THE JOURNAL

Alan Burdick: Why Time Flies - A Mostly Scientific Investigation

The relationship between humans and time is a mystery that has captured the imagination of scientists and philosophers alike. What exactly is time and why does it slow down when we're bored, while the minutes fly by when we're having a good time? And does what's the relationship between a watch and its owner? The Journal talks to New York Times Senior Editor Alan Burdick, author of “Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation” about his research into the topic of time and more. 

Why Time Flies / ©Simon and Schuster
— Why Time Flies / ©Simon and Schuster

What time is it? Sure, it's an easy question, one that we can answer by, for example, looking at an IWC timepiece. But even by doing that do we really know what time it is? The concept of time has been a mystery for humans, well, for a long time. We observe it, measure it, and even attempt to stop it. In the end though, we still don't understand it.

 

In his book, Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation, Alan Burdick, senior staff editor at The New York Times, spent ten years researching the concept of time and our understanding of it, certainly a daunting task.  The work details his efforts in attempting to decipher what time is “right here on earth, day-to-day, moment-to-moment. The kind of time we live in and deal with throughout our day”

 

Why Time Flies explains topics such why and how the time in the zone you're in coordinates with another zone, and why minutes seem to slow down to a snail's pace when you're bored, but speed up when you're doing something fun.

 

Burdick started off his research with one question: “What is time?”

 

“I realized that I was not asking one question. Every single researcher I asked, ‘What is time’ would turn around and ask me, ‘Well, what do you mean by time?’. And it was clear to me pretty quickly that what we all call ‘time’ is actually a lot of different discreet experiences that we have a tendency to lump under one noun.”

“So it's everything from, ‘How do we know what time it is right now’ to your sense of duration, that feeling that five seconds is longer than three seconds without looking at a watch or that sense of sitting at a stop light and it seems to be taking too long as if you're timing it”.

The Journal talked to Burdick not only about his book, but about the emotional relationship between a watch owner and their watch, especially if it's a luxury timepiece like an IWC. Listen to the interview below.

Photo: Laura Rose

 

 

Alan Burdick is a senior editor at The New York Times. His book, Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation is available from Simon and Schuster.


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