Clocks and the Linearity of Time

Is time linear? Or is that only how we perceive it to be?

What if all time was happening all at once? This is one of the main ideas explored in Slaughterhouse-Five, and something that I found particularly intriguing.

If you were to Google Image search the word “time”, a bunch of clocks would show up.

The first picture to show up when you Google Image search “time”

Because we can’t really see time, can we? And so, man invented the clock. We trust clocks in telling us what time it is. But what happens when they run out of batteries? What happens when Daylight Savings comes? What happens when you’re straddling the border between two time zones? The clocks are no longer telling truth. If they stop, that does not mean time itself has stopped. We could program them to say any time we want. My point is, clocks are not time. And, if the Tralfamadorians are correct, and all time is happening at once, they would be both right and incredibly wrong at the same time.

“As an Earthling, I had to believe whatever clocks said” (20)

I think we all believe what clocks tell us because everyone else in the entire world is also believing what the clocks say. If one person decided suddenly that they would no longer listen to clocks, how would they live with the rest of society, who is obsessed with following the constraints that time puts on us. But isn’t it strange to have made these devices to quantify something we can’t even see? No matter how close we look, even if we get down to the subatomic level of things, we can never see time. So how is it we came up with the idea that it’s always going forward?

Recently, I was on a plane, traveling across the ocean when I pulled out my phone to check the time. Now, of course, seeing as I was in the middle of the Pacific, the time of Hong Kong wouldn’t be accurate. As I watched the numbers on my screen, something about the notion of time zones hit me. Though I’d always joked about time traveling whenever I crossed time zones, I now wonder: how can time be linear if even now we are able to jump forwards and backwards simply by changing time zones, essentially “time traveling”. And if I’m able to jump back and forth, would that make time non-linear?


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