Updated: Apr 11
From Einstein to Rovelli, through Aristotle and Newton - a journey through the intricacies of time that culminates with a proposal of a conceptual watch, the ultimate watch.
Albert Einstein wore a Longines wristwatch, which was probably offered to him in 1931 and that would eventually be sold in 2008 for 74,000 Swiss francs. Perhaps it was with this Longines on his wrist that he concluded that time does not pass evenly, it’s slower in the valley than on the mountain. A minimal difference, however nothing that the Cesium 133, an atomic wristwatch, cannot measure, as it only loses one second in a thousand years.
The idea that time is not the same for all humans can be shocking, as it was the idea that the world is not flat, or that the sun does not revolve around the Earth. The strangeness comes only from errors of perception. We still can't read the Universe well, we don't know its most basic grammar. Einstein may have had an easier perception, since as a young man he worked at the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property in Bern, where he dealt with
patents on watch synchronization between railway stations.
Notions of time
Seventy-seven years after the birth of Albert Einstein, and 421 km from Berne, Carlo Rovelli was born, in Verona. In his book The Order of Time, he presented, in the clearest possible way, the idea that time as we know it has died. Layer by layer, the Italian physicist is destroying the preconceived notions about the mechanism of time: time is not unique, time has no orientation, the present does not make sense in the Universe, and time cannot be seen as independent. This deconstruction begins with the idea that time is not unique - in the valley, where the effect of gravity is stronger than on the mountain, time is slower. Our feet ages more slowly than our heads. Moving on to the idea that time has no orientation, Rovelli explains that past, present and future do not necessarily follow this order: if I look at Cesium 133 and see 12 noon, it is the light that travels from the hands until my eyes that I see. I see 12:00 when a nanosecond has passed; my present never coincides with the moment when things happen. My present is the past of others. So what is time? The past no longer exists, the future has not yet existed ... and the present? Does it exists? What is the present? This precise second? This millisecond? According to Max Plank, time is measurable down to 10 e-43 seconds. For lower fractions, a theory of quantum mechanics is needed. Finally, the idea that time is not independent is discussed, varying according to gravity and speed.
Indeed, in his book The Order of Time, Rovelli tells several stories connected with defenders of the absence of time: Leibniz removed the 't' from his name (formerly Leibnitz), as a way of emphasizing that time does not exist; for Aristotle, time was the measure of the change of things, being intimately linked to things, to events; Isaac Newton, for the first time, suggested the existence of a theoretical and independent time that flows by itself. This is still the current idea of time.
As we have seen, Aristotle defends that time is the measure of things; Newton that time flows by itself; and Einstein, that time is neither unique nor independent. Time was taken from things, theorized and then destroyed as a concept. Time is not a good mechanism for measuring events or changes. In this sense, time is dead. So how does the Universe run out of time? What do watches measure? Quantum mechanics seems to be the only solution. So let's look at the very small particles. We all know that there are atoms with electrons, protons and neutrons, and we all learned that electrons are negatively charged particles. If we want to observe an electron, we can do it, this will leads us to believe that it behaves like a particle that can be found in time and space. But there is also a perception problem here. Recently, the theory that electrons are waves and that, when observed, the wave function collapses has been suggested; that is, when electrons are not observed, they cannot be precisely defined in space and time. We are thus the result of a cluster of very small particles where time has no place.
Giving this, we can say that Einstein killed the time that Newton left u and that our parents and teachers taught us. Now, we have no time left. We therefore urgently need an alternative to the idea of time.
We need to think differently about time and, in this context, watches have to rediscover their function. There are interesting proposals, among them Richard Mille's RM69, which randomly combines words to create a message, or Christophe Claret's Blackjack that includes a functional casino roulette on the back of the clock.
Perhaps the most futuristic watch is the one that has removed the function of measuring, which presents us with a chaotic universe. This is a great challenge, which I will try to answer with the proposal of a concept watch. Watches help us to understand the world, but notwithstanding they should not fight against the chaos that surrounds us, they must accept it. This is why I propose a conceptual clock that highlights the contrast between the linear precision of time and the chaos that surrounds us.
Zero: the starting point
The dial of the conceptual clock that I imagine would have to be black to symbolize the death of time as we know it and should be seen as a window towards the true universe as it is: chaotic and unpredictable. Between the dial and the glass, only a cloud would hover. The cloud is a chaotic organization made by fractals. It is always changing, it allows us to recognize familiar shapes, it allows us to project our thoughts onto those shapes, similar to what happens in the Rorschach test. With this watch, the reader would finally be able to put his thoughts in the cloud. If you find the tourbillon hypnotic, imagine a cloud constantly changing. The heat of our body would be responsible for creating and changing the shapes of the cloud. What about time? Time would be announced by a vibration resulting from the connection between a repetition module of minutes to a mechanical alarm clock - one vibration for each hour, two for each quarter of an hour and again one for each minute. It would have to be automatic, without a crown, like Jaeger-LeCoultre's Futurematic, and have only a single slider responsible for indicating the time. With this watch the truth about the universe would be restored and the effort of humanity to find a constant in a chaotic universe would be highlighted. It could be called Zero - a starting point for the truth.