Elite athletes can measure amounts of constructed time, distinguished from natural time.


Alan Edwards posits a distinction between natural time, and human constructions of time. Athletes are said to be able to train themselves to measure the relative amounts of humanly constructed time.

Ahh, Sunday is the end of daylight-saving time. Go to bed. Sleep in. Magically gain an hour of time.

Pretty nice, huh? Creation of time ex nihilo with a simple twist of the clock dial.

But wait a minute, you say — that hour didn’t appear out of nowhere. It’s the repayment of a one-hour loan we granted the universe back in April, when we set our clocks one hour ahead. All right — so where has that hour been all this while?

Being as it is an amalgam of nature and artifice, time is a tricky thing. The only natural divisions of time we use are years (the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun), days (one rotation of the Earth) and lunar months (the time it takes the moon to wax and wane). Hours, minutes and seconds are all human constructs…

The only thing that now connects human time with natural time is the year. The Earth’s orbit around the sun is currently measured by the positions of a variety of stars and quasars.

Since an official atomic second is slightly shorter than a “natural” second (it takes about 86,400.002 atomic seconds to fill an average solar day), every so often the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures outside Paris, the official worldwide arbiter of time, inserts a “leap second” into the year to make up the difference.

The Bureau International collects data from dozens of atomic clocks throughout the world, statistically compares them and comes up with an official worldwide time. The Directorate of Time at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., are two of the contributors…

Far from a steady, flowing stream, time is relative: The faster one moves through space, the slower one moves through time and vice versa (and that’s not even taking into account gravitation).

Everyone moves through combined space-time at the speed of light — we humans, moving very slowly through space, make it up through rapid movement in time. Electromagnetic radiation, moving at the speed of light through space, doesn’t move at all through time. For light, time stands still.

But Einstein was right — we experience relative time every day. Numerous studies have shown that people perceive time to pass quickly when they are doing something enjoyable or concentrating hard, while time passes slowly while they’re waiting or bored. Time, in other words, really does fly when you’re having fun.

Relative time is helped by the fact that most humans have lousy internal clocks. Put a person in a room with no stimuli and tell him to call in an hour and he’ll usually miss the mark by a wide margin.

Some people, however, have trained themselves to sense time. An elite athlete, for example, can tell through a thousand tiny signs whether he’s moving fractionally faster or slower. Coaches take advantage of that innate sense with “tempo trainers” — tiny metronomes that sound tones in the athlete’s ear to time his movements.

“It’s a skill that takes a long time to learn,” said Deward Loose, swimming coach at Lone Peak High School in Utah County. “It’s kinesthetic awareness. Call it feel. It’s amazing to me. . . . The elite swimmers can tell the difference in 100ths of seconds.”

Great hitters see the baseball slow down to the point that they can count the stitches. The ball becomes huge for great tennis players. And it’s not only them. “A number of psychological studies have demonstrated that time expansion is well within the reach of common mortals,” said social psychologist Robert Levine.

Thus we can, with enough effort, implement Thomas Mann’s instruction:

“Hold fast the time! Guard it, watch over it, every hour, every minute! . . . Hold every moment sacred. Give each clarity and meaning, each the weight of thine awareness, each its true and due fulfillment” (Edwards 2003).

Edwards, Alan. 2003. ‘Timekeeping has a long, interesting history.’ Deseret news October 23, 2003. https://www.deseretnews.com/article/515040547/Timekeeping-has-a-long-interesting-history.html

Categories: Sport

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