Time is Infinite. Time transcends human understanding and yet very few people pause to think what it means. Time management has always been sold as one of the key skills for success and there are several books available to help man master time. We buy clocks and watches so that we can “keep time” but do we really keep time? Everybody wants to “save” and “keep” time and blame lateness on traffic. We say “time flies” and “time has slowed” and these are all based on perceptions. A lot of research has gone into how we perceive time and how the frame of mind can help change and help optimize time usage.

Your birth certificate records the date, month and year you were born. In some cases it even includes time. Once a year you gather friends and family or not to celebrate your birthday. We say you turn X years old and use this set of date, month and year as a password, M-pesa pin or a lucky number. We sulk when we don’t get presents on this day and require that close friends and family remember this day. Some even make resolutions that they live by for the next 365 days. Others set their resolutions when a new year begins. Somehow we are stuck in the cycle of time and use it to calibrate our achievements and progress. Have you paused to find out why work hours have to be 8 or why most times they have to start from 8:00 in the morning. Why is there a colon between the hour and the minute? Why are there time zones? These are the ideas that bug when you’re stuck in traffic and running late for a meeting. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some minutes with 100 seconds and some seconds with 5000 milliseconds? Won’t that help us not be late at all? Imagine if you could choose which minutes last longer and the people they influence? Imagine if this was your super power that your nickname was “The TimeMan or the Time Keeper, The Timer.” Wouldn’t a movie be made about you same as Batman and Iron Man. We have always defined a second as the smallest calibration of time or one 60th of a minute where a minute is one 60th of an hour which is one 24th of a day which is the amount time it takes the earth to rotate.

Seriously, What is a second

As with all things it was worth digging through the history of time. For starters our ancestors measured time with seasons and harvests and called days “sunrises.” In order to understand the second, it is important to refer to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures who are responsible for the global definition of International Systems of Units (SI) units. A second is the length of time it takes light to travel 299, 795, 638 metres at light speed. The International Systems of Units gives the following historical context of a second:
The unit of time, the second, was defined originally as the fraction 1/86 400 of the mean solar day. The exact definition of “mean solar day” was left to astronomical theories. However, measurement showed that irregularities in the rotation of the Earth could not be taken into account by the theory and have the effect that this definition does not allow the required accuracy to be achieved. In order to define the unit of time more precisely, the 11th CGPM (1960) adopted a definition given by the International Astronomical Union which was based on the tropical year. Experimental work had, however, already shown that an atomic standard of time-interval, based on a transition between two energy levels of an atom or a molecule, could be realized and reproduced much more precisely. Considering that a very precise definition of the unit of time is indispensable for the International System, the 13th CGPM (1967) decided to replace the definition of the second by the following (affirmed by the CIPM in 1997 that this definition refers to a cesium atom in its ground state at a temperature of 0 K):

The second is the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom.

Wait, What? What is that supposed to mean? Are we meant to nod our heads when we read this definition and feel that it makes sense? To whom does this make sense? Turns out even though it is assumed that the earth rotates once every 24 hours this is not very accurate because the moon slows it down and things like earthquakes also mess it up in order of nanoseconds. Over time this builds up and therefore the need for a standard measure of time which is already defined as:

The second is the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom.

What?

Maybe the definition of a minute might make some sense.

The meter is the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second.

what about an Ampere?

The ampere is that constant current which, if maintained in two straight parallel conductors of infinite length, of negligible circular cross section, and placed 1 meter apart in vacuum, would produce between these conductors a force equal to 2 x 10-7 newton per meter of length.

Reading through these definition, two things are clear: Time is incomprehensible at least to us in the office and there are brilliant minds somewhere who easily understand these definitions.

Time: What does it mean?

Prestone Adie


I drive Data Analytics where I surface stories from data that might not be immediately obvious. With a background in Actuarial Science I'm proficient in R and Python for data analysis and takes avid interest in anything data. Find me on twitter Follow @AdiePrestone where we can talk data, street food, cars and books.


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