It seems to me that we talk about the passage of time in terms of what time seems like on our planet.  If you even consider the way we measure intergalactic distances, it’s based on how far light travels in one earth-year.  There is certain evidence to point to the fact that earthlings’ biological understandings of things that are taken to be absolute are based entirely around the environment in which they live.  For example, the first time that anthropologists brought people who had spent their entire lives in the jungles of Africa out to the open plains, they couldn’t understand that the very small specks on the horizon were, in fact, very far away rather than just very small.  If you are unaccustomed to distance, perceiving distance doesn’t make any sense.

What if, for the sake of argument, we have a kid who gets raised on a space ship, on its way to a nearby galaxy.  Because the kid is growing up in an environment essentially without the passage of time, and assuming the vessel doesn’t have the capabilities to “fake” the passage of time by simulating sunrise and sunset, would the kid have the same intuition of time passing that a similar kid raised on earth would?  Granted, I think sending someone on a really long mission to another galaxy without cryogenically preserving him or her might be a little mean, and barring that, it would probably be pretty mean to not simulate sunrise and sunset (I think I would probably work myself to death, or alternatively, sleep all the time).  But let’s think about this kid for a second.

She is not used to the 24-hour day that we have here on earth.  Returning to earth after growing up in an environment where it is light all the time — or at least light or dark on cue — might really fuck with her head.  I assume that she would have some inkling about the passage of time because she still perceives change in her environment — she will undoubtedly be checking her onboard computers to see how far she has yet to go — I don’t know that she really has the capacity to understand change in terms of a rate, or change in position per unit of time.  She might have an onboard clock that describes time like it passes on earth.  But would that really mean anything to her?

All of Ned Markosian’s talk about intuiting the passage of time seems weird to me, because I would argue that I don’t perceive the passage of time, at least not regularly, or like other people seem to perceive the passage of time.  Rates of change don’t make a lot of sense to me.  In fact I didn’t learn how to read a clock until I was in fifth grade because it didn’t make any sense to me.  Specifically, it didn’t make sense that there was such a thing as time.  Let me tell you, this made my life pretty hard.  But something about time didn’t make sense to me.  Maybe it is just the way that we measure time that didn’t make sense.

But I kind of wonder if for some reason my brain works like the kid who was raised on a space ship.  What if I simply do not perceive time the way that other people do?  And by that I mean, I do not perceive it passing in the way that we are usually taught it does.  So, it doesn’t make sense for me to measure it the way that others do.  I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this, but doesn’t it kind of seem like our measures of time are a little bit…limited?  Even our intuition about time seems constrained by the fact that we have always lived on earth where the sun appears to move across the sky at regular, measurable intervals.  Just because we perceive something doesn’t mean that it is so.

I’m still going to try and work this out a little more thoroughly.  If anybody has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

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