Time and Space

Yesterday I decided to watch a documovie – (is that the word?) of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. I loved all that moon-shot stuff when I was a kid but caught myself also wondering why was there so many movies and news items and fuss for what must be the events 40th anniversary this month. But then it hit me… it was actually coming up to the 50th year and was quite obviously something that would be celebrated because it was all but certain that I, like almost everyone else who witnessed those grainy live TV images of Neil Armstrong taking his ‘One small step for a man – one giant leap for mankind’ onto the surface of the moon on the 20th of July 1969, would be long dead by the time of its 100 anniversary.

History in HD
Credit to unsplash.com

I have to admit it disturbed me a little and not for the first time it got me wondering about the worrying speed of time passing.

We live in a society that celebrates and caters so much more for youth. They are the next marketing opportunity of course, so our social and mainstream media seems almost obsessed with a message along the lines of ‘Youth is good – getting older is not so good’. Still who amongst us freely embraces the inevitable onrush of old age? I certainly don’t and even pride myself about being in touch with what younger people like and get up to, although that is to a certain extent a delusion… How many times have you had a chat with someone much younger than you, perhaps one of your kids or maybe even one of your grand kids and thought – yes I may be getting on a bit but I am still in touch with popular culture because I can name at least one music group that they are into at the moment… We tell ourselves we still got it. Yet a moment later you mention someone from your youth – say the Beatles, Led Zeppelin or someone like Jimi Hendrix and they just give you a vacant stare. “but you must have at least heard of them?” you ask your 11 year old granddaughter almost pleadingly but in vain. Then you even suspect that she is kidding you… but they are not.

Imagine someone asked you at her age if you had heard of ‘O Solo Mio’ by Enrico Curuso or perhaps ‘Yes we have no Banana’s’ by Billy Jones or say his later hit ‘Me and my Shadow’? No…? then what about something more recent like ‘Sonny Boy’ by Al Jolson? Believe it or not that is how distant the songs of your youth may now sound to them. What about TV – a friend of mine’s young son just laughed nervously when I once mentioned TV used to be in black and white or that people were allowed to smoke in cinemas, on aeroplanes or upstairs on double-decker busses. Perhaps in another 40 or 50 years time the youth will be equally sceptical then astonished that the American public – despite knowing he often lied to them several times a day – once voted for a self obsessed sociopath like Donald Trump… Or that the people in the UK – who had watched our broken parliamentary system get nowhere near a decision on Brexit – the most ruinous act of self harm since the second world war – were now forced to watch impotently as a cartoon clown of a man called Boris Johnston, who has threatened to push through Brexit at any cost – was installed as a Conservative prime minister by less than 0.25% of the voting population.

March of time
Credit to Jon Tyson @unsplash.com

When we were kids summer holidays did seem to last forever, and the wait between birthdays and Christmases often felt like an eternity. But now we are older, time just seems to flash by, with months, seasons and entire years just disappearing when it only seemed like a few weeks ago we were singing auld-lang-syne at a New Year party? This feeling of acceleration of time isn’t particularly because we fill our older lives with more responsibilities, events or worries. Research actually does seem to show that perceived time moves much quicker for older people which in itself makes us feel much more busy as it rushes by. Why does this happen? There are many theories of course but one idea is that our slowing metabolism – a feature of getting older, when our hearts beat slower and we breathe less often – also gradually alters our internal biological clock. A child’s biological clock beats much more quickly so they experience more heartbeats, breaths etc. than us in a fixed period of time, which makes it feel like more time has passed for them than for us.

Most people tend to perceive a period of time against the proportion of time they have already lived through. So for a four year old, a year is a quarter of the life they have already lived, which might explain why it feels like a very long period of time waiting between birthdays at that age. To a ten-year-old, a year is only 10 per cent of their life so that wait isn’t quite so bad and for a 20-year-old a year is only 5 per cent of their life when using the same scale. Therefore, in order for a 20-year-old to experience the same proportional increase of life lived like that of a four year-old waiting between birthdays, they would have to wait until they turned 25 to celebrate their own birthday. So it is perhaps unsurprising that time does appear to go faster as we grow older.

Young and old
Credit to unsplash.com

Another idea is that the passage of time we perceive is directly related to the amount of new information we absorb; information that will eventually become continuous automatic processes. Like riding a bike or learning a new skill. With lots of new stimuli our brains take longer to process such information so that period of time initially feels longer. Perhaps when faced with these new challenges our brains record richer and much more detailed memories, so detailed our recollection of the experience is that it felt much slower than it actually was. However, the more familiar we become with our surroundings and our perpetual tasks or the details of our homes, workplace and the jobs we do the less we seem to notice these day-to-day experiences of life. So indeed time can seem to run faster as we age. this is probably why when people have had head injuries or enter the mid to later stages of dementia that those richer and more detailed memories from our younger days are much easier to recall. For many they seem as if they are living a second childhood with the richer memories they relate and even some of their learnt behaviours.

For children our world is often an unfamiliar place full of new experiences to deal with. So as they grow children end up having to dedicate much more of their brain power to re-configuring their ideas of the outside world. This can therefore create the illusion that time is running much more slowly for them than for adults with established routines. One explanation for the biochemical mechanism underpinning this theory is that new and interesting experiences help promote the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is known to not only help us learn to measure time but also to perceive its passing as being a little slower than when dopamine levels are low. As a consequence, once our natural reserves of dopamine begin to decline in our early 20’s it has the gradual affect that time begins to feel like it is passing ever more faster.

Who really knows with any certainty why life and time appear to gather such a pace with every passing year. Although I suspect, just like the tourist rocket flights to the planets and beyond we were all promised by the end of the 20th century after witnessing the moon landings, our understanding of the why this happens will remain an illusion for quite a lot longer than we expect.


Five huge Embarrassments from History

Theresa May and the UK Conservative party continue to make my country and most of its citizens deeply embarrassed by their conduct over the negotiation of Brexit. It is now increasingly being described as a Catastrophe or even a Catastofuck which helps us visualise a situation where the word catastrophe just isn’t enough. An example is #brexitcatastrofuck, which seems to get a bit closer to the disaster the UK currently faces. Then again ‘Disaster’ doesn’t quite capture the nation’s current sense of betrayal because of gross incompetence. They said we would ”take back control” whereas in reality Prime Minister Theresa May was locked out of a room full of other EU leaders as they decided the future of the UK with just a week to go until Brexit day. What a total and utter embarrassment for our once great nation.

TMay Art Piece
Photo by muffinn

Believe it or not there have been bigger and more embarrassing catastrofuck’s with bigger repercussions in the past. So in no particular order here’s a list of 5 big embarrassments from history. Although Brexit could yet make a dash for the top spot because the torturous process continues of course… as if anyone could ever forget.

Number 1 Decca Records turn down the Beatles

On New Year’s Eve 1961, the Beatles drove in a snowstorm from Liverpool to London. The next day, they cranked out about 15 tracks at Decca Studios, which were a mixture of the rock, R&B, rocked-up standards and originals they played. However, Dick Rowe, the A&R man trying out the group, was unimpressed and famously told manager Brian Epstein that “guitar groups are on their way out.” Five months later, the Beatles signed with George Martin at Parlophone, an offshoot of EMI, which led to the most successful artist-producer collaboration in history.

To a lesser extent the 12 book companies who passed on J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series collectively had to live with a similar sense of embarrassment at their lost opportunity

Number 2 Leaving a back door open in Constantinople.

After successfully crossing the Bosphorus from Asia to Europe in 1453 Sultan Mehmet II of the Ottoman Turks turned his attention to the ultimate prize in Byzantium: Constantinople, then one of the most heavily fortified cities in the world. But after a 50 day siege the city was defended by less than 10,000 men. The Turks had between 100,000 and 150,000 men on their side and used huge cannon to destroy the walls and warships were used to the cut the city’s sea defence.

Attack after attack had been successfully repulsed by the Byzantine Christian army. Then one May morning at 1:00 a.m. The Turks attacked the weakest point in the walls but the Byzantines were once again ready for them as they entered the city and by dawn had massacred much of the attacking army. After this initial disaster was called off a few of the retreating soldiers said they had noticed one of the small seaward doors to the city had been left unlocked and unguarded in the chaos. Mehmet immediately launched an attack and managed to secure the gate before pushing through and finally taking his prize and claiming the great city of Constantinople, once the centre of the holy roman empire, for Islam and renaming it Istanbul.

Number 3 Russia sells Alaska to America for 2 cents an Acre

In 1867 the Czar, who feared that Britain would seize Alaska after it defeated Russia in the Crimean war, offered the vast territory of mountains and tundra to America. Many politicians called it a waste of money as Alaska’s main use until then had been a dwindling supply of otter and beaver pelts that fed the fur trade.

Old map of Alaska
Photo by U.S. Army Alaska (USARAK)

Many called president Andrew Johnson an idiot after signing the treaty with Russia that purchased Alaska for 2 cents an acre ($7 million) on March 30. But little did Russia know, they were giving up countless future gold mines and other natural resources hidden in the tundra.

Number 2 In 1788, the Austrian army went to war… against itself.

Another time when the Ottoman army got really lucky was in 1788. The Austrians were fighting the Ottoman Empire and locked in a battle for the Danube River. A 30,000-strong-force had set up camp near the village of Karansebes and sent out a group of scouts across the river, to look for signs of the Ottoman soldiers. They didn’t find any enemies but did manage to find a band of gypsies. Gypsies loaded with a lot of alcohol.

As the scouts enjoyed the effects of their newly purchased beverages, some more soldiers from the army crossed the river and upon hearing the merry making, decided to invite themselves to the party. However, when the scouts refused to share, a heated argument broke out until one of the soldiers fired a shot and some idiot shouted that the Turks had arrived. Most soldiers fled the scene but others grabbed their guns and began firing. The confusion was so exacerbated by the fact that the Austrian army consisted of Serbs, Croats, Poles and Austrians who couldn’t understand each other that very soon a full scale battle was underway.

When the Turks finally did arrive a few days later expecting a battle, they were shocked to discover that Karansebes was completely unoccupied, but for 10,000 dead or wounded Austrian soldiers from what must surely be the biggest ‘friendly fire’ incident in history.

Number 5 The Election of Donald Trump

Unlike the previous 4 events this is a story that is still as hot and relevant as the Brexit debacle. Trump clearly the choice of America’s biggest adversary was put there through Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. As a classic narcissist and racist Trump, to the delight of Putin has gone on to reap havoc with the world order and not in a good way. He has used his position to not only enrich himself and his friends and family and perhaps even tipping them off about his erratic and unpredictable trade decisions in advance so they might take stock positions. Trump has also skewed America’s tax system far in favour of the wealthiest 1% to the determent of the poor and needy.

Putin an Trump doors
Photo by IoSonoUnaFotoCamera

While most of the above comes down to personal enrichment it is his vandalism in other areas of international affairs that is causing much more damage to the very health and sustainability of the planet. George W Bush famously denied global warming after he came to power nearly 20 years ago so he could line the pockets of his buddies in the fossil fuel sectors like oil, gas and coal. He got away with it then because the science wasn’t quite as robust in showing that unchecked global warming threatens the future of every species on this planet. And yet Trump was still allowed to unilaterally pull out of the hard won Paris accord on Climate change with virtually no objection from Republican lawmakers.

Then he withdrew from the Iran Nuclear deal which made the middle east a safer place. Only last week his lapdog of a Secretary of State Mike Pompeo come out with the deranged statement that ‘God sent Trump to save Israel’(presumably from Iran?). I could list other incidents where Trump, who is caught in a lie almost every day has wrecked treaties and accords simply because he felt like it or in a churlish and childish wish to overturn the many achievements of his much more stable and honest predecessor Barack Obama. However, the worst thing that has happened is it may have herald in the classic dystopian future for all of us.

The dystopian future
Photo by Revan Jinn

We have all seen it in the movies where government soldiers chase an endless insurgency from the last proponents of liberty and freedom living in the wreck of destroyed towns and cities. With governments always controlled by some nutter President whose personal business interests rather than the welfare and happiness of the country’s citizens take priority .

If the American people don’t act to prevent it in future Trump’s main legacy will have been to throw the door wide open to allow any corporation or even bad foreign actor with enough money and a willingness to lie and cheat to make their puppet of a candidate become the most powerful and dangerous person in the world.