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Unlocking The Secrets of Time

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Neurologist Oliver Sacks tells us about his fascination with time. As his soon-to-be-published essay in the New Yorker will tell you, he's been fascinated by time and has used photography to get inside it since he was a little boy. We'll hear a recording of a baby becoming a young woman, in "Nancy Grows Up." "Nancy Grows Up" by Tony Schwartz from "Tony Schwartz Records the Sounds of Children" FW05583, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1970. Used by permission.

How did we get from a sundial - using the sun to tell us about the passing of time - to standarized time?

Radio Lab takes a spin through the history of time, making a stop at the way the railroads changed our experience of time and Rebecca Solnit, author of River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West joins us to describe how a photographs stopped time to create a horse floating in the air.

Plus Jay Griffiths, author of A Sideways Look at Time, introduces us to the variety of clocks - spice clocks, flower clocks, potato clocks - that predated the wristwatch.

Comments [14]

Winner from Reno, NV

The relativity bit with the watches is completely wrong.
Not sure why ya'll are trying to demonstrate it as a truth.

Isn't one of the guys on this show supposed to be a "genius"?

Why would the physical hands of the watches defy physics and tick at different rates? Just because you get a hyper-fast moving jetpack doesn't mean you're processing information at the same speed as the jetpack compared to processing information at standing or riding a bicycle.

The only thought provoking thing about this program is the subjectivity bits regarding personal interpretation of time, as well as why you guys discussed something so benign as fictionally imagined effects on watches.

Jul. 15 2014 03:40 AM
William Twiddy from 49740 Harbor Springs, Mi.

I tought physics in high school -30years- There was a film I showed to every class until the film was no longer available (I rented it from Indiana University. In the 90's , the film was no longer available. I have checked with Canadian Film Board to no avail. It is abrillient discription of time.
The title is :" Time Is".
I would like to buy this film and give it to the local High School.
The film was made in the late 50's or earily 60's.
Can anyone help me find this film?

Jan. 07 2014 01:46 PM
Helen from Fresno, Ca

I loved the show. I would like to know the title of the music that was underscored in the interview with Jay Griffith's interview about the spice clock. I have not be able to find a playlist of this broadcast.

Jan. 07 2014 12:00 PM
Ellis Elkins from Georgia, USA

I understand what time is. It is our measurement of motion which started when the "Unmoved Mover"/God (Aristotle's understanding) created this material universe and set it into motion. Material forms here move in different directions at different rates, all coordinated within the tapistry of this universe, its natural laws having the effect of enforcing purpose upon everything in it (i.e.-- a human cannot unscramble an egg).

Here all forms are of linear matter-in-motion (Thomas Hobbs' description), but this is all seen by God everywhere and all at once, and those (very few) of us who pass His love-test will be saved out of this universe and brought into a spiritual reality where all is unified and is effective without moving! Imagine being bathed in love without motion that is deeper and better than the greatest of physical pleasure.

It takes matter to have motion, and without motion nothing can change, time does not exist. The physical would remain "the same yesterday, today and forever." But Heaven is not physical, but spiritual, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15 (especially verse 50). I believe all that we know of how to function in this material universe-in-motion will be useless in Heaven. This universe God built for birthing and testing for more children for Him to love.

Time is our measurement of all motion (earth's rotation, day, and orbit of the sun, year, being the standard for time by which all other movement is measured). With all the movement we see (not just that of a second hand on a clock!) we are seeing actual Time! Different things move at different speeds and in different directions; and the incredible organization of it all and the cohesion of the whole process indicates development and purpose in it all, as it unfolds through the plan of its Intelligent Designer.


Mar. 01 2013 07:52 PM
Cathy from USA

I read Oliver Sach's book: Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. Very fascinating. He tells case histories of people that hear music abnormally and lots of other interesting cases.

Nov. 25 2010 10:55 AM
Jeff Blaine from FL

Muybridge link above is dead. New one is:

Jun. 04 2010 10:35 AM
Omar Ibrahim from USA

Can anyone make out what Oliver Sacs is saying when he names the medical term for that patient of his with the super fast reflexes?

I'm hearing something like tatophillia or tactaphillia... neither of which seem to be real terms...

I would really like to see some video of this condition in action.

Dec. 01 2009 07:34 PM

I was wondering about what Mark G said in his comment, "somehow some part of our brain is engaged and we process time faster, which results in time moving slower". Is there any point where the objective reality, 'outside the mind', and subjective 'within the mind' meet and act as a part of one unified motion of time? If we view the brain as having a quantifable existence, as having an objective reality, then where do we draw the line with subjective experience? If the brain is a physical entity and it functions more rapidly under stress would that constitute not a subjective shift but an objective shift in time? When in the moment the physical firings of neurons translates into conscious thought what is lost, gained, or transformed which would cause for the label of subjective to appear? Does the term subjective have an objective existence?

Aug. 01 2007 10:27 AM

Will this be available for download anytime soon?

Jul. 20 2007 12:46 PM
MarcG from Silver Spring

I loved this episode on time. It's one of my favorite subjects from "speculative" physics. There was only one small error, most likely a reflection of how two excellent reporters chose to express themselves. In fact, in their reports they always referred to the passage of time, but they meant two different things. First, is the objective speed with which things occur--time itself. Second, is the perception of the passage of time, which is somehow subjective and hard-wired into our brains. Einstein demonstrated the former purely mathematically when he showed that the variable for time must change (time dilation) as objects speed up relative to one another. This was curiously only "confirmed" years later when technology permitted experiments of this nature. The latter is a feature that many of us have experienced, when under some stressful situation events seem to occur in slow motion. They don't, in fact, occur in slow motion, however, somehow some part of our brain is suddenly engaged and we are able to process time faster which results in the perception that time is moving slower. Too bad it doesn't.

Jul. 18 2007 01:04 PM

I agree that it is poorly done. Scroll down past the comments, and click on "back to episode" That takes you to another page that has the mp3 link.

Jul. 16 2007 10:44 AM
AdrianH from Houston, TX

They still haven't fixed it so the rss feeds properly feed the podcast player. Make it kind of hard to listen. The only one that works in NetVibes is the Morality (Radio Lab: Friday, 06 July 2007) show.

Jul. 16 2007 08:02 AM
Murray from California

Can't find the download MP3 links for many of these podcasts! I've subscribed via iTunes but still can't get certain episodes, especially earlier episodes listed in the archives.

Jul. 15 2007 11:42 PM
Brad Richwine from Tucson AZ

Where is the link to download the podcast?

Jul. 15 2007 01:04 PM

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