A couple of weeks ago (‘Only the name of the airport changes’ on June 12th, 2019) I wrote about the stretching and compression of time while I waited for my much delayed flight to Reno. I mentioned Aristotle’s view of time as the measurement of change; however, Newton believed that time passes even when nothing changes. Einstein resolved the conundrum, represented by these different views, using the concept of a space-time domain forming a gravitational field containing waves. My title is a quote from Carlo Rovelli’s book, ‘The Order of Time‘. And, according to Rovelli, ‘mass slows down time around itself’, which I think will cause waves in the space-time domain . Conservation of energy implies that the movement of an object will tend towards space where time passes more slowly, i.e. in the vicinity of large masses. Hence, things fall downwards because time runs more slowly close to the Earth. This implies that time passes more slowly at the airport than on the plane in flight; but, of course, the differences are too small for us to measure or perceive.
The conference that I attended last week was in Reno, Nevada and, on my way to it, I stopped over in Dayton, Ohio and visited the US Air Force Research Laboratory to present the results from our research project supported by their European Office of Aerospace Research & Development (EOARD). The journey from Liverpool to Dayton, via Manchester and Altanta airports, took 17 hours; however, that was short compared to the journey from Dayton to Reno, via Chicago and San Francisco airports, which took 24 hours door-to-door or rather hotel-to-hotel. ‘Only the name of the airport changes’ is a quote from Italo Calvino describing the city of Trude in his book ‘Invisible Cities‘; but it also described how I felt looking out from my window seats at successive airports over the four days that I travelled from Liverpool to Reno.
We arrived at Dayton airport at 5am for a 7am flight to be told that it was cancelled and we were re-booked on a flight leaving at 5.18pm. We tried to re-rent the rental car that we had just returned but were told every car was booked; so, we were stuck in Dayton airport for 12 hours. Your perspective of time changes in these circumstances. At 5am with nothing much to do, 12 hours seemed like infinity; but at 5pm when we were about to board our flight, the same 12 hours seemed short – almost as if we had only arrived at the airport an hour or so earlier. Augustine observed that our consciousness is based on memory and anticipation such that time is entirely present in our minds as memory and as anticipation. While Aristotle considered time to be the measurement of change. Hence, since I was anticipating no change during my 12 hours of waiting, my perception of time was of it passing very slowly. Whereas, when I was boarding my flight 12 hours later, my memory was of having done the same things that I would usually have done while waiting for a flight [reading and editing draft manuscripts from my research group]; and hence my perception of the elapsed 12 hours was compressed into the usual 2-hour period spent at an airport prior to a flight. The apparent unchanging view out of the plane’s window, both in flight and, to a lesser extent, on the ground also tended to distort my perception of the passage of time.
Engineers like to apply the second law of thermodynamics to chemical processes and power generation cycles. However, it has some useful lessons for everyday life since it can be paraphrased as ‘whenever you organise any process expect some disorder, or entropy to be generated’, so a shrewd person plans for disorder and designs in a bit of slack or redundancy.
Bob and I gave an example of this in our book, ‘The Entropy Vector’. We pointed out that if you plan your flight schedule to use all of the available gates at an airport then you will have unhappy passengers when flights are delayed, unless you plan for buses to unload planes parked away from the terminal. European airports tend to be good at this whereas US ones tend to leave passengers in planes that are unable to dock at the terminal.
Our example was inspired by frustrating experiences when we were writing the book. A more topical and important example was raised by Mark Winston in the New York Times on July 14th, 2014 in reporting the importance of bees to farming. His research team found that crop yields were maximised when large acreages were left uncultivated to support wild pollinators. He postulated that a variety of wild plants means a healthier, more diverse bee population which will be more active in the planted fields next door. Their numbers were startling with profits more than doubling for farmers that left a third of their acreage fallow. Winston highlights that this contravenes conventional wisdom that bees and fields can be micromanaged.
This seems like reinventing the wheel because I remember being taught about the importance of crop rotation, including a fallow period, in my ‘middle’ school geography classes. Oh dear, now I am showing my age.
The bottom-line is don’t micromanage. Allow for a bit of inefficiency, not too much of course or your competitors will get ahead! It’s a question of balance.