Relative Timeliness

By cjohnson | August 10, 2005 12:22 pm

Well, I may have more evidence that something has happened to the senior editing and production staff at NPR. Recall that Monday on All Things Considered there was an extended commentary on baseball, heavily spiced with Special Relativity, about which I posted. You’ll remember that I was pretty sure I was dreaming. They let good
modern science be used in a lightly entertaining way in one of their pieces on sport. This was exciting and bodes well for the future. (I realize it could be just for Einstein Year, and then they’ll go back to “protecting” the public from “hard” science after December 31st, but a man can dream, can’t he?)

Well, on NPR’s Day to Day this morning, there was a piece by Annabelle Gurwitch about timekeeping. The focus was on issue of the increasingly common fact that people are late, and that lateness is in fact becoming the norm, to the extent that if people show up on time, it can put people out a bit. (I know this happens to me if I’m preparing food for a party and people are coming around. If someone comes exactly on time it will pretty much derail my delicate planning process….I’m the one to blame there, if it’s not clear.)

Her main thrust was that the mobile phone is to blame for this epidemic, and I do have some sympathy with that observation (made at least 7 years ago in Europe, but you know, it took the USA a while to catch on to the mobile phone thing).

But the thing that was nice was that she informed a lot of the discussion (humourously) with Special Relativity, and the idea of inertial frames, etc. She even talked about different types (or measures) of time -as is done in Special and General Relativity a lot- which was also good. (My favourite there being CP time, for reasons that will be clear to people who know about my own occasional (!) lateness. Hint: In CP, C does not stand for Charge and P does not stand for Parity.).

All of this is not so revolutionary of course, but you must understand: that is the point! As I said in the earlier post, it is my dream to have science education and awareness so much the norm that everybody will casually – and without apology – sprinkle science facts, science reasoning and science humour into their everyday conversations just like they would sport, politics, or popular culture. So this is why those two NPR pieces were like music to my ears.

Finally, I must say that Annabelle Gurwitch’s piece reminded me of one of my own Relativity observations (made in jest): I think that there is a major effect as yet unaccounted for by Einstein which may be key in getting to grips with the final form of fundamental physics – The fact that time runs differently if you’re in the shower: With plenty of time to spare, you go in, have a quick shower (fewer than five minutes say), and you come out and find yourself late for leaving for work by twenty minutes or more! Why is that!?

I bet you’ll have your own examples of everyday “Relativistic” effects you’d like to share with us? Go on…you know you want to!


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science, Science and the Media
  • annabelle gurwitch

    Thank you Clifford, I actually put a lot of thought into the piece today and am something of a science nut- as much as my limited actress brain can undertand. I have written several pieces connecting various theories to trends in pop culture and i hope they make it on the show. best, Annabelle Gurwitch

  • Clifford

    Wow! I had no idea anyone was reading this thing, much less one of the very people I was talking about! Thank you so much mixing some science humour into the piece, and please do more….they are appreciated by many, I’m willing to guess.


  • cleek

    there’s the effect where time runs faster for the person who has to run to the store for a couple of six packs when the beer runs out (“the store’s like three minutes from here! it’ll only take a sec’!”) than the people back at the party waiting for him to deliver said beer (“how long has he been gone?”).

  • Clifford

    That’s a good one…. I’ve certainly been in one or other of those frames of reference at one time or other. -cvj

  • Marty

    cleek, I think you have that backward: more subjective time passes for the observer in a frame where time is running faster. Time is passing more slowly for the guy on the beer run.

  • Clifford

    I think that depends upon how good the party has been up to that point! -cvj

  • cleek

    i guess i was thinking that when the guy returns from his beer run, his internal (biological) clock will have counted 10 minutes, but the clock on the wall (real world time) will have counted 20 minutes. for him, the real world time went faster than he thought it did.

    for the people waiting, they might have thought an hour passed, before noticing it was only 20 minutes (when they actually looked at the clock when he returned). for them, real time ran far slower than their biological clocks.

    this is why i’m not a physicist.

  • anno-nymous

    CP Time = Communist Party time? You commies are always late because your meetings run over, or because none of you own good watches?

  • Plato

    What is time?

    Maybe “time keeping” by a pulsar.

    …..for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.” Einstein

    For us earthy people…

    …”Sun dial” on a wrist or…..

    ….for those gardening types…..calculation by exclusion…leads to “flowering point”? Bird migration of A “seasonal” circadian rhythmn.

    Winter passes slower, then summer? Pretty girls and hot stove has now become a “rapping” success.

    Using soft music, as sound in a allegorical sense can be quite heavy. So, repeat after me, “I will not be late.”


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