cover image Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation

Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation

Alan Burdick. Simon & Schuster, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4165-4027-4

Burdick (Out of Eden), a staff writer at the New Yorker, brings a casual, evocative style to his inquiry into the nature of time. He surveys historical conceptions of and experiments about the phenomenon, recounts his own chatty visits to the laboratories of experts who’ve devoted their life’s work to the subject, travels to the places where aspects of time manifest dramatically, analyzes how animals and human babies view the passage of time, and draws connections to the ephemera of his own experience. Burdick relates the scientific elements here with unusual clarity, making sure the book is not merely a collection of intellectually stimulating physiological and psychological trivia. Coffee-table conversationalists will appreciate his discussions of such topics as the methods for synchronizing world time, exactly how long “now” is, and how circadian rhythms work across nature. Burdick’s orientation is as philosophical as it is scientific, and he provides thoughtful background on such themes as time as four-dimensional geometry and the question “Are we born into time or is time born into us?” Returning regularly to the idea that time is a property of the mind that does not exist without a subject to perceive it, Burdick places his readers in the centers of their temporal universes. (Feb.)