[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] we're up against one of the great dilemmas of modern pyhsics, which is the probability theory of quantum mechanices. It goes back to the pre-war days when people like Werner Heisenberg and Neils Bohr said that the only way we can talk about atoma is in terms of probability. They're not there, they don't go places. They're just likely to be and and go there. Physicists, it turned out, were the handicappers, not the jockeys, in the atomic horse race. So the behavior of those censium atoms in the atomic clocks is only probable. And Winkle et al reduce the odds by invoking The Law of Large Numbers: get enough clocks, and the average, with a few adjustments is apt to be right.
Compared to what? And here my mind starts detonating, flashing, epiphanies tearing open whole new synapse route as I get a hint that I just might win an argument with a pyhsicist, one of those little hopes one has, like when you pick up the pictures at the drugstores and you've convinced there'll be a note inside from kodak, asking you if they can use the one of the sunset for that huge display in Grand Central terminal.
"But that notion, in itself, that law of physics, is the absolute against which time can be measured," I say.
"You're forgetting about relativity," Winkler says, lifting off his heels a fraction of an inch, then settling back down. "In Boulder, Colorado, we have a clock at the National Bureau of Standards which is running faster than these clocks because it's 5000 feet in the air, which means it's moving faster as the earth rotates."
This takes us all the way back to Aristotle. He said: "We apprehend time only when we have marked motion. Yet not only do we measure the movement by the time, but also the time by the movement because they define each other." Newton seemed to resolve this paradox when he wrote that "All motions may be accelerated or retarded, but the flowing of absolute time is not liable to any change." But then Einstein said that the speed of light is always the same, and time is relative. In 1971, the observatory flew four censium beam clocks around the world twice on commercial jets, once eastward, once westward. The clocks lost about 59 nanoseconds heading east, and gained about 273 going west, "an unambiguous empirical resolution of the famous clock 'paradox' with macroscopic clocks," the Navy announced.
So time, I assume, could only be absolute if there were no motion, but there's no time without motion, and so on.
Okay. But who's to say whcih direction the motion is going in? Why not, ahhhh Twilight Zone, run it backwards? Who's to say we won't slide right back through 1977? A disconcerting large number of natural phenomena, in fact, are indistinguishable, backward or forward. The planets could revolve in the opposition direction and violate no physical laws. A coil of wire becomes a magnet no matter which direction the electricity is running. However, heat only flows from something warmer to something cooler, which invokes the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the laws of entrophy, and the destiny of heat death for the universe when all the warmer things have gotten to be the same temperature as the cooler things, and everything moves at the same speed, no no difference between anything, which is total disorganization. The end of time.
So to speak.
Actually, there's been a fate far worse than a confusion to worry about at the observatory, so it actually comes as relief when it happens. I'm asking Dr. Winkler about his budget, which is less than $1 million a year to maintain this first church of near-perfection, and a his staff, which numbers thirty-two and dropping. "Come up here in five years and talk to a console," he says. I ask him if there's someone in attendance twenty-four hours a day, and it's as if he's saved it till the end of the visit. "Yes," he says, the little smile growing lupine. "We work around the clock."