Time: Perceptions and Possibilities

The intangible nature and properties of time pervade human intellectual thought, particularly philosophy, physics, psychology and religion.  Consider the religious philosopher St. Augustine's evasive reply to the enigmatic question, "What is time?"  Said he, "If no one asks me, I know what it is.  If I wish to explain what it is to him who asks me, I do not know."

In more colloquial language:  Time is one knotty problem.  And as we approach the end of 2002 and get set for a new year, a time when even the least reflective among us pay attention to the passage of those purely arbitrary, set units of days, weeks, months and years in which we encompass this concept called time, UC's e-briefing examines the perceptions and possibilities of this never-fixed mark.


Table of contents:

1. Time is nothing if not unruly

  • More questions than answers
  • Is time even necessary?
  • Watched pots never boil; time flies when you're having fun
  • There are no absolutes
  • Is time travel in our future?

2. Time is but a tool

  • And a short-lived one at that
  • All religions give form to our questions of time

3. Time's change

  • The roots of our Western perceptions of time
  • No more free time
  • More IS better
  • Stressed students

4. Time is money

  • In the information age, waiting and watching is hard work
  • The West: A stop-watch business cycle
  • Teaching the long view
  • Technology: Both enemy and friend to time management
  • Money as the measure of time's wise use ?

5. Father Time: A mixed-up image
 
1. TIME IS NOTHING IF NOT UNRULY
A. MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

John McEvoy, UC professor of philosophy, says that although philosophers have pondered time for 2,500 years, that's not been enough time to answer unresolved questions:  Is time an objective feature of reality or a form of subjective experience?  Did time have a beginning?  How could it have a beginning if we need time itself to measure that beginning?  Is it sensible to talk of time flowing?  Does time exist when nothing is changing?  For example, if we didn't age with the passage of time, would we detect time?
Contact: 513-556-6337

B. IS TIME EVEN NECESSARY?
Tony Grasha, UC professor of psychology, says it's likely that our views of time are partly the result of our being landlocked creatures.  If we could exist in outer space, we could only plot the transition from one place to another in terms of distance traveled.  He added that some physicists question whether time as a dimension is really necessary with the implication that it's a "human-being made convenience."  We need a perception of time to make sense of our world, but in the final analysis, time may be nothing but a human convention to help us cope with understanding the world but not necessarily embedded in the universe at large. 
Contact: 513-556-5543

C. WATCHED POTS NEVER BOIL AND TIME FLIES WITH FUN
Joel Warm, UC professor of psychology, has researched time perception, vigilance and sustained attention since the 1960s, research that has implications for the travel industry; quality and process controls in manufacturing; security efforts; the military and just plain, old daily life.

He says that the experience of time is subtle and complex, influenced by the environment, physical state, workload and other cues.  Though time may flow evenly in a physical sense, it doesn't do so at all as far as our consciousness is concerned.

For instance, Warm affirms that it's true:  "A watched pot never boils. You are in the slowest line in the grocery store, and your boyfriend is never ready on time.  It's true that when you want time to go fast, it goes slow.  It has to do with anticipation, expectancy and increased vigilance.  The more you pay attention to time, the longer it seems."  Also, repetitive or less engaging tasks draw out the perceived length of time.  Inversely, it's also quite true that "time flies when you're having fun."  Anything that draws attention from monitoring or attending to the passage of time reduces the perception of time's passage. 
Contact:  513-556-5533

D.  THERE ARE NO ABSOLUTES
Tony Grasha, UC professor of psychology, states that Albert Einstein's relativity theory showed that absolute time was a myth.  Time is relative to the perspective of an observer.  Grasha adds that it's also true that time is relative to the culture of the perceiver: People in Hispanic cultures tend to say, "The bus missed me" when they missed the bus.  Here, we say, "We missed the bus."  In some parts of the Orient, people believe that if you missed an event, it will come back again.  Thus, the perception of time and how we react to it is culturally determined and is implanted at an early age.  Thus, an absolute view of time and its accuracy does not make sense given the cultural variables.
Contact: 513-556-5543

E.  IS TIME TRAVEL IN OUR FUTURE?
While time travel is not a practical possibility today, UC Physicist Richard Gass says it may not always be impossible.  "There are some small theoretical loopholes in what we know so it may be a possibility.  I can't say it's physically impossible."  He adds that it's a common misconception that time is the same everywhere.  But physicists know that that's only true if two bodies are at rest in the same flat space.  "For example, two atomic clocks both set at the same time - one on the ground at rest and the other flown in an airplane - will not keep the same time.  The one flown in the airplane will run slower.  This is the theory of special relativity."  Also, "the rate at which a clock runs is influenced by large masses nearby.  Massive objects, like a black hole or neutron star, will cause clocks to run more slowly.  The larger the object, the slower the clock.  This is the theory of general relativity."  While this may not mean much to someone late for a lunch appointment, "you do have to take relativistic time into account if you want your spacecraft to be where you want it to be.  And software at the guts of Global Positioning Systems takes both special and general relativity into account."
Contact:  513-556-0519

2.  TIME IS BUT A TOOL
A. AND A SHORT-LIVED ONE AT THAT
Rabbi Abie Ingber, executive director of UC's Hillel Jewish Student Center, quotes David Ben-Gurion, founder of the State of Israel and Israel's first prime minister: "Time works both for us and against us...depending on how we use it."

Says Ingber, "Very simply, life begins and life ends as we know it when you are born and when you die.  You are given time and time ceases to exist as we understand it. That being said, what do you do with your time? The key to a good life is a life in which people use their time wisely. A wasted life is where people do not."

Ingber adds that when our lives end, our tombstone will reflect our date of birth and the date of our death, with a small dash in between. "All of our life is summarized in that little dash, and when you think that all you have to write on is that little dash, there's not a lot of room."
Contact: 513-221-6728

B.  ALL RELIGIONS GIVE FORM TO OUR QUESTIONS OF TIME
John Brolley, director of UC's Religious Studies program, says, "...where all religions come together is in the examination of how finite our time is.  Typically, Western religions -- particularly Christianity and Islam -- focus on the idea that time does not stop when our earthly life stops. However, there are religious traditions, such as Buddhism, in which the time you are spending now is the most important time of all.  There is no afterlife in a sense of heaven or hell. For religions that deal with reincarnation, there's the idea that you may spend another period of time on earth..."
Contact:  513-556-6456

3.  TIME'S CHANGE
A. THE ROOTS OF OUR WESTERN PERCEPTIONS OF TIME

John McEvoy, UC professor of philosophy, says that until the 17th century, the Western world viewed time as circular and repetitive.  But as feudalism waned and the industrial age began, time was viewed as being linear in nature with a clear path from past to present to future.  With the invention of the clock in the 17th century and the advent of railroads in the 19th, uniform time systems became the norm.  Time was less a personal experience than an abstract concept determined by the clock.
Contact: 513-556-6337

B. NO MORE FREE TIME
The overall sense that Americans have in connection with the "death" of available, "free" time stems from several factors, says Tony Grasha, UC professor of psychology.  First, downsizing does mean that there are fewer workers to do the same number of tasks.  Also, we live in a "fast food culture" and have so much so quickly and effortlessly at our disposal.  This set a mental bias that "this is the way life is."  Thus, we "take on life as a fast-food pace" trying to fit in as much as possible in a short period of time.

The problem is "self creation," the more we behave in a certain way, the more we reinforce the underlying attitudes and beliefs that justify the correctness of this behavior.  In effect, our behaviors contribute to our self-image, and so, the faster we work, play, socialize and generally take on life, the more we label ourselves as fast paced, as "enjoying the action," as 'liking complications."  Thus, we continue to behave in line with this self-image.
Contact: 513-556-5543

C. MORE IS BETTER
If they could, how would Ohio's working parents change the  way they spend their time?  Most would spend about the same amount or less time at work.  The vast majority would spend more time with family and friends, more relaxing or pursuing hobbies.  These conclusions from the Survey of Ohio's Working Families conducted by UC's Kunz Center for the Study of Work and Family since 1998.  Other findings: 82 percent of Ohio working parents very often, fairly often or occasionally "feel used up at the end of the workday."  For specific data on how Ohio's working families spend their time, go to http://www.uc.edu/news/timekunz.htm.
Contact: 513-556-4733

D.  STRESSED STUDENTS 
Susan Sadlier, director of international programs, UC's College of Business Administration, recalls leading UC business students to study in Nantes, France, this summer.  One of the biggest adjustments was in the spending of time.  "...they were amazed that French families took about two hours to eat dinner together...The American students said that they are so stressed, so pressed for time, it was hard for them to slow down."
Contact: 513-556-0407

4. TIME IS MONEY
A. IN INFORMATION AGE, WAITING AND WATCHING IS HARD WORK

Joel Warm, UC professor of psychology, has researched time perception, vigilance and sustained attention since the 1960s, research that has implications for the travel industry; quality and process controls in manufacturing; security efforts; the military and just plain, old daily life.

He says that how we take in information influences our perception of time's passage.  For instance, we judge time more accurately and can remain more vigilant when we take in information aurally rather than visually.  It's one reason why the performance of security personnel or air-traffic controllers deteriorates rapidly with the passage of time.  "Both really listening and watching are heavy workloads.  A person who is really listening and watching is not sitting there doing nothing.  It's very hard work.  And visually sustained attention [like looking at a screen] is harder."
Contact:  513-556-5533

B. THE WEST: A STOP-WATCH BUSINESS CYCLE
Larry Gales, academic director, International Programs, and associate professor of management, UC's College of Business Administration, says that there are real differences in time perception within the international business community.  For instance, the Asian business approach, particularly for the Chinese and Japanese, is a long-term perspective that looks forward and backward. "The Asian culture is not only concerned with the long-term objectives into the future, but also with the lessons of history. There's the notion in Japan of 'patient capital'--the approach the Japanese take to investing. The American notion is short term with maximum return. For the Japanese, it's long term, and not just how it will benefit the organization, but also how the investment will benefit the country. So while we think of quarterly performance and annual performance, the Japanese may think in terms of five or 10 year performance."

Gales notes that it was major news when Coca Cola announced this week that it would stop providing quarterly and annual profit guidance numbers to analysts in order to emphasize the long-term prospective. Other cultural differences in regard to time include the Americans' focus on the youth culture and immediacy, while the Chinese and Japanese hold high regard for seniority and longevity, hence the reverence for age.

Gales adds that Americans encounter more subtle cultural differences comparing their perception of time with that of Europeans. Americans prize promptness, and may be offended when the French, Italians or the Spaniards show up 15-30 minutes late for a meeting. "Our perception is that we were on time, they should not keep us waiting. The other cultures may perceive this as, 'If I'm not on time, there's probably a good reason why I'm not on time.'" Gales adds that the Americans, British, German and Scandinavian business people share the same respect for promptness.
Contact: 513-556-7127

C. TEACHING THE LONG VIEW
Marianne Lewis, associate dean of Innovation and Program Development for UC's College of Business Administration, and associate professor of Management, says, "We've looked at the generations of time management and how they've progressed. There's your most basic to-do list, prioritizing that list, keeping a calendar, and, as you get more advanced, examining your personal mission or strategy. You don't want to spend the major amount of your time focusing on the immediate, but instead shift away from the immediate, and spend 80 percent of your time planning for the long term. The perspective of time is getting much broader...."
Contact: 513-556-7124

D. TECHNOLOGY: ENEMY AND FRIEND TO TIME MANAGEMENT
Charles Matthews, director, UC's Center for Entrepreneurship, is the perfect example of how technology both helps and hinders time management.  Yes, he has to devote time every day to answering e-mail.  However, he benefits as well.  For instance, he is presiding over a conference of 500 colleagues in South Carolina this January, and he has yet to have to send out one hard-copy letter relating to the conference. "It comes with a cost, it does take time," he says. "But I couldn't do it without electronics. I don't have a secretary."
Contact: 513-556-7123

E.  MONEY AS THE MEASURE OF TIME'S WISE USE?
"For some people, bringing goodness into the world is an appropriate use of their time. There are some who may say, 'I made so much money, I must have used my time wisely.' That's the theology of consumption. Judaism understands that the person who can be called rich is the person who is satisfied with what they have."
Contact: 513-221-6728

5.  FATHER TIME: A MIXED-UP IMAGE
Holt Parker, UC professor of classics, says the image of Father Time has roots in ancient Greece and mixes two different symbols from antiquity.  Father Time is based on Chronos, the personification of time for ancient Greeks and the root of the word "chronology."  Father Time carries a sickle because of later ages' confusion with another Greek mythological figure - the Greek god Kronos (sometimes Cronus) who ruled the earth after castrating his father in battle.
Contact:  513-556-1944

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