Time and Age: Time Machines, Relativity and Fossils

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  8. Key Features: There are a number of books on time but usually dealing with specific aspects — its measurement, psychological aspects or relativistic treatments. This book is unique in the range of material it covers The material is presented in a way that is accessible to a wide range of readers. Mathematical treatments of some material is present, such as when dealing with dating using radioactivity, but for non-specialists the essential outcome of the mathematics is described verbally The material is presented in the form of an historical narrative so that the development of ideas is presented.

    Thus there is a steady progression of the techniques of measuring time, from measuring the outflow of water from a container to the most advanced atomic clocks.

    Time And Age: Time Machines, Relativity And Fossils

    For example, note from the middle box that both our fossil fuels, and our metazoan species diversity, were built up during the half-billion years of earth history leading up to the present. Even though microbes did a lot of inventing too e. For example, when else have we seen the development not once, but multiple times, of wings, legs, webs, eyes, air-breathing apparatus, mechanisms to inherit function as well as structure including object-oriented programming , and long-range communication tools including backbones?

    In fact, we've yet to find evidence for a period of energetic innovation like this anywhere else. T he time scales on these "billion-year clocks" are still quite long compared to times that individual humans experience.

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    Zooming in even further yields the "million-year calendar" series below A lot of interesting discovery went on in the time periods explored by these more detailed expansions of scale, which might for example anthropocentrically be called the ages of primates , controlled-fire , and human-community. These times were likely central, for example, to the development of human languages, and concepts of self. The time-increments are still long compared to the length of recorded history, let alone in comparison to one lifetime.


    Nonetheless, these times are "a blink of a blink of a blink" compared to the half-billion year age of plants and animals, which I'd like to think has not run out of surprises yet. H ave you noticed yet how changes in climate and modes of communication often correlate with fundamental developments of other sorts?

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    These trends continue with this final set of telescoping boxes, which cartoonify what might be called the ages of food-production , circumnavigation , and planet-think. Also note from the middle box that, following the invention of combustion engines, we are burning through our half-billion year's reservoir of fossil fuels in well under a millionth of the time it took to build it up.

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    Let's summarize future concerns like this, working out from the last box: In the next few decades we face the possibility of some global warming, caused by the rapid burning of this sequestered carbon. Also within a century the most easily-available energy and reduced carbon from those reservoirs will be gone. A recent article by William F. Ruddiman, in the March Sci Am pages , discusses evidence that our activity may also exacerbate the transition we face hundreds of years from now, when the current inter-glacial period ends and "Ice Age 2C" makes a belated return.

    Regardless, at that point it might not hurt to be ready for another 80, year stretch of serious glaciation, like that from development of our partnership with man's best friend followed by many three-dog nights to the emergence of food production in the fertile crescent at the onset of the current interglacial. A ssuming we make it through that next glaciation, we'll be looking at a sun that's warming up, and a planet that is slowly taking carbon out of the cycle that keeps life going on earth.

    Hence when this current ice age ends, it may be one of the last that our planet experiences. I'm tempted to call this a "back burner" problem, at least unless nature at some point decides to tell us that the present ice age ended early. A more current issue is our prospect for designing nanostructures able to positively impact new star systems , distributable by a combination of radiation pressure and galactic mixing time scale around 0.

    Terrestrial studies of presolar grains show that the process works in reverse, although outward distribution efficiencies remain to be examined.

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    Results of such work will only manifest themselves long after those who do it are gone, but hopefully while the age of plants and animals on earth is still underway. A ccording to Ward and Brownlee, we can also look forward to another super continent in a few hundred million years, after which the depletion of CO2 available for plants may well send Earth back into the 2nd "age of microbes".

    That's still a few billion years before runaway H2O greenhouse processes send our oceans into space, and leave us with mostly hot rock to hang out on while the sun works its way into a highly luminescent red giant phase before moving into possible short-lived e. Much has been happening fast, but it's not clear that our ability to work together over the long haul has been getting better.

    For example the world wide web, allowing almost anyone anywhere on the planet to make an idea like this available to everyone else within seconds, has not been around for very long.