Time and temperature and experienced subjectively

by Ruth Griffiths

Time and temperature are human constructs that we impose on nature. We experience time and temperature differently depending on our circumstances.

At this time of year we yearn for longer days, perhaps more than ever this year because of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. For too many days our life has been limited by the cold and the dark. The clock and the thermometer rule supreme.

But on Feb. 7, with the windchill in the minus 50s, I heard a sparrow singing in a tree. How can it survive? It was having a different experience of the day than I was!

When the temperature dips to five in the fall, we pull on a warm jacket and gloves. But when the daytime high was zero in January, I saw a man wearing shorts at the grocery store! In fall, cold feels colder when we have become accustomed to the hot days of summer. Likewise, warm feels warmer when spring arrives.

How active we are also affects our experience of the temperature. If I am standing and waiting outdoors, I feel much colder than if I am engaged in an activity and moving around. For example, watching the sled dog races during Winter Festival doesn’t feel as cold as standing and waiting in line.

Our experience of time is related to the rotation of the earth and its orbit around the sun. We try to imposed order on time with the calendar and the clock.

We can tell time by the sun simply by looking at the shadows it casts. The sundial was the first clock. Egyptian astronomers developed several types of clocks to track star movements. The tomb of Amenhotep I (1525-1504 BC) contained a water clock.

The Romans divided the year into months. Months were divided into groups of days counted before certain named days: the Kalends at the beginning of the month, the Ides at the middle, and the Nones between them. This organization of the month would tell you when there was a market day and when debts were due.

But the clock and the calendar sometimes seem irrelevant. Last spring, during the lockdown, many people couldn’t remember what day it was, or even what month it was. March dragged out for at least 50 days it seemed.

When I am busy at many tasks the day seems to be too short. But when I am waiting on hold to talk to my cable provider… time stretches agonizingly to the horizon.

No matter how we try to organize time, the Earth keeps spinning round. We can measure temperature for any scale we want but it won’t stop Grandma and Grandpa from fighting over the thermostat.

It’s all relative.