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How We Came To Be Run By Time

Time is a rather recent invention in the history of humans.
Keith Tsuji
/
iStockphoto

Where did time come from? How did it start?

I don't mean cosmic time in a "Big Bang" kind of way. No, I mean something far more intimate.

A couple of years ago I wrote a whole book on this subject called About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang. What intrigued me most as I did my research for the book was the way different societies and historical periods shaped the lives of their citizens through what I called different cultural "time-logics." More than anything else, it's technology that determines how a culture could parse the day into a new time-logic.

The most potent example of this connection between time, technology and experience was the invention of the mechanical clock. I could explain more, but, luckily, Adam Westbrook has done me one better by embracing the idea through a short, sharp documentary cleverly called A Briefer History of Time.

It's only 3 minutes and 56 seconds long — and by the end you'll understand why those two numbers not only mean something to you, but also how that meaning controls your life.


Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, a book author and a self-described "evangelist of science." You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking onFacebook and Twitter:@adamfrank4.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Adam Frank was a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. A professor at the University of Rochester, Frank is a theoretical/computational astrophysicist and currently heads a research group developing supercomputer code to study the formation and death of stars. Frank's research has also explored the evolution of newly born planets and the structure of clouds in the interstellar medium. Recently, he has begun work in the fields of astrobiology and network theory/data science. Frank also holds a joint appointment at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, a Department of Energy fusion lab.