By Wally DuChateau
In the first issue of the millennium, Time magazine chose Albert Einstein as the Person of the Century. The editors also built a case for politicians and World War II leaders Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt, but eventually decided the Princeton mathematician was more influential in the long haul.
No doubt about it. Einstein’s revolutionary ideas turned science upside down and ultimately explained everything from e-mail to the nature of the universe.
Of course, his version of Tensor algebra is pretty complex stuff. No more than five or 10 people in the entire world fully understand his algebraic models. Yet, his general ideas are easily reduced to layman’s terms.
Einstein himself offered simple examples of the relativity of time. To an observer, the intimate kiss shared by two lovers lasts less than 15 seconds, but to the lovers it may seem like a minute or more. Then there’s the suggestion that the famous “New York minute” is somehow shorter than a regular minute. And who among us hasn’t fallen asleep for what seems like a few minutes, only to discover an hour has passed?
When we were children, time didn’t really exist at all. We celebrated our birthdays and our physical growth, but somehow we didn’t fully comprehend the passage of time. Each day simply existed. And then another.
It seems to me, time takes on real substance during puberty, when we have plenty of it; that is, we realize we could die in a car wreck any night but, generally speaking, we feel that will happen to the other kid and we’ll live for another 80 years – an “eternity” from now. However, from that point on as we mature into adulthood, we pause occasionally and wonder where time has gone and how quickly it passed.
In other words, time appears to be relative to our age.
Well, boys and girls, it was my birthday yesterday. And what a splendid occasion it was.
It produced one of those existential “pauses” I just mentioned. At certain points in my life, I could double my age and still plan to be alive. At age 40 I could imagine being 80 years old. At 50, I could even imagine being 100, though that was probably a stretch.
But I can’t do that any more. Alas, I’m on the downhill grade.
Looking back over my life thus far, I find it’s passed in a split second. Though the immediate present is infinite, in all its wondrous glory, what time I have left will surely be gone in the blink of an eye.
As both Einstein and Willie Nelson so astutely observed, that’s the funny thing about life and time. So it goes.