What is time?

A sand glass for measuring time

What time is it? How often have you asked that question? Perhaps as you read this page you feel an urge to glance at your watch or look at the clock on the wall.

Why? Because man is deeply conscious of the passing of time, as if he is unable to live without some idea of it.

Every day most of us are governed by the clock. We sleep, rise, eat, work and entertain, not always when we feel like it, but when we are prompted by the hands of the clock.

And, curiously, when we look at a timepiece we may be less interested in what the time is than in knowing how much time we have left before this or that is to be done.

All living things seem to have an internal clock.

For example, many plants and animals have within them precise timing mechanisms for blooming and migrating, as the case may be.

Without our being aware of it, chemicals within us are released and bodily functions are regulated by the ticking of biological clocks.

Does this not bring to mind the proverbial saying, “For everything there is an appointed time”?

How would you explain what time is?

Some would say that time is a way of looking at things or that it is the distance between events. Therefore, if nothing ever happened there would be no time.

 Yet to define what time actually is becomes as baffling as explaining what universal space is. But certain aspects of time are known.

Facts About Time


We know how time moves—forward. It is one-directional. The past is gone, never to be repeated.

Our mistakes have left their imprint in the sands of time, as have our good deeds. We always live in the present and progress to the future, but we can never go backward and undo our mistakes.

 Hence, the value of our making good decisions in the present so that we can enjoy a better future rather than a regretful one.

We know how to measure time. In the distant past man was content to allow the sun, the moon and the stars to mark the passing of time.

 For many, when the sun rose in the morning it was time to work, and when the sun set in the evening it was time to sleep.

As society became more complex and mobile, man became more preoccupied with measuring time.

Through man’s ingenuity inventions for doing this streamed forth—the sundial, the burning of candles, the hourglass, the mechanical clock and, today, the atomic clock.

All of these serve as rulers for measuring an invisible stream called time. Due to man’s obsession with keeping precise time, many persons have spanned the gap between a task-oriented society to a time-oriented one.

But why does time seem to speed by on one occasion and drag on another? This is because time can be measured by events.

A period of inactivity appears longer than a period of activity, and the greater the interest we take in what we are doing the faster time seems to pass. If we are bored with a task, time appears too long in passing.

Did you ever have to sit and wait for someone? An empty hour spent that way seems endless—one event.

But suppose in that same hour you had to perform numerous successive tasks, such as preparing a meal for unexpected guests (peeling the potatoes, putting the roast in the oven, cooking the vegetables, setting the table, quickly dusting through the house and making yourself presentable for company)?

Then that hour would appear to fly by at supersonic speed, since there was a multitude of events to fill it up.

Our awareness of the past, present and future distinguishes us from animals. Animals live in a continual present, but humans, while living in the present, can draw on past experiences to anticipate future needs.

And as the years pass and we pile up more of life’s experiences, the faster time appears to pass us by.

Therefore, as we become older and painfully aware of our own mortality, we should become more thoughtful of life and how we live it.

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