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The Technology Review
Volume 32 July, 1930 Number 8

What Is It?—The Problem of All Times
By L. Magruder Passano


It may seem presumptuous in one who can call himself at most an amateur philosopher, or a dilettante, to attempt any expression of opinion on what has been called "the hardest problem in metaphysics" (Inge). But association with some philosophers and many scientist may serve as an excuse, since "evil communications corrupt good manners"; while a deep and sincere interest in the problem may be offered as a reason for the attempt.

To the majority, perhaps, of modern mathematicians and physicists time is – as are all other things – something to be measured. Taught by the various problems he attempts to solve the importance of exact and more exact measurement, the scientist has come to look upon the measurement of a thing as the thing itself. As if the length, breadth, and thickness of an object being accurately measured, the object itself would be completely known, so that it would be immaterial if the object were a lump of sugar or a lump of arsenic. Subjectively, if the scientist will admit such a term, the latter consideration would seem to be one of much importance. Time is more than its measurement. It, or he, can be, and is, murdered, as the Mad Hatter learned to his cost. If treated kindly it, or he, is complacent and gentle, exchanging the tedium of minutes and hours for a peaceful flow of days. After all does it matter much, relatively, whether time tells us the hour of the day, the day of the month, or even the year which "stays the same... for such a long time together"?

The subject of Time, however, is not one to be treated frivolously. The accurate measurement of time is a problem of the greatest importance; of no less importance is the accurate definition of time apart from its measurement. Philosophers have always recognized this, and today the scientist is coming to take greater cognizance of the philosophical aspects of his problems. A serious attempt to define time in such a manner as will satisfy both the mathematician, or physicist, and the philosopher, would seem to be a thing to be desired, since a definition that would satisfy the one but not the other would be incomplete, and as a consequence imperfect and false.

The accurate measurement of Time has held the attention of man from very early times, as is shown in the elaborate calendar systems of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Maya civilization of America, while the study of the nature and meaning of Time has occupied the attention of almost every one of the long line of philosophers from the ancient Greeks to the present day. A most recent attempt to treat the subject as a whole, with a knowledge of previous attempts made by both scientists and philosophers, as well as a knowledge of the most recent developments in mathematical, physical, and philosophical theory, is so important, so well and so interestingly done,
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