Thursday, December 02, 2004

Shell Oil Films and Neanderthals 

While watching a special with my sons the other day about hurricane Andrew, I told them it was the kind of film that our teachers used to show us in school. If memory serves, they were produced by the Shell Oil Company. These days, films in school are either on VHS tapes or DVD's. The thing with actual film, I told my sons, was that when the teacher removed the film from the can to load it onto the projector, you knew how long the movie was going to be: the little films were on small reels and the big films were on big reels -- you could even see how full the reels were, watch them spin and see how much of the movie was left.

Film reels are interesting: you can see the reel in an instant, the whole two hours can be seen entire, at a glance, rolled up there on the reel. Consider how different people see the film: the projectionist sees the film as a few minutes' work, to load it and then relax; the audience sees the film as a couple hours of enjoyment and abandon; the actor sees it as months of his or her life taken up in the effort; the director sees it as a year or more of vision, cutting and pasting, making a product. Think of the Lord of the Rings movies. All three of the movies were filmed at the same time over 14 months or so in New Zealand and then the special effects guys and Peter Jackson spent years editing and putting the final product together. I saw Elijah Wood (Frodo) interviewed and he told the story of having to stand for several hours, every morning, while the makeup artists put on his hobbit feet... and many of those shots ended up on the cutting room floor. He thinks of that time, time spent to no end, when he sees sections of the movie where his feet are hidden.

Time is a funny thing.

Why do I bring this up? I'm re-reading a book called "Neanderthal" by John Darnton. When the subject of fossils came up once in college, during a discussion of God, a friend told me I was limiting God. I've thought a lot about that over the years. In fact, I've thought about relativity and God. Einstein put himself, in a thought experiment, on beam of light traveling away from a clock. The clock, to Einstein, never moved. To Einstein, this meant that time is relative: a person traveling fast will experience less time than a person traveling slowly. This was proven by astronauts using watches. Two watches synchronized, one on earth and one orbiting earth at thousands of miles an hour, will not be synchronized when the orbiting watch returns.
During a Shuttle mission, the orbital speed is only a tiny fraction of the speed of light (namely, 1/42857th). So, the "time dilation," as the effect is called, is also tiny, but it is there, nevertheless, as Shuttle experiments have proven. For example, a highly precise atomic clock flying in an experiment called NAVEX on STS-61A/Challenger in 1985 measured a slowdown of 0.000,000,000,295 seconds for each second of flight, almost exactly what Einstein’s formulas predicted.
Consider how fast we are moving. As the earth spins on its axis, we in Indiana are moving at around 700 miles an hour (faster at the equater, slower at the poles). While I'm spinning at 700 miles per hour, I'm also moving through space, around the sun, at 67,000 miles per hour. The sun itself, our solar system, is also spinning around the center of the milky way galaxy. It takes 250 million years for the sun to travel once around the center of the milky way. Our solar system is traveling at 74,000 mph around the center of the milky way. In addition, our whole milky way galaxy is moving through space at 372,000 miles per hour. The group of galaxies we're in, our super cluster, is moving through space at over 1,000,000 miles per hour. In fact, our super cluster is moving away from the location of the Big Bang (background radiation) at over 2,200,000 miles per hour. So multiples upon multiples of spinning, rotating, and revolving, on grander and grander scales end up with amazing speed. The speed of light itself is over 670,600,000 miles per hour.

The thing is, all of this makes no difference to Time unless there is a reference point outside of the Universe to see it from. To someone standing outside the universe, our human lives, the lives of planets and stars themselves, would be moving so fast it would seem like that movie reel, entire, complete and static all at once. We, to that someone standing outside, would seem like a paragraph, a sentence within a 1,000 page Stephen King book. We would be a second, a milli-second, in the middle of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that runs for hours and hours. That someone outside of the universe would be holding the book, holding the reel of film, entire. The beginning, middle, and end would be all complete at once, they would all be happening at the same time. Time, in fact, would have no meaning between us and that person, Time itself would be static, unmoving, meaningless.

Fossils? God wrote the book, God filmed the movie... look at the Earth like that entire reel of film -- we walked in to the movie in the middle. What's in all that film that's already run through the projector? What's in the film to come? To God, it's all the same, it all exists at once, at the same time... he sees the reel entire, spinning. To God, all men are being born today. I'm being born the same day as Noah, the same day as David. I'm dying the same day as everyone else. In heaven, perhaps everyone dies on the same day. Perhaps, when I die, I'll be opening my eyes to God at the same time as Moses, at the same time as my grandfather: imagine the rejoicing in heaven if that were the case.

Forgive the rambling.

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