11 February 2005



Feb 11, 2005

Dear Friends,

Don't forget that next Sunday at 1pm we are meeting outside the Thyssen Museum

to go an see the exhibition on German Expressionism. I think that it is more

practical to go for a quick lunch after the exhibition.

It is only fitting that after such a packed day we meet at 6.30pm to discuss


Take care and see you Sunday.


SUNDAY 6.30pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs, but just in

case there is no football on go to the very back of the pub, then turn left

and left again!


Subscribe yahoo group send an email to:


tel 606081813


Pub Molly Malone, c/ Manuela Malasaña, 11, Madrid 28004

metro: <Bilbao> : buses: 21, 149, 147



Time is an important issue in science, and by default in philosophy. This means

that it is a mature subject in the same way that some markets are mature

markets. In other words, it is very difficult to come up with innovative and new

ideas on the subject.

For this reason, it might be worth our while to look at time in our normal

day-to-day setting. Applied philosophy is, in any case, part of our

philosophical activities.

In that case let us start with the most famous scientist. Einstein, is quoted to

have said, "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an

hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That's


I can, of course, thoroughly confirm half of Einstein's experiment, but

evolution made sure I will not try the other half. This means that we don't have

conclusive proof of this experiment. Another way of explaining Einstein's

dilemma is by invoking the law of diminishing returns. What if he sat one year

next to the pretty girl, how relative would relativity be?

The real point about Einstein's dilemma, however, is that pleasant things seem

to come to an end very quickly. The issue ought to be then, why do we have the

impression that pleasant things in life are limited? Even limited to the extent

that they seem an exception rather than the rule. Why is it that both Einstein

and the rest of us don't seem to have enough time to sit next to anyone for

long, never mind pretty girls? And this is not a question of whether time flies

or stands still.

We can either look at pleasant things as being limited in duration and frequency

or that pleasant things are the culmination of our efforts and work over a

period of time. In other words the tip of life's iceberg.

If in real life pleasant things are the culmination of our efforts then pleasant

things are the dividend we receive for investing over time. If pleasant things

are really short and rare then life must truly be unfair and brutal.

What if we were to take Einstein's dilemma as more than just a causal reaction,

but also an issue about time? Nothing to do with pain or even consciousness, or

diminishing returns. Let us assume for the sake of argument that life is not all

that brutal and pleasant things are in part the product of our effort. Then the

real question is, how long do we have to wait before the pleasant things happen;

a week, a month and year? How long did Einstein have to wait before he had the

opportunity to sit next to the pretty girl in the first place? For me, this is

the crux of the time question. Maybe Einstein did not have to wait that long,

but what about the rest of us?

We know for a fact that in the long term we'll all be dead, so if things were to

happen they'd better happen in the short to medium term. And if we cannot wait

that long, then we had better be that fast. We can be fast, however, if we have

ample resources available. Einstein did write something about converting mass

into energy, but that's another story.

We can therefore either do one thing at a time over a long period of time or we

can do a lot of things, more or less, at once. To put it in another way: one can

try one's luck to sit next to a pretty girl over a period of say, 12 months (we

all know what Einstein meant, so no cheating) or one can try to sit next to as

many pretty girls as one can possibly do over a short period of days. At the

end, at least in theory, we should be able to sit next to a pretty girl for an

hour. Its a matter of doing things concurrently or consecutively.

Is this another way of saying that life is a numbers game? Is there a hint of

the gambler's paradox here? We can play at the roulette table thinking that our

number will come up after the next spin, or we can play all the roulette tables

at the same time. As far as probability is concerned we have not changed the

odds, but we still get the impression that we must really win. But if this is

true then we have no reason to believe such expressions as: time will tell, wait

and see and time heals all wounds. It seems, therefore, that time is neither a

necessary nor a sufficient condition for a pleasant outcome.

This conveniently brings us to another issue in applied philosophy. Since we

don't have an infinite amount of time to sort out our lives, we surely need lots

of resources, and we know what that means for most of us: work. The people who

have access to resources can do lots of things concurrently; if all the above is

to be believed that is.

At least in the context of work things seem to be more clear cut. The theory

goes something like this: the harder one works the greater the rewards. Or, if

you work hard now your just rewards will come later. A version of this theory

also suggests that it is not enough to work hard, but also to work smart.

But we already know that resources are scarce, and as a consequence the question

we have to deal with is how should resources be distributed? Should the rewards

go to those who work hard, smart or both? But we also know that things do not

get more relative than in the field of work.

I am sure that for some a day at work seems to pass as slow as keeping one's

hand on a hot stove for a minute. Is this, however, relativity, boredom or

someone being smarter than us? Have you noticed how those who are handsomely

rewarded at work are not usually paid for their time, but for the results of

their efforts? I mean, the CEO of a multinational company and a charge hand in a

factory both have 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week. Yet the latter is

paid for spending 40 hours working in a factory whilst the other is paid

according to the results of the company. But the connection between time and

work does not end here.

We have the "forty hour week" although in some countries it is 35 and in others,

well they don't even bother about such niceties, after all exploitation has no

time limits. Take the weekend for example, in the past it started Saturday

afternoon, I'm thinking early 20th century here, now we have two full days. Some

companies even allow employees to start their weekend on Friday afternoon. The

absurd thing, though, is that after more than 200 years since the industrial

revolution we still have 28.571428571428571428571428571429% of the week to

recover and rest.

Again, take the concept of overtime, usually paid at 1.5 times the normal rate.

In the media it was recently reported that a study by the TUC (Trade Unions'

Council) concluded that British workers worked as much as ?23bn worth of unpaid

overtime in 2004. That's an average equivalent of £4,650 unpaid wages per

employee; 6,756.76 Euros.

If all the above means anything, it certainly means that time is directly

associated with some ethical issues.

On the plus side, time does keep the wheels of society oiled and synchronised.

Well, to begin with, as Einstein pointed out, yet again, "the only reason for

time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."

Maybe the weekends are short, but it helps if we all stopped work at more or

less the same time. This would enable us to meet friends or do those chores we

do not want to or cannot do during the week. But we cannot meet anyone unless we

can agree the time and place to meet. Even when we do, we still depend on such

things as transport, whether the places we intend to visit are open and of

course our friends actually turning up (on time). However, all these activities

depend on an important idea: convenience. For example, if public transport does

not operate at the time we want to meet our friends, we have very few options:

we don't meet our friends, walk, go by car or whatever. If the shops we want to

visit are not open when we want to go and do the shopping then we have very few

options left. This chain of thought immediately introduces the idea of

compromise to the idea of convenience. However, convenience and compromise are

not only limited to transport or shops.

I mean, some politicians insist in getting their way or no way at all. Some

pressure groups insist on getting their own way or else God help us. Consumers

insist on cheap goods now or they'll go to the competition. Companies, using

shareholders as an excuse, insist that quarterly figures are always in the

black, or else the bottom 10% of performers are sacked. Instant gratification

seems to be the order of the day.

In some cases what started out as convenience, turned into instant

gratification, which in turn left little scope for compromise ending up ousting

tolerance from our language. Maybe when pretty girls leave our company, it is

not only time that seems to fly away.

take care



No comments: