Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation

Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation

“[Why Time Flies] captures us. Because it opens up a well of fascinating queries and gives us a glimpse of what has become an ever more deepening mystery for humans: the nature of time.” —The New York Times Book Review“Erudite and informative, a joy with many small treasures.” —Science“Time” is the most commonly used noun in the English language; it’s always on our minds a...

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Title:Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation
Author:Alan Burdick
Rating:
ISBN:141654027X
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:320 pages

Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation Reviews

  • Virginia Beam
    Feb 19, 2017

    It's not even March, but I'm willing to say that

    might be the best book that I read this year. (But whose calendar are we using to define "this year"? Naturally, our dates don't line up exactly with Earth's trip around the sun. How many different years did I read this book in?)

    As the sub-title says, this book is a "mostly scientific" exploration of time--its nature, our perception of it (spoiler: the two are more or less the same thing), and the interesting ways we bend, catalogue

    It's not even March, but I'm willing to say that

    might be the best book that I read this year. (But whose calendar are we using to define "this year"? Naturally, our dates don't line up exactly with Earth's trip around the sun. How many different years did I read this book in?)

    As the sub-title says, this book is a "mostly scientific" exploration of time--its nature, our perception of it (spoiler: the two are more or less the same thing), and the interesting ways we bend, catalogue, synchronize, and observe it. You'll never quite wrap your head around it entirely, but that's due to the subject matter, not the writing; despite the incredible topic,

    is somehow so digestible that I was turning pages like it was a thriller.

    But beyond just being exhaustively researched, filled with both up-to-the-minute academic interviews from exciting new fields and the musings of philosophers ages past, this book is pure poetry. It's science wrapped in soliloquy. For every bit that made me exclaim to whoever would listen, "Did you know that...?!", there was something that made me want to hug my kids, or flip through an old photo album, or stare quietly at the stars. This is a book about time, and Burdick appropriately wrote a celebration of life, "for [time] is the stuff life is made of."

    (I received this book for free through a Goodreads giveaway.)

  • Matthew Huff
    Feb 06, 2017

    A lot of great stuff here, but it wandered into the weeds a bit with too much technical, scientific information.

  • David
    Feb 06, 2017

    Personal and scientific exploration of time. Why does time seem to slow down in crisis and speed up with age? Do we possess an internal clock? Can we reset our circadian rhythm? Interesting stuff. Perhaps Einstein's view of time fits in here: sitting on a hot stove for a minute seems like an hour while sitting next to a beautiful woman for an hour seems like a minute.

  • Delia Turner
    Feb 03, 2017

    There are many passages of lovely writing in this book, and I kept getting tempted to quote from it. It's an extended meditation on time in history, time in the world, and time in the brain; about time as duration, time as simultaneity, and time as a collection of events. It ranges from the agreed-upon after-the-fact definition of time by which human civilization now operates to the definition of time as a consensus of rhythms in the brain. It's also about being a parent.

    The book at its end des

    There are many passages of lovely writing in this book, and I kept getting tempted to quote from it. It's an extended meditation on time in history, time in the world, and time in the brain; about time as duration, time as simultaneity, and time as a collection of events. It ranges from the agreed-upon after-the-fact definition of time by which human civilization now operates to the definition of time as a consensus of rhythms in the brain. It's also about being a parent.

    The book at its end descends into details of neuroscience that could have been considerably abridged; the writer says the book took longer to write than it should have, and it seems in the text itself at times as if he became immersed in its writing to the detriment of finishing it. However, it's worth taking the time to read.

  • Nick Ertz
    Feb 20, 2017

    Everything you wanted to know about time and then some. The book covers the measurement of time from the sundial to the atomic clock. The use of time in navigation and other things that time is a part of. Covered in greater depth is how time is perceived by humans. What defines "now"? How does our sense of time passing change as we age. Well worth the time to read.

  • Jorge
    Feb 17, 2017

    There are so many things to say about time, and such a gap in our understanding of the meaning of time, that’s no wonder hundreds of books have tried to tackle the subject. Burdick’s approach is less physical and more biological, and he advances the idea that we are not well prepared to understand what is time, and so we don’t.

    Few non-scientists have read books about Chronobiology (like “The Living Clock” by John D. Palmer) so it’s worth to entertain a discussion of the original experiments—man

    There are so many things to say about time, and such a gap in our understanding of the meaning of time, that’s no wonder hundreds of books have tried to tackle the subject. Burdick’s approach is less physical and more biological, and he advances the idea that we are not well prepared to understand what is time, and so we don’t.

    Few non-scientists have read books about Chronobiology (like “The Living Clock” by John D. Palmer) so it’s worth to entertain a discussion of the original experiments—many by Michel Siffre—that suggested an internal clock that senses something close to the duration of a day. Some of these experiments involved to have people completely isolated, staying for months in caves (this was before cell phones, and Facebook, and nowadays you won’t get any takers.)

    There is a lot of idea wandering here, and a somewhat odd division in chapters and parts, which can make you think that Burdick has lost a little too much sleep writing the book. But there are also some very good bits in the biology of sleep, and the current search for molecules responsible for biological clocks. Also, there’s a close answer for the question “How long is now?” but not so much about the most popular “What is time?”.

    Several amazing experiments are explained in detail—it’s worth reading the book to learn about them—and they question our usual cause-effect view of the world, and, in general, how we can order events in succession over time (whatever that is). In fact, and this is really eerie, you can reverse the mind’s sequence cause-effect and see events happen before you act to cause them. If this doesn’t scare you a little you weren’t paying attention.

    I believe there’s a lot going on here to make the book worth-reading. The fact that it moves well into the cutting-edge of research in time perception might make the story turn a little murky, but that’s Okay. Time will tell.

  • Christina Dudley
    Feb 19, 2017

    A fun read about what time is and how we experience and measure it. Be warned that there are some philosophical forays and some technical brain bits, but all in all it was an interesting read that had me sharing passages aloud.

  • Todd
    Feb 21, 2017

    Einstein taught us that time, as a physical phenomenon, is relative. Turns out that time is relative in just about every other context as well. Meatier and more detailed than the average "pop science" book, Why Time Flies considers the physical measurement, the biological construction and the psychological experience thereof. Author Alan Burdick sprinkles in his own experiences of time as the owner of a broken watch, a mildly procrastinating author, a son of an elderly parent, a free-falling and

    Einstein taught us that time, as a physical phenomenon, is relative. Turns out that time is relative in just about every other context as well. Meatier and more detailed than the average "pop science" book, Why Time Flies considers the physical measurement, the biological construction and the psychological experience thereof. Author Alan Burdick sprinkles in his own experiences of time as the owner of a broken watch, a mildly procrastinating author, a son of an elderly parent, a free-falling and magnetized test subject and, most poignantly, a father of young twin boys among his discussions of cyanobacteria use of protein "clocks" , attosecond spectroscopy and synchronizing synapses. Why Time Flies is at its best when considering the concept of "now" and serves as both a more scientific and more personal companion to James Gleick's more literary and historical Time Travel. If you enjoy (or can tolerate) some detail regarding experimental methodology, then set a bit of it aside and learn why time flies. Highly recommended for the philosophically and psychologically inclined.

  • Mac
    Feb 22, 2017

    Burdick divides

    into four sections: "The Hours" considers in part how scientists compare/coordinate clocks around the world to determine the exact time; "The Days" looks at matters diurnal, including some fascinating insights into the differing "clocks" within our bodies; "The Present" investigates what we mean by "now" and how now mostly means looking retrospectively at what now was; and "Why Time Flies" considers what are the time perceptions of young and old and how those perce

    Burdick divides

    into four sections: "The Hours" considers in part how scientists compare/coordinate clocks around the world to determine the exact time; "The Days" looks at matters diurnal, including some fascinating insights into the differing "clocks" within our bodies; "The Present" investigates what we mean by "now" and how now mostly means looking retrospectively at what now was; and "Why Time Flies" considers what are the time perceptions of young and old and how those perceptions differ (and are identical). I oversimplify here because

    covers so much more and because the book hops back and forth among subjects so the ideas I've mentioned are evaluated in multiple chapters.

    The book is loaded with interesting ideas, but ultimately I was disappointed. First, the subtitle

    could just have easily been

    because Burdick explains in excessive detail all kinds of experiments. For instance, amid some human, dog, rat, and hummingbird experiments, Burdick says, "Ducks, pigeons, rabbits, and even fish can do some version of the same thing. (Gibbon worked with starlings.)" Well, that's more than I want to know. Likewise, a fascinating summary ("The perception of time is many things--the perception of order, tense, duration, newness, synchrony.") is lost among the myriad experiments on those various forms of perception.

    Also, though Burdick's writing is mostly clear, occasionally that writing is very technical. For example: "This interval--the brief span of time within which separate streams of sensory data are labeled as belonging to a single event--is know as the intersensory temporal contiguity window. In many respects, it's a good working definition of 'now'..." Or "With that math in play, the spiny neurons in the basal ganglia could be attuned to a wide range of real-world time intervals well beyond the millisecond timescale."

    To be fair to Burdick, I was looking for a different book, focusing more on physics, addressing questions like: What was there before time began? Is time travel impossible? Is the direction of time defined by movement from order to entropy? What can you tell me about spacetime and worldlines? And to be fair, there was no false advertising with

    ; I just came to the book with the wrong mindset.

    Including an overwhelming analysis of experiments and the occasional confusing text; that's on Burdick. Expecting an entirely different book; that's on me.

  • Vheissu
    Feb 22, 2017

    I suppose this book will be of interest to those with a scientific bent, particularly in biology, physiology, neuron-science, and also philosophy. It might also be of some interest to those who, like me, are amateur cosmologists with an abiding interest in time. For everybody else, this book is likely to be a snoozer.

    Most studies of time today presuppose that time is merely an artifact of human consciousness. Burdick attributes this idea to St. Augustine and maybe even earlier philosophers (pp.

    I suppose this book will be of interest to those with a scientific bent, particularly in biology, physiology, neuron-science, and also philosophy. It might also be of some interest to those who, like me, are amateur cosmologists with an abiding interest in time. For everybody else, this book is likely to be a snoozer.

    Most studies of time today presuppose that time is merely an artifact of human consciousness. Burdick attributes this idea to St. Augustine and maybe even earlier philosophers (pp. 29-30). Philosophers were the first to tackle seriously the nature of consciousness and, therefore, time. When timepieces were improved, anomalies arose, because no two clocks consistently agreed with each other. That's when the biologists and psychologists got involved. They accepted that time was essentially nothing more than a form of human perception. Eventually, the neuro-scientists got involved, and even more anomalies presented themselves.

    After 4 billion years, virtually every living thing on the planet has adjusted its "clock" to the Earth's rotation, approximately 24 hours. Even the DNA in living cells appear to have a 24-hour circadian rhythm! This is scientifically proven. DNA molecules cannot "think" of course, much less "perceive" the passage of time, as humans allegedly do. So something is going on here apart from human perception. Nevertheless, humans are easy test subjects and so science has fixated on time as an artifact of human consciousness, not something that is otherwise real or measurable, except by the use of clocks.

    Humans experience time in terms of the duration of an event, the temporal order of events, tense (past and future), and now (p. 26). Unfortunately, different humans perceive these things differently from one another for many reasons. Lucidity, context, and common variations in human intellect account for some of these differences, but more important is the physiology of the brain and the physics of light and sound. Different experiences (light and sound, for instance), reach the brain at different times (perhaps imperceptibly quickly) and travel different paths of neurons in the brain before these signals are somehow integrated into a perception called "now." Even though these actions occur with unbelievable speed, there is still a lag between "now" and what we perceive to be "now." In effect, "now" is a memory of something that has already happened (p. 211).

    Then, there are common illusions that can be demonstrated in the laboratory that distort humans' perceptions of duration and even the temporal order of events. As best as I understand, things that occur within 80 milliseconds of each other are perceived as simultaneous ("now"). Things that occur at an interval longer than 80 milliseconds are perceived as tense ("before and after"). Things that occur at a shorter interval than 80 milliseconds might be perceived as reverse causality ("after" happened before "before" (pp. 128,134, 139)! Or maybe I just don't understand the author's explanations.

    Additionally, the idea of "now" as something that everybody around the entire world experiences at the same time is disputable (p. 108). Each human has her own "now," which perhaps helps explain the unreliability of eyewitness testimonies.

    I am not a philosopher, biologist, psychiatrist, or neuro-scientist, so it is entirely possible that I just didn't understand what I was reading. But as an amateur cosmologist, I suspect the claim that time is only an artifact of human perception. I tend to believe that time is a real thing that exists irrespective of our perception of it.

    Here are some of the physicists' observations about time as I understand them (and, again, I claim no special expertise in this respect). First, there is no grand clock that measures time across the entirety of the universe. Second, time is relative to motion and mass, it is bent and distorted by the presence of gravity and relative motion (thanks, Einstein!). Third, the arrow of time is unidirectional. The past always gives way to the future. Cause always precedes effect.

    Every person experiences time flowing at the same rate as every other person, subject to the physiological and contextual variables noted above. Theoretically, time passes at the speed of light. However, two different observers traveling in different directions or at different speeds or in the presence of different masses will notice that time is flowing differently for the other person. Space-time behaves according to well established laws of physics and exists everywhere in the universe, irrespective of whether or not there is some human to perceive it.

    Then again, what the hell do I know. I'm a Political Scientist, not a know-it-all!