearable.

The reason that hermits choose to isolate themselves from the human race is so that they can concentrate or religious or spiritual matters without being distracted by the minutiae of human life. Obviously they still need to eat and perform bodily functions, but those can be kept to a minimum and the hermits mind can be free to concentrate on one thing for much of their waking moments.

English: St.Martin in Memmingen. Choir stalls:...
English: St.Martin in Memmingen. Choir stalls: Portrait of a hermit Deutsch: St.Martin in Memmingen. Chorgestühl: Porträt eines Eremiten. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While human companionship can help to keep one sane, the constant interruptions to one’s train of thought can be distracting or irritating. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was writing the poem “Kubla Khan” when he was distracted by a person from Porlock and the poem was not completed as originally Coleridge envisaged.

Computer programmers often find that when they are concentrating on their task they will “enter the zone or the flow“. This is an almost trance-like state where the programmer is totally immersed in the task at hand, and the interruptions of normal life are not welcomed. A programmer in the zone may regard time spent on sleep, food and other necessities as unimportant, and this is why programmers sometimes subsist on coffee or energy drinks, and eat pizza and other fast foods that can be ordered in.

The immersive effects of the zone are not only felt in programming, I believe. Programming is in many ways an art, and I can imagine that the same is true of the other arts, such as painting and writing, as the example of Coleridge suggests, though he was using opium at the time he was writing Kubla Khan.

The feeling of being in the zone is, for the most part, intensely solo. While two or more programmers can work simultaneously of the same piece of code, this is much more difficult to achieve. I’ve seen programmers team up and program, but the feeling of being in the zone is much more fragile when more than one person is involved.

English: Programmer
English: Programmer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In contrast, debugging a malfunctioning piece of code can be easier for two or more, as the different insights broaden and direct the flow into areas that neither would have thought of by themselves but in general the immersion is not so deep.

Quite often an isolated person, say a shipwrecked person, or an elderly or sick person who is not mobile and therefore spends a lot of time alone, will have an animal as a companion. The little old lady has one or more cats. The shipwrecked or marooned person may have a dog. A companion animal eases the separation from the human race.

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A lonely person may pick an unusual animal as a companion. Some sources suggest that Michael Jackson made a pet of a rat and that his father killed it, but this story is muddled with the story behind his hit song “Ben”.

An isolated person may talk to the animal in default of being able to talk to other human, and may unwisely attribute human traits to the animal. If the person is alone with the animal for too long he or she may come to believe that the animal responds either verbally or by actions.

An albino pet rat eating a piece of bread.
An albino pet rat eating a piece of bread. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes an isolated person may imagine a fictitious companion, either totally invented or based on a real person. He or she may act out what he believes that the imaginary person would act out. In the film “Psycho” Norman Bates assumes and acts out the identity of his dead mother, who he killed 10 years earlier. Bates was isolated by his mental illness, and not by being physically isolated.

There are various causes of isolation – it may be unintentional, as in a shipwreck, or it may be intentional as when a sailor is marooned for mutiny, or a person may be isolated as a result of sickness, either mental or physical, or it may be a side-effect of old age. A person may be isolated by deafness or blindness, or physical inability to move.

Blind Girl
Blind Girl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, some people seek isolation in the form of “peace and quiet”. If a person is highly stressed in their day-to-day life, they may find themselves looking forward to immersing themselves in a book, or taking a bath, or in any of hundreds of ways of isolating themselves from the general hubbub of human society. Possibly with a reasonable supply of alcohol to hand, merely to aid the relaxation of course.

English: Peace and quiet This part of the trac...
English: Peace and quiet This part of the track is very quiet apart from birdsong, the gateway on the left is about four feet wide, small enough for animals to pass through when the farmers and lead miners had horses and carts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)