Posts Tagged ‘time’

Time equals money is a truism. It is true in the sense that both concepts are simply agreements between people in relation to something else. In the case of time it is an agreement between people about clocks or other cyclic mechanisms and usually in relation to synchronizing activities. In the case of money it is the agreement of credit and debts as representations of trustworthiness. The day, minute, hour, and second are merely efficient conventions we use to compress information about synchronizing our activities in relation to other things. Dollars, cents, bitcoins and notes are all conventions we use to liquidate and exchange trust.

In fact, there’s nothing in human existence that isn’t in this same class of concepts like time and money other than food, water, shelter, sleep and reproduction. All of our cultural conventions and social constructs are, at the root, based upon the need to survive. All of our social existence is derived from a value association network built up to help us obtain the basic necessities of our personal survival. This value association network can become quite complicated and certainly extends beyond our own individual lifespan and influence. We have traditions, works of literature and art, history, religion, politics and so on all due to an extremely complex evolution of learned associative and genetic strategies for survival of our individual genes.

The goal in this essay is not to reduce everything we experience to survival of genes and suggest anthropology, social sciences, psychology and so forth aren’t worth investigation. The various complex systems investigated in all these disciplines exist and emerge as stand alone things to study and figure out. Because politics and economies and social networks actually do exist we must study them and understand their effects and causes. Also we cannot effectively research all the way down from these emergent concepts to the fundamentals for a variety of reasons, not least of which is simply computational irreducibility.

Computation irreducibility, the principal (unproven), suggests the best we are going to be able to do to understand EVERYTHING is just to keep computing and observing. Everything is unfolding in front of us and it’s “ahead” of us in ways that aren’t compressible. This suggests, to me, that our best source of figuring things out is to CREATE. Let things evolve and because we created them we understand exactly what went into them and after we’re dead we will have machines we made that can also understand what went into them.

In a sense there’s only so much behavior (evolution of information) we can observe with the current resources available to us. We need to set forth new creations that evolve in our lifetimes (genetic and computational lifetimes). Let us see if cultures and social structures and politics and money evolve from our creations!

However, until that’s more feasible than it is now we have history and anthropology and sociology….. and yet! While new patterns emerge at various levels of reduction often these emergent patterns will share common abstract structures and behavior. For example, the Fibonacci sequences shows up in a variety of levels of abstract patterns. Another example is that of fractal behavior in economic markets, in the growth of trees and obviously within various computational systems. It is this remarkable phenomenon that leads to my forthcoming hypothesis.

The fundamental aspect of existence is information.

Bits. Bits interacting with bits to form, deform and reform patterns. These patterns able to interpret, reinterpret and replicate. These patterns can be interpreted as networks. Networks, described by bits, made of bits, able to understand streams of bits.

[for understandable examples of this in everyday life think of your computer you’re reading this on. It is made of atoms (bits) and materials like silicon (bits of bits) fashioned into chips and memory banks (a network of bits of bits that process and store bits) that understand programs (bits about other bits) and interact with humans (who type bits from their own networked being [fingers, brains, eyes…]).]

Information has no end and no beginning. It doesn’t need a physical substrate, as in a particular substrate. It becomes the substrate. It substantiates all substrates. Anything and everything that exists follows the structures of pure information and pure computation – our physical world is simply a subset of this pure abstraction.

These high level – or what we call high level – phenomenon like social networks and politics and economies all are phenomena of information and information processing. The theories of Claude Shannon, Kurt Godel, Church, Turing, Chatin, Mandelbrot, Wolfram and so on all show signs that at all levels of “how things work” there is a fundamental information-theoretic basis.

A strange thing is happening nowadays. Well, strange to many who grew up working the land and manipulating the world directly with their own hands… The majority of “advanced” societies are going digital. Digital refers to very clearly not the stuff taken directly from the ground on the earth ( I don’t mean digital in the sense of digital vs. analog… continuous vs. discrete). The economies are 90%+ digital, the majority of the most valuable companies don’t produce physical products, the politics are digital, the dominant mode of communication and social interaction is digital and so forth. It’s almost impossible at this point to think our existence will end up as anything but informatic. But it’s a bit misleading to think we’re moving away from one mode into another. The fact is it’s ALL INFORMATION and we’re just arguing about the representation in physical form of that information.

So what does any of the last set of paragraphs have to do with the opening? Well, everything. Time and money are simply exchanges of information. We will find traces of their basic ideas (synchronization and “trust”) in all sorts of complex information exchanges. Time and money are compressions of information that allow us finite, yet universal computers to do things mostly within our computational lifetime. Time and money are NOT fundamental objects in existence. They are emergent abstractions, that will emerge EVERYTIME sufficiently complex information structures start interacting and assuredly develop associative value networks.

Are they real? Sure.

Should we obsess over them? It all depends on what you, as an information packet, learn to value. If you basic means of survival as the information packet you are depends on the various associations they provide, then yes. If not, then no. Or perhaps very differently than you deal with them today.

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The PGA tour sets to fine Tiger Woods for his comments about officials rushing Harrington’s play at the latest tournament.

The PGA wants to suppress this type of behavior:

Section VI-D in the PGA Tour’s player handbook says, “It is an obligation of membership to refrain from comments to the news media that unreasonably attack or disparage tournaments, sponsors, fellow members, players, or PGA Tour.”

The officials correctly put Woods and Harrington on the clock, they were way behind the other groups.  No issue there.  Woods complains, doesn’t exactly attack or disparage anyone.  Not really a big issue.  However, the PGA wants to make sure that the #1 golfer in the world (money, fame, skill) doesn’t get to bend the rules.  Again, not really an issue.  The issue is… you can’t punish Tiger Woods with a FINE.  He’s one of the richest guys on the planet.  The fine won’t bother him.  And, instead of punishing the bending of the “obligation of membership”, the PGA is likely reinforcing speaking out because the price is now set.  A fine. whoopee.  If speaking out gets a player a few extra minutes on the final day in the last holes, isn’t a fine worth it?  Speaking out against an official is pretty powerful and likely would cause an official to think twice before issuing the speed it up command.

What the PGA Tour should do is… nothing… and continue to speed up play.  Make sure that Tiger Woods is always running on time.  Review is last 50 tournaments to see whether he constantly lags.  You have to condition Tiger Woods and the others to speed up play.  the PGA Tour would then find, low and behold, they won’t complain publicly.  My suspicion is that Tiger Woods is usually slower than the normal pace and is usually allowed to take whatever pace he wants.  (I recall that there have been rumblings of his slow play before without official speed ups).  Thus, why would Tiger Woods respond well to a speed up request in this in-between-majors tournament?

We’ll see how this plays out.

For the record, I still think Harrington would have lost anyway.

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Here are all the compilations from the major news sources for your viewing, reading, commenting pleasure.

What is your favorite moment from 2008?

What was left out of these reviews?

TechCrunch Gadgets of the Year

Time’s Person of the Year

CNN’s year in review

Time’s inventions of the year

Time’s best websites of the year

Time’s Top 10 Everything in 2008

Time’s Top 10 Viral Videos

Yahoo’s Year in Review

Google’s 2008 Zeitgeist

Scientific American Top 10 Science Stories

MSN Entertainment Year in Review

People’s Best of 2008

National Geographics Top 10 News Stories of 2008

VH1’s Best Year Ever

New York Times Best Books of 2008

Rolling Stone’s Albums of The Year

Intel Corps Press Release of 2008 Highlights

NPR Music Year in Review

NPR Best Books of 2008

SI’s Sports Photos of the Year

[I need to find the various sports year in review as well as more music and entertainment.  Ok, fine more politics too…]

More to come as I comb through them.

They are heavily weighted towards the end of the year and they don’t all include the SHOE THROWING?!  Goodness.

I also notice that Hurricane IKE and the like 19 storms that blew through Cuba couldn’t compete with Obama, Mumbai, Earthquakes, Britney Spears and LHC.  Now that’s what helluva a news year when Houston gets blown off the map and we can’t even remember if that was this year or last year.

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Funny timing.  Yesterday I wrote about our use of time cliches.  This morning I finally opened my latest issue of Scientific American.  Yup, there’s a lead article about the asymmetry of time (runs only forward).  It asks this question:

“The basic laws of physics work equally well forward or backward in time, yet we perceive time to move in one direction only—toward the future. Why?”

I’ve childishly puzzled over the philosophy of time since I was 12.  None of the popular science nor most of technical books provide a decent explanation or answer to the above.  You can find a huge amount of philosophy, math and physics that circle the question but never answer it.  Why not?

Just like the cliches in my post yesterday, we lack the language.  Time, as we experience and talk about it, moves only in one direction – forward – because time is relationship, a measurement of rate of change.  It’s a lot like counting.  No one ever asks why we can’t uncount.  Counting goes in one direction, even if you are counting negative numbers.  The number of counts always goes up. e.g. 1, 2, 3,4 = 4 counting events just as -1,-2,-3,-4 or 4,3,2,1 = 4 counting events.  Measuring time is the same thing.  Ticks.  Even if you went “back in time” you’d still have ticks.  That said, I think most people wonder why we can’t “undo” things.  Why can’t I undo events in my life, unbreak the egg, unswirl the coffee – pick your metaphor.  Even if you put it in complicated math and physics terms you never really get around to “going back in time”.  You can return systems to previous states (likely not completely, but very close to initial states), but in doing so you’ll still have ticks that mark the transition to those previous states.  Those ticks of time aren’t anything more than observational markers.

Ok.  You still want to know why we remember the past but not the future?  Again, another language trick. To remember the future all we need is to experience it.  As soon as we experience it we’ll be able to remember it.  Can we predict the future?  No.  And really we can’t “predict” the past (which is really what we do when we “remember”) like we try to do in anthropology, history, physics, etc.  We can only model based on the accuracy of our data.  We happen to have more data about the past so our “predictions” about what it must of been like with those set of conditions is slightly more accurate than what it will be like under conditions we’ve not yet observed.  (try remembering when you were four.  it’s probably about as accurate as what you think you’ll be at 84)

Sorry folks, there’s no shortcut and their may not even be a philosophical or physical paradox.  Our limitations are related to language and metaphors.  

I’m not suggesting I’ve unraveled the mystery of time or solved quantum physical problems.  My claim is much more straightforward – the language and imagery gets in the way of what’s really going on.

Go back to the question at the top.  It answers itself, in a sense.  If the physical laws work “in either direction of time” and yet we perceive it going forward only.  Our perceptions are a collection of observational ticks (we are always counting/adding to the number of observations, behaviors, memories, predictions, thoughts… go back to my point about time flies when you are having fun.  The more you observe the more time (speed and volume) seems to pass.)

For those that want the good ol’ entropy discussion, read the SCIAM article. 

This logic even works when talking spacetime and all that.

Again, it bears repeating, we have to be careful with the language.  Time is a baggage word.  


p.s. just for fun…

What about time travel?  Is it possible? No.  It basically asks can I reobserve/reexperience the same events or events I haven’t yet experienced.  Doesn’t really make any sense.  People get clever and suppose that it can happen and ask, “What if I met myself?”  It wouldn’t matter.  

You are different now than when you read this post.  Your entire atomic structure is different.  Why would it matter if you existing twice in one “instance of time” when you are never really you from one observational tick to the next?   You can’t be duplicated in spacetime in exactly the same conditions and you certainly can’t be observed in exactly the same way in the same configuration.

Let me bring it home.  Often people say well I can move backwards and forward in space, but not in time.  That’s not really true of space either.  Whether you move 1 meter forward or backwards the arrow of space was still going forward to 1 meter, a tick of distance.  

“yeah, but I can return to a point in space! and I can’t return to a point in time!”

a) no you can’t go back to the exact point in space but I digress (points in space are relative to other points in space…)

b) time is the measure, in most use, of rate of change.  It, too, is relative like space.

c) I have to think about framing this as a “closed system” question where we fix the frame of reference.  Oddly enough, that’s not how we exist in the real universe.  Nothing exists only in one frame of reference.

Time to go.

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This morning laying in bed I was thinking about time, as I often do. 

In common language, we talk about time as something unto itself.  Time marches on, time flies, where has all the time gone…  We all know what we mean when we say and hear those cliches, however, “time” does not really fit.  Time is a measurement for the rate of change (rotation of the earth, orbit around the sun, oscillation of crystals, atom energy transitions).  

The official SI definition of a second (SI considers this the “base unit” of time): “The second is the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom.”

So basically it’s the rate of change of energy levels of the cesium atom.  I leave it as an exercise to the reader to go figure out why SI uses cesium 133 and what SI means with “hyperfine levels.”

If we substitute this definition in to common time cliches the cliches lose their power.  Cesium Atoms transition a lot without you noticing when you are having fun. (Time flies when you’re having fun.)  Where have all the cesium atom energy transitions gone.  Yes, this is tongue in cheek.

The point is TIME is not what we’re talking about when we drop a time cliche in conversation.  We’re talking about behavior.  When you’re having fun, you typically have a huge amount of behavior and adrenaline.  You’re rate of behavior and the reinforcements come fast and furiously.  When you have a glut of stimulus to process, your rate of change (… time …) typically is higher than in less “fun” situations.  [Fun, as a concept, deserves a whole write up unto itself].  When you lament the passage of time, you actually lament the missed behavior, the non-change, and/or the changes you didn’t notice.

In some sense the more change you experience, the more change you notice, the less you’ll sense missing time and the more time will fly (the less you habituate to the routine of life).  Nothing profound here, just a reflection on a day of memory, relaxation, and family/friends.

Resources you might enjoy:

Philosophy of time:


SI Units


Fundamental Units


World Line



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