G. J. Whitrow (1912-2000) begins this classic exploration of the nature of time with a story about a Russian poet, visiting London before the First World War. The poet's English was not too good and when he asked a man in the street, 'Please, what is time?' he received the response, 'But that's a philosophical question. Why ask me?'.
Starting from this simple anecdote, Professor Whitrow takes us on a good-humored and wide-ranging tour of the thing that clocks keep (more or less). He discusses how our ideas of time originated; how far they are inborn in plants and animals; how time has been measured, from sundial and hourglass to the caesium clock, and whether time possesses a beginning, a direction, and an end. He coaxes the diffident layman to contemplate with pleasure the differences between cyclic, linear, biological, cosmic, and space-time, and he provides frequent diversions into fascinating topics such as the Mayan calendar, the migration of birds, the dances of bees, precognition, and the short, crowded lives of mu-mesons, particles produced by cosmic-ray showers that exist for just two millionths of a second.
This reissue of the classic and authoritative What is Time? includes a new introduction by Dr J. T. Fraser, founder of the International Society for the Study of Time, and a bibliographic essay by Dr Fraser and Professor M. P. Soulsby of the Pennsylvania State University.
Time is the ultimate frontier and as our understanding of the physical world increases so are we inexorably drawn into its mystery and the paradoxes it poses. Oxford University Press know this well, which is exactly why they've chosen to re-print a 20-year-old work with the only addition being a new introduction and a new bibliography. Whitrow, knows his stuff but since this was written in 1972 there's no recounting of David Deutsch's theories, no mention of superstings or wormholes or parallel universes. Not even Hawking or Roger Penrose. Instead what you get is a good account of theories which are, now, 20-years-old and a little out of date. Good enough if you've missed the build up of interest in time over the last 20 years and are wondering how are you ever to catch up but otherwise one of those books which, unfortunately, after finishing, leave you feeling that you know at least as much about time as the author.(Kirkus UK)
Dr J. T. Fraser: Introduction
1: The Origin of Our Idea of Time
2: Time and Ourselves
3: Biological Clocks
4: The Measurement of Time
5: Time and Relativity
6: Time, Gravitation and the Universe
7: The Origin and Arrow of Time
8: The Significance of Time
Appendix: Temporal Order in Special Relativity
Dr J. T. Fraser and Professor M. P. Soulsby: Bibliography