Time and Time Again, We Get The Wrong Time


The Sunday Nation


24 July 2005


In this day and age, some things should never be disputed…like some one’s age. But ask a teenager how old he is and chances are, depending on the circumstances, he will either add or subtract one year to his true age.

Some one born in, say, January 1989, may insist that he is 17 years old because he has passed his 16th birthday. But the truth is that we are in 2005 and 2005 minus1989 is 16. Thus the boy is only 16 years and some months old!

However, some situations can be confusing. For example, how come we say that we are in the 21st century, yet all the years begin with the number 20? When you think about it, all the years of the first century, AD, may be numbered 0001, 0002, 0003, …0098, 0099, 0100. Notice that they all start with the digits “00”.

Years of the second century can also be numbered thus: 0101, 0102, …0200. Again we notice that years of the SECOND century begin with the number ONE. Therefore it is clear why years of the 21st century begin with the number 20. As the mathematicians (and I’m not one of them!) would put it; all the years of the Xth century (except the last one), begin with the number X – 1.

Date and time can have other complications. For example, if some one told you to meet him at midnight on the on 25 July 2005, would you go to the rendezvous tonight or tomorrow night? You see, 25 July 2005 has two midnights - one at the beginning and another at the end of the day. The question then arises, what date is midnight?

Now we begin to understand why “midnight” flights, for example, are always scheduled to take off a few minutes after midnight, say 00:05Hr…and you car insurance commences at 00:01Hr on a given date.

Another confusing situation is when some one tells you something like “come back in three days from today”. Today being Sunday, when would you return? On Tuesday or Wednesday? Let us try to figure it out…

If he had said come back in one day, you would return on Monday. And if he says two days, he means Tuesday. Therefore, come back in three days must mean Wednesday. However, if the statement was, “come back on the third day”, you may be excused if you returned on Tuesday.

All said and done, the big question that still remains is what is time? When we say that three hours have passed, what do we mean? Three hours of what? One argument says that time is the duration between two events. This implies that time is a measure of change. Thus, if everything stopped changing, then time would also stop.

Perhaps this is why some scientists insist that it is illogical to ask what there before the beginning of the universe. There was nothing, therefore there was no change. No change means no time. And no time means that there was no “before the beginning”.

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