Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Arrow of Time

Machu Piccu

                      A  fine mist rolls, dipping into the foliage. The flowers lick at the moisture. The sun hides behind the clouds above, the year is 1911. In spite of this quiet, there is much urgency in his footsteps as he ushers through the unmarked trails known only to him through broken limbs, trampled grass and footsteps. The birds sing or whatever they do to create the echo through the forested hills. He is an 11-year-old boy. His skin brown and patchy from the sun, reflects the silvery haze that surrounds. His name is Pablito Alvarez. His bony hand pulls and tugs at his follower, a 36 year-old American historian, a lecturer and a future Senator of the United States, named Hiram Bingham. 

Hiram Bingham

The pace is fast but the energetic legs that carry the 11-year-old have no bounds. The trail is obscured with trees and large foliage of ancient times. The insects and flies hover over the little boy, as he makes his way, but don’t alight on him. He knows the end is near as his feet in an almost a dead run seem not to touch the earth. Meanwhile his follower is out of breath. And then suddenly they are in the open.

All sounds turn into distant echoes. A cold drizzle is falling and the overcast sky seems to dip down and touch the face of the majestic mountains in front of them. “There! There!” the boy cries and knows little else to say in English. His grinning face resting on his slender arm as it points to the broad sweep of ancient terraces. 

They climb some more and beyond the foliage appear the granite walls of the 15th. Century. The three walled-enclaves are now known as the Royal Tomb, the Main Temple, and the Temple of the Three Windows. The Incas still live in spite of the Spanish Conquistadors.

There in the midst stands the Intihuatana, also known in English as the “Hitching post of the sun.” Here the sun during the winter solstice is astride the “sun-dial” casting no shadow. The Incas had determined the Space-Time co-ordinates for their civilization that fostered in the Peruvian mountains for more than a century.


Well, now if you were to spend some time listening to the physicists who have time on their hands and a space to sit on, they will start by unfolding the universe into an accordion and then with the magic of mathematics they will claim the many universe states and that each human action predisposes one into a parallel universe where the remainder of the life ensues, until the next action. Even if and I am going out on a limb here, even if a scintilla of credibility can be afforded to this argument with the 7 billion people inhabiting the planet today and each to his or her own cognizance determined a course of action of this not that or vice versa we would have an infinite numbers of universes all jiggling around us. Parallel dimensions not withstanding ask the physicist about time and lo and behold they come up with another wondrous canopy of color, although this has some scientific basis in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity; Time is a dimension, fourth to be exact and the three dimensions of space are folded into the fourth dimension of time. Ok, you ask, like a tuna wrap? No! No! It is more like a book, he replies. So tell me then, how?

Time is pasted just as space is, in three dimensions. In other words if you wanted to look at your status at say age 85 years, you would turn to page 31,025 page and voila there you are all weathered and ready for a space-flight with your bionic this or that. Similarly if you wanted to do a Michael J. Fox, “Back to the Future” trick in a Delorean, you would turn to any page before, then the one you are resting on today. So time is affixed and represented, one just has to turn the page. The Past exists with the Present and all are married to the Future. Funny you think, there is that time paradox somewhere in there, isn’t there, you mutter under your breath. Yet seriously there are minds that are filled with this kind of stuff. And then when you bring up the “Arrow of Time,” the physicist would say well it is in flight. It knows which bow it came from and knows where the target is. The past, present and the future all there in one simple book-form! Right there to behold. If only we could see! Lets move on to more mundane issues in life. Like for instance this aging thing. – A function of time.

The Arrow of Time

Aging is a natural decay of a time-limited vessel. Like the rusted iron, a torn shroud, an exposed mineral on a mountainside, or the aging elderly hobbling with a cane down the road. The sighting from any spectacular or sea level view-stand is the same. The cataclysm of degenerative discord arrives unappreciated at every living cell’s doorstep. Can we affix it to a space as the Incas did with their Intihuatana time clock? Can we? Can we stop the ravaging storms of this linearity”?

There are some technical problems that are like the physics of the aeronautical limits that cannot be transgressed; exceeding the angle of attack will always cause a stall. The first one is the Hayflick Limit. A living cell grown in a culture media will undergo division for “x” number of times and then die. The “x” remains the propriety information of the cell. There is within every cell a coded piece of information residing within the DNA. That information resides at the 5’ terminal end of the DNA and multiple tandem repeats that tell the cell at each division when it will exceed its limit of division and then no more. This information of tandem repeats is called a Telomere. So if the cell has 6 telomeres at the end of its DNA then after the sixth division it will lose its ability to craft out a mitotic spindle and go haywire with cellular dysynchrony or just plain commit suicide. A preprogrammed limit of survival!  The obituary is written in the code at birth. No fuss! No Muss!

What about this telomerase enzyme that the germ cells have so they can divide ad infinitum? You ask. Yes and that is true. But the problem is that if some one is harboring a potential precancerous rouge cell, addition of the telomerase enzyme will allow replication of that cell and create cancer, the very thing we are trying to avoid by attempting to live longer. Now if we could starve the cancer cell, which surreptitiously acquires the telomerase and use, it for their nefarious means to grow, and excite the normal cells that have normal functional powers why then we could all live to the golden age of Abraham.

But what about the weathering that goes on through degeneration of the cells; the wrinkling, the patchy skin, the arcus senilis, the crooked noses, the hanging earlobes, the weathered dry skin, the thinning of the bones and the sluggishness of the heart and the mind? Pray, how do we stop that?


Interesting pieces of information are emerging that may have a predictable future. Remember Dolly, the sheep. Well when Dolly was cloned she grew at a faster rate and aged rapidly in short order to her mother’s cell limits. So if taking cells from an older person and cloning it leads to an aging clone, why not save/freeze some of your cells at birth. Oh I am not saying to have your head frozen and then one day in some distant future when space hover-boards are available and taxis fly in vertical directions in all dimensions that a perfect body can be cloned and affixed to the head and all those memories come roaring back centuries later and you find your 21st century mind exposed to the real Star Wars. No that is not what I mean. Simply that if stem cells saved at an early date in life can be used to repopulate the damaged portion of a weathered body and allow normal living, wouldn’t that be great. The problem that has yet to be solved is whether the young stem cells through cross-talk will acquire the wisdom and age of their new older neighborhoods.

In the meantime one can continue the current trends of plastic surgery; the nose job, the facial pull, stretch and smooth, the turkey flesh tug, the transplanted hair and all other such things available today for vanity’s sake. Aside from taking massage with snakes crawling all over your body or heated rocks on the back of your chakras or being kneaded by a 300 pound female on your fragile ribs in some far off place called Rancho Exotico maybe, just maybe, eating healthy foods in limited amounts, not smoking or drinking or too much sunning might help preserve the natural visible enclave of your soul.

So, the Incas knew a thing or two about time and space. Their terraces and the agri-farming of the 15th century that has been repackaged as today’s new endeavor was and is the state of the art. Their carefully arranged steady streams of natural rain water trickling down via tiny rivulets feeding the burial temples drip by precious drip, exemplified their fascination with fixing time at a certain place. 

The physics of immortality clashes with the limits of Hayflick and that we still try to do as we do and always will, is our curious destiny; to reach for the stars and touch the face of heaven.


Hayflick L, Moorhead PS (1961). "The serial cultivation of human diploid cell strains". Exp Cell Res 25: 585–621

Hayflick L. (1965). "The limited in vitro lifetime of human diploid cell strains.". Exp. Cell Res. 37 (3): 614–636

Griffith J, Comeau L, Rosenfield S, Stansel R, Bianchi A, Moss H, de Lange T (1999). "Mammalian telomeres end in a large duplex loop". Cell 97 (4): 503–14

Eisenberg DTA (2011). "An evolutionary review of human telomere biology: The thrifty telomere hypothesis and notes on potential adaptive paternal effects". American Journal of Human Biology 23 (2): 149–167

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