Time is a Relative Phenomena

One of the peculiar attributes of human beings is our ability to think about time. We have a perhaps unique awareness of time passing that is based on our ability to remember events that happened before the present and to anticipate events that will happen later. Consequently, we have a clear concept of both the future and the past.

Furthermore, we divide time up into intervals, from short intervals such as a second or less, through moderate intervals of minutes and hours, up to longer intervals of days, weeks, months, years, and longer. A strange phenomena that accompanies our ever evolving perception of time intervals is that the older we get, the shorter a given time interval seems to us. This is because our perception of time is based on comparison of any given duration against the total time that we have been alive.

I recently spent some time thinking about what it would be like if we could perceive time at a radically different scale, for instance at the scale of billionths of a second or nanoseconds as they are called. That is the approximate duration of operations that occur in the central processing unit of a computer.

I was writing a science fiction story in which one of the characters merges their mind with that of a computer. It occurred to me that one of the communication barriers to be overcome between artificially intelligent entities and humans would be one of their vastly different perception of time. As a consequence, large portions of the story that happen inside the machine take place in the blink of an eye on the human scale.

I have always had an intuition that artificial intelligence would not be created by programmers writing programs that were intended to behave in intelligent ways but rather would emerge as a federation of systems that were composed of parts that were programmed by people. Perhaps this has already happened but these artificially intelligent entities perceive time on such a vastly different scale that they are unable to imagine life at any other scale.

Imagine if you will that Sequoias were intelligent beings that perceived time on the scale of years. Would we be able to fathom their intelligence? Or even more extreme, imagine that stars are intelligent creatures that perceive time on a scale of millennia. How would we communicate with them?

The world is a strange place. The more you think about it, the more you realize that it is even stranger than you can possibly imagine. That is not to suggest that you shouldn’t try. On the contrary, stretch your imagination at every opportunity. It is what makes mankind great.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.