Tag: time

Which Hand is the Big Hand?

“Clock with one hand” by Rick Payette is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


I don’t know about you, but when I was learning how to tell time, it didn’t help me to be told about the big hand and the little hand. I didn’t know what they meant. When they said the big hand was on the 10 and the little hand was on the 2, did they mean it was ten after ten, or ten to two? (Let’s not even talk about the fact that they weren’t really “on” those numbers anyway, merely close to them.) Was the big hand the long one or the wide one? Was the little hand the short one or the thin one? This wasn’t helped by the fact that, on the kitchen clock in our home, the total size of the hour hand and the minute hand appeared to be roughly the same. That is, the short, wide one and the long, narrow one appeared to cover the same area, making them the same size. Now I really didn’t know what to think.

I’m still glad I learned on an analog clock, though. The shape of it and the positions of the hands lent themselves to concrete visualizations of the time of day and where in the hour one was. I think it had a strong effect on the form taken by my temporo-spatial synesthesia, as I explain in that post. There may have been some confusion in the beginning, but it worked out in the end.

When I was teaching my son how to tell time, though, I made sure to refer to the hands as “long” and “short,” to save him the confusion.

rjb

Entropy


It seems you can’t talk about entropy without mentioning the second law of thermodynamics. That law states that the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time. This creates the asymmetry between the past and the future, the irreversibility of natural processes and the arrow of time. It is entropy that ensures that, on the macroscopic scale, time can only pass in one direction — from a state of lower entropy to one of higher entropy.

This is often simplified to define entropy as the increase in disorder with time. This is particularly favored by creationists who latch onto their own simplified version of the second law to convince themselves that evolution is impossible. Their version of the second law, usually stated something like, “Disorder increases over time,” assures them that a supernatural power is required to support life and evolution. Coupled with their mistaken belief that evolution is a force for directed improvement, this explains some of the crazy things they say.

Can you see where they went wrong in appealing to the second law? That’s right. They left out the part about where it applies to an isolated system. An open system, such as the Earth, can receive energy from an outside source, like the sun. Under those conditions the total entropy on Earth can certainly decrease, but only because the total entropy of the Earth-sun system is increasing as the sun dissipates its energy. Their other mistake is to misinterpret “can never decrease” as “always increases.” This whole process of misunderstanding and misinterpreting and misusing the second law is unironically a very good demonstration of entropy, which can never decrease in a closed mind.

The reason entropy is linked to thermodynamics is that it started out as a description of waste heat or energy loss in steam engines and other mechanical devices. Such things are never 100% efficient at turning energy into work, and the people working on the problem needed a term for their bookkeeping. It was only later as we understood more about the physics underlying thermodynamics that other definitions, such as “disorder,” evolved. It also applies to the dispersal of concentrated energy, and even the dispersal of particles.

Another way to define entropy is as the amount of energy (usually thermal energy) in a closed system that is unavailable to do work. You can have a lot of energy in a closed system — a boiler, for instance — but if the energy is evenly distributed throughout the system, then there’s no way you can get it to do work within the closed system. Therefore it has high entropy. The only way to get work out of it is to pair it up with an external system that is at a different energy level, and then tap into the energy that is transferred between them as they seek equilibrium.

Here is one more way to think of entropy. When a system is in a configuration that has few ways for its parts to be arranged, it has low entropy. A configuration that has many possible arrangements has high entropy. So a glass of water that has an ice cube in it has lower entropy than the glass of water after the ice cube has melted. In the first, all the coldest water is in the ice cube — fewer ways to do that, lower entropy. In the second, all the water is evenly distributed at the same temperature — more ways to do that, higher entropy.

So, entropy is inexorably increasing in the universe overall. It can decrease locally under the right conditions, but only at the expense of a greater increase elsewhere. It doesn’t prevent evolution, which actually depends on increasing entropy. It is entropy that tells us which way time flows — from low to high.

rjb

Temporo-Spatial Synesthesia

Carol Steen / American Synesthesia Association

Synesthesia of the Day – Temporo-Spatial Synesthesia

Temporo-Spatial Synesthesia, also known as Time-Space Synesthesia, mixes the senses of space and time. People with this form of synesthesia see time as having a visible form. When thinking about the year, they might see it as a circle wrapped around them. A week or a month might be a sequence of rectangles laid out in a consistent pattern. A day is often a circle. Whatever form it takes for them, it does so consistently. For some, in addition to the shape, different parts can have different colors.

Credit Dankonikolic – CC-BY-SA – tap for larger

For as long as I can remember my year has been egg-shaped, with the pointy end centered on the last week in December and the broad end comprising the summer, particularly July and August. I know that makes the oval asymmetrical, with the spring side being longer than the autumn side, but that’s my egg. Depending on where I am looking in the year, I might see the months stretching out ahead and curving to the right, or behind and curving to the left. The winter end is darker and the summer lighter. The spring side is greener and bluer, while autumn is yellower and redder. There are many more details that show themselves under closer looking, and everything looks different depending on where on the year I am. I did not know that this was a form of synesthesia. If I had thought about it, I would have assumed that it was the same for everyone. Neither of these images looks like my year.

My months are graduated segments of the track of my year. My weeks are straight pieces with humps for the weekends. They can be parts of a month, or they can be isolated. My days are two twelve hour circles, bright or dark depending on the time. It seems obvious that these shapes are the result of how time was depicted in the culture I grew up in. I’m glad I grew up with analog clocks.-)

Here are a couple of links. This one is by a woman who tells a story clearly and well. This one is for people who like and understand phrases like projector-associator distinction and visual salience.

Does your year have a shape?

rjb

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