How Do We Know When Now Is?

Commentator Ken Nordine says it's hard to pin down the exact thing called "now." He says even a nanosecond has a beginning, middle and end.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Another man with a lot of big ideas is sound artist Ken Nordine. Right now he'd like to explore the possibilities not of physics or nuclear medicine, but of time itself.

(Soundbite of music)

KEN NORDINE:

We know that now is everywhere at once, no matter where we are. But when you think of measuring the essence of what right now is, there's immediately a problem. How long does any particular `now' last? The blink of your eyes? The snap of your fingers? The click of a switch? Think of the shortest amount of time you can think of, like a nanosecond; one-billionth of a second is all it is. But when you think about how long a sliver of time that short actually is, you have to measure it from its beginning to its end. It does have a history, brief as it is. It has to have. And if you could somehow stretch that nanosecond so you could see it, you'd see that it does have a beginning, a middle and an end, just like the teachers tell you.

How far do you think the speed of light can go in a nanosecond? One foot, that's how far. One foot. A guy I trust told me that the speed of light--about 186,300 miles per second--light can travel one foot in one nanosecond. Anything a foot long does have a history, and we haven't even looked at picoseconds or attoseconds or zeptoseconds.

Maybe now the all-at-once now is different. Maybe now doesn't have any length, and that's why it's impossible to write its history. It's way beyond the craft of historians because it's timeless. It's outside of time. Maybe that's where whatever it is we call God hangs out.

SIEGEL: Sound artist Ken Nordine lives in Chicago.

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