Monday, October 7, 2013

Round about time . . .

Here's a question for you  . . . what dominates our lives and forms the very structure of our history?

Yes, I know, it's not a difficult question . . . the answer, as you've guessed, is 'time'.

But when it comes to the deeper question of what is time, may I share the findings of a fascinating article in 'Animal Behaviour'.  They don't provide an answer, but they certainly make the question even more intriguingly complex.

Did you know, I didn't, that time is governed by the size of the creature concerned?
For smaller animals, so this article tells us, time passes in slow motion.  For insects that means very slow motion.  According to one of the contributors,  Kevin Healy of Trinity College, Dublin, 'the ability to perceive time on very small scales may be the difference between life and death for fast-moving organisms such as predators and their prey'.

If you think about this for a moment, it makes perfect sense.  It means that a mouse in the jungle, living, as it does, in a much slower time cycle than that, say, of an elephant, has an abundance of time in which to stretch itself, consider its options, and then saunter out of the way before a herd of elephants comes trampling through the undergrowth.

It also explains the difficulty we have in swatting flies . . . given its reduced time scale, a fly has ample time in which to note the approaching threat and make a speedy departure.
'Flies,' writes Graeme Ruxton of St. Andrews, Scotland, 'might not be deep thinkers, but they can make good decisions very quickly'.

Sitting in the garden yesterday, this article came to mind.
It was a lovely afternoon, the sun was shining and Chloe and I were enjoying ourselves . . . it was far too good to return indoors.
Instead, scuffing our way through the fallen leaves and conkers, we settled on a seat under a large chestnut tree.  I relaxed and Chloe paid casual attention to a large fly resting on a nearby leaf.

It struck me, sitting there, basking in the autumn sunshine, that not only do time scales differ according to the size of the organism, but the time scale for each of our lives is equally variable.

Fifteen minutes of my life had slipped away pleasantly, sitting there under the tree . . . for Chloe, intent on the fly, it had been the equivalent of a few hours . . . for the fly, it had amounted to at least a month . . . whereas for the chestnut tree that shaded us, a tree that had witnessed centuries of change below its outspread branches, my fifteen minutes could be translated into no more than a few seconds of the time it would spend rooted to this earth.

As for the conkers on the ground, they held time in potential.  A potential which, if they ended up crunched beneath our feet, would never be realised.

We were all there together, all appreciating the garden in our different ways . . . but each of us inhabiting a totally different time scale.

So . . . what is time?
The only certainty is that it would take vastly different time scales for the tree, the fly, the conkers, Chloe or me to consider that question.

Mind you, that article has been of definite help to Chloe.

Each morning, as I prepare her breakfast, she waits, hungry and hopeful, beside me.  What I hadn't appreciated is, that by a cat's time scale, this preparation takes not a matter of speedy seconds, but of interminable, anxious, hours.

I'm sorry, Chloe, I'll try to be quicker tomorrow . . . I promise . . .