By Douglass Anele
Time, we all assume, is undirectional and rolls inevitably on from the past and present to the infinite future. Hence, when midnight arrived on Friday, December 31, 2010, people all over the world rejoiced and jubilated for surviving to see the New Year.
Now, the idea of time which is presupposed in all this has been a subject of critical debate by philosophers and scientists from antiquity to the present time. We all know about nanoseconds, seconds, minutes, hours, etc. But, what exactly is time measured by these expressions? The renowned African philosopher-theologian, St Augustine, had posited an interesting relativistic theory of time.
According to him, neither the past nor the future really is; the present is only a moment, and time can be measured only when it is passing. Thus, time is subjective; it is in the human mind which remembers, considers, and expects. Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, also interpreted time from a subjectivist point of view. He claims that time is a category of human understanding; that is to say, our mental constitution is such that time is applicable to whatever we experience.
However, in his well-known book, A Brief History of Time, the cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, posited a more scientific concept of time than St. Augustine and Kant. Taking a cue from Einstein’s theory of relativity and the principles of thermodynamics, he argued that there is an arrow of time, something that distinguishes the past from the future and gives a direction to time. There are at least three different arrows of time.
To begin with, there is the thermodynamic arrow of time, the direction of time in which entropy increases. Then, there is the psychological arrow of time, the direction in which we experience the passage of time, the direction in which we remember the past but not the future. The third one is the cosmological arrow of time, the direction of time in which the universe is expanding rather than contracting.
According to Hawking, the no boundary condition for the universe, coupled with the weak anthropic principle, explains why all the three arrows of time point towards the same direction. The psychological arrow is determined by the cosmological arrow, and both always point in the same direction.
Therefore, the duration of time has both objective and subjective aspects, and objective processes in the world largely determine how time is measured by humans and the scale for calibrating it. Having examined theoretically the concept of time, let us at this point discuss one of the recurrent features of New Year celebrations. Apart from making New Year resolutions, people engage in merrymaking and religious activities to mark the event.
Moreover, many self-styled prophets and fortune-tellers announce “predictions” for the next 365 days. Nigeria is not an exception to this charade. Indeed, several “men and women of God” have for many years now taken it upon themselves to proclaim to our people what God had told them about what would happen in the year. The major flaw with these predictions or revelations is that they are usually trivial and contain either what we know will likely happen or they are formulated in obscure and vague language that it would be virtually impossible to falsify them.
As an example, supposing that the pastor of a Pentecostal church proclaims that God informed him that Nigeria will progress in 2011. That is not a genuine prediction because it is unlikely that the country will not record improvement in some areas. Assuming he predicts that a prominent politician will die this year – there is no reason why we should be surprised if that happens.
After all there are many prominent politicians in Nigeria, and at least one of them is likely to die from any of the numerous causes of death as non-politicians. Therefore, we should not be gullible in accepting such predictions. In most cases, they are the dreams, hopes, expectations, projections and educated guesses of the prophets or “men of God.” The predictions cannot withstand the ratiocinative scrutiny of logic and scientific standards.
As a result, we advise Nigerians to be careful and not allow any prophet, imam or pastor defraud them with negative predictions. No one, I repeat, no one, has the blueprint of another person’s future. Besides, human life is essentially existential, contingent and unpredictable. Consequently, if any person comes to you and says: “God told me this and that about you,” politely ignore the person and continue with your life.
A lot of Nigerians have been defrauded by criminals and fraudsters masquerading as prophets. Our aim this year should be to enhance the happiness of others and our own. In spite of the hellish conditions we are facing, Nigerians are entitled to happiness just as everyone else: it is not our duty to make others unhappy because we are unhappy.
On the contrary, if we inflict unhappiness on others, our chances of being happy are reduced. Happiness, knowledge and love increase when shared. So, if you are looking for a new year resolution, take up happiness as your focus this year. Try your best to be happy; spread happiness to everybody you meet. No matter what, don’t be the cause of someone’s unhappiness. Unhappiness is a deadly poison that slowly reduces life to nothing.
And, no matter how hopeless your situation might seem now, remember that once there is life there is hope, there is someone out there in a worse situation than yours. The possibility of a positive turnround in your circumstance cannot be completely ruled out. This year, resolve to keep working, thinking and hoping!