On your time, get set, go

By : |October 5, 2012 0

As technical people we usually feel in control of our environment. We understand how things work and massage technology to serve our purposes. We make exotic materials, we build airplanes and we manage data and information, just to name some. We are usually in control. And many scientists think there are no limits.

Dr Bob Hokestra at home I wanted to adjust the time on my set top box for TV and Internet, as I felt it was a minute off from the time on my phone. Browsing through the settings menu or a few minutes I realized it was not there. So I looked for the manual on Internet and went to the index.


There was “time shift” but no “time set”. I was lost, until I realized that there was no adjustment possible, the time was determined for me. I had lost control. It would just move on its own.

At University I learnt about Einstein and his theory of relativity, now a century old. I felt at the time that it was pretty exotic as I could not fully understand its meaning and application in actual reality.

Time was supposed to be just another dimension just like length, width and height. And we could move through this four dimensional space exchanging time for location. So I could travel at the speed of light to a faraway star, over hundred light years away and reach it in a lifetime. Though the advantage would be lost on the way back.


On earth my lifetime would be over, just like the people I had left behind. No story to be told or to be heard. Although presumably I could move at the speed of light out of space and live in eternity infinitely far away, the place where the Gods are supposed to be.

Einstein’s theory came back to me when I lost control of time on my set top box at home. I realized that the four dimensions are not quite equal, as I can move up and down in the space dimensions, but time only moves forward. Not in the math, the theory allows time to move backward. But our practice does not.

We can take off on a flight, travel around the earth, and land where we want, changing xyz to our desire. We can climb the Himalayas and reach high altitudes, or visit the space craft in orbit. But we can not control the dimension of time, as time always flies.

(Dr. Bob Hoekstra, former CEO of Philips, is a physicist. During his seven-year tenure as CEO of the Philips Innovation Campus, he contributed to the development of the IT industry in Bangalore. Living in The Netherlands, he now helps Dutch companies leverage India to their advantage. And has gone back to school to study philosophy)

(The views expressed by the author are his own and not of CIOL)

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