4. A windy day!

“Time is nature’s way of preventing everything from happening all at once.”

1. Today it was windy enough to blow a sailor off your sister. For a fair bit of the time Mr B’s grasshoppers had their eyes shut because of all the dust flying about. There was a fair bit of bulldust flying about too.

Mirko wasn’t there and Steve Maxwell’s ankle is still playing up . Ray was so hidden no one knew he was about.

Mr B first had a whinge about how there was little point in him trying to promote Speakers’ Corner, and when he finally moved on he explained that he had found a new date for Australia Day. Stealing from the ABC’s Radio Nationalhe asked the question: “Who was the first Australian to circumnavigate Australia?”

Matthew Flinders is not the correct answer. (Flinders was British.)

The correct answer: an indigenous man named Bungaree. He travelled with Flinders and together they circumnavigated the continent and discovered that it was the one continent. Bungaree was invaluable with his mediation skills every time they had to go ashore and meet the inhabitants. And, Flinders coined the term ‘Australia’. Therefore, establishing Australia’s dimensions (and therefore existence) was a joint effort, and we can commemorate that.

(Unless of course the Aborigines had already sussed that out, but we won’t go into that.)

So, on what day did Flinders and Bungaree complete their journey by returning to Sydney Cove?

June 9th, 1803.

Naturally, we can’t have Australia Day on that day because it’s too bloody cold. So, pick any old date in the warmer months. We don’t have to be precise because we celebrate the birthdays of the Queen and Jesus not on their actual birthdays.

Problem solved. Let’s make it the last Monday in February.

Flinders’ cat, Trim. Terrorist.

2. What is time? How fast does it flow?Or pass? Does it flow or pass at all? When you’re in a car crash (or something) does time seem to slow down? Psychologists used to think that the brain speeded up and processed things faster, distorting our perception of time. A study was done (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, vol 364, page 1841). Volunteers were given a device with a flickering numeral that flickered too quickly for them to read. Each volunteer was thrown off a building, and while they fell they had to try to read the flickering numeral. If in their fear their brain processed information more quickly, they should be able to read the flickering numeral.

The slow motion effect kicked in – the vounteers thought the fall lasted for more than 3 seconds, rather than the actual time of 2.5 seconds – but still they could not discern the numeral. Therefore, the scientists concluded that the slow motion effect is a trick of memory. As one scientist posited, “An intense experience, with heightened fear or excitement, rivets our attention and evokes the firing of many neurons acrosss the brain, causing us to soak up more sensory details. . . . Your brain is on fire when you’re dropping. You lay down denser memory. So you think, “Gee, that took a long time.”

That was part of a talk Mr B gave on the topic of Time.

3. Still on the subject of time,Bill drove his car one day and the trees and buildings by the road began to speed by, as if he were driving at 300kmph. He slowed, but the cityscape continued to whizz by. He had to stop his car.

The world had not accelerated. He had slowed down. He walked and talked in slow motion. When his doctor asked him to count 60 seconds in his head, he took 280 seconds to do so. They found a tumour in his brain’s frontal cortex.

That was just one example of how time can flow, or pass, or be perceived, very differently. Imagine if we all had ‘tumours’ like that (or differently developed brains). Then for all of us a minute (as we feel it now) would take 280 seconds, not 60. Tiime would still pass at the same rate for us, but things in the world would move far more quickly. Flowers would open like we see them in time-lapse photography. We wouldn’t be able to keep up with the world and that perception of time would disable us.

What if a minute felt like only 3 seconds to us? Then the world around us would appear to be in slow motion. Days would be very long, and flowers would take ‘forever’ to open. With our faster reaction time would we injure our bodies more often, because our bodies would still be subject to the same laws of physics? Would we again be disabled?

Presumably then, our brain evolved to create ‘time’ at the most optimal rate that benefits our species. If that’s the case, then other creatures would process time differently to best benefit them. Swifts and tortoises might experience a minute very differently to each other.

What does that say about time?

Then Mr B talked about atomic clocks. The latest is so accurate it loses only a half a second in 14 billion years. Along with Einsten’s theory of general relativitiy, atomic clocks prove that time isn’t always subjective.

So again: what is time? How fast does if flow, if it even flows at all?

There is only one thing for sure. Time catches up with all of us.

4. Sadly, in his talkMr B said something wrong, ruining a significant ‘always right’ streak. When trying to work out what ‘the present’ is, Mr B said it can’t include any of our past, and it can’t include any of our future, so therefore it could be no amount of time, because if it were an amount of time it could be divided into yet a smaller period of time, which meant there still could be a past and a future. He referred to the Planck constant, as though it were no time. However, Uncle Pete and Helmut pointed out that the Planck constant is indeed a period of time. It is, in quantum mechanics, the time required for light to travel a distance of 1 Planck length (about 1020times the diameter of a proton) in a vacuum, which is a time interval of approximately 5.39116 X 10 44 of a second.

Dozens of Planck units elapsed in the time it took you to read that last paragraph.

That prompts many questions of course, one being: is that length of time ‘the present’? If not, what is the present? How long is it? And what creates the present?

5. Throughout the topic,Helmut was keen to express his views about time. So, when Mr B concluded his talk he let Helmut take the Ladder of Knowledge to respond. Your scribe was soon surprised to discover that Sir Isaac Newton, a well-known ignoramus, was heavily involved in our misunderstanding of time. Who would have thought?

Later on, Helmut kindly gave the podium to a passer-by who wanted to speak. His name is Trent Crawford and he has the ability to summon UFOs with telepathy. The young man spoke for some time, but your scribe didn’t hear what he had to say. I foolishly accompanied Mr B to his car.

Trent. Telepathic UFO summoning.

When the Vacuum Oil box Trent was standing on was retrieved, Trent chose a less orthodox way to make use of the podium. Steve Maxwell, take note. This method would suit you.

7. In our Unusual Critter Serieswe feature the plant-hopper nymph, who loves Uncle Pete’s rants.