Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Matter of Time Symposium Forum

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

Go to last comment

Getting started?
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2003-02-04 21:41:58
Link to this Comment: 4403

Many thanks to Cheryl, Al, and all participants for a rich and enjoyable opening to this topic and conversation. Think of this as a place to continue it, to say what you didn't have time to say during our meeting, or what has popped into your mind since, to see what kinds of reactions other people had, and to continue thinking together about issues related to time.

My own thoughts, to get things rolling? I found very helpful Cheryl's clear laying out of the conventional versus the block universe ideas of time, together with some associated philosophical dichotomies, and equally Liz' suggestion toward the end that perhaps one didn't have to choose between them but could somehow amalgamate them (issues of nervous system organization are relevant here, as I hope will become clearer later when Peter and I talk).

Between beginning and end, I was intrigued/stimulated by Bob's pointing out the similarities between Cheryl's dichotomy and the theological issue of the presence or absence of an omniscient deity. And equally by being pressed by Michael on my own distaste for the deterministic character of the block universe. Is it really, as I first said, the absence of room for "free will" and "novelty" that disturbs me? Or is it, as I said later, the lack of temporal assymetry (an arrow of time) and of evolution? Maybe its both, with the two being in fact related in some important way?

Very much looking forward to the continuing, unpredictable but willful evolution of this conversation, along whatever lines it takes. Please join in.

Clones and A or B Theory
Name: Jan Trembl
Date: 2003-02-05 10:57:16
Link to this Comment: 4413

My question about clones was not well formulated, but the idea had only just occurred to me.
I am reading that there needs to be much more study of the life span of clones and the age of their DNA (the relationship between telomeres and aging, for example) but if and when it can be shown that 1) a clone has the genetic age of its parent or 2) that it has the genetic age of the parent when it was itself an embryo, does either scenario offer an argument for or against a theory about the nature of time?
Are true clones vertical identical twins, separated by an interval in time, or same thing happening at different points in time? But would the latter be no different than mixing the same chemical formula at two points in time?
Also, I wonder if cave paintings, if they express, as some argue, a wish for the killing of animals in a hunt, are the first indications we have of human notion of the future?

telomeres and cloning
Name: Jan Trembl
Date: 2003-02-06 14:54:18
Link to this Comment: 4454

Some links on telomeres and age, although I haven't found anything earlier than 2000.

Nature biotechnology, June 2000
(excerpt from above)
Concerns over cellular aging in clones centers on telomeres, lengths of DNA on the ends of chromosones. When a cell divides, chromosones replicate so that each new cell carries the same chromosones. Telomeres act as a molecular clock for cells, and get progressively shorter every time a cell divides. As cells age and telomeres shorten to a certain length, cells can no longer divide entering a stage known as senescence. Eventually the cells die. Because telomeres shrink throughout our lives, many scientists believe that the symptoms of old age are caused in part by these shortened telomeres.
Yang, head of the Transgenic Animal Facility at UConn, compared the telomere lengths in the cloned calves, age matched controls, and donor cells from the aged cow with and without culture. He found:

That cloned cattle have normal telomere lengths
That shortened telomeres of donor cells are restored by the cloning procedure
That cell culture in vitro reduces telomere length
That telomerase activity in cloned embryos is indistinguishable from in vitro produced embryos

Time as an Illusion?
Name: Cheryl Che
Date: 2003-02-07 11:10:17
Link to this Comment: 4473

Some sketchy thoughts...

I've been thinking lately about what the Block Theorists mean when they say that the passage of time is an "illusion." For example, Paul Davies writes, "From the fixed past to the tangible present to the undecided future, it feels as though time flows inexorably on. But that is an illusion" ("That Mysterious Flow"). If the passage of time is an illusion, it is a very strange kind of illusion. It is interestingly different from some of the other things we call illusions. First, take an ordinary case of illusion: the straight stick that looks bent when halfway submerged in water. This illusion might fool us at first, but we can easily get past it: if we examine the situation more closely by taking the stick out of the water, we can see that it's not really bent. In the case of time, we cannot "get over" the illusion so easily. We can't see or feel that time doesn't really pass by doing something analogous to what we do when we remove the stick from the water.

Perhaps the passage of time is more like the colors of objects. Scientists tell us that nothing in the world is really colored—color is just an illusion. Objects just look colored because of the way light reflects off their surfaces. Unlike the bent stick illusion, colors are a pervasive part of our visual experience—it's difficult to imagine how we could see objects without seeing them to have some color or other (I'm including black and white among the colors).

The passage of time, however, must be an even more pervasive illusion than even the case of colors. In the case of color, while it's hard to imagine visual experience without color, we can easily imagine having other kinds of experiences without experiencing color—people who are blind from birth have never experienced color, but they nonetheless have experiences. And it seems plausible that we could replace all of our beliefs about color with beliefs about surface reflectance properties and still get by (though we might lose something aesthetically—art appreciation classes would be really boring!)

The passage of time, on the other hand, is a much more pervasive feature of our experience. It's unfathomable how we could have experiences in which time did not pass. (Again, think about Kant's claim that time is a "form of intuition.") If the passage of time is an illusion, it seems that it's not an illusion we can really ever escape. I'm wondering now if this is why many of us on Tuesday were trying to find a way to reconcile the conventional and the block view about time!

Thanks for an interesting discussion!

some relevant materials
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2003-02-14 10:54:54
Link to this Comment: 4599

Suggestions of additional grist for the seminar mill moving in the sociological direction, relayed from David Karen:

1 - Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times
2 - E. P. Thompson's article on "Time, Work Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism." (Past and Present 38, 1967)
(see Seminar: Time Work and Leisure, PG)

Literary Time
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-04-06 13:49:02
Link to this Comment: 5278

I'm feeling very full up, this weekend, from Carol Bernstein's gala retirement symposium on Cultural Memory. Listening to the rich array of speakers (Carol herself, plus her student Allison Weiner and her teacher Geoffrey Hartman) I realized (somewhat belatedly!) that a VERY significant dimension had been omitted from our discussions about "the matter of time": the perspective provided by literary studies.

Just a tease of what we missed/what ideas discussed in Carol's symposium might have added (here add?) to our discussions about time:

filmic time
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-04-10 14:41:24
Link to this Comment: 5346

One more "literary" (actually filmic) possibility for those interested in time: in two weeks, on Wednesday, April 22nd, @ 4:30 in Sharpless Auditorium, F&GS is co-sponsoring a talk @ Haverford by Shanti Thakur, whose films include Seven Hours to Burn and Kairos ("Greek for the transformative moment. Between 4:07 and 4:08 pm, one moment is expanded to 15 minutes in a woman's mind. The tapestry of her memories bring her to a decision....")

And yet ANOTHER filmic opportunity....
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-05-27 10:30:36
Link to this Comment: 5731

I spent the past weekend camping and hiking the Appalachian Trail w/ my 15- and 21-year old daughters. We had a number of philosophical discussions, including one on the nature of time, during which I gave the girls an overview of the Symposium on Time-- and Lily put me on to a time-traveling movie which some of you might like to check out: it's called The Sticky Fingers of Time, a 1998 film by Hilary Brougher (see for a review...). Key line: "living a 'non-linear life' is like eating a pie: you can consume the slices in any order, but you can only eat each one once."

And yet ANOTHER filmic opportunity....
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-05-27 10:50:32
Link to this Comment: 5732

I spent the past weekend camping and hiking the Appalachian Trail w/ my 15- and 21-year old daughters. We had a number of philosophical discussions, including one on the nature of time, during which I gave the girls an overview of the Symposium on Time-- and Lily put me on to a time-traveling movie which some of you might like to check out: it's called The Sticky Fingers of Time, a 1998 film by Hilary Brougher (see for a review...). Key line: "living a 'non-linear life' is like eating a pie: you can consume the slices in any order, but you can only eat each one once."

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-06-30 15:25:05
Link to this Comment: 5795

Sharon Burgmayer just sent me a copy of a sermon given @ her church on 6/15/03. In "A Time To...?" Gene Bay gestures toward a dimension of time we haven't yet explored:

The New Testament has two words which our Bibles translate as "time." One is the Greek word "chronos," from which we get "chronology," and which refers simply to clock or calendar time. "The time is eleven o'clock": that's "chronos." But the New Testament knows there is another kind of time, and its word for this second kind of time is "kairos," meaning an opportune time, a moment when there is an opening, or an opportunity, for a breakthrough to occur, for change to happen - a time which, if seized, could make a difference. It's what Paul has in mind in Romans 13 when he says, "You know what time it is, how it is time for you to wake from sleep."

What is this a time for?

literary time (travel)
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-07-20 22:54:01
Link to this Comment: 6042

At the suggestion of Ann Dixon, Serendip's webmistress, I've just read The Eyre Affair. It reminded me of my thought that our symposium on time would have been much enriched by a "literary" dimension. This novel intersperses time travel w/ travel into and out of literary works; there is all sorts of wonderful play between "how long" it takes to read about an experience and "how long" the experience takes to occur in the "time frame" of the novel being read. Some teasers:

"There are two schools of thought about the resilience of time. The first is that time is highly volatile, with every small event altering the possible outcome of the earth's future. The other view is that time is rigid, and no matter how hard you try, it will always spring back toward a determined present."

"My chief interest...has been concerned with the elasticity of bodies...almost everything one can think of can be bent and stretched. I include, of course, space, time, distance and reality....

The barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think; a bit like a frozen lake. Hundreds of people can walk across it, but then on evening a thin spot develops and someone falls through....

My mind has closed too much by the time I was twelve...ordinary adults don't like children to speak of things that are denied to them by their own gray minds."

Paper on Temporal Passage
Name: Adhanom An
Date: 2003-08-24 21:53:57
Link to this Comment: 6291

Dear all,

My paper "Temporal Passage" was posted in the Karl Jaspers Forum (KJF) on
the 8th of July as "Target Article 61." The website address for the forum

Please read the article; and if you have any comments, please feel free to
post them at the KJF site.


Adhanom Andemicael

teleology? variational principle?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-10-01 15:50:37
Link to this Comment: 6764

Still involved in the process of testifying to the contributions that the humanities might have/can still make to our discussions about "The Matter of Time": I'm deep into a wonderful collection, Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others. The title piece, "Story of Your Life," is the account of a (human) linguist who is studying the communication habits of aliens called "heptapods." Her experience of time is a-symmetric, casual (and involves free will); theirs is symmetric, simultaneous (and pre-ordained--in our short hand: a "block universe"). It's great fun to learn about their written form of language, which is not constrained by the sequentiality of speech, and so better represents their experience of the "time-symmetric" laws of physics, where there is "no physical difference between past and future," "no direction inherent in the way propositions were connected, no 'train of thought' moving along a particular route; all the components in an act of reasoing...having identical precedence." I found myself wondering whether such an experience is "inevitably" teleological (purposive, as well as pre-ordered), as Chiang presents it; am also struggling w/ his presentation of the statement of every physical law as a "variational principle": anyone want to try explaining that to me? (The example involves the path light follows: always "extreme," either one that minimizes the time taken or one that maximizes it.)

Temporal Passage
Name: Adhanom An
Date: 2003-10-15 18:25:08
Link to this Comment: 6900

Dear all,

Please note that the website address of the Karl Jaspers Forum changed
recently. My paper "Temporal Passage" can be accessed at the new address:

Target Article 61

It can also be accessed at my website:

A theory or B theory
Name: Gerald Deu
Date: 2003-11-30 14:52:28
Link to this Comment: 7407

I used to be a "B" theorist (time) believing, as I do that the past and the future are real.

Then I realized that time does pass ("A") theory and so I suggested there might be a "C" theory. That is, time does pass but that doesn't mean that only the present is real and if time travel were possible (it's not - or so I believe) it would be possible to go back to the past (or go to the future) as both are real.

While we are in the "A" position, God is in the "B" position and sees it all.

That seems to confirms that there is no free will but that everything is determined.

Of Time and the Quiver
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-27 17:08:30
Link to this Comment: 9647

It's been many months since anyone's posted in this forum, but the Symposium on Time, held here a year ago, has continued to resonate in my mind and in the (literary) landscape where it most often wanders. An almost-completed course on The Story of Evolution/The Evolution of Stories is ending with Naslund's novel Ahab's Wife, which itself concludes w/ the storyteller's observation: "We have given time a home." And one of the students in that course, Emily Madsen, has written an essay which ties together last winter's symposium on Time w/ this winter's on Beauty.
Give it a look: Of Time and the Quiver: Connecting Time/Beauty/Language.

| Serendip Forums | About Serendip | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 11:57:35 CDT