A Biologist’s Look at Time

In re-public, Richard Dawkins on time:

For poets, time is anything but an illusion. They hear its wingèd chariot hurrying near; they aspire to leave footprints on the sands of it; wish there was more of it – to stand and stare ; invite it to put up its caravan, just for one day. Proverbs declare procrastination to be the thief of it; or they compute, with improbable precision, the ratio of stitches saved in it. Archaeologists excavate rose-red cities half as old it. Pub landlords announce it gentlemen please . We waste it, spend it, eke it out, squander it, kill it.

Long before there were clocks or calendars, we – indeed all animals and plants – measured out our lives by the cycles of astronomy. By the wheeling of those great clocks in the sky: the rotation of the earth on its axis, the rotation of the earth around the sun, and the rotation of the moon around the earth.

By the way, it’s surprising how many people think the earth is closer to the sun in summer than in winter. If this were really so, Australians would have their winter at the same time as ours. A glaring example of such Northern Hemisphere Chauvinism was the science fiction story in which a group of space travellers, far out in some distant star system, waxed nostalgic for the home planet: “Just to think that it’s spring back on Earth!”