Is Time Wibbley Wobbley?

Fourth century Christian bishop Augustine wrote “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.”  Time is the kind of concept that makes my brain hurt if I really try to fully understand what it means.  Yet we live our lives so precisely by the counting of time; every appliance and gadget has a clock on it.  We always know what time it is, but do we know what time is?

Alan Alda, an actor and science fan, has a yearly challenge to scientists: to explain scientific concepts in a way that 11 year olds can understand.  After a panel of scientist.  s reviews the entries, eleven year olds across the United States choose the best answer.  Last year the Flame Challenge was to explain what a flame is; this year the question is “What is time?

I love this question and I think it is a great one for a Unitarian service or a religious education class.  What is time?  Is it the counting of the clock?  The linear passage of life through space?  How is time related to space?  Is it an arrow, moving straight from the past to the future or is it, as the Doctor says, more timey-wimey and wibbley wobbley – whatever that may mean?   What does time mean to Unitarian Universalists?  We tend towards a theological focus on the here and now, on being present in place.  We don’t argue for eternity.  So what does time to mean to us?   If we understood time better, would it help us  to be present in the now?  Exploring the concept of time seems like an illuminating opportunity, a way to make connections between science and wonder.

Time is a great mystery – worthy of our contemplation – even if we can never hope to fully understand it.   I’m looking forward to hearing from the scientists tough enough to try.

 

P.S.

I’m switching the Monday Meditation to Friday and hope to blog earlier in the week – and more often – on aspects of Unitarian Universalism.

 

 

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The Flame Challenge

What is a flame?  When we light the chalice at the beginning of our service, what are we physically bringing into being to symbolize our spiritual orientation?  Can you explain it to an 11 year old?

The Centre for Communicating Science has a new challenge inspired by the always more awesome than awesome Alan Alda.   As an 11 year old, Alda asked his teacher “what is a flame?’ She replied “oxidation”, an answer that may be accurate but certainly did not provide illumination for the young Alda.  Alan Alda, who is not only a world class actor – the only man who ever made me want to vote for a Republican nominee – as well as a writer of humour, honesty and wisdom (Never Have Your Dog Stuffed); he is also a science geek.  Invited to be a guest editor of the journal Science, he offered up the flame challenge.  Describe what a flame is in a way that an 11 year old can appreciate and understand.  The goal is to acheive clarity and vividness.

This is a great contest for Unitarian Universalists.  Our key symbol, that which represents us most deeply, is the flaming chalice.  We are the people of the chalice; part of our orientation is to find spiritual nourishment in the wonder of scientific enquiry.  How do we understand what we are doing when we light the chalice?  How is the symbol related to the reality? How do we describe it to ourselves?  To people who ask us what the chalice is all about?  And can we explain the beauty of a flame without using jargon, but with scientific accuracy, in a way that will capture a kid’s imagination? Can we explain our chalice flame to an 11 year old?

The contest closes April 2nd.  I’m working on my entry….