Crazy James’ Clocks
Copyright 2012, John Manimas Medeiros
Once upon no time at all, there lived a boy named James. His grandmother was Spanish, and she called him "Iago," pronounced "ee-ah-go," so some kids in the neighborhood called him "ee-ago" for a while, and then they called him "Long Ago," like that was his name, "Long Ago." James thought that was funny, because if someone was writing a story about him, they could say, "This is a story about Long Ago."
Most of his friends called him "James," or Jimmy. He liked to be called "James," because "James" sounded more like somebody important than "Jimmy." Jimmy was a boy's name, but "James" sounded like the name of a grown man. He wanted to be a grown man. He was like an adult all the time, serious. He always loved to play and run and do the things that children do, but he never thought of himself as a child. He thought of himself as a person, a person who wanted to understand what time was, or is. Of course, whatever time was, it has to still be. It could not be that time was something in the past but had changed to something else in the present. That would not make sense. What time was, he thought, it always was, still is, and always will be. He was twelve years old now, but mature for his age.
The Spelling Test Clock
James noticed that on Friday afternoon, at the end of the class day, Miss Wanstall gave the class a spelling test. She always started the spelling test at 2:45 pm, and the official time for the end of the school day was 3:15 pm. If any student finished the spelling test, which was twenty words, they could leave the classroom and walk home if they were students who walked home, or go outside to wait for the bus if they were bus students. This way a good student who knew how to spell the words would finish early and get the reward of leaving class a little early. Those who struggled with the words would stay later. The bell signaling the end of the school day would ring at 3:15, and then anyone who was not finished had to hand in their test, finished or not.
One day on the playground, James said to his fellow students, "Ms. Wanstall's spelling test is like a clock. Actually, it is a clock or a kind of clock. When she starts to hand out the papers and says 'It's time for your spelling test,' it is exactly two forty-five. It is always two forty-five. So Ms. Wanstall's spelling test is the spelling test clock."
Some kids said that James was crazy. Some just looked at him like what he said had no meaning, and they just continued to swing on the swing. Watching them swing on the swing, James noticed that the swing was a pendulum, and once they got started swinging, the time it took to swing from one high point to the other high point was controlled by how much they pumped and leaned outward with the weight of their bodies. But James said again, "When Ms. Wanstall hands out the papers for the spelling test, it is two forty-five. The start of the spelling test is an event that occurs at the same time every seven days. It is a clock."
The Falling Sand Clock
James had a dream one night. It was a Saturday night, and he told his grandmother about it on Sunday morning. He had dreamed that he saw a giant hour glass and he was watching the sand fall down through the narrow neck of the hour glass. Then it turned over and the sand started to drop down again from the full side above to the empty side below. He remembers the dream feeling that the sand clock was very big, but also small, a kind of dream experience. And he looked at the grains of sand and saw that they were very small, tiny, so small that many fell through the glass neck at the same time and so the sand appeared to flow as though it were a fluid. He had thoughts in his dream and he remembered them, so he talked about his dream thoughts to his grandmother. He told her that he thought about how it would be if the neck of the glass was very, very narrow, like the space inside a fluid thermometer, as narrow as a single grain of sand. And if each grain of sand were exactly the same size, as though each grain of sand were like something manufactured. Then as each grain of sand fell through the neck from the upper side to the bottom side, that would be one grain of time. And then a certain number of grains would be equal to one second, and a larger number of grains would be equal to one hour, because it was called an hour glass. And if it is true that an hour is always sixty minutes, and a minute is sixty seconds, then every hour would be marked by the fall of exactly three-thousand, six hundred times the number of grains per second. That was "duration," James said, "Time is duration. How long something takes to happen. That's what time is."
James grandmother said, "I never heard of a boy who dreams about time. We need to leave for church soon."
And then James remembered that the ten o'clock mass always started at five minutes after ten. That was the mass clock, because the start of the mass was an event that occurred regularly every seven days.
"I didn't dream about time, grandma," James said, "I dreamed about sand."
And then he finished getting ready for church, which was both boring and interesting at the same time. The mass did not always have the same duration. Sometimes the priest gave a longer sermon. Sometimes a young priest came to the church to give the mass, and he would go on for a very long time about how important it is to believe this or that, even though we had no way of knowing whether what we were supposed to believe was true or not. We were supposed to believe it because it was a mystery. James did not like mysteries. James wanted to know what was real, and if something was not real, James was not going to believe it, no matter what other people said. This made life hard for James, but he got used to it. James understood that life is temporary. At least we can be certain that this phase of whatever, where we have bodies on Earth, and pain and pleasure, we know it ends with the event we call death. So James knew that if he wanted to understand the meaning of time, he only had a limited time in which to do it. He sometimes felt that it was sad that we did not know when we would die, but then he thought that knowing when he was going to die would not necessarily make him happier. In fact, he might worry about it all the time, and try to arrange his life around the known date of his death. For example, he was born, according to his birth certificate, at 5:15 am, February 29th, 1945. What if he knew, somehow, that his time of death was going to be December 5th, 1995, at 4:10 pm. He even noticed that it would have to be more precise than that, because it only takes a second, or even less than a second, to go from alive to dead. So if he knew his time of death in advance, it would be something like December 5th, 1995, 4 hours, 10 minutes, and 35 seconds. If he knew that, how would it affect how he planned his life? He would know that this span of time, fifty years, nine months, five days, ten hours, fifty-five minutes, and thirty-five seconds would be the duration within which his life would occur from beginning to end, and that would be the boundary within which he would do all that he would do, including his goal to understand the meaning of time. Would that be better than not knowing when he would die? How? Then it seemed strange to James that we did not know the duration of our life. How can one plan, really? How can we plan to do things that take time when we do not know how much time we have? These questions, which appeared to be of no interest whatsoever to Mary Block or Bobby Lazinsky, fascinated James.
It was time to go to church, to listen to the priest talk about life and death, but mostly about death and Hell and suffering and money. Even the priest, who was supposed to be in touch with God, didn't know that he was really talking about time, and about the ways in which we want to measure it like it is a quantity, like a wheel of cheese or a loaf of bread. What if time is not a quantity? What are we doing when we count the grains of falling sand or the sunrises or the drip drop of water from a leaky faucet.
The Drip Clock
One winter, when the duration of the daylight is shorter, James had a wonderful experience of witnessing one of the world's most beautiful clocks. He had heard that an old railroad track was removed from a railroad bed that ran out by Lake Forecast behind Mount Bancroft. Mount Bancroft was actually just a hill, but the local people of the past had been proud of it, because of a battle that had occurred there between the colonial militia and a tribe of sick and impoverished Indians. He decided to go for a hike on the old railroad bed, just to see what was there. As he walked deeper into the woods, sometimes the sides of the railroad bed rose high above the bed itself, sometimes comprised of dark, rocky slopes covered with moss and stunted hemlock and beech trees, and sometimes almost vertical stone cliffs under cascades of ice draped over the stone like waterfalls frozen in time. Due to what was probably some minerals in the water, James thought, the waterfall and stalactite-shaped ice was not all clear or white, but had swirls of translucent green and blue. What he was looking at, enchanted, was really waterfalls frozen in time. That was his explanation for the jeweled dreamland that captured his attention while he stood still, for a long time.
James noticed that there were several places where the end of a giant icicle hanging from the rocky cliff dripped a slow drop of water, at what seemed to be a regular interval. He saw a clock, an icicle melt drip clock. Night air temperatures were below freezing, but the daytime temperatures had been rising to above freezing around eleven in the morning and about forty degrees around one in the afternoon. It was twelve fifty-three and seventeen minutes on James' birthday-gift watch, and he looked at his watch and then at the ice-melt drip to see if he could estimate how many drips equaled a given number of escapement-clock seconds. The particular drip clock he was watching appeared to be rather slow, two drops each escapement second. James then sent his imagination back to his sand grain clock, and contemplated a comparison between the sand grain clock and this fantastically beautiful ice-drip clock comprised entirely of ground water with inclusions frozen into it and cracks and colors and refracted and reflected sunlight. If he had a sand grain clock that had a neck wider than a sand grain, say, ten grains dropping like a fluid through the neck of the glass for each escapement second, then that would mean ten grains of time equaled one-half drip of time - because it took two seconds for one drip. For this sand clock that dropped ten grains per second, one minute (from the escapement watch) would be six hundred grains or thirty drips of time, and one hour would be thirty-six thousand grains or one-thousand eight hundred drips of time.
Then James thought about how the drip clock worked. The frequency of the dripped drop was clearly determined by more than one factor. The air temperature would melt the ice faster if it got warmer. The amount of cloudiness in the sky would increase or diminish the intensity of the infra-red heat from the sun that penetrated the ice itself and the stone. Actually, gravity was the driving force for the downward drip, and James remembered that he was taught by his physics teacher, Mr. Launer, that if this ice were much higher up above sea level, high up on a very tall mountain, the force of gravity would be slightly less. The difference in the force of gravity would be very small and hard to measure, but still, moving the ice drip clock upward or downward on a mountain would be a way of changing the conditions that determined the frequency of the ice drip clock. So James was deeply moved by the incredible beauty of the clock that dripped time before his eyes. Then he imagined a train coming, which is something that would have happened before in a different time, but could not happen now, except in his imagination, because there were no tracks. There was just this wonderful hiking path that provided a fantastic hike through the woods, by Bancroft Mountain and Forecast Lake, and by the frozen waterfalls ice-drip clock. James was usually happy and feeling good whenever he had found another clock. It was hard for him to stop watching the clock, the slow drip from the green-blue and diamond ice. He took a picture of it with the camera in his brain, and found it painful, in a way, to turn away from the ice-sculpture clock, and back to the necessity that he move away from that beautiful time toward another.
A Time of Change
Between age twelve and age fourteen was a period of great change for James. At twelve he was still a boy, but at fourteen he had become a man, at least in terms of sexual and physical development. At twelve he was five feet seven inches tall, and at fourteen he was six feet tall. At twelve, he started to notice how much he enjoyed looking at girls, especially if he had the good luck to see Sandra Mezzogiorno jiggling on the girls' hockey field during gym class. By age fourteen, he could have been the father of a child, and he found that possibility demanding of his attention. He thought that being the father of a child was a very serious business and if he did become the father of a child he would have to take care of the child. James felt it was very wrong to become the father of a child and then not take care of it. He had personal experience in that area. So, in addition to all of his thoughts about clocks and time, he had many thoughts about being a man, being a woman, being a parent, and being in control of one's behavior so that you don't have a child until you are ready to and want to.
Even back when he was still twelve, there was one day in biology class that James always remembered. Ms. Newhouse used some rather graphic images when she lectured the biology class on sexual development and reproduction of animals, and humans. James came alive and raised his hand and instead of asking a question he said that he thought it was strange, and extremely important that humans were different from animals in that humans had sensual feelings and sensual attraction throughout the year, all the time, instead of just during a short period of time in the spring like the other animals. Being easily aroused at any time might be the cause, James said, of humans being violent and having wars, and might also be the cause of humans never being satisfied with how much they have. Humans seem to have a fear, most of the time, that if there is food or anything available, that they might be left out, so they have to push in line, or take what they can as soon as possible, or even kill other people in order to have the minerals or land or water or whatever it is they want. This might even be a genetic defect in humans. Janice Baker looked at him and asked, "What does that have to do with sex and love?"
Tons of complicated thoughts ran around in James mind to answer that question, but he knew he could not even begin because he would be taking over Ms. Newhouse's class.
He looked at Ms. Newhouse, and then at Janice Baker, and said, "Well, I guess it is kind of complicated but I just think that because animals feel the urge to mate only for a short period each year, that means animals are more relaxed than humans."
Ms. Newhouse said that what James was saying was a different topic from the class focus on sexual development and reproduction, but the possibility that there is a connection between human sexuality and human problems with material possessions and human aggression is an interesting one. After class, Ms. Newhouse stopped James on the way out and motioned him to stay with her a minute. After the other students had left, Ms. Newhouse said to James "I think you are mature for your age, James, and I suggest that you discuss your thoughts about human sexuality and aggression with Mr. Stimson." Mr. Stimson was the social studies teacher.
James thought that there was a connection between time and sex, because the moon is a clock, and the moon obviously had an impact on human sexuality. He felt sexual urges regularly, as he developed between age twelve and fourteen, but he noticed that the frequency of such urges did not occur at precisely fixed intervals. He could be having sensual thoughts because of something he ate, following physical exercise, or because he saw Sandra Mezzogiorno bouncing across the playing field during gym class, or because he walked close to Mrs. Rosenberg and smelled her perfume. Therefore, thoughts about mating and love did not make a reliable clock. The gong rang almost any time. When James was thirteen, his thoughts about life and time swirled in his brain like a swarm of trout darting around during feeding time. His hungry brain wanted every morsel of truth that might be dropped into the water. It was at this time, when all the thoughts his imagination could invent poured out like a harvest, when he was thirteen years old, that he began to construct the idea that time and clocks were not the same thing. A time is the answer to a question "When?" The interrogatory pronouns, Mr. Billings said, are "What? How? When? Where? and Why?" Any statement about time was an answer to a "when" question. When will we get there? When will you pay me back? When will you tell me if you love me?
James thought, if a clock is not time and if what a clock does is not time, then we have a problem in describing what time is. James lay in bed and his mind said, "A clock counts something that occurs at regular intervals. Whatever we say about time, or whenever we make a reference to time, we use a number, because we are counting. This means that time is not something that exists on its own, but it is something we do, the counting of events." His brain struggled with this thought, but the tiredness of his body put his mind at rest, until morning.
The Bowl Clock
"Okay, folks. We're going to have a movie today," Mr. Stimson said, as the students filed, bumbled and tumbled into his classroom.
"Calm down, now. It's not cowboys and Indians, and its not romance. It's about Christians and Muslims, when they were friendly and not at war all the time."
"Oh my God! Christians and Muslims. That's more interesting than snails and frogs."
"That's right Mr. Stimson. I love Christians and Muslims. That's what I watch on TV all the time: Ozzie and Harriet and Christians and Muslims."
"Calm down. Calm down. Would you rather have a quiz?"
"Move-ee! Move-ee! Move-ee!"
As soon as the projector started its clinking and spinning and its flickering light, the children knew the film had been made before the last ice age. It was black and white, and the actors looked like they got their costumes from a manger scene at a local church. But it was a movie, so they just snickered and quieted down to see if anything was going to happen that might keep them awake for twenty minutes.
The narrator said, in a somewhat comically authoritative male voice, that the Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and North African desert areas were not always at war. They were often cooperative and lived in peace with one another, and when they were at peace in quiet desert towns, they enjoyed even close friendships. The relationship between a Christian and a Muslim could be so warm as to be affectionate. They were often extremely loyal to one another and completely tolerant of religious and philosophical differences. Because they worked together and engaged in daily commerce, they also played together, and the Arabs were fond of races, horse races or camel races. They would often challenge Christian friends to a race, all in good-natured taunting, in earnest as well as in feigned seriousness. So the story unfolded about Arabs challenging Christians to a horse race in the desert, originally a race of distance. And the film focused, oddly enough, on the issue of how there would be a difference between a race of determined or measured distance -- a quantity of length, and a determined or measured duration -- a quantity of time. And, of course, in order to plan a race limited to a given measure of time, they had to have a device that measured time, a clock.
After the Arabs, being highly experienced and fanatical horsemen, won the distance race, around a circular track, the Christians said that although their Arab friends had fast horses for the short time period of a fixed-distance race, the Christians could ride faster over greater time. So, the Christians challenged the Arabs to a race that would entail running around the circular track repeatedly, until completion of a given interval of time. Whoever was ahead when the agreed time period had elapsed would be the winner. The clock to be used for the measurement of time was the ancient water clock. This device was attributed to the Alexandrian Greeks, but James knew that if it were attributed to the Alexandrian Greeks, that meant it was likely to have originated with the ancient Egyptians. The ancient Greeks were a great culture, and like most great cultures, they were thieves. The great cultures steal everything of value, but the most valuable things that they steal are ideas. The water clock was such an idea worth stealing.
The way the water clock worked made it just as appropriate to call it the "bowl clock" because the key element of the measurement apparatus was not the water itself, but the bowl. Bucket, water and bowl with a hole were the apparatus of this clock, plus gravity. Gravity was the force that drove the clock, similar to the way that weights hanging from a chain -- pulled downward by gravity -- drive a cuckoo clock or grandfather clock. In order for the measurement of time to be acceptably uniform, the bowl had to be of precise dimensions that held a fixed volume of water. Also, the bowl had a small hole of a precise diameter in the bottom center. The bowl was made of ceramic material that would sink in a bucket of water when the water that flowed upward through the hole had filled the bowl. That was the time interval measured by the water clock, a "bowl" of time. When the bowl was full and started to sink, the human observer and operator of the clock would quickly pull the bowl up out of the water and empty the water back into the bucket and place the bowl gently again on the surface to start another flow of water through the hole that measured one bowl of time. This is not really terribly different from the familiar hour glass, with the sand that flows like a fluid, being pulled downward by gravity. The bowl is being pulled downward by gravity through the resisting water. It would be more precise, and more scientific, to call one bowl of time one "water bowl of time."
So, as the students fidgeted and pinched and made after-school plans, the friendly Christians and Muslims had their race against time. James, ever the philosopher, noted that even when on terms of friendship and cooperation, the men had to compete and create a hierarchy of winners and losers. This was another topic that interested James almost as much as the concept of time. The race was for twelve bowls of time, and the Christian horse won. Of course, we did not know for sure then, or now, whether horses could be Christian or Muslim, or just plain horses. This too, could be a subject of intricate inquiry by James, or Mr. Stimson, or Sandra Mezzogiorno, as soon as she and Carol Bashaw finished their discussion of what the word "orgasm" meant. They could not help themselves, being just a bit more interested in vocabulary than history.
The race was over. The film was over. The class was over. But the work had only begun for James, because his mind had become captured by the bowl clock. He had to take it apart and put it back together again and again. Try it with different bowls, as he imagined them, and account for the difference between an expert timekeeper, who snatched the sinking bowl and placed it back on the water faster than lightning, and the casual timekeeper, or sly cheater, who might have some nefarious motive for stretching time by adding slowness to his movement of the bowl from the end of the last bowl of time to the beginning of the next bowl of time. Life was hard for James, almost as hard as it was for Christians and Muslims who were faking peace while they planned the next holy war. James walked out of the class slowly, as in a dream, thinking about how the water clock did not treat time as having length, but as having volume.
The Cream Dream Clock
James went about his business after school, mowing a lawn for three dollars and doing some math homework and contemplating the maintenance work that his bicycle would need soon, before he started riding it daily with the arrival of summer weather. No one will ever know, not even James himself, how much cell time his brain was devoting in its secret sub-conscious alcoves to all of the questions raised by the twelve-bowl horse race, not to mention the Christians and the Muslims, and whatever it is they really wished for the future time of humanity, the world to come, and whether holy war or affectionate friendship would win the race against time.
James dreamed. He dreamed while awake but some of his most interesting dreams, the ones that seemed to come from cosmic impulses rather than conscious thoughts, occurred while he slept, of course. And soon after the Social Studies class viewed the ancient film about the ancient world projected by an old projector on an old screen, while some students all but snored through, two nights later James dreamed about the bowl clock, but with a new twist in the story. The time keeper became a wildly fluid dream-figure, starting as Mr. Stimson, then morphing into an Arab gambler, then the math teacher, Mr. Cartwright -- he was somewhat nerdy and the students called him "Mr. Cartwheel" -- and then Sandra Mezzogiorno, and then James’ grandmother. While the smoky dream characters flowed from one character to another, they talked about the bowl clock, and they kept lowering the bowl onto the water and making faces at James the dream viewer, causing James to think bounding thoughts, like a water bug skipping on a still pond, about what the hell was happening.
When the bowl time keeper became Sandra Mezzogiorno in a kind of Islamic terry bathrobe hanging loosely as she strolled seductively out of the girls' gym shower, she said, "This is a cream clock."
"What? What in heaven's name is a cream clock?"
On his dream screen, James watched the bowl set down in a bucket of heavy white cream, watched it sink slowly, ever so slowly, never becoming full and sinking. The duration of one bowl was so long, when the fluid in the bucket of time was cream in a dream. In that dream, James' mind stopped, as though freezing the film frame, on the bowl with the cream flowing so slowly through the hole in the bowl.
He heard Mary say, "This is a cream clock, you idiot!"
And that is his last memory of the dream, before discomfort woke him up.
Dream, cream, bowl, clock. James was persistently seduced by his own thoughts. They pestered him without mercy. They entrapped his attention like a swaying cobra.
The cream bowl clock, James thought, while walking out the door to school, was like the water bowl clock, but with an important difference. It sank more slowly. It measured a different interval of time.
The Rocket Train Clock
So James went to school thinking about Sandra Mezzogiorno's breasts, and the cream clock, and all other clocks. It was one of those days. He thought about clock's in Ms. Wanstall's home room, and in Mr. Stimson's social studies class, and in Mr. Launer's math class, and when he saw Candy Clower in the hall, wearing a soft angora sweater and a short, tight skirt, as close to against the school dress code as one could possibly be without being sent home for the day. There was no use sending Candy Clower home for the day. Nobody really wanted to send Candy Clower home for the day, not even the Principal, because everybody, even the female teachers, liked looking at Candy Clower. She was as disruptive as hydrogen sulfide in the cafeteria on Valentine's Day. She was the most beautiful and sexiest female human in the world, and she went to Fairfield High School, and was in James' social studies class. And she had a problem with clocks.
The cream clock and the water clock, James thought. They are both the same, but are different. The apparatus is the same in each clock except for one part. The bucket and bowl is the same, and the hole in the bowl is the same, but the fluid support is different. The thicker cream flows through the hole in the bowl more slowly than the water flows through the hole in the bowl, the same size hole. So these are really two different clocks. The water clock is changed when you take out the water and replace it with cream. They each measure a different unit of time. One water bowl of time is shorter than one cream bowl of time. If we had a third clock to check the water bowl clock and the cream bowl clock, such as his birthday-gift escapement watch, the duration of one cream bowl of time would be longer than the duration of one water bowl of time. If the Christians and Muslims used a cream bowl clock instead of the water bowl clock, then the distance that the horses traveled in twelve cream bowls would be longer than twelve water bowls, because the duration of time running would be longer for the measurement of twelve cream bowls than for twelve water bowls. And therefore the distance that a horse, the same horse, ran for the period of one water bowl would be shorter than the distance that same horse ran for the period of one cream bowl. As a kind of principle, one water-bowl horse run is shorter than one cream bowl horse run, even when we change from one horse to another. Changing horses would be changing one element of the apparatus of a particular type of clock. And changing horses would be changing velocity.
James was so distracted by his clock thoughts that he went to the wrong classroom and was late for Biology class and Ms. Newhouse said, "You're late," and he said, "I know," and that was it because Ms. Newhouse understood James and his brain problem.
So while Ms. Newhouse showed pictures of a badger burrowing into the ground, James burrowed into his thoughts about time and clocks. If the cream clock is slower than the water clock, and if Horse A won the twelve bowl race, using the water bowl clock, then that means Horse A ran the longest distance, of the horses participating in the race on that day, for the time period of twelve bowls. But if the second horse, or say the third horse, Horse C, ran a somewhat shorter distance, say Horse A had run five point six circuits of the track in twelve bowls, and Horse C had run five point four circuits of the track in twelve bowls, then each of the running horses could be used as a distance clock. Horse A clock ran five point six circuits -- a length of distance -- in exactly twelve bowls, and that meant that Horse A ran 5.6 circuits divided by 12 bowls, or 0.467 circuits per bowl -- like ten yards per second for an Olympic sprinter. And then Horse C ran 5.4 circuits divided by 12 bowls, or 0.45 circuits per bowl. We could then set aside the bowl clocks and use the horses as clocks, the way that we use light as a clock and say that one light-second is 186,200 miles (length). For Horse A, one horse-bowl is 0.467 circuits, and for Horse C, one horse-bowl is 0.45 circuits (length). In each case a "horse" is the distance or length traveled, and the "bowl" is the measured duration of time. We are still doing the same old distance equals rate multiplied by time. Each horse is a different rate, and that means each horse is a different clock. If we use Horse C as our clock, then one water-bowl of time equals 0.45 circuits of length traveled, because we talk about time like it is length. We could use this clock the same way we use any other clock: one bowl of time is 0.45 circuits of distance traveled, which is like saying, in the case of a car going 30 miles per hour, that one minute of time is one-half mile of car distance traveled. If the circuit of ancient Arab horse race track were one-half mile in length, then one water-bowl of time would be 0.225 (0.45 times 0.5 miles) mile of Horse C distance traveled. This must be why we treat time as length, because in a film that Mr. Stimson showed us about the Mohegan Indians, when the chief was asked how far it was to Albany, he said "two days."
All this, James realized, was related to Einstein's theory of relativity, where Einstein said that time changes when a train, or space ship, is traveling faster than the speed of light. James suspected that this was wrong, for reasons hidden in his different brain, and that time did not change, never changed, no matter how fast one traveled, but that the clock used to measure time changed. The reason the time seemed to change is because when we change the apparatus of the clock, we get a different unit of time. Just as the racing horses could be used as the clocks, the trains and spaceships, and light itself, could be the traveling thing that gave us a measure of length to be designated as a measure of time. That would mean that Einstein's Theory of Relativity is not really a theory of physics, but a theory of perception, a theory that is psychological science more than physical science. So, because light travels 186,200 miles in the duration of one second, that means 186,200 miles is one light-second. But the problem of using clocks to measure time when objects are traveling very fast is that there is one physical reality that is the same for nearly all clocks, and that is that we SEE clocks. We watch them. That is why a small clock that we carry around with us is called a "watch." Since we watch all clocks, we are inescapably using light as part of the apparatus of all clocks. We cannot measure time unless we watch the clock, or see it, detect its actions by means of seeing, and by means of seeing means our eyes detect the light that tells us what object is before us and whether it is still or moving or alive or dead or green or red. And since we are using light as the medium of perception to detect the action of the clock, light is itself a necessary element of the apparatus of the clock. And, because light is a necessary element of the apparatus, and light has a given velocity, the velocity of the object we are observing is like the horse, or a bowl, or car or train or spaceship or anything in that they are all clocks, and if we change the velocity of the object we are observing, in relation to the medium of perception by which we observe, that is in relation to the velocity of light, the light by which we see the clock, then we are in fact changing the apparatus of the clock.
Watch. Einstein said, James thought, that his theory grew out of a thought experiment. We imagine that a train (or space ship) is traveling at some velocity, and we are the lone observer standing on the station platform watching the train pass by. Because the speed of the train is extremely less than the speed of light, which is what we are using to detect -- to see -- the train, what we are doing is we are using a medium of perception that travels much faster than the speed of the object that we observe. Therefore, none of the objects we observe appear to change our habitual measurements of time. But every object that is moving is a clock, and if an object we were observing started to come close to the velocity of light, then our measurements of time would begin to change. This occurs because the measurement of time -- a clock -- is inseparable from the apparatus of the objects that we observe. We are saying (James brain was saying) that everything that we observe to be moving is a clock, like the horse and bowl and car and train. But if an object were moving nearly at the velocity of the medium of detection -- the velocity of light -- then it would appear to us that time were changing, but this would occur only because the apparatus of the clock had changed. The time calculation, the units of time and the counting of the units of time, would change. And James' brain was saying to him that it is only the clock that changes, not time, because time is not a clock.
James carried this with him all day in school, and on the way home, and at home, in his room, without eating any of the cookies that his grandmother had made for him. He just walked through the door and said "Hi" and continued to his room and lay down in bed and persevered on the train and the platform and light and clocks.
The Sound Clock
Then James had a brainstorm. What if the medium of perception were sound rather than light? Would that help us to see that when we change the velocity of the object observed we change the clock? Sound travels at about 1,100 feet per second. Let's say, then, James thought, that we do not use our eyes to measure time but like bats and dolphins we use sound. That means the signals we detect to tell us what object is before us, and whether it is moving or still, are sounds, or echoes or "pings" or bells. We do not see anything. We do not receive light signals in our brains through our eyes, but instead we receive sound signals in our brains through our ears. Now the velocity of the train in relation to the velocity of the medium of perception, sound, might be more manageable.
What happens as the train speeds up and approaches the speed of sound? What happens when it travels at twice the speed of sound? What happens to the sound signals traveling from the train to our ears as the train approaches and is moving toward us? And what happens to the sound signals traveling from the train to our ears as the trains departs and is moving away from us? We already know that even at normal velocities, the sound of a train whistle is different as a train approaches, when it is compressing the sound waves, from the sound when it is moving away from us and is stretching the sound waves. Doesn't this tell us something about the difference between time and a clock? About getting different results from a clock when we change the apparatus of the clock?
The reality that physicists are ignoring is that when they talk about an object traveling, such as an Indian walking or a horse running or a train rolling or a space ship flying, it is not scientifically precise to say that we use another clock to measure the duration of the trip. It is scientifically precise and scientifically correct to recognize and acknowledge that the object traveling is itself a part in the apparatus of a clock, and the problem that causes the theory of relativity to perplex us is that we are comparing clocks but talk about the experiment like we are comparing time. One Indian walk to Albany = 2 days time. One rolling train ride from New Haven to New York = 37 minutes. One horse run of 5.4 circuits = 12 water bowls. The distance, or length measured, is equal to the rate of travel, or velocity, multiplied by the units of time used to specify the rate of travel, such as one day of walking, or rolling per minute or running per bowl. Then, to designate or establish a time interval, we divide the total distance traveled (length) by the rate or velocity, such as "70 miles distance" divided by "35 miles per hour" equals "2 hours of time!" Because we use length traveled to measure out a quantity of time, we have a habit of talking about time as though it has length, but it has duration, not length. With our statement about the trip with a velocity of 70 miles per hour, or in any statement like it, we have used a traveling object as an apparatus to produce a measurement of time. The traveling object together with the designated distance traveled (length) are the clock!
James later learned how to write simple, mathematical computer programs, and he conceived of a program to test Einstein's thought experiment with time and what would happen if an object, a space ship or a train, traveled faster than the speed of light. The first thing James thought of was the fact, explained by Einstein, that acceleration had exactly the same effect as gravity. Acceleration means a force is pushing one forward, or conveying a person at an increasing velocity. Once a vehicle -- a vehicle of any type -- is traveling at a steady or fixed velocity, the force of acceleration is no longer felt. This is why we become weightless -- feel no force of gravity or acceleration, after a space ship escapes the force of the Earth's gravity. A space capsule is still traveling at thousands of miles per hour, a velocity that would cause the effects of several gravity forces (G's) on the surface of the Earth, but there is no force of gravity or acceleration at all, because the space ship is now coasting and not accelerating. The most visible and felt effect of high velocity acceleration is that seen in the old newsreels from the 1950's showing pilots being tested on a high velocity sled or a giant centrifuge to see what level of acceleration the body can tolerate. The face flattens and the entire body is pressed against the seat with great force, a force that is equivalent to several times the Earth's normal gravity.
What occurred to James, related directly to his obsession with clocks, was that if any clock, such as a high-quality mechanical watch, say a Waltham watch, were subjected to several G's of gravity force, that change in the forces acting upon the mechanical apparatus of the watch would be a change in the conditions that applied to the watch clock. That change in the force of gravity, or acceleration, would have an even more obvious effect on an old-fashioned mechanical cuckoo clock or grandfather clock, because those two types of clocks employ a weight on a chain, and the fixed force of gravity -- a form of steady acceleration -- upon the gears of the clock. The pull of the weights on the chain serve the same purpose as the mainspring in a wrist watch. Therefore, if the force of gravity were multiplied five times, or ten times, the weight pulling on the chain and acting upon the gears in the grandfather clock would be significantly greater. And that is a change in the conditions of operation for the mechanical grandfather clock apparatus. It is predictable that the clock would speed up by a small but detectable pace, even though the escapement mechanism would exercise some control over the increased speed in the gears. Of course, if the acceleration were great enough, the force exerted on the chain would break the chain of the clock itself.
James still wanted to test what would occur when a train exceeded the velocity of the medium of perception, which is of course light. But we cannot test that process since we cannot accelerate any train to a velocity that even approaches the velocity of light. We can, however, cause an airplane to travel faster than the velocity of sound. So, we could pretend that we constructed a train that could exceed the speed of sound, and use sound as the medium of perception, the detectable event that is propagated by sound waves instead of light waves, and we could then take a look at what happens when the train is traveling faster than sound, faster than the medium of perception. The reception or detection of each sound signal, similar to the detection of each light signal, could be called a "ping." Since we detect both light signals with our eyes, and sound signals with our ears, at approximately the same rate, one signal for each one-fiftieth of a second (1/50 or 0.02 times one second) the human detecting (seeing or hearing) the movement of the train, would receive fifty signals per second of travel time. James wondered -- this was the question or hypothesis of his experiment plan -- if the scientist on the train would experience time, or his clock, differently than the scientist standing on the platform. Also, how would a third scientist, not on the train nor on the platform, but someplace outside the experimental apparatus, if that were possible, experience his clock time?
The computer program time-velocity experiment (actually many years later):
James wrote out his computer program, and this is how it worked. First, he established the necessary variables, as follows:
James’ computer program variables:
VT = velocity of train
SG = signal delivery time, or detection delivery time
PG = signal processing time, or detection processing time (one ping)
ST = detection delivery time plus detection processing time, or total detection time.
The problems around Einstein’s theories all arise because we call our human detections of light, what we see, “perceptions,” and what instruments see “detections.” But, before the objectivity of nature, all sensing of objects or movement or of any qualities of the surrounding environment are detections. The human or animal process of detection is not sufficiently different from instrumental detections to argue that they each occur according to separate and different physical laws.
It is important to understand, and remember, that this is deemed by James to be an experiment in psychology, or in sensory psychology, or in the physics of human perception, and not an experiment -- as is accepted by most physicists -- in physics alone.
During the experiment, we are going to examine the perceptions of three scientists, S1 the scientist on the train station platform, twenty feet from the track; S2 the scientist on the train, which we will place very close to the nose of the train; and S3 a scientist who is outside of the space of the S1 and S2 and observing the train with S2 as a passenger and S1 on the platform from a given distance. In the experimental design, it is important to keep in mind certain physical factors that are based on our knowledge of the real world and that cannot be changed or adjusted to accommodate any theory.
First, our eyes and ears are instruments of detection. Just like artificial or manufactured instruments of detection, there is a medium or physical quality that our eyes detect -- light -- and a medium or quality that our ears detect -- sound. Regardless of whether we want to deem light and sound to be matter or energy, light and sound is what is detected. We also have sensory cells that detect pressure and other cells that detect temperature. Sharks and other animals have cells in a sensory line on the sides of their bodies that are extremely sensitive to water pressure. Through this sensory organ sharks can detect fine movements of any animal within range of that pressure detector, and can draw conclusions as to how that animal is moving or behaving, and of course whether it is in distress or having any difficulty. This sensory organ therefore informs a predatory animal when potential prey is going to be easier to catch than when it is strong and healthy.
Dolphins and whales use echo-location, meaning they use sound as their medium of perception, but they do not use only their ears. They have an organ associated with their brains that is more sensitive than ordinary ears, certainly more sensitive than human ears, which is believed to provide them with an image or very precise information about the location of prey that is formed from the data detected in the form of sounds. This means that when dolphins and whales use echo-location, their brains probably provide them with a perceived image as detailed and precise as the visual images formed in the brains of humans who gather their image data in the form of light. It is important for the understanding of this experiment that we deem all detection organs to be more or less equal. That means that we cannot discredit hearing or feeling a moving object as being inferior in any way to seeing it. The organs that function as our living instruments of detection all serve their purposes effectively. Whether an organism is hearing, seeing, or feeling, the detection mechanism causes the signal to be effectively received and identified by the brain, gives the living organism an image of the real world around it. This is how we observe a moving train, whether by means of light or by sound. With either medium of perception, the image we detect will be perceived and recorded in accordance with the velocity of the medium of perception, in this case light or sound. Of course, what we hope to learn from this experiment by James, when we use sound as the medium of perception, is what happens to the perceptions of the three scientists when the train is traveling faster than the medium of perception, faster than sound.
After James completed all the important details of the computer program, he ran the program using different velocities for the train, and he studied the results. Remember, for the scientist S2 on the train, two detection images must be tracked for the realism of the experiment to be satisfactory. The S2 passenger on the train sees (detects) the train itself, with which he is moving together. Therefore, the inside of the train itself is not perceived as moving. If the passenger looks out a window, the frame of the window is perceived as still, and only objects outside the window are perceived as moving, passing by at the velocity of the train. Think about how humans, as any animal, use sensory integration. This phrase, "sensory integration," means that our brains integrate or analyze all incoming detections together, as a kind of package, to verify what is being perceived. For example, if one is sitting on a train in a busy station waiting to depart, and one suddenly feels some vibrations and the train to the left, seen immediately outside the train window, is moving, we do not necessarily feel certain as to whether the other train is moving or our train is moving. Our first mental reaction might be to conclude that the other train is moving, but then we feel uncertain, and then we look across the inside of the train to the windows on the opposite side, and through an open window we see a lamp post that is still and not moving in relation to the train. Then we know that it is our train that is still and the other train that is moving. Or, if we see a lamp post moving past the window, then we know that it is our train that is moving, or, both trains could be moving. This is a simple example of an occurrence of sensory integration, integrating the feeling of vibrations with visual clues. We often verify what we first see by listening for a confirming sound, and sometimes we hear a sound first and we look for more visual information to tell us what it is we are hearing. Those are common forms of human sensory integration. The most common form of human sensory integration is the way that we read the expressions on someone's face and their body position and body gestures, as the initial or gross communication of pleasure, friendly engagement, or a warning of danger or expression of anger. The words that we hear complete the communication that begins with the facial expression and body posture. In our experiment, we are not going to have any reference to complex human communications, no facial expressions or body postures to be detected and interpreted. We are just going to see signals indicating movement and then hear signals indicating movement. Our scientist S3 we will place in a vehicle that is traveling in a circle that is always the same distance, 100 miles, from the first scientist S1 who is standing on the station platform. Of course, the distance between S3 and the scientist on the train, S2, will be changing constantly as the train moves down the track, from the right, starting at a distance of 2,600 feet, to the left and ending at the same distance of 2,600 feet.
While thinking about how we detect moving objects using light and sound, James also thought about how we get information about objects using touch, or our sensory cells in our skin for feeling the surface of an object. If a long, smooth wooden board were passing slowly over our fingertips, we would feel smoothness. If the board were rough, or if it had sandpaper glued to it, we would feel roughness. But what if the smooth board had strips of sandpaper glued to it at regular intervals, one strip of sandpaper one inch wide followed by a width of one inch of smooth surface. The package of touch data that our fingertips would provide for our brain would be smooth followed by rough followed by smooth and so on, alternating for a short interval of time. But, if our sense of touch works in a neurological manner similar to our sense of hearing and sense of sight, then our feeling of the alternating smooth and rough surfaces would be subject to the limitation that we can sense either smooth or rough only when the sensory data has a duration of one-fiftieth of a second. Therefore, as the movement of the board with a surface alternating between smooth and rough passed over our fingertips faster and faster, we would begin to feel uncertain about whether the surface was smooth or rough. We would sense the alternating surface textures when the board moved slowly, but as it speeded up, it would feel like some combination of smooth and rough. Later, as the board moved faster and faster, it would create the sensation of abrasion and heat from friction, and when the intervals of smooth and rough shortened to less than one-fiftieth of a second, we would feel only a threatening sensation of roughness, abrasion and heat, and our fear of being burned would cause us to pull our fingers away. One of the realities about this imagined experience for James was that he noticed there does not appear to be any velocity for the medium of perception with regard to the sense of touch. In the case of both light and sound, a form of wave energy, or wave-shape of matter, travels from the object being perceived to our sensory organs -- our eyes and our ears. But in the case of the sense of touch, there is no meaningful distance between the object being perceived and the sensory cell doing the perceiving. The only significant distance is the length of the nerve connection between the sensory cell in the finger and the brain that receives and processes the sense-of-touch data. So, it does not appear to make any sense to talk about the velocity of the medium of perception in the case of our sense of touch. That James found very interesting, and an important addition to our knowledge about how we detect objects, but a separate story, perhaps, to be pursued at another time. His brain wanted to get back to the train, and what happens when it travels as fast or faster than the medium of perception that sends signals to our eyes, or ears, from a distance.
NOTICE how our experiment is already far out of the ordinary, because our train is traveling 100 feet per second, and that is 1/11 of the speed of the medium of perception (sound, 1,100 feet per second). If the train were traveling 1/11 of the speed of light, the usual medium of perception, then the velocity of the train would be 16,927 miles per second, 1,015,636 miles per minute, 60,938,181 miles per hour. Also, a train traveling about 68 miles per hour is traveling less than 0.02 miles per second, or slightly less than 1/50th of a mile per second (100 feet per second). That means that under the normal circumstances where we use light as the medium of perception, the velocity of the train is slightly less than one ten-millionth of the velocity of the medium of perception, which is of course the same thing as saying that the speed of the medium of perception (light) is ten million (10,000,000) times faster than the movement of the object being perceived in motion. This is obviously utterly alien to our first test, where the medium of perception (sound) is traveling only 11 times faster than the object being perceived in motion. This is why even our initial results may seem very strange.
Signal delivery time plus signal interpretation time = total signal time:
Notice also that in order to appreciate James’ experiment one must keep in mind that the way that we perceive, or detect, anything is like the way our eyes view a moving picture. Before digital image projection, the traditional technology of moving pictures was to accomplish the projection of a number of frames per second (fps), which means the strip of film was in fact, and still is on traditional films, a series of distinctly separate photographs or “frames.” As each frame or photo was flashed on the screen, our vision cells or organic apparatus in our brains would register each separate frame so long as the frames were flashed at a sufficiently slow speed, such as five frames per second. But when the film travel was speeded up, to at least ten frames per second, and preferably twenty-five frames per second, our brains then fill in the “empty spaces” or pauses between frames and the movie looks the same as real life: smooth motion rather than a series of still photographs. However, psychological scientists used physical psychology, or visual sensory psychology, to develop and improve moving pictures, and then continued to learn from them. A good quality film projection rate falls between ten frames per second and twenty-five frames per second. James used the interval of fifty frames per second, or one-fiftieth of a second in order for the human visual cortex to perceive an image. This is possibly less than the real average time interval needed in order for the human brain to perceive an image, but James wanted to use the shortest interval deemed reasonably close to reality. He had read somewhere that one-fiftieth of a second was the minimal duration for a tone to be detected and distinguished as a “sound” by the human audio cortex. In any case, the interval used for the calculations would determine the figures in the outcome of the experiment, but would reveal, with acceptable precision, the meaningful results of the experiment. What one had to keep in mind is that this is really how we perceive smooth motion or a smooth flow of sound. Our brain detects distinct, separate images or tones, and then fills in the spaces between. Reality, for us, is also a “moving picture” made up of separate images that our brain transforms into the perception of smooth motion. This is hard to accept, but demonstrated by the everyday occurrence of “moving pictures.” Every film projected is the apparatus of a scientific experiment that demonstrates how human vision really occurs. This is important, because it is consistent with the experimental principle of physical reality that an image of a train is sent, like a photograph being delivered through a mail service, from the source to the brain, and that delivery requires an interval of time. One of the first things that James noticed when he observed the results of his computer program experiment, is that this interval of time could accurately be called the “image delivery time” or more generically the “detection delivery time.” This detection delivery time is the interval of time required for the detected medium of perception to travel from the source (the moving train) to the detector (the person standing on the train station platform.) The additional time required to complete the act of seeing is the image processing time, which James deemed to be one-fiftieth of a second. This may be slightly shorter or slightly longer than the actual time required by the brain to register an image. The part that is hard to accept, for many people, even some physicists, is that this is really what occurs, not only when humans see a train, but also when a radiological telescope, or electromagnetic telescope, detects non-visual wavelengths of radiation from distant objects. The medium of perception, or of detection, ALWAYS has a detection delivery time and a detection processing time. This is why astronomers of the nineteenth century – the century of Einstein’s youth --- talked publicly about the reality that starlight is very old. The light we see from the stars does not represent what they look like today, but what they looked like when the light left them, the source, thousands or millions of years past. This is indeed a strange concept to absorb. It means that everything we see, or detect, is an image from the past. It’s just that the usual past is only a thousandth of a second, or less, plus our perception processing time of one-fiftieth of a second, except when we are looking at stars. Normally, we don’t even try to see anything more than a few hundred yards away. And if we are looking at a mountain that is eighteen miles away, we are still receiving an image that requires only 0.0000000183 seconds to travel from the source to our eyes, the detection delivery time. For James, this suggested that the most meaningful fact about how we detect the world around us is not about time-space or about traveling “through time,” but about how the velocity of the medium of perception relates to the velocity of the moving object being detected. This is the reality that James noticed in his experimental data, and what he deemed to be the true and significant result of Einstein’s light-train experiment. Some physicists want to call Einstein’s train a “time train,” because they claim it tells us facts about time, but for James it is a light-train. It tells us facts about media of perception rather than about the physics of time-space. For James, Einstein’s experiment belongs to the field of psychology, and is an experiment in philosophy, because it tells us how we perceive reality and draw conclusions that we call “knowledge.” It is also physics, of course, or an examination of scientific knowledge that overlaps with physical psychology and philosophy. It is a place where these fields of human knowledge, which we deem to be separate, join together.
Here is a summary of the data and observations from James’ light-velocity train experiment. James also used a sound-velocity train, so that he could compare the results from one medium of perception with another. Let’s look at the sound-velocity train first, where we are using sound, which travels at 1,100 feet per second, and the distances we need to measure are much shorter and more manageable in terms of scale. One does need to keep in mind that the velocity of light is 983,136,000 (5,280 * 186,200) feet per second, and that is 893,760 times faster than the velocity of sound. James used round figures just to simplify the calculations.
What James observed to be the most meaningful results of his computer experiment is that for all media of perception, the detection becomes more delayed – the detection delivery time – as the moving object gains greater distance from the observer. This is the observation that confirmed James’ suspicion that Einstein’s thought experiment is actually an experiment in psychology, or the science of media of detection, rather than an experiment that applies strictly to physics as a distinctly separate field of study.
In James’ experiment, the train is traveling through the station at about 68 miles per hour, or exactly 100 feet per second. The train is not stopping at the station, so it is not slowing down. This is a somewhat high speed for traveling through this station, but this is an experimental station. Of course, 68 miles per hour is a little fast for a traditional train, but certainly reasonable now that we have trains that travel 200 miles per hour. Our train detection experiment begins with the train’s front starting at a point to the observer’s right (Scientist S1 standing on the platform) that is a distance of 2,600 feet, close to exactly one-half mile, one half mile being 2,640 feet. Since the velocity of the train is 100 feet per second, it travels two feet in 1/50th of a second. But that 1/50th of a second is the detection processing time, the interval of time required for our brains to receive and interpret the image (film frame) detected. The total time required for the detection to be complete is the detection delivery time (SG for “signal time”) plus the detection processing time (PG for “processing time”). The sum of these two time intervals is the total signal time or ST. One is likely to have difficulty seeing the strange reality that occurs in the experiment because we are so accustomed to extremely short detection delivery times because the usual image to be detected is traveling at light velocity. This is true even though another part of our brains tells us that the star light that we see, an image delivered to us by the same means as the image of a dog sitting at our feet, took thousands of years to reach our eyes.
Observing the sound train:
First, we take a look at the data from the sound-train, meaning the train that we are detecting by using sound as our medium of perception (1100 feet per second). When the train is traveling at 100 feet per second (68 miles per hour-rounded), the first sound image to reach us and be processed or interpreted by our brain, having been sent when the train is 2,600 feet away, takes 2.384 seconds to complete the first “ping” or total signal time (ST). Each ping encompasses the 1/50th of a second we are allowing for our brains to receive and interpret a signal. Therefore, the important question to be answered is: How far does the train travel – what distance does it move – during this total signal time. The answer is that the train has traveled 238.4 feet. This seems impossible at first, but it is correct because the medium of perception travels at a velocity that is much slower than the usual medium that we use, light. Sound travels 1100 feet per second and light travels 186,200 miles per second, which is 983,136,000 feet per second. Therefore, sound travels 893,760 times slower than light. We can see that it takes sound two seconds to travel 2,200 feet, and 2.364 seconds (rounded) to travel 2,600 feet. Add that detection delivery time to the signal interpretation time of 0.02 second (1/50th), we then find the total signal time (ST) to be 2.384 seconds (rounded). And 2.384 seconds times 100 feet per second is indeed a distance of 238.4 feet. Therefore, we see immediately the profound meaning of the velocity of the medium of perception as it relates to the velocity of moving objects that we need to detect. When we “see” the train using sound as our medium of perception, the train is in fact 238.4 feet removed from the position that our brain detects it. After our first ping or total signal time interval has been completed, the train has moved from a distance of 2,600 feet from the observer S1 on the platform to a distance of 2,361.7 feet. But at the instant that the train has arrived at this position that is 2,361.7 feet away, our brain perceives it (by means of sound) 2,600 feet away, where it was when the sound signal began its trip from the source (the train) to the detector (the observing scientist on the platform – S1).
Note that for the second observer, a scientist sitting on the moving train, S2, there are two perceptions that will be processed. One is the inside of the train itself, which will be perceived as still and rigidly fixed in position, and the scenery passing by outside the window, which will be moving in a manner similar to what S1 observes, traveling at the same velocity as the train in the reverse direction, but with some objects, such as trees and mountains, being perceived from a greater distance.
If we include a third observer, scientist S3, moving in a circular arc from a point that is always the same distance from S1, at some specified velocity, we would have to use a complex calculation to compute the distances of S3 from S1 and S2 as we measure the conditions following each completed ping or total signal time. We know from experience that if the observer S3 is a long distance from S1 and S2, the train will appear to be traveling slowly across the panoramic expanse of S3’s field of reception (usually called field of vision). This is similar to how a jet airplane, although traveling at 500 miles per hour, appears to us to be moving slowly across the expanse of the sky.
Getting back to the relationship between the train – and observer S2 on the train – and the observer S1 standing on the platform, the second ping or signal completion time is 2.17 seconds, during which interval the train has traveled 216.7 feet closer to S1. This means that in that instant when the observer S1 perceives the train to be at a distance of 2,361.7 feet, upon the completion of ping #1 and when the ping #2 signal was sent toward the observer, the train has traveled to a position that is 2,145 feet away from S1 – a position 216.7 feet away – closer -- from where it is perceived.
This all may seem crazy, but it is precisely accurate. We will understand more clearly when we examine how our perception really works using light as the medium of perception, which travels 893,760 times faster than sound. But we need to take a quick look at how much crazier this situation gets as the train goes faster and approaches and then reaches the velocity of sound itself, 1,100 feet per second. Of course, the total signal time for each detection to be completed is long when the moving object being observed is observed from a great distance, but the total signal time is much shorter when the train is closer to the observer S1. That means, obviously, that the distance the train travels during the shorter time interval required for total signal time is much less. For example, the total signal time for ping #23, is 0.29 seconds, during which interval the train travels 29.3 feet. This means, of course, that at this point in the experiment, the train is only 29.3 feet removed from the position that is perceived by S1, the scientific observer.
If the sound train is traveling at 500 feet per second, it moves a distance of 1,191.85 feet during the first total signal time of 2.38 seconds, then progressively less for each ping until it reaches the shortest distance for total signal time at 9 pings, 19.75 feet, after which the distance traveled per total signal time increases again.
At 1,100 feet per second, when the train is traveling at the velocity of sound, the time interval for the first total signal time is of course still 2.38 seconds, during which time interval the train has traveled from the beginning point 2,600 feet to the right of S1 a total distance of 2,622 feet, and in a position that is 22 feet to the left of S1. This means that S1 sees the train 2,600 feet to his right, when it has in fact arrived at a position 22 feet to his left. This amazing and entirely dysfunctional result occurs precisely because the train is racing ahead, toward the observer, at the same velocity as the medium of perception. And further, as the train continues to move farther from S1, to his distant left, the train travels enormous distances during the subsequent total signal times, precisely because the sound signal takes so long to travel from the source – the train – to the receiver – S1. To emphasize what actually happens under such circumstances, note that during the total signal time for ping #9 the train travels 6,244.8 feet, and during the total signal time for ping #23 the train travels 102,314,517.3 feet, or 19,377.8 miles. This tells us that like our view of stars where they were thousands of years ago, we are perceiving a train that is actually located nearly 20,000 miles from where we perceive it to be. This is the scientific difference, not the philosophical difference, between perception and reality.
Observing the light train:
Now let’s look at the data from the light train, the train that begins at 100 feet per second, or 68 miles per hour, and then increases its velocity toward the speed of light, AND light is our medium of perception – our normal medium of perception for seeing moving objects. This part of James’ experiment shows how the enormous velocity of light, 186,200 miles per second, or 983,136,000 feet per second, enables us to receive and interpret meaningful perceptions of distant objects, and objects that are moving, such as a deer across a field or a trout through a brook.
When the light train is traveling at 100 feet per second (68 miles per hour), and we are using light as our medium of perception, the total signal time for the image of the train to travel to S1 the initial distance of 2,600 feet, and be interpreted – for the first “ping” – is 0.020002645 seconds. This is the signal delivery time of 0.000002645 seconds plus the signal interpretation time of 0.02 seconds. Note here an important observation to be made in James’ experiment: the time required to interpret the light signal, 0.02 seconds, is 7,561 times longer than the time required to deliver the signal from the source to the detector. That is why the train has traveled only 2.000264 feet forward from the position it occupied when the signal was sent. Therefore, when an object is traveling at a velocity that represents the upper limit in the range of speeds for animals that a human being might hunt, the target moving animal is about one foot from the position in which it is perceived, because a human would not be hurling a spear or throwing a rock at an animal more than 100 yards distant. For example, if a target running deer is 150 feet away, it takes the signal image 0.00000015 seconds to reach the hunter’s eyes. Then, during the image interpretation time of 0.02 seconds, the deer moves about 10 inches. Our brains are adapted to this reality when we are detecting a moving target.
As the train moves closer to observer S1 on the platform, the distance it travels during each signal delivery time grows slightly shorter, and approaches the actual velocity of the train, 2 feet per ping (0.02 times 100 feet per second). What is the most fascinating result of the experiment is the bizarre changes that occur when we make the train travel at very high velocities, vehicle speeds that we do not normally encounter in the natural world.
The speed of 100 feet per second is not small when compared to the speed of sound. It is 1/11 th of the speed of sound, or 0.09 times the speed of sound. But 100 feet per second is 0.0000001 times the speed of light. So, let’s look at what happens when our train is traveling at 1/11 th of the speed of light, or 89,376,000 feet per second. For the light signal to travel the initial 2,600 feet from the source to the detector, and be interpreted still requires only 0.020002645 seconds, BUT, during that same short interval for total signal time, the train now moves forward 1,787,756 feet or 338 miles! That is obviously an extremely large difference in position between where S1 sees the train – 2,600 feet to his right – and where it is now actually located: 337.5 miles to his left. This is the bizarre results when we just begin to consider how we might perceive a moving object that is approaching the velocity of light. Notice that the train is already moving away from us at high velocity. At the third ping, the train is 1,110 miles to the left of S1, 403 miles further to the left than where S1 detects its image. At ping sixteen, the train is 11,258 miles away, 1,248 miles further away than where S1 detects its image.
When the light train is traveling at the velocity of light, which is the condition that is central to Einstein’s “thought experiment” and his theories of relativity, we get data results that clearly make our sensory or detection abilities strangely ineffective. At the first ping, after the same total signal time of 0.020002645 seconds has elapsed, and S1 still sees the train at its starting position 2,600 feet to his right, the train has traveled 3,724.5 miles to the left of S1, and is therefore 3,724 miles away from S1. Unless the train is aiming bright lights backward, S1 probably would not see it even if they could turn their head to the left in 0.02 seconds. The train is obviously moving away from S1 at enormous velocity, and as it gets further away, the total signal time for the light image of the train to reach S1 becomes longer. As the total signal time becomes longer, the real, physical distance between the train’s actual location and the image location that has reached S1 also becomes fantastically great. The surprise that tests our belief is the fact that the signal delivery time rises much faster than one might have thought it would. At the second ping, the signal delivery time is already 0.02 seconds, the same as the signal interpretation time. At three pings it is already 0.06 seconds that is required for the image signal to travel from the train – at the velocity of light – to S1 on the platform. And while these signal delivery times are occurring, the train is constantly speeding away from S1 at the velocity of light. Therefore, what is happening is that the distance between the train and S1 is increasing at a much higher rate than intuition would suggest. At 25 pings, or 0.5 seconds, the train is so far away that it takes 335,544.2 seconds for the image signal to reach S1. That’s 93 hours. Something is wrong here. How can this be? S1 is not standing on the platform watching a train that is now 125 billion miles away! Or is he? The contradiction is obvious. Our experiment gives us two figures, one is 0.5 seconds that S1 is watching the train, and the other that S1 has been watching for 93 hours. What is the explanation for this impossibility? We need to examine the reality of how long it takes one image, or “frame” to follow another early in the action. One has to think about the moving picture reality, where each new frame appears about 0.04 seconds (1/25 th) after the previous frame. If the time interval between frames is greater than 0.04 seconds, or according to some tests greater than 0.1 seconds (1/10 th) then we do not see a picture that is “moving” smoothly but instead we see a series of separate still images that “flicker.” This means that when the light train is traveling at the velocity of light, S1 can receive, we presume, an initial image of the train that locates the train 2,600 feet to his or her right. But the second light image or frame that will travel from the train to S1 will locate the train 3,724 miles to his left. Clearly, we have an insurmountable problem already.
First, S1 will not see a second frame or image of the train unless they turn their head and the focus of their vision from the right to the left. Second, the brain, being totally unaccustomed to such behavior on the part of any object, will not really “see” the train in the usual sense. The brain will not have any store of common information to connect the first image of the train to a second so far apart. If S1 detects both the first and the second image by some chance, the brain will see two trains that look alike, first one that is 2,600 feet to the right, and then another that is 3,724 miles to the left. And, of course, the brain will not really have enough information to conclude that the two images are of the same train, because the second image could only be visible if it is casting a bright light from its rear end. The second image would be either extremely small or not visible at all. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that when the train is traveling at the velocity of light, S1 will not be able to see it. There is in fact another reason why S1 could not see the train in the usual sense which is in fact central to Einstein’s theories of relativity. This is why James selected 1/50 th of a second as the short interval required by the brain to interpret or process a light image signal. James deemed the interval of 1/50 th of a second as the shortest possible interval for an image to persist in order to be perceived by the vision cells of the human brain. This concept is consistent with physical psychology and the physics of perception, because it has been demonstrated that we do not hear a tone that persists for too short an interval, and we do not see an image that persists for too short an interval. In other words, if the sound of a bell could be confined to a duration of 1/100 th of a second, one would hear nothing. And if the light image of a train, or a dog or a tree could be confined to an interval of 1/100 th of a second one would see nothing. This clearly reveals a bizarre relationship between the train moving at the velocity of light and the question of what S1 “sees” as the train travels by S1. In fact, those who defend Einstein’s theories argue that the train elongates, actually becomes physically longer. This would make sense if we make perception perfectly equal to reality. This is the outcome when we observe that if the train really is traveling at 983,136,000 feet per second, then during the interval of 1/50 th of a second it occupies the distance of 19,662.72 feet, or 3,724 miles. This clearly raises a question, a question that flows outside of the boundaries of physics and into the realm of philosophy again, as to where the train is located during that 1/50th of a second. This region of thought and observation, and calculation, actually resembles the ancient conclusion that there is a smallest possible particle of discrete matter – the a-tum or atom. Let us ask, for a moment: If there is a smallest possible size for a real particle of matter, does that mean that there is also a smallest possible interval of time for matter to exist? This is not a silly question, although many physicists if not all would probably resist treating it as a question to be seriously examined. But in practice they do work in a world where this question hangs over their experiments. Physicists claim that an event that is detected as a line of light, for a time interval of less than a millionth of a second, is a “particle.” A particle of what? A particle of matter? They do not say anything, at least not publicly, as to whether what they are observing might be an event rather than a particle. That is another story. But for the problem James is trying to address here, he was faced with the question as to whether what we cannot see, because its image does not persist long enough, exists or does not exist. The issue that perplexes is definitely the issue as to whether perception and reality are perfectly equal, or reality exists separately from our perception. If the two are separate, then we conclude that something can exist without our ability to perceive it. This conclusion is consistent with our experience over history. We know that there is much that exists in the real, physical world that our sensory capacities do not enable us to detect. This would include of course, microscopic objects – things too small, distant objects – things too far away, and magnetic forces, forces that we do not normally detect with sufficient distinction to identify them as a separate and meaningful experience. Let us look at how James examined the relativity proposition that the train actually does elongate, so that instead of being 500 feet long, it becomes 3,724 miles long, or even just 2 miles long – due to some mathematical formulas that we do not know or understand. If we say, James thought, that the train really does elongate, then what we are saying is that the physical substance of the train occupies a longer space at the same interval of time. For example, if we think about the meaning of proportion, and slow motion film projection, we can see that we can divide intervals of time the same way that we divide length and then magnify the division. If we first measure a stick to be 10 inches long, and then use a very small subdivision of length, such as 1/100th of an inch, we could then look at the stick and strain to see the units of 100 th of an inch. Or, we can use a magnifying glass and then see the units of 100 th of an inch so that then 10 of the 100 th-inch spans look the same or nearly the same as 10 spans of one inch. When we magnify the smaller units, they look the same as the larger units. That is an essential principle in the meaning of proportion. One unit divided into ten units always makes the proportion, or ratio, of the smaller unit to the larger unit 10 to 1. Just as we can divide length into smaller and smaller units, until we need a microscope to see the length of one unit, we can divide our units of time, or duration, into smaller and smaller units. We can see, and physicists can confirm my experiment, that we have a similar problem when we divide time into extremely small intervals: we cannot see them, or, we cannot perceive them as containing something distinctly separate from what was contained in the previous unit of time. What James was thinking was that if we cannot really see an object that creates a light image for only 1/100 th of a second, then we would not see the train that was elongated for a time interval of 1/100 th of a second. At the velocity of light, the train theoretically would occupy a length of 9,831,360 feet, or 1,862 miles. In fact, any object traveling at the velocity of light would occupy a length of 1,862 miles for the time interval of 1/100 th of a second. Therefore, rather than drawing conclusions about the phenomenon that we call time, we could instead pursue conclusions about the meaning of duration with regard to the reality of matter. When we say that our eyes do not see a thing that sends us a light signal for only 1/1000 th of a second, we are not necessarily saying that it does not exist, but only that we do not see it. Thus, we are implying, in this instance, that perception and reality are not equivalent. Therefore, why must we conclude, in the case of the light train, that because it is supposed to occupy a length of 1,862 miles during the elapsed time of 1/100 th second, we must perceive it to have that length. Something is happening that bears some resemblance to our increasing precision in measuring length, and then magnifying the smaller units so that we can see them. Let’s take our 1/100 th of a second and divide it into a million units. Then, during each sub-unit of time, which is 1/100,000,000 th, or one one-hundred millionth of a second, the light-velocity train will “occupy” or travel a length of 9.8 feet. We could conclude therefore, if we so choose, that the problem we are examining is not the meaning of time, but the limitations of our perceptions. If our eyes and visual brain cells could see the light image of an object even when it persisted for only 1/100,000,000 th of a second, then we would see our train moving in a smooth, moving-picture type of motion, even though each “frame” or image was 9.8 feet apart. That is the same pattern of perception, with our true visual ability, that applies if the train is traveling 333 miles per hour. For James, this means that the conclusion defended by physicists, that the material substance of the train actually does elongate, is false. The train does not have to elongate in order for us to perceive it as elongated. The perception can be distinctly different from the reality, because of the limitations of our visual ability, or the detection mechanism of any instrument. What is detected by an organism or instrument that receives and interprets light, is not the equivalent of the event or object that sends out the light signal. The light being detected is a medium of perception, and what is really going on here in Einstein’s relativity experiments is we are confronted with the inescapable reality that a perception, or detection, is always an event that is separate from the event detected.
But what still concerned James, and always concerned James, is what he could confirm about time by his own analysis of the relativity theories. The relativity theories treat gravity as a form of acceleration, the same as the constant application of a vector force that moves a vehicle in a direction. A rocket in space will be accelerating if it has a motor that can provide constant vector force. If a rocket engine turns off, and the vector force is stopped, the space ship coasts and begins to slow down. It can still travel a great distance, but cannot be steered unless directional force is again applied. Einstein depicted the way the force of gravity of our sun operates upon a planet to be geometrically like a metal sphere rolling around the outer edge of a large, flattened funnel shape. If the ball slows down, it begins to move in a gradual spiral path closer and closer to the center hole in the funnel, and finally falls in, which is the geometrical depiction of the planet crashing into the sun. That use of geometry to represent gravity seemed acceptable to James, but not the argument put forth by physicists that if humans were in a rocket ship traveling at the speed of light, time would elapse at a different rate for them. Einstein’s theories imply that time is not the same for all objects, but operates as though it is attached to separate objects and can elapse differently when an object is traveling at great velocity. This, to James, was not at all convincing, because it was logically the same thing as saying that a clock will count intervals of time differently if the physical conditions of the clock are changed. For James, we have to choose between only two alternatives: either time exists independently of matter, or it is a fiction of consciousness and does not exist at all. This was so important to him. He cringed whenever he heard a scientists say that an event in the distant past began “before the dawn of time.” That makes no sense at all. If time exists independently of all other things, it has to have existed infinitely in both directions: infinitely backward in the past, and infinitely forward in the future. If time exists independently, that means there could have been a period of time when no matter existed in the universe, and then, for reasons we do not or cannot understand, matter came into being. That means that matter came into being after time existed of itself, not before or not simultaneously. This is like saying that there was a period of time when only time existed, and nothing else, then, matter came into existence. That would mean that we have a beginning for matter, but no beginning for time. The process of examining the light train and the sound train pushed James’ thinking forward. He concluded that because the same thing happens with two mediums of perception, with sound and with light, Einstein’s thought experiments are really about perception and reality, or about detection and reality, and not about “space-time” as is argued by the average conforming physicist. There was, in fact, one more argument that James had in support of his viewpoint, and that was his meticulous analysis of what a clock is, any clock, all clocks. The amazing truth is that even the train is a clock.
The train clock:
In elementary school we learn about the train clock, or the car clock. If the train is traveling at 50 miles per hour, then we are asked to compute how long it will take the train to go from city A to city B if the distance between the cities is 76.4 miles. We use one of the simplest formulas we will ever use, and we will use it all of our lives: Rate times Time equals Distance. R x T = D. Or D/T = R: Distance traveled, divided by Time measured, equals the Rate of travel or speed. Or D/R = T: Distance traveled, divided by measured Rate, equals the Time required for the trip.
R x T = D: 50 mph x 3 hours = 150 miles distance traveled.
D/T = R: 150 miles, divided by 3 hours = 50 miles per hour
D/R = T: 150 miles, divided by 50 miles per hour = 3 hours
And 76.4 miles of Distance, Divided by 50 miles per hour of Rate, equals 1.528 hours, or converted to hours and minutes, one hour and 31.68 minutes (0.528 x 60 minutes).
Did you notice what we just did? We used the speed of the train to measure time. The train is a clock. Any object moving at an acceptably steady rate can be used as a clock. Even if the train sometimes slows down to 45 miles per hour, and sometimes speeds up to 55 miles per hour, we can still use the average velocity over the duration of the trip. Then we still use the same formula, measured Distance (a length measurement) divided by average velocity Rate, equals a measure of Time. That’s what a clock is, isn’t it, a means to measure the passage of time. How does the speedometer, the measure of the speed of a car, operate? The odometer is a device that uses the circumference of the wheels and the number of revolutions of the wheels as the measurement of distance traveled for each turn of the wheel. If the circumference were 6.28 feet, the circumference of a wheel 2 feet in diameter, the speedometer uses 6.28 feet as the distance traveled for each turn of the wheel. In fact, using a wheel as the means to measure distance is one of the oldest and fastest ways to measure linear distance, and is still used today. That is one of the reasons why the ancients were obsessed with the value of pi, so that they could know the linear distance equal to the circumferential distance.
Because the train itself, and any traveling vehicle, can be used to measure time, and therefore serve the purposes of a clock, James felt he had accomplished an insight that others miss: all clocks are variations of the same operation – counting the interval or duration of any cyclical event. The turn of the wheel of a train or car is a cyclical event. The drip of water from a melting icicle, the movement of the sun, of the moon, the flooding of a great river, are all cyclical events. When we study ourselves and other animals to learn about how our bodies are related to time, we say that living things possess a “biological clock” because our own bodies are found to have organic cycles. And in the case of every type of clock, the measurement of time may change when we change the physical conditions of the clock. Since Einstein demonstrated that acceleration, meaning an object being pushed continuously by a vector force in a specified direction, has the same effect as gravitational force, James understood that any vehicle subjected to an extreme acceleration would in fact be operating under changed conditions. Clocks traveling with that vehicle, or attached to it, would change their measurement of time so that it would be different from the time computed at a much smaller level of acceleration. Another way to examine the light-train experiment of Einstein is to ask the simple question: How will scientist S1 and scientist S2 and also a third scientist observing the action from a position that is neither on the train nor on the platform, know what time it is? It could not be more obvious that this is a key to the validity of the experiment. We cannot compare the time perceived or measured by S1 to that of S2 unless each of the two scientists, S1 and S2, possess a means to know what amount of time has passed. And how does anyone know what time it is? By looking at a clock. And is a clock, the instrument that is used to measure time, the equivalent of time itself? No, that cannot be, because the quality we are measuring, such as length or weight, cannot be deemed to be the length itself or the weight itself. The scale measures 2 kilograms, but the scale is not the weight of 2 kilograms. A measurement of 17 centimeters can be the number that represents the length of a line, but cannot be the quality of length itself. We measure distance and weight with an instrument, and we measure time with an instrument. The clock is the instrument, but cannot be the quality of time. Therefore, we cannot and do not prove the existence of time because we have a clock. And when James examined the clock further, looked at all of the clocks more deeply, he could see that every clock, without exception, is the same type of instrument: a device that counts the repeated instances or intervals of a cyclical event. What that meant to James is that no clock proves the independent existence of time, because all clocks prove only that there are cyclical events in nature, many cyclical events, including cyclical events in the bodies of living things. Any cyclical event that repeats at a reliable interval can be used as a clock and compared to other cyclical events. And Einstein’s thought experiments about the train or spaceship traveling at the velocity of light also do not prove the independent existence of time. The scientist on the light-train and the scientist on the platform cannot compare their experience of time or their observation of the passage of time unless they each possess a reliable measurement of time. They each must refer to a clock, and we cannot state, with the usual precision of scientific fact, that each of their two separate clocks are measuring cyclical events that are occurring at the same rate. James concluded that what S1 and S2 will observe is different clock measurements. But that is not the same as different time, simply because time is measured by a clock but not embodied in a clock. His final conclusion was that Nature does not count time, does not need the measurement of time for any natural purpose. Nature is the process, an unfolding of events that follow one another, comprised entirely of cyclical events. We cannot identify with scientific certainty any event that occurs only once. When we measure or compute time all we are doing is counting the repetitions of a cyclical event. We have no way of documenting with certainty that changing conditions do not change the intervals between the cyclical repetitions. In fact, everything we know about physical science tells us that by the very definition of physical nature, a change in physical conditions will change the pattern of the cyclical event, or of the clock. If Einstein’s theories require that we treat time as being attached to matter, then time does not exist independently or separately from matter. But that is consistent with James final conclusion: Time does not exist as a natural thing. Time is a fiction of consciousness or of the capacity to count the processes of nature. Humans perceive time because we can count and measure. We possess a concept in our minds of past, present and future, of current effects that are the results of past causes, and future events that become the desired results of deliberately enacted present causes. That is how and why humans can make a plan and execute the plan, which is the meaning of making a choice and exercising freedom. We could not make choices if we did not know how to pursue the results we want and cause desired outcomes to occur. That is why we possess the mental concept of time. But time is purely a mental concept. It does not exist outside the brain of a calculating, learning observer. James had a plan to share his viewpoint with the world, a world that is profoundly committed to the belief that time exists everywhere. However, this is the common perception only because people see cyclical events everywhere. And we like to count them. When we count cyclical events, we call the result time: two moons, three years, four hours, 13 miles on foot. It is not possible for anyone, whether a professional scientist or not, to talk about time or make reference to time except by stating the count of a cyclical event. That is a clock, and that is all that time is, a clock. There is nothing that is separate from the clock, nothing that is separate from our counting. Because every clock, no matter how precise it may be, is an instrument, the duration of each interval of the cyclical event being counted will probably change if the physical conditions of the clock change, such as traveling at the velocity of light as compared to traveling at 0.0000001 times the velocity of light. The count of the clock changes, but the durations of the processes of Nature are what they are and the processes of Nature do not change. If the processes of Nature did change, we could not use the scientific method to make predictions about causes and effects.
Link to: (Icon Links) or (Welcome) or (JMDM 2015) or (Quick See Directory) or (Time Works).