Wow, that big orange ball sure is high in the sky. So we’re taking a minor sabbatical, leaving you with a touch of physics we posted at our friend Jason Moriber’s Sundayed blog. It makes perfect sense, if you just look around.
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Many summers ago when I was a child hiking through the fields of Vermont because my parents were poor, there were no scheduled soccer matches or movie play dates or flat-panel TVs yet we owned four acres of gold and green and hiking outside was just what you did, I started down a winding, prickle-filled path that was no more than a dirt thread surrounded by shrubs when — zooooooooom — a bee went by.
How that bee flew. If you’ve heard of the term beeline, it really exists — a tiny yellow rocket flare firing in perfect direction like nature’s arrow on a string, headed to or from a hive or clover. Bees, you see, are amazing workers. They communicate with each other; one bee will leave the group, head out, find pollen, and upon its return signal the direction to the find in relation to the sun’s angle overhead by swooping in a figure-eight. (The idea that other creatures don’t talk to each other is an arrogant human misconception, but that’s another story altogether.) Signal received, other bees zoom out in straight lines to the new treasure. For a human, like us, it’s hard to understand how creatures so little can move so fast. For me, boy at the time, blue sky overhead and sun beating through the pines, I wondered how that bee could see where it was going.
So now I propose a radical theory, blindingly obvious once you grasp it. The perception of time is a function of size.
What do I mean? If you were a small bee, your flight would appear to be much slower. Your wings would be flapping like a bird’s, not vibrating at an impossible cadence. You’d see straight ahead and have time to make minor adjustments, say, avoiding a tree or a giant boy looming up to the clouds, not the millisecond reflexes an observer at our human scale would assume. And the high-pitch of your buzzing would be a deep, melodious throb. To you, small bee, you’re simply conducting a paced, leisurely daily commute to work.
Want more? Let’s scale out, farther, wider, for another example from nature. The whale song. To humans, the communication of a whale seems low, throbbing, impossibly slow, giant waves of auditory deepness floating lazily within the ocean. The signal travels vast distances, scores of miles to other whales, for reasons that we don’t grasp. The giants of our mammal race also appear to swim burdened by gravity, turning their direction in minutes not seconds, slowly waving tails, even exhibiting a time-delay flop when they leap from the ocean. But whales, if you lived at their scale, likely move as fast as bees — quickly rising, falling, sharing news in a melody that we tiny humans are too little to understand.
For whales, time moves quicker than we observe. For bees, time moves slow.
Scale out even further — look, say, at the Earth orbiting the Sun. It takes oh so long, 365 and .26 days, for the pole of our planet to edge back to the same angle against our closest star. But for Mother Earth, the motion may be swift — the swing a quick day’s arc, the pulse of oceans and tectonic plate shifts a visible feeling, the dust of tiny creatures such as bees and humans and whales on its surface as minor and unnoticed as the viruses that crawl inside our human blood or the mites that live upon our pillows. The Earth, you see, has its own perception of time tied to its scale.
Later, long after that sunshine-summer hike when I moved to college to learn about independence and life’s inconsequence, I sat in a chemistry class trying to fathom atoms — obscure subatomic particles such as electrons and protons and neutrons and, deeper in, quarks with bizarre names such as Strange and Charm, moving so quickly their position could not be determined by ginormous human observers. Maybe, for these atomic creatures I thought, they are swinging off to a morning’s task like a bee, sharing throbbing stories like a whale, completing a workaday circle like the Earth around the Sun, being watched by God-like creatures called humans that reach to the heavens.
I was larger in college, much larger than a child. And for some reason, time started to move fast.