Temporal Measures are Like Currency (Standards for Experienced Duration 3)

Previous: Time and Tide
Previous: The Windowsill Clock

The man is bemused by this exchange. His colleague makes some tea and sits by the window. Looking out at her ‘clock’ (or, he thinks, exactly not a clock).

“How about this” she says, after some while (or other). “Let’s define a new unit of time. A unit to which we can neutrally refer. It refers to what an hour, second, etc. refers to, but can be linked to any standard. The tide, a dripping tap, experience, etc.”

“For standard time — that measured by a clock — it might be a second, minute, hour, day; whatever you like.

But for any other standard or means of measurement, it needn’t correspond to a clock hour, second, etc.”

The man grunts. “And what will we call it?”

She scratches her ear. “I don’t know….a moment, perhaps? That seems neutral enough.”

He grunts again. “That’s very general. It could mean anything. A second, a millisecond, a year, even, given the scale.”

She dips her head to the side (like the sea did).

“That’s right. Or, at least, it is empty. It denotes a unit of time without any specification of what defines that unit. It’s like units of currency defined without talking about pennies, pounds, kroner, cents.

But here’s the thing: that’s good. We shouldn’t be judging time measured by the tide as accurate or inaccurate according to the clock. They are completely different processes. It is ridiculous to do so, even if they coincide occasionally.

You wish to hold on to the terminology of ‘hours’, etc.. Any use of these terms implies evaluation with respect to a clock. It is always an Hour O’Clock, never an Hour O’Something else. So we need a new set of alternatives for other measures of time.

First,  some neutral terms referring to any unit of any measurement of time. Without the presupposition that we mean clock time — or tidal time, or even experienced time.

Second, for each measure, specific terms if we like. We might do it by qualifying the neutral term, e.g., it is X Moments O’Tide. For the particularly common measures, we might use condensed terms, or even familiar terms. Obviously, for the standard time of human society, we use ‘seconds’, ‘minutes’, ‘hours’.

So, now I say it takes ….4000 tidal moments for the event to happen and there is no problem with the clock — at least, initially.

Two last things.

First, like currency, these measures can be translated into one another. But they aren’t required to stay in fixed translations. Say a moment of tide matches a GMT hour on one occasion and not on another. This is not a reason to reject either the tide’s measure or GMT. It’s not evidence of error on either side. It’s evidence of a complex relationship between them.

— It’s like the relationship between the kroner and the yen.

— It’s not like the relationship between a good dancer and a bad dancer. Or a bad painting and a good painting.

Second, I might give a rough answer to a question about how much time has passed in clock time. But what I’m doing is basing it on a guess as to how tidal time translates to clock time. It’s like if you asked me ‘How much does an umbrella cost?’ in Kroner. I have no idea; but in my home country, in Japan, I know: I look at one for sale in the local shop window.

If you insist ‘tell me in Kroner‘, I can try an answer, of course. But I’m not looking in the shop window at the price. I’m guessing based on all sorts of half-rules and -remembered bits about the two currencies relationship.

If you used my answer as a base to judge that I don’t know how much an umbrella costs at all, or am under an illusion of its price, I think it’s fair to say you have gone wrong in your thinking, not me. Sure — I get the wrong ‘kroner’ answer — but I don’t have any information about the kroner answer, except the half-stuff I have about its relationship to the yen.

It shouldn’t surprise you, then that when you ask me, in clock time, ‘how long does it take to walk to the beach?’, if I say an hour, I can be quite off. But I am not deviating or misjudging the clock time duration. I am guessing the clock time duration based on a measurement of tidal duration. There is a complicated relationship here between two measures:

i. One which I am using to measure time.

ii. The other in terms of which you are asking me to answer.”

“That is a lot of work?” said the man.

“Yes, it’s complicated. Doesn’t make it false.”

(Now it’s time for a pint).

/////

On the experience of time:

(1) Illusions are instances of inaccurate experiences (or non-veridical or false experiences).

(2) A typical judgement of experiences of duration is based on matching clock time with experienced time, e.g., a clock-read hour matches an experienced half-hour (if you’re having fun, by all accounts).*

*Strictly speaking, it involves matching clock time with a reported experience of time. But assume for the moment that the reported experience accurately captures the experience.

(3) If you look at the literature on time distortions, illusions of duration (I’ll be very interested in any exceptions to this), you get this idea:

An illusion (or distorted experience) of duration is classed this way because the experienced duration (e.g., the half hour) does not match the clock duration (e.g., the hour).

(4) Like the tide, we aren’t using the same thing to judge the time. We are perhaps measuring something in our experience of time, e.g., such as a succession of emotional/introspective/physiological states. The relationship between that and clock time is, as with the tide, like the relationship between currencies. It’s complex.

(5) This complexity is not a sign of an inaccurate measurement under a common system on the part of either clock or experience. It is a sign of two different measurement systems.

To judge an illusion of duration with standard clock time, then, we need to do the following:

(6) Have a correct system for translating measures in terms of clock time to measures in terms of what is being used in experience,

(7) Whatever value we get in standard clock time, use the system in ‘6’ to translate it into the measure of experienced time.

(8) This value in experienced time is, at the very least, the better candidate for judging the reported experience of time.

I think, actually, that the idea of even judging in the last point, in ‘8’, is more complicated than that. But I leave it here for now.

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