Saturday, September 16, 2006

Philosophy-1: Time

Note: My apologies to people who really know this stuff. Please treat me as a kindergarten student who is just beginning to sort things. There is no better place to throw 'abstract thoughts' than this blog or maybe I am just too crazy

After 3-4 years of arbitrary web browsing, many years of idle chit chat and rotating thoughts several times in the mind, I have this sudden urge to write something philosophical. I have wondered, as many have before me about the concept of time, God, Karma and the whole over-arching umbrella of things being connected. In my first job in a research and development lab, I was assigned to develop a feature on the I/O module of an operating system. I was struggling to understand some concept and so approached a colleague Rob, who I thought was a very profound kind of guy. In the middle of the conversation, I told him it was nice that I had been assigned this module and that it was a larger plan to make me strong in IO module. He was amused and said " I have long since given up assuming that things actually are minor cogs and part of a larger plan. Things happen in random, people make decisions based on instant requirements and if it has relevance to something larger it is merely a coincidence" It turned out that was true. that was the first and last project for me in IO.

Time: If not for time everything would happen at once. B.R.Chopra's greatest stroke of genius was the conception of 'Time' as the master narrator. If somebody was totally qualified to narrate the history of the world, evolution and the expansion of the universe, there is no better choice than Mr.Time to narrate it. I have always been intrigued by our capacity to perceive time. For example, our perception has granularity associated with it. This is hard to explain but I'll try. We don't experience microseconds, we can't say "I felt/spent 1 microsecond of pain or happiness" like we can say "I experienced a week, an hour, a month, a year of pain or happiness". The quantum of time needs to be large enough for us to perceive it. If time was X-axis then the scale has to be in units of seconds for us to be able to plot events against time. Events corresponding to microseconds would form subset of the larger event that spanned seconds. This makes me wonder if that scale was a tunable parameter. Is this scale different for different beings? For example (this is just a hypothetical situation)- Maybe (and I can't stress more on the maybe part) dinosaurs are slow because they can't perceive 'seconds'? They can only see and do events in chunks of 'minutes'. So if they begin to do something, in the process of doing that thing, they would only see events at one minute intervals instead of 1-2 second intervals that we humans can. So the quickest they think they can do anything is a minute.

What if human beings in an another age (past or future) could perceive events separated by microseconds? Would that make them do super human things? If you can expand the X-axis Time scale to accommodate microseconds, would you be able to do more things in a second than today's human beings? And by virtue of that would you appear faster to the normal human being and therefore be regarded as super human? Are these the capacities that Rama, Bhima or Arjuna had? Was there a time when a mixture of people who perceived times in different chunks of granularity existed? And to people like us, did those faster human beings appear like demi-gods or super humans worthy of praise?

If you plot Time in X-axis and draw events along time. If every centimeter in the graph represented 1000 years, then the mughal invasion, British rule and the independence would be a spec on a dot in the graph. If you increase scale to 500, 100, 10 years then you would be able to plot events with better clarity. The things that intrigues me is that can you make 1cm in the graph as 1 nano second and plot events? Yes! you would plot many meaningless events but what if you can do and thereby plot meaningful events?

Is perception of time a tunable parameter?

To be continued...


ssk said...

hmm looks like you have too much time in your hands :) .. i thought the Ross school wud keep u u very busy ;-)

I shall await ur part 2.

VC said...

next saturday night....go easy on the booze, pal! on second thoughts, don't!!!!!

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Hmm... very interesting, hawkeye. Have you ever noticed how you don't notice time going by or how you sometimes sooo want it to fly by but it seems to creep on. Perhaps the tunability that you speak of is linked to our perception, our preoccupation with the passage of time. Will be waiting for part 2.

Anonymous said...

//My apologies to people who really know this stuff //


Suresh Ramani said...

A very random post .. deserves an equally random comment ..

I have read somewhere that the granularity of processing speed for humans is around 100 ms. Now, I am guessing that this number could go up and down a little bit based on your concentration/focus. This number could also be different for different species. I mean a fly has to process information much faster than a human, so its granularity might be around 25 ms (?) .. so does other animals that travel/fly/swim at higher speeds ..

we all know how relativity affects the scale of time ..

.. and when they say that Inzi has all the time in the world to play his shots, is it only because his head is still or he has a better eye sight than most or is he just processing it a few ms earlier than others??? ..

the processing speed would be a function of the complexity of the nervous circuitry, the time taken for information to pass through the nervous circuitry and the clock speed at which the information is processed .. now, I really don't know what controls the clock speed, however, I think it should be tinker-able with either the right technology or by mind control (?) ..

Hawkeye said...


school manam ennala pocha :-). see vc's comment for 'other' possible accusations


from your blog, i understand yu are married. i also understand u r in a far advanced stage of marriage with kids. one similarity is that we both (speaking in a whisper) make fun of our better halves. intha 'booz' ellam theriyathu.. all i know is samayal arai, pogai varadu kutti .

Hawkeye said...


i agree. but i wasnt talking about perception in that sense. i was almost hitting at ability. see suresh's mention of 'clock' - thats what i was talking about.


that disclaimer was like a prophylactic device :-)

Hawkeye said...


as usual we haven't lost the ability to instantly connect with each other.

(in chandler style making hand movements from my head to your head) u and me...

u exactly got my point. I wanted to say processor clock speed but then thought 'ethukku veena risk' and you just hit it. the cricket example was totally there. i wanted to use the sachin example - u safely used inzy. literalla pul arikithu.

my overall question was - where are we in the evolutionary cycle from high clock speeds to low or vice versa.. or this does not follow a linear pattern at all.

Suresh Ramani said...

I apologize in advance for another long comment ..

stating the premises based on which I will answer your question..

I think evolution is given way too much credit than it deserves .. all it is as it is known today is that it is a combination of three natural processes. Process 1: is multiplication of characteristics (through 'species' that is), process 2: dying of characteristics (as in species again) and process 3: tinkering of characteristics (as in genes) to create variants that is given a chance to survive or die.

There is no information on the clock speed of humans over the years unless you believe in certain literature - I think it is just as likely that those literature under question can be fiction of that era as it could be absolutely true. That I say because we don't have any information on it to compute the probability.

It is a little hard to believe that the evolutionary process would kill the species with higher clock speed along the way, but it is still not entirely impossible. What I am finding hard to believe is that if by chance, the evolutionary process did give birth to super humans, i.e. with higher clock speeds, the super humans should have a better probability to survive through generations. That is not to say that it could not have happened as there are so many other factors that could go wrong as well. In fact, history tells us that there was this one species which came before the homo sapiens that had bigger brains than the humans, which eventually died away. So there you go ..

Again, we are considering evolution as it is known today, that is unsupervised and random in nature .. but supervised, method based evolution cannot be ruled out as an option either.

hmm, I am surprised that you are surprised that we understand each other .. the millions of hours we spent arguing in our undergrad years got to be worth something .. but, I know what you mean :)

VC said...

tsk, tsk, tsk!!! next time get the order correct. it is appa, varadu kutti, samayal arai, pogai. now go and enjamai.

Vishnu Vyas said...

the granularity of preception of time does have absolute lower bounds but I'm not sure if its seconds.

I'm pretty sure if one tries hard enough we can perceive milliseconds. One good experiment is this silly game we used to play in school were you had to stop a stop-watch at one particular millisecond (usually 99). So, we aren't really straining hard enough to percieve the milliseconds thats all

essetchwhyaem said...


When we are looking at possible advancements in science with respect to TIME, shouldn't we be talking about time-travel ( vis-a-vis parallel universes concept wherein the concept of time as a separate entity to space is discarded) and worm-holes etc. I thought quantum mechanics has stopped placing time on a different axis.


S m i t h a said...

its not possible to perceive a microsecond. animal/human/all carbon life form is bottlenecked by the nerve conduction velocity. like the speed of light, its a physical impossibility to perceive far better than we do right now.
the best we could do is, be in the moment, concentrate so hard that nothing else distracts the pleasure/pain.. like in an orgasm.
agreed, sachin undoubtedly is a better batsman than im, but that does not make him superhuman.
it makes more sense to me to plot the complexity of the thought as opposed to the number of thoughts against time. thats what distinguishes man & animal, i think.

raghuveeran said...

We humans are already consuming microseconds...and making use of it in day-to-day activities...

(e.g.)Microsecond sensitivity of the human visual system to irregular flicker.

A flickering light presented to the eye produces a small alternating voltage at the scalp of a subject. This alternating voltage indicates the following response of the brain to the flicker. If every other flash in the flicker is displaced temporally by as little as 30 microseconds, an asymmetry appears in the brain's alternating voltage.

It depends on individuals capability...
So we are able to witness flicker of light in 30MS...

bvisvana said...

this reminds me of movie 'Click' also.
btw i have just started reading your blog..Your varied topics keeps me interested always..Btw I want your help in organising the topics..U have provided drop list for all your post. I tried for mine as well..But the problem is the drop down are appearing fine in the main page. but when i select a post from the list, that page doesn't show all the drop down list..instead it shows once this problem due to caching.?
if could see and help me out if wud be great.
sorry to post in the wrong context.

Anonymous said...

.. a belated comment, but very pertinent to the subject matter ..

Buddhist monks have recorded in their minds and have hence recorded on paper that they could count upto 600 ticks per second through meditation.