2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Physics

Sunrise shown in time lapse. The motions of Sun and Moon have demonstrated and symbolized time throughout humanity's existence.
Sunrise shown in time lapse.
The motions of Sun and Moon have demonstrated and symbolized time throughout humanity's existence.
The flow of sand in an hourglass can be used to keep track of elapsed time. It also concretely represents the present as being  between the past and the future.
The flow of sand in an hourglass can be used to keep track of elapsed time. It also concretely represents the present as being between the past and the future.

Time is a basic component of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify the motions of objects. Time has been a major subject of religion, philosophy, and science, but defining time in a non-controversial manner applicable to all fields of study has consistently eluded the greatest scholars.

In physics and other sciences, time is considered one of the few fundamental quantities. Time is used to define other quantites – such as velocity – and defining time in terms of such quantities would result in circularity of definition. An operational definition of time, wherein one says that observing a certain number of repetitions of one or another standard cyclical event (such as the passage of a free-swinging pendulum) constitutes one standard unit such as the second, has a high utility value in the conduct of both advanced experiments and everyday affairs of life. The operational definition leaves aside the question whether there is something called time, apart from the counting activity just mentioned, that flows and that can be measured. Investigations of a single continuum called space-time brings the nature of time into association with related questions into the nature of space, questions that have their roots in the works of early students of natural philosophy.

Among philosophers, there are two distinct viewpoints on time. One view is that time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe, a dimension in which events occur in sequence. Sir Isaac Newton subscribed to this realist view, and hence it is sometimes referred to as Newtonian time. The opposing view is that time does not refer to any kind of "container" that events and objects "move through", nor to any entity that "flows", but that it is instead part of a fundamental intellectual structure (together with space and number) within which humans sequence and compare events. This second view, in the tradition of Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, holds that time is not itself some thing and therefore is not to be measured.

Temporal measurement has occupied scientists and technologists, and was a prime motivation in astronomy. Periodic events and periodic motion have long served as standards for units of time. Examples include the apparent motion of the sun across the sky, the phases of the moon, the swing of a pendulum, and the beat of a heart. Currently, the international unit of time, the second, is defined as a certain number of hyperfine transitions in caesium atoms (see below). Time is also of significant social importance, having economic value (" time is money") as well as personal value, due to an awareness of the limited time in each day and in human lifespans.

Temporal measurement

Temporal measurement, or chronometry, takes two distinct period forms. The calendar, a mathematical abstraction for calculating extensive periods of time, and the clock, a concrete mechanism that counts the ongoing passage of time. In day-to-day life, the clock is consulted for periods less than a day, the calendar, for periods longer than a day.

History of the calendar

Artifacts from the Palaeolithic suggest that the moon was used to calculate time as early as 12,000, and possibly even 30,000 BP.

The Sumerian civilization of approximately 2000 BC introduced the sexagesimal system based on the number 60. 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour – and possibly a calendar with 360 (60x6) days in a year (with a few more days added on). Twelve also features prominently, with roughly 12 hours of day and 12 of night, and 12 months in a year (with 12 being 1/5 of 60).

The reforms of Julius Caesar in 45 BC put the Roman world on a solar calendar. This Julian calendar was faulty in that its intercalation still allowed the astronomical solstices and equinoxes to advance against it by about 11 minutes per year. Pope Gregory XIII introduced a correction in 1582; the Gregorian calendar was only slowly adopted by different nations over a period of centuries, but is today the one in most common use around the world.

History of time measurement devices

Horizontal sundial in Taganrog (1833)
Horizontal sundial in Taganrog (1833)

A large variety of devices have been invented to measure time. The study of these devices is called horology.

An Egyptian device dating to c.1500 BC, similar in shape to a bent T-square, measured the passage of time from the shadow cast by its crossbar on a non-linear rule. The T was oriented eastward in the mornings. At noon, the device was turned around so that it could cast its shadow in the evening direction.

A sundial uses a gnomon to cast a shadow on a set of markings which were calibrated to the hour. The position of the shadow marked the hour in local time.

The most accurate timekeeping devices of the ancient world were the waterclock or clepsydra, one of which was found in the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep I (1525–1504 BC). They could be used to measure the hours even at night, but required manual timekeeping to replenish the flow of water. The Greeks and Chaldeans regularly maintained timekeeping records as an essential part of their astronomical observations. Arab engineers in particular made improvements on the use of waterclocks up to the Middle Ages.

A contemporary quartz watch
A contemporary quartz watch

The hourglass uses the flow of sand to measure the flow of time. They were used in navigation. Ferdinand Magellan used 18 glasses on each ship for his circumnavigation of the globe (1522).

Incense sticks and candles were, and are, commonly used to measure time in temples and churches across the globe. Waterclocks, and later, mechanical clocks, were used to mark the events of the abbeys and monasteries of the Middle Ages. Richard of Wallingford (1292–1336), abbot of St. Alban's abbey, famously built a mechanical clock as an astronomical orrery about 1330.

The English word clock probably comes from the Middle Dutch word "klocke" which is in turn derived from the mediaeval Latin word "clocca", which is ultimately derived from Celtic, and is cognate with French, Latin, and German words that mean bell. The passage of the hours at sea were marked by bells, and denoted the time (see ship's bells). The hours were marked by bells in the abbeys as well as at sea.

A chip-scale atomic clock
A chip-scale atomic clock

Clocks can range from watches, to more exotic varieties such as the Clock of the Long Now. They can be driven by a variety of means, including gravity, springs, and various forms of electrical power, and regulated by a variety of means such as a pendulum.

A chronometer is a portable timekeeper that meets certain precision standards. Initially, the term was used to refer to the marine chronometer, a timepiece used to determine longitude by means of celestial navigation. More recently, the term has also been applied to the chronometer watch, a wristwatch that meets precision standards set by the Swiss agency COSC.

The most accurate timekeeping devices are atomic clocks, which are accurate to seconds in many millions of years, and are used to calibrate other clocks and timekeeping instruments. Atomic clocks use the spin property of atoms as their basis, and since 1967, the International System of Measurements bases its unit of time, the second, on the properties of caesium atoms. SI defines the second as 9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation which corresponds to the transition between two electron spin energy levels of the ground state of the 133Cs atom.

Today, the Global Positioning System in coordination with the Network Time Protocol can be used to synchronize timekeeping systems across the globe.

Definitions and standards

Common units of time
Unit Size Notes
nanosecond 0.000 000 001 seconds
microsecond 0.000 001 seconds
millisecond 0.001 seconds
second SI base unit
minute 60 seconds
hour 60 minutes
day 24 hours
week 7 days
fortnight 14 days 2 weeks
month 28 to 31 days
quarter 3 months
year 12 months
common year 365 days 52 weeks + 1 day
leap year 366 days 52 weeks + 2 days
tropical year 365.24219 days average
Gregorian year 365.2425 days average
Olympiad 4 year cycle
lustrum 5 years
decade 10 years
Indiction 15 year cycle
score 20 years
generation 20 - 30 years approximate
century 100 years
millennium 1,000 years

The SI base unit for time is the SI second. From the second, larger units such as the minute, hour and day are defined, though they are "non-SI" units because they do not use the decimal system, and also because of the occasional need for a leap-second. They are, however, officially accepted for use with the International System. There are no fixed ratios between seconds and months or years as months and years have significant variations in length.

The official SI definition of the second is as follows:

The second is the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom.

At its 1997 meeting, the CIPM affirmed that this definition refers to a caesium atom in its ground state at a temperature of 0 K. Previous to 1967, the second was defined as:

the fraction 1/31,556,925.9747 of the tropical year for 1900 January 0 at 12 hours ephemeris time.

The current definition of the second, coupled with the current definition of the metre, is based on the special theory of relativity, which affirms our space-time to be a Minkowski space.

World time

The measurement of time is so critical to the functioning of modern societies that it is coordinated at an international level. The basis for scientific time is a continuous count of seconds based on atomic clocks around the world, known as the International Atomic Time (TAI). This is the yardstick for other time scales, including Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is the basis for civil time.

Earth is split up into a number of time zones. Most time zones are exactly one hour apart, and by convention compute their local time as an offset from UTC or Greenwich Mean Time. In many locations these offsets vary twice yearly due to daylight saving time transitions.

Sidereal time

Sidereal time is the measurement of time relative to a distant star (instead of solar time that is relative to the sun). It is used in astronomy to predict when a star will be overhead. Due to the rotation of the earth around the sun a sidereal day is slightly less than a solar day.


Another form of time measurement consists of studying the past. Events in the past can be ordered in a sequence (creating a chronology), and be put into chronological groups ( periodization). One of the most important systems of periodization is geologic time, which is a system of periodizing the events that shaped the Earth and its life. Chronology, periodization, and interpretation of the past are together known as the study of history.

Allegorical woodcut of Time, who "revealeth all things", guiding his daughter Truth away from the demon of Hypocrisy. John Byddell, 1535.
Allegorical woodcut of Time, who "revealeth all things", guiding his daughter Truth away from the demon of Hypocrisy. John Byddell, 1535.

Time in religion and mythology

Many ancient Greek philosophers, including Parmedides and Heraclitus, wrote essays on the nature of time. One analogy compared the time of life to the passing of sand through an hourglass (a common measuring device for time in the past). The sand at the top is associated with the future, and, one tiny grain at a time, the future flows through the present into the past (associated with the sandpile at the bottom of hourglass). The past: ever expanding, the future: ever decreasing, but the future grains become amassed into the past through the present.

The earliest recorded philosophy of time was expounded by Ptahhotep, who lived c. 2650–2600 BC. He said: "Do not lessen the time of following desire, for the wasting of time is an abomination to the spirit."

In the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes, thought to have been written by Solomon (970–928 BC), time (as the Hebrew word עדן, זמן `iddan(time) zĕman(season) is often translated) was traditionally regarded as a medium for the passage of predestined events. (Another word, זמן zman, was current as meaning time fit for an event, and is used as the modern Hebrew equivalent to the English word "time".)

Hindu units of time shown logarithmically
Hindu units of time shown logarithmically

There is an appointed time (zman) for everything. And there is a time (’êth) for every event under heaven–
A time (’êth) to give birth, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to tear down, and a time to build up.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search, and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep, and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together; A time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate; A time for war, and a time for peace. – Ecclesiastes 3:1–8

Linear and cyclical time

In general, the Judaeo-Christian concept, based on the Bible, is that time is linear, with a beginning, the act of creation by God. The Christian view assumes also an end, the eschaton, expected to happen when Christ returns to earth in the Second Coming to judge the living and the dead. This will be the consummation of the world and time. St Augustine's City of God was the first developed application of this concept to world history. The Christian view is that God is uncreated and eternal so that He and the supernatural world are outside time and exist in eternity.

Ancient cultures such as Incan, Mayan, Hopi, and other Native American Tribes, plus the Babylonian, Ancient Greek, Hindu, Buddhist, Jainist, and others have a concept of a wheel of time, that regards time as cyclical and quantic consisting of repeating ages that happen to every being of the Universe between birth and extinction.

Time in philosophy

In Book 11 of St. Augustine's Confessions, he ruminates on the nature of time, asking, "What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not." He settles on time being defined more by what it is not than what it is.

Isaac Newton believed time and space form a container for events, which is as real as the objects it contains.

Absolute, true, and mathematical time, in and of itself and of its own nature, without reference to anything external, flows uniformly and by another name is called duration. Relative, apparent, and common time is any sensible and external measure (precise or imprecise) of duration by means of motion; such a measure – for example, an hour, a day, a month, a year – is commonly used instead of true time.


In contrast to Newton's belief in absolute space, and a precursor to Kantian time, Leibniz believed that time and space are relational. The differences between Leibniz's and Newton's interpretations came to a head in the famous Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence. Leibniz thought of time as a fundamental part of an abstract conceptual framework, together with space and number, within which we sequence events, quantify their duration, and compare the motions of objects. In this view, time does not refer to any kind of entity that "flows," that objects "move through," or that is a "container" for events.

Immanuel Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, described time as an a priori intuition that allows us (together with the other a priori intuition, space) to comprehend sense experience. With Kant, neither space nor time are conceived as substances, but rather both are elements of a systematic mental framework necessarily structuring the experiences of any rational agent, or observing subject. Spatial measurements are used to quantify how far apart objects are, and temporal measurements are used to quantify how far apart events occur.

In Existentialism, time is considered fundamental to the question of being, in particular by the philosopher Martin Heidegger. See Ontology.

Henri Bergson believed that time was neither a real homogeneous medium nor a mental construct, but possesses what he referred to as Duration. Duration, in Bergson's view, was creativity and memory as an essential component of reality.

Time as "unreal"

In 5th century BC Greece, Antiphon the Sophist, in a fragment preserved from his chief work On Truth held that: "Time is not a reality (hypostasis), but a concept (noêma) or a measure (metron)." Parmenides went further, maintaining that time, motion, and change were illusions, leading to the paradoxes of his follower Zeno. Time as illusion is also a common theme in Buddhist thought, and some modern philosophers have carried on with this theme. J. M. E. McTaggart's 1908 The Unreality of Time, for example, argues that time is unreal (see also The flow of time).

However, these arguments often centre around what it means for something to be "real". Modern physicists generally consider time to be as "real" as space, though others such as Julian Barbour in his The End of Time argue that quantum equations of the universe take their true form when expressed in the timeless configuration spacerealm containing every possible "Now" or momentary configuration of the universe, which he terms 'platonia'. (See also: Eternalism (philosophy of time).)

Time in the physical sciences

From the age of Newton up until Einstein's profound reinterpretation of the physical concepts associated with time and space, time was considered to be "absolute" and to flow "equably" (to use the words of Newton) for all observers. The science of classical mechanics is based on this Newtonian idea of time.

Einstein, in his special theory of relativity, postulated the constancy and finiteness of the speed of light for all observers. He showed that this postulate, together with a reasonable definition for what it means for two events to be simultaneous, requires that distances appear compressed and time intervals appear lengthened for events associated with objects in motion relative to an inertial observer.

Einstein showed that if time and space is measured using electromagnetic phenomena (like light bouncing between mirrors) then due to the constancy of the speed of light, time and space become mathematically entangled together in a certain way (called Minkowski space) which in turn results in Lorentz transformation and in entanglement of all other important derivative physical quantities (like energy, momentum, mass, force, etc) in a certain 4-vectorial way (see special relativity for more details).

Time in classical mechanics

In classical mechanics Newton's concept of "relative, apparent, and common time" can be used in the formulation of a prescription for the synchronization of clocks. Events seen by two different observers in motion relative to each other produce a mathematical concept of time that works pretty well for describing the everyday phenomena of most people's experience.

Time in modern physics

In the late nineteenth century physicists encountered problems with the classical understanding of time, in connection with the behaviour of electricity and magnetism. Einstein resolved these problems by invoking a method of synchronizing clocks using the constant, finite speed of light as the maximum signal velocity. This led directly to the result that time appears to elapse at different rates relative to different observers in motion relative to one another.


Two-dimensional space depicted in three-dimensional spacetime. The past and future light cones are absolute, the "present" is a relative concept different for observers in relative motion.
Two-dimensional space depicted in three-dimensional spacetime. The past and future light cones are absolute, the "present" is a relative concept different for observers in relative motion.

Modern physics views the curvature of spacetime around an object as much a feature of that object as are its mass and volume.

Time has historically been closely related with space, the two together comprising spacetime in Einstein's special relativity and general relativity. According to these theories, the concept of time depends on the spatial reference frame of the observer, and the human perception as well as the measurement by instruments such as clocks are different for observers in relative motion. Even the temporal order of events can change, but the past and future are defined by the backward and forward light cones, which never change. The past is the set of events that can send light signals to the observer, the future the events to which the observer can send light signals. All else is non-observable and within that set of events the very time-order differs for different observers.

Time dilation

"Time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once". This quote, attributed variously to Einstein, John Archibald Wheeler, and Woody Allen, says that time is what separates cause and effect. Einstein showed that people traveling at different speeds, whilst agreeing on cause and effect, will measure different time separations between events and can even observe different chronological orderings between non-causally related events. Though these effects are minute unless one is traveling at a speed close to that of light, the effect becomes pronounced for objects moving at speeds approaching the speed of light. Many subatomic particles exist for only a fixed fraction of a second in a lab relatively at rest, but some that travel close to the speed of light can be measured to travel further and survive much longer than expected (a muon is one example). According to the special theory of relativity, in the high-speed particle's frame of reference, it exists, on the average, for a standard amount of time known as its mean lifetime, and the distance it travels in that time is zero, because its velocity is zero. Relative to a frame of reference at rest, time seems to "slow down" for the particle. Relative to the high-speed particle, distances seems to shorten. Even in Newtonian terms time may be considered the fourth dimension of motion; but Einstein showed how both temporal and spatial dimensions can be altered (or "warped") by high-speed motion.

Einstein (The Meaning of Relativity): "Two events taking place at the points A and B of a system K are simultaneous if they appear at the same instant when observed from the middle point, M, of the interval AB. Time is then defined as the ensemble of the indications of similar clocks, at rest relatively to K, which register the same simultaneously."

Einstein wrote in his book, Relativity, that simultaneity is also relative, i.e., two events that appear simultaneous to an observer in a particular inertial reference frame need not be judged as simultaneous by a second observer in a different inertial frame of reference.

Relativistic time versus Newtonian time

Views of spacetime along the world line of a rapidly accelerating observer in a Newtonian universe. The events ("dots") that pass the horizontal line are the events current to the observer.
Views of spacetime along the world line of a rapidly accelerating observer in a Newtonian universe. The events ("dots") that pass the horizontal line are the events current to the observer.
Views of spacetime along the world line of a rapidly accelerating observer in a relativistic universe. The events ("dots") that pass the two diagonal lines in the bottom half of the image (the past light cone of the observer in the origin) are the events visible to the observer.
Views of spacetime along the world line of a rapidly accelerating observer in a relativistic universe. The events ("dots") that pass the two diagonal lines in the bottom half of the image (the past light cone of the observer in the origin) are the events visible to the observer.

The animations on the left and the right visualise the different treatments of time in the Newtonian and the relativistic descriptions. At heart of these differences are the Galilean and Lorentz transformations applicable in the Newtonian and relativistic theories, respectively.

In both figures, the vertical direction indicates time. The horizontal direction indicates distance (only one spatial dimension is taken into account), and the thick dashed curve is the spacetime trajectory (" world line") of the observer. The small dots indicate specific (past and future) events in spacetime.

The slope of the world line (deviation from being vertical) gives the relative velocity to the observer. Note how in both pictures the view of spacetime changes when the observer accelerates.

In the Newtonian description these changes are such that time is absolute: the movements of the observer do not influence whether an event occurs in the 'now' (i.e. whether an event passes the horizontal line through the observer).

However, in the relativistic description the observability of events is absolute: the movements of the observer influences whether an event passes the light cone of the observer. Notice that with the change from a Newtonian to a relativistic description, the concept of absolute time is no longer applicable: events move up-and-down in the figure depending on the acceleration of the observer.

Arrow of time

Time appears to have a direction – the past lies behind, fixed and incommutable, while the future lies ahead and is not necessarily fixed. Yet the majority of the laws of physics don't provide this arrow of time. The exceptions include the thermodynamics">Second law of thermodynamics, which states that entropy must increase over time (see Entropy); the cosmology">cosmological arrow of time, which points away from the Big Bang, and the radiative arrow of time, caused by light only traveling forwards in time. In particle physics, there is also the weak arrow of time, from CPT symmetry, and also measurement in quantum mechanics (see Measurement in quantum mechanics).

Quantised time

Time quantization is a hypothetical concept. In the modern established physical theories (the Standard Model of Particles and Interactions and General Relativity) time is not quantized.

Planck time (~ 5.4 × 10−44 seconds) is the unit of time in the system of natural units known as Planck units. Current established physical theories are believed to fail at this time scale, and many physicists expect that the Planck time might be the smallest unit of time that could ever be measured, even in principle. Tentative physical theories that describe this time scale exist; see for instance loop quantum gravity.

Time and the Big Bang

Stephen Hawking in particular has addressed a connection between time and the Big Bang. He has sometimes stated that we may as well assume that time began with the Big Bang because trying to answer any question about what happened before the Big Bang is trying to answer a question that is meaningless as those events would have been part of a different time frame and different universe outside of the scope of the Big Bang theory.

Aristotelian philosopher Mortimer J. Adler, has criticized some expositions that Hawking has given stating that time didn't exist before the big bang.

Hawking, in A Brief History of Time and elsewhere, along with several other modern physicists, has stated his position more clearly and less controversially: that even if time did not begin with the Big Bang and there were another time frame before the Big Bang, no information from events then would be accessible to us, and nothing that happened then would have any effect upon the present time-frame.

Scientists have come to some agreement on descriptions of events that happened 10−35 seconds after the Big Bang, but generally agree that descriptions about what happened before one Planck time (5 × 10−44 seconds) after the Big Bang will likely remain pure speculation.

Speculative physics beyond the Big Bang

Image:CMB Timeline300.jpg
A graphical representation of the expansion of the universe with the inflationary epoch represented as the dramatic expansion of the metric seen on the left. Image from WMAP press release, 2006.

While the Big Bang model is well established in cosmology, it is likely to be refined in the future. Little is known about the earliest moments of the universe's history. The Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems require the existence of a singularity at the beginning of cosmic time. However, these theorems assume that general relativity is correct, but general relativity must break down before the universe reaches the Planck temperature, and a correct treatment of quantum gravity may avoid the singularity.

There may also be parts of the universe well beyond what can be observed in principle. If inflation occurred this is likely, for exponential expansion would push large regions of space beyond our observable horizon.

Some proposals, each of which entails untested hypotheses, are:

  • models including the Hartle-Hawking boundary condition in which the whole of space-time is finite; the Big Bang does represent the limit of time, but without the need for a singularity.
  • brane cosmology models in which inflation is due to the movement of branes in string theory; the pre-big bang model; the ekpyrotic model, in which the Big Bang is the result of a collision between branes; and the cyclic model, a variant of the ekpyrotic model in which collisions occur periodically.
  • chaotic inflation, in which inflation events start here and there in a random quantum-gravity foam, each leading to a bubble universe expanding from its own big bang.

Proposals in the last two categories see the Big Bang as an event in a much larger and older universe, or multiverse, and not the literal beginning.

Time travel

Time travel is the concept of moving backwards and/or forwards to different points in time, in a manner analogous to moving through space. Although time travel has been a plot device in fiction since the 19th century, and one-way travel into the future is arguably possible given the phenomenon of time dilation in the theory of relativity, it is currently unknown whether the laws of physics would allow time travel to the past. Any technological device, whether fictional or hypothetical, that is used to achieve time travel is known as a time machine.

A central problem with time travel to the past is the violation of causality; should an effect precede its cause, it would give rise to the possibility of temporal paradox. Some interpretations of time travel resolve this by accepting the possibility of travel between parallel realities or universes.

Perception of time

Time in psychology

Even in the presence of timepieces, different individuals may judge an identical length of time to be passing at different rates. Commonly, this is referred to as time seeming to "fly" (a period of time seeming to pass faster than possible) or time seeming to "drag" (a period of time seeming to pass slower than possible). The psychologist Jean Piaget called this form of time perception "lived time."

This common experience was used to familiarize the general public to the ideas presented by Einstein's theory of relativity in a 1930 cartoon by Sidney "George" Strube:

Man: Well, it's like this,—supposing I were to sit next to a pretty girl for half an hour it would seem like half a minute,—
Einstein: Braffo! You haf the idea!
Man: But if I were to sit on a hot stove for two seconds then it would seem like two hours.

A form of temporal illusion verifiable by experiment is the kappa effect, whereby time intervals between visual events are perceived as relatively longer or shorter depending on the relative spatial positions of the events. In other words: the perception of temporal intervals appears to be directly affected, in these cases, by the perception of spatial intervals.

Time also appears to pass more quickly as one gets older. Stephen Hawking suggests that the perception of time is a ratio: Unit of Time : Time Lived. For example, one hour to a six-month-old person would be approximately "1:4032", while one hour to a 40-year-old would be "1:349,440". Therefore an hour appears much longer to a young child than to an aged adult, even though the measure of time is equal.

Time in altered states of consciousness

Altered states of consciousness are sometimes characterized by a different estimation of time. Some psychoactive substances – such as entheogens – may also dramatically alter a person's temporal judgement. When viewed under the influence of such substances as LSD, psychedelic mushrooms and peyote, a clock may appear to be a strange reference point and a useless tool for measuring the passage of events as it does not correlate with the user's experience. At higher doses, time may appear to slow down, stop, speed up, go backwards and even seem out of sequence. A typical thought might be "I can't believe it's only 8 o'clock, but then again, what does 8 o'clock mean?" As the boundaries for experiencing time are removed, so is its relevance. Many users claim this unbounded timelessness feels like a glimpse into spiritual infinity. To imagine that one exists somewhere "outside" of time is one of the hallmark experiences of a psychedelic voyage. Marijuana, a milder psychedelic, may also distort the perception of time to a lesser degree.

The practice of meditation, central to all Buddhist traditions, takes as its goal the reflection of the mind back upon itself, thus altering the subjective experience of time; the so called, 'entering the now', or 'the moment'.


Culture is another variable contributing to the perception of time. Anthropologist Benjamin Lee Whorf reported after studying the Hopi cultures that: "… the Hopi language is seen to contain no words, grammatical forms, construction or expressions or that refer directly to what we call “time”, or to past, present, or future…" Whorf's assertion has been challenged and modified. Pinker debunks Whorf's claims about time in the Hopi language, pointing out that the anthropologist Malotki (1983) has found that the Hopi do have a concept of time very similar to that of other cultures; they have units of time, and a sophisticated calendar.

Use of time

In sociology and anthropology, time discipline is the general name given to social and economic rules, conventions, customs, and expectations governing the measurement of time, the social currency and awareness of time measurements, and people's expectations concerning the observance of these customs by others.

The use of time is an important issue in understanding human behaviour, education, and travel behaviour. Time use research is a developing field of study. The question concerns how time is allocated across a number of activities (such as time spent at home, at work, shopping, etc.). Time use changes with technology, as the television or the Internet created new opportunities to use time in different ways. However, some aspects of time use are relatively stable over long periods of time, such as the amount of time spent traveling to work, which despite major changes in transport, has been observed to be about 20-30 minutes one-way for a large number of cities over a long period of time. This has led to the disputed time budget hypothesis.

Time management is the organization of tasks or events by first estimating how much time a task will take to be completed, when it must be completed, and then adjusting events that would interfere with its completion so that completion is reached in the appropriate amount of time. Calendars and day planners are common examples of time management tools.

Arlie Russell Hochschild and Norbert Elias have written on the use of time from a sociological perspective.

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