Time zone madness and sanity

The Washington Post recently published an article on a proposal by an economist and professor of physics and astronomy to create a single time zone for the entire planet. Those of us who travel regularly know that time zones are a hassle because adjusting sleep cycles is rarely easy. Their plan is to use UTC (basically, Greenwich Mean Time) as the planet’s time zone.

Putting the planet on a single time zone wouldn’t solve this particular problem unless we decided to ignore our circadian rhythm, i.e. rising around sunrise and going to sleep in the dark. I would imagine the Japanese and Chinese would be pissed as they would arise around sunset and go to sleep around sunrise. However, China already sees an advantage in having a single time zone. The whole country is on one time zone, basically +12 UTC. Perhaps this helps bind them together as a nation but for those in the far eastern or western parts of the country it must seem weird. It’s particularly weird when you move from eastern China into far eastern Russia. You jump two time zones to the east! China is about the size of the United States, so it would be like everyone in the United States being on Central Time.

I don’t think a law can easily break our circadian rhythms, which is why so many of us groan when entering daylight savings time. It feels unnatural because it is unnatural, at least in early March. But it’s less unnatural if you are lower in latitude and you happen to live close to a longitudinal meridian evenly divisible by 15. For those of us on the edge of a time zone, life seems to either start too early or end too late.

I certainly noticed it last year when we moved to Massachusetts, so much so that I blogged about it. Spain is considering changing its time zone to something more natural; it has been on central European time since World War Two. Spaniards get nearly an hour less sleep because of their unnatural time zone and unsurprisingly tend to be late to bed, at least by their clocks. Siestas are a way of compensating for their unnatural time zone.

Airlines already use UTC for flight schedules. This makes a lot of sense since pilots are frequently changing time zones. Of course they do take into account the sleeping habits of the people they are moving, which is why more flights happen during the daytime than at night. Laws vary so widely across the world (North Korea recently decided to change their time zone by half an hour) that some sort of time uniformity sounds desirable. As a practical matter geography often gets in the way, with Indiana being a case in point, as it is split between eastern and central time. No system is perfect.

Living in Massachusetts the time really feels “off”. I’m not alone, which is why there is a proposal to put New England on Atlantic Time, or -4 UTC instead of Eastern Time (-5 UTC). States can set their own time zones. However, here in New England it doesn’t make much sense for each state to go it alone, as our states tend to be small. It only makes sense if everyone adopts it. Rhode Island state Rep. Blake Filippi has proposed a bill to do just this, but only if Massachusetts also adopts it. He’s hoping it would coax the other New England states to go along.

My suspicion is that if Massachusetts embraced it, the other states here in New England would too. The possible exception would be Connecticut and that’s because it has so many commuters going into New York City everyday. As “off” as the time feels here in Massachusetts where the sun rises as early as 5:12 AM where I live and sets as early as 4:17 PM, it’s even worse the further east and north you go. To take an extreme example, the sunrise in Lubec, Maine starts as early as 4:41 AM and sets as early as 3:47 PM.

This is not a big deal in more extreme northern latitudes, but New England is simply not as far north as most of Europe. We are roughly at the latitude of Northern Spain. Being on Eastern Time is purely a political decision. Going to Atlantic Time for us pushed way north and east on the U.S. eastern seaboard would make a lot of sense and would feel more natural. We’d get later sunsets in the summer and more daylight in the winter when it is greatly needed.

So here’s hoping. Maybe I’ll write my state legislators. Winter is dark and dreary enough around here. There’s no point in making it more so. So I say let’s skip the idea of a worldwide time zone and make tweaks to the time zone maps we already use to make them fairer to actual human beings. As for us in New England, we have already suffered enough. Put us on Atlantic Time!

Searching for daylight

Moving to a new state brings a lot of changes. When you do it for pleasure like we did they should be mostly good. In April we moved from Northern Virginia to Western Massachusetts. Life is definitely slower here, but what’s not slower is the traffic. It generally moves. There are a few predictable choke points. It’s mildly annoying when it happens, but is not one hundredth as annoying as traffic in and around Washington D.C. The good: we now live in a city with a small town feel but with a vibrant downtown and liberal values. Republicans don’t generally even try to run for office around here. Bernie Sanders posters are everywhere.

But invariably there are certain things you miss, some that you did not quite expect. I thought I would miss the ethnic diversity of the Washington area but it’s quite diverse around here too. D.C. is very much a happening sort of city (as evidenced by its traffic) with a general level of affluence not seen around here. Unquestionably D.C. has a much better arts scene, although there is a surprising amount in this area.

One I did not expect to miss was daylight. Moving to Massachusetts meant moving 3.5 degrees north in latitude and 4.7 degrees east in longitude. You wouldn’t think it would make that much a difference in the amount of daylight, but it does. It’s not even Thanksgiving but by 5 p.m. it is already pitch dark here. In fact, the sun is already close to the horizon around 3 p.m. Sunset is this afternoon at 4:24 p.m. The sun rose here at 6:49 a.m. Our earliest sunset starts December 7 at 4:18 p.m. with our latest sunrise arriving December 31 at 7:19 a.m. As you might expect the shortest day is at the start of winter, when we get 9:06 of daylight.

These sorts of short days were not unknown to me. For the first fifteen years of my life I lived in upstate New York at about the same latitude. So I knew what I was getting into by moving north again. After 37 years of living in the mid Atlantic I was used to going home from work when there was still daylight out. The sun may have been setting, but you could still see. For comparison the sun sets in Washington D.C. today at 4:50 p.m. and rose at 6:58 a.m. So it has 9:51 of daylight, whereas we have 9:35.

Strangely enough, it makes quite a difference. The shortest day in Washington D.C is 9:26. (If these sorts of statistics interest you, you might like this site.) In short, in moving I lost twenty minutes of daylight in the winter and because we are further east the sun sets sooner. As a result I am starting to think of daylight as a precious commodity.

The good part is that since we are retired it doesn’t matter as much. If I were still working and living here I’d likely be driving to work in the dark and returning in the dark as well too. I now rise between 7:30 and 8 AM when daylight is just establishing itself. A typical day as a retiree involves a little work, a few chores and daily exercise. Exercise consumes at least an hour and I prefer to do it outside while it is still daylight. As a practical matter this means I have to start exercise no later than 2 p.m. because by 3:30 p.m. it’s already getting dark, with the sun hanging low in the sky. On overcast days like today the streetlights are on around 4 p.m. as clouds drain what little daylight there is. It also means that daylight is slow to emerge. This effectively shortens my period for enjoying the outdoors to about six hours a day.

Part of this problem is manmade. We arbitrarily divide the world into time zones, generally each an hour apart. Washington D.C. is toward the middle of the Eastern Time Zone, so the time of day feels natural year round. Here, an our or so west of Boston, we are not too far from the eastern edge of the time zone boundary. Effectively, I could enjoy more daylight if I would get up sooner.

Oddly enough, I am feeling this pull. I’ve never been a naturally early riser but now I am thinking I should get up around 7 a.m. so I can enjoy the daylight while it lasts. Sunny days are nice but they feel rushed through. With the sun not too far from the horizon all day the sun tends to stream in through the southern windows, making rooms blinding at times. My office faces south. On sunny days late in the year it is too much. I draw my translucent blinds, allowing light in but keeping the sun from shining directly in my face.

Without the bright city lights we were used too, night here feels deeper, darker and a bit foreboding. Streetlights are few. We live in a community where there is usually one bear sighting a year here, generally at the top of our hill. We were the lucky recipients this year when two teenage bears looking several hundred pounds each ambled through our tiny backyard, then across the street right in front of some men running construction equipment. Bears in the light can also be around in the dark of course. These bears are pretty massive. I’m quite sure a sufficiently motivated bear could break into our house through a window. The plentiful darkness raises these fears in my mind.

I don’t feel like I have a case of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I don’t feel depressed by the longer nights. In a way these shorter days and longer and darker nights are neat. When the skies are clear the skies are amazing! We are fortunate to be away from the city enough to appreciate real dark. No wonder solstice was such a big deal to our ancestors. It’s this that probably makes the daylight feel more precious to me, and which makes me want to get up with the sun and busily engage the world while I can.

Creeping toward decrepitude

When I turned fifty a couple of years back, I was okay with it. Yet for some reason now that it is 2010 and we’ve started a whole new decade, I am not okay with that. Just slipping into this new decade has made me feel old.

As if I wasn’t feeling old enough, I spent Sunday night having a discussion about the last decade with a group of youth. I am helping to oversee a youth group at my church so a look back at the last decade seemed an appropriate topic. For us rapidly aging still technically middle aged adults, the 2000s was just one decade of many. However, the youth are of high school age. For them the 2000s was the decade they began to retain memories. They sort of remember September 11, 2001 (they were in elementary school) but did not quite understand what all the fuss was about, why some of their classmates were abruptly pulled out of schools and their teachers were whispering in the hallways. Of the 1990s, they have fragmentary memories at best. Having finished their first proper decade, since they had nothing to compare it with, the last decade seemed all right. Whereas to the other adult leader and me it was, what a rotten decade! Good riddance! Of course, these youth were kept well insulated from reality by school, family and friends. The dramatic swings in the stock market never bothered them. Neither did the high unemployment or mortgage foreclosures. Their parents had stable enough jobs where they were not impacted.

For me personally, the last decade was a blur. I was busy being a working adult and I had my hands full. The decade felt like it was squeezed into two years or so. I keep asking myself, can it really be 2010 already? Where did the hell did the decade go?

One thing is certain: I feel ten years older. As readers know, my body has been complaining about this aging thing for a while. I had two relatively minor surgeries last year and will have tarsal tunnel surgery next week. Despite valiant efforts, my body is definitely moving toward decrepitude. I know none of us escapes this world alive. In the 2000s, I sort of lived on the illusion that I might be an exception. “I am not planning to die,” I would tell people who asked, and sometimes even those who did not.

Tackling the unpleasant business of creating my will last year was the extent that I planned for death. I am much more engaged in planning for a happy retirement, which I hope will have most of the joys of living minus the long workweeks and other family responsibilities. Now that it is 2010, old age, which used to be an abstraction, feels uncomfortably close. If nothing else, I can technically retire from my job in two years, though I am unlikely to do so.

One way I can get a sense of time passing is to simply add up the decades on my fingers. For me five decades are in the past so there is one whole hand accounted for. I hold up my other hand. Will I live another five decades? The odds are stacked against me. Living to a hundred is almost certainly out, barring some miraculous drugs or medical procedures that I probably could not afford. If I manage to make it to ninety, I will likely be in a nursing home or assisted living facility somewhere. If I am lucky, I will make it to age eighty and still be in good health, like my father. Yet if, like my father, I manage to live that long, I will likely end up in somewhere like where he is, a retirement community.

A retirement community has many great features but is also your easy gateway to an assisted living facility, which in turn is a gateway to a nursing home. There (if you are lucky) you probably leave this life reasonably well tended but not pleasantly. I imagine I will leave it like my mother did, unable to control your own bowels or get out of your own bed unassisted. In a retirement community, death is not an abstraction. It is all around you. People you see bounding down the hallways one day are in intensive care the next, and planted underground a few weeks later. You can see it in the hallways where many of the still mobile are pushing around walkers with little tennis balls on their feet. Many of the rest are in wheelchairs. Their bathrooms come with sturdy stainless steel railings on the sides of the tub and extra wide doors. That’s why the bathrooms have convenient pull cords to summon help in an emergency. You can count on someone on your floor passing away during the year, and chances are there will be two or three more. The most popular activity at my father’s retirement community is not dipping in the community whirlpool tub, but checking out the death notices in the lobby.

Aside from the problems of holding my body together (which used to never complain) there are increasingly visible signs that I am aging. My facial skin is sagging. My neck is looking somewhat saggy and wrinkled. The other day I looked at my left knee and the skin on it was drooping. Where did that come from? Age spots have been developing for years, but now my skin in general looks like sand on a beach, blown into drifts by the omnipresent wind. My eyes look more bloodshot than I remember. At least my hair has not gotten more noticeably gray in the last few years. However, that could be due to faltering vision.

Now that I am in a new decade and feel sufficiently aged, I am realizing that dying is actually a very long process. It starts around age eighteen when your first brain cells die off. Part of declining the right way is apparently gracefully accepting your increasing decrepitude. Those aches, pains and surgeries are your war wounds. In my case, they are the result of dodging and parrying with life for five decades. I am fortunate that this is all I am dealing with. Just a few generations removed from mine at age 52 I would more likely be planted six feet under. If I were still alive, I would likely be in a lot worse shape and in a lot more pain. Many of my joints would be inflamed (since anti-inflammation pills had not yet been invented), and I would probably stoop or need a cane. On the plus side, death and dying would probably be a lot less mysterious. It would be common to see your peers go to your reward. Attending funerals would be routine rather than an exception. Perhaps you would be grateful even to be alive in any pained or infirmed state.

In any event, I am still disgruntled that it is 2010 already and I probably will feel this way for a while. Like it or not I am moving rapidly toward an older stage of life. While it may be more painful and infirmed than in the past, at least it is still life. Perhaps time will reveal some compensation for aging that currently eludes me.

I can hope. It’s not like I have any choice in the matter. I am caught in a system beyond my control. It is only now that I am feeling this truth.

End the Daylight Savings Time Extension

I hope I am not the only American upset with Congress because they forced us to move to Daylight Savings Time three weeks early this year.

I first wrote about this back in November 2005. Now that I have actually experienced it, I am just infuriated by the whole thing. Moreover, I think I know why. It is because it has taken me back to 1974 when I was a mere lad of 17. At the time, we were embroiled in The Energy Crisis (Part 1). The Arab members of OPEC were upset by the Yom Kippur War. Any nation that sided with Israel became one of its targets, so they stopped shipping oil to the United States. President Nixon and Congress did two things in response. They set the national speed limit to 55 miles an hour (which was not repealed until 1995) and the nation was put on year round daylight savings time. For two years, the nation lived in an artificial time zone six months of the year. In the winter, we drove to work in the dark. The sun peaked above the horizon for many months after 8 AM.

At the time, I was a junior at Seabreeze Senior High School in Daytona Beach, Florida. Because Florida, like most states then (and now) could not be bothered to build enough schools to support the numbers of students, they staggered our school attendance. Juniors and seniors attended classes from 7 AM to Noon. This meant I was out on the bus stop a bit after 6 AM.

This was challenging enough for a teenager. As anyone with a teenager knows, at that age in life a student need more sleep, not less. It is excruciatingly difficult for a teenage body to rise before 8 AM, let alone before the sun goes up. Thanks to The Energy Crisis, not only did I go to school when it was dark, but I arrived at school in the dark and most of my first class was in the dark too. How much learning occurred? Not much. At least half of the students zoned out in their first class. They were not subtle. They put their heads right down on their desks and slept. The teachers were foggy eyed too. Academics, always a challenge at my high school, suffered even further, particularly in first period classes.

Now here we are 33 years later. We do not have year round Daylight Savings Time again, thank goodness. Nevertheless, this is nearly as bad. We have shrunk Standard Time so it has little meaning anymore. When I was a lad, DST began on the last Sunday in April and ended on the last Sunday in October. If the old law were in effect, we would have seven more weeks of standard time in the spring. In addition, we will extend DST a week in the fall. Essentially, we have extended DST by 8 weeks or two months a year. Consequently, there is nothing “standard” about standard time anymore. By my calculation, only 18 of 52 weeks of the year are now in standard time. To put it another way, we are in standard time only about one third of the year.

So now, I rise needlessly in the dark. Coincidentally 33 years later, my daughter is 17 instead of me. Now she is being shuffled off to school in the dark instead of me. The sun rises sometime after her first period class starts. I am betting that most of the students in her class are snoozing through first period too.

Since I ensure my daughter gets out the door around 6:30 or so, I am up early too. Since I am up, I am off to work early, which means I am driving to work. It is not quite dark unless it is a cloudy day, but it is definitely early twilight. I would prefer to bike but I cannot see well enough to bike, so I am actually using more energy. Even if I could bike, I dare not cross the Fairfax County Parkway on my bike in the twilight; I am likely to be run over. At work, I try to read my email and it is a challenge. My body is not quite in the present at 7:15 AM.

This latest law, like the one in 1973, is an attempt to save energy. While it is nice to have more daylight in the evening, it is not much more daylight. In any event, those of us who want to take advantage of the daylight are probably not going to be outside to sit on our decks, where the air is likely too cool to enjoy anyhow. We will not be mowing our lawns either; the grass is not growing yet. However, we will be more likely to get in our cars and drive somewhere, like the mall. There we will do our part to max out our charge cards and keep the economy humming. This bill, passed by a Republican Congress, struck me as more of an attempt to keep the coffers of capitalism running at full throttle than a solution to our energy consumption.

Supposedly, the law was written with the understanding that if it did not reduce our energy use, it would be repealed. While I am hopeful, I am skeptical that this will happen. Starbucks will get used to boosted coffee sales and will doubtless petition Congress to keep the law in place. Any business that benefits by having more people in the evening will also be petitioning to keep it in place. This means I suspect that though this latest extension is deeply unnatural, we will have to live with it.

For my part, I made the likely futile attempt and wrote my Republican congressman to petition for the end of this unnatural daylight savings time extension. If you feel the same way, write your representative and senators now.

Rethinking the calendar

New Years Day is one of those puzzling holidays to me. While I appreciate the chance to do things like sleep in late, I do not understand the hoopla. To me it means almost nothing, except it usually makes me feel older. Like most of you, it takes me a few weeks before I do not have to remember to put the correct year on my checks. New Years Day, rather than being the start of something, feels more like the end of something. Specifically it feels like the end of the holiday season. Our holiday tree usually comes down on New Years Day, along with the lights that have been decorating the outside of our house. Once again, by festooning our house with lights we have convinced the gods to lengthen the days.

For me I think the reason that New Years Day means so little is that the date feels arbitrary. While I occasionally party on New Years Eve, I do not see much point to it. However, many other cultures start their New Years on different days. The Gregorian calendar sets the de-facto start of the new year across the world. For the Jews, the new year starts on Rosh Hashanah, exactly 163 days after Passover. For Eastern Orthodox adherents, it begins January 14th, that seven days after their Christmas. The Chinese New Year begins at the first new Moon after the start of winter, but no sooner than January 21st.

I think that the new year should start on a day that has some celestial significance. January 1st has none. It is not at the start of winter; typically, it falls eleven days after winter begins. There are four days during the year that have celestial significance for the earth. These are the winter and summer solstices, and the equinoxes. Of these four days, the one that truly makes sense to begin a new year is on the winter solstice. For after the winter solstice the days grow longer. Consequently, it makes intuitive sense to begin our years on the day of winter solstice. (Of course, those who live in the southern hemisphere might prefer to celebrate it on their winter solstice. Clearly, with the preponderance of the world’s population living in the Northern Hemisphere, they are easily outvoted.)

The Gregorian calendar also seems pretty arbitrary. Wikipedia provides its whole convoluted history. Suffice to say it was certainly is an improvement over the Julian calendar but it remains pretty weird and wacky. It still has a Roman feel to it. It would be nice if our months were evenly divisible, but our place in the cosmos does not work that way.

While I expect no one will take me up on my suggestion, I propose that we create a meaningful planetary calendar. On January 1st I feel completely apathetic about the upcoming year. However, if the new year were celebrated on the winter solstice, then I could get more into the spirit of the day. The darkest day of the year is a natural day for celebration because each subsequent day for the next six months brings more light (in the Northern hemisphere) and of course, the new growth on which all life depends. The pagans at least still understand the pull of our earthly cycles. Starting the new year on winter solstice would symbolize hope, expectations and the boundless possibilities for a new natural year in the earth’s cycle.

Therefore, the new year should start on the first day when days get longer in the northern hemisphere. The exact timing should depend on the official arrival of winter solstice. Universal Time (same as Greenwich Mean Time) should be used as our arbitrator. For example, in 2006 winter will start at December 22nd, 00:22 UT. This makes the daylight hours of December 22nd slightly longer than on December 21st, so it would be celebrated on the December 22nd. (Occasionally the new year would start on December 21st, but on most years it would occur on December 22nd.)

Rearranging our calendar would take some rethinking. I suggest that we get rid of the old “Roman” month names and find months that perhaps have more universal meanings. In general, though all months would start ten days earlier than they currently do.

Our seasons are also out of whack. By the time winter officially starts, it feels half over. On March 20th it is still officially Winter but in much of the Northern Hemisphere flowers are blooming all over the place. The English have it right. Spring starts on Candlemas: February 2nd. (This is Groundhog Day in the United States, so it makes a certain logical sense. You would almost expect an animal to look for signs of spring halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox.) Summer begins on May Day (May 1st), Autumn on Lammas Day (August 1st) and Winter on All Hallows (or All Saints) Day, November 1st.

Granted this jiggering with the calendar would take some getting used to. Nevertheless, I do not think it would take too much. It would feel a more natural fit than our current bizarre and increasingly antiquated calendar system.

Daylight Savings Time: Too Much of a Good Thing?

It is that time again. It is time to rollback our clocks an hour. Standard time resumes for much of the country at 2 AM tonight. I will do my part by gleefully enjoying my extra hour and setting our clocks back an hour before I retire.

Some entries back I pondered the nature of time. Daylight Savings Time attempts to align our body’s natural clock with the increased daylight hours throughout much of the year.

The desirability of Daylight Saving Time seems to increase as your latitude increases. The closer you are to the equator the less the differences in the durations of day and night throughout the year. Hence, the less need for Daylight Saving Time. This is one of the reasons that Hawaii and most of Arizona stay on standard time all year round. Most of the rest of the country begins Daylight Savings Time on the first Sunday of April. It ends on the last Saturday of October.

It used to be that Daylight Savings Time did not begin until the last Sunday in April. In 1986, the Uniform Time Act of 1966 was amended to start Daylight Savings Time beginning the first Sunday in April. This change seemed reasonable to me because in my part of the country the sun was rising around 5:30 AM by mid April.

I would prefer that standard time actually resume a week or two earlier than permitted by the current law. For a couple weeks now, I have been unable to bike to work. It is just too dark and too dangerous, since I have to cross multiple lanes of traffic. I also find myself yawning at work when I arrive around 7:30 AM. On a clear morning, the sun is just coming up; on a cloudy day, it can be 8:30 AM before you can see reasonably well outside.

However, apparently Congress thinks that we cannot have too much Daylight Savings Time. Starting in March 2007, Daylight Savings Time will be extended another four to five weeks, beginning the second Sunday in March and ending the first Sunday in November.

Why? Ostensibly, it is about saving energy. Proponents claim that it will save 10,000 barrels of oil per day. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. The math sure looks dubious. What it does do is artificially provide more evening hours of daylight, and that means more time for people to be out shopping in the evenings. In other words, we must all adjust our body clocks in order to make the economy hum just a bit faster!

Humph! I wish Congress had just left well enough alone. What this will mean is that more children will be shuttling off to school unnecessarily in the dark. It will also mean that people like me, who are very sensitive to nature’s natural cycles, will also be getting up needlessly in the dark. As if many of us living around large metropolitan areas were not already rising at 4 or 5 AM to beat the crushing traffic, now we want to exacerbate the problem! All to perhaps marginally push up the profits of slimy retailers like Wal-Mart.

No thanks. This is one law that should be repealed before it takes effect. It is also one law that I suspect will get changed after a few years, because Congress will hear sufficient clamor from citizens. After all, they will not be much affected. Congress does not start its sessions until 9 or 10 AM. There is no reason to mess needlessly like this with the biological clocks of 300 million Americans. It adds unnatural stress and makes some of us feel a bit like vampires. We no longer live in an agrarian society. There is no reason we should needlessly be up with the cows.

There is also a financial impact to the change. Businesses all over the country must adjust their systems to accommodate the change. I hope that for many of them it requires just a simple change to a configuration file. For others, it is a costly change. While not quite as painful as the year 2000 problem, it is still pretty darn annoying. In my agency, for example, we must go in and change a whole lot of old code. We could be doing something productive with our time. Instead, we are wasting thousands of man-hours to comply with the law. (Our system is an old legacy system written in Fortran. However, as long as we are in there, we plan to make it much easier to deal with future changes.)

What is good for business is not always what is best for America. This is another shining example of a good premise insufficiently thought through.

Continue reading “Daylight Savings Time: Too Much of a Good Thing?”

The Illusion of Time

This article in Thursday’s Washington Post intrigued both my wife and I. It is a synopsis of a conversation between a reporter (Joel Achenbach) and Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist. This physicist, like many in the business, is working hard trying to validate string theory.

Hold on! Before you roll you eyes and click elsewhere this is actually incredibly exciting stuff. Physicists are closer than ever to being able to understand the most fundamental mysteries of life. The implications are mind-boggling.

One of the more controversial theories — which increasingly is being accepted by these theoretical physicists — is that which we call time is just an illusion. A lot of people feel the same way but physicists like Greene say it can be inferred from Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. Past, present and future are all equally real and timeless. But what is real? It is apparently not what we think, at least according to physicists like Greene. Space is real. Mass and energy are real. Gravity is real. But time is probably just an illusion.

I won’t bother to explain their logic since I am not a theoretical physicist. But the article (while it exists in its free form online) is worthy of reading. Physicists are not snake oil salesmen. They are scientists. They are trained to be skeptical. They are trained to use the scientific method and to work out the mathematical proofs. All the pieces are not in place yet to tie together Einstein’s discoveries on the relationship between matter, energy and time and the subatomic world. But it’s not unreasonable to suggest that sometime during our lifetimes this question may be answered.

So we are going to purchase his book “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality” this weekend. We will see what we as laymen can glean from such a sharp and insightful mind. But it is interesting how sometimes the scientific world can intersect with the spiritual and metaphysical world. This may be one of those times. In the future these two universes, often perceived to be polar opposites, may turn out to be unified after all too.

In my metaphysical reading I consistently learn that after death we live in what amounts to a timeless state of energy. In that state we can review our life as many times as we want and run it back and forth like a tape recorder. I read about astral planes and astral beings and how after death we move out of the physical plain into the next astral plain and possibly into many more. I have one friend who assures me that she has through meditation already moved into an astral plain or two.

I don’t know how much of this stuff to believe. But I tend to believe it a lot more when I hear respected theoretical physicists make aspects of it look very plausible. Those of you who have browsed through my metaphysics archive will recall an early entry on deja vu. You will recall how creeped out I was by these experiences and how on some level I know they are true. Now perhaps theoretical physicists are agreeing with me that deja vu is what I think it is: some part of my mind is aware of my future in what I perceive to be the present.

If time is an illusion what exactly is a life anyhow? The only thing that works for me is that it is an experience. Perhaps we are all trills. A trill in Star Trek is an intelligent species that lives inside another intelligent “host” species such as a human. Perhaps our individual energy is what we call a soul, and our body is the mechanism for experience. And one aspect of our body is that because of the way it is constructed it has the attribute of perceiving time.

Perhaps one life is like a breath or a heartbeat in a larger life. Perhaps we glean what knowledge and understanding we can from our symbiot (the body) then depart and jump into another world, another body and another experience.

If time does not really exist then perhaps we experience a multitude of lives all at once. Perhaps we are everything and everyone. Perhaps part of me … of us really … is President Bush. Perhaps I am also Bill Clinton. Perhaps I was also Mother Teresa. Perhaps I am the cat on my lap at the moment and he is also me. (Maybe that’s why it feels so nice.) Perhaps we are all one entity. Perhaps I am you reading this, and you are me writing this. Perhaps we truly are just an aspect in the mind of God … which means we are God.

Perhaps we are all the same thing and yet all completely different. Perhaps we truly are Yin and Yang. Perhaps we are modeling infinite diversity in infinite universes and infinite times all in a timeless place we call the now.

I hope it is so. There would be no reason to fear death. Every life would be truly part of a great and much larger adventure. And my ramblings are not complete fantasy. Because with time likely to be an illusion and with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity demonstrating that we are all intrinsically connected and related we are neither dead nor alive. We simply are: different and the same, spawning colors in a gigantic universal kaleidoscope. And it is the relationship of all these colors that is the greater truth and beauty. And it is the relationship and the larger abstract picture that is this thing we call love.