The end of one year and the start of another is normally a time for reflections, predictions and resolutions. But every year it seems to become harder and harder to say something new – so this year I won’t. Instead, I thought I would go back over the decade and recount some of the more astute, astounding and perceptive observations that I’ve made in the past.
Perhaps the first took place at the beginning of this time period, at turn of the century (not really the ushering in of the new millennium, but close enough). The globe was beset by fears of Y2K and dire predictions that the end of the world was at hand. Not so yours truly. I resolutely stood by the thesis that on Jan. 1, 2000, the world would still be here, only one day older than it was on Dec. 31, 1999. Actually, it was a pretty safe prediction. If I had been wrong, no one would have known the difference. Be that as it may, we made it -- for which I take appropriate credit.
Then there was the learned treatise I wrote on the art of “New Year’s Resolving.” This process matured over many centuries of human effort. The first attempts were rather tentative, like: “I’m going to make it through this day.” Then people realized they had a whole year to address, and so resolutions changed to: “I’m going to live to see another year.” But a lot of people didn’t, giving the process a somewhat tarnished image right from the start. As people became more adept at the process, resolutions became more specific, addressing bad habits to be relinquished, or good things to be achieved. In the early days, one could plan on tomorrow being more or less like today. These days the situation is more complex, however, since repetition and stability create great consternation for anyone who has to live yesterday over and over again.
More recently a new school of thought has developed, as people began to recognize that giving up bad habits and making New Year’s Resolutions is like giving up food and going on a fast: despite the best of intentions, natural forces lead to breaking them. Some people have become adept at creating short-lived resolutions and for a time there was even a government agency empowered to measure and track the short lives of most resolutions. It was dissolved when one of the world’s greatest “Resolutionists,” after analyzing the subject for years, became determined to change the pattern. So one year he resolved never to make New Year’s resolutions ... and set an unbeatable world record before he realized what he had done.
As a result of this scholarly effort, I developed a number of key guidelines – like Newton’s Laws, but for resolutions. Perhaps the most important are: First, remember that there are usually good reasons why one has developed bad habits or has not accomplished things in the previous year. You don’t want to take the fun out of your life. And second, if you are absolutely determined not to break or bend any resolutions, don’t make them in the first place!
In the past, I have also dealt with an aspect of “time” that has plagued mankind: why does each year go by faster than the one before? Einstein failed to address this one. There are two possible explanations. The psychological response is that as you age, each subsequent year represents a declining percentage of the time you have lived. At age 10, a year contains 10 percent of all you've ever experienced, whereas at 50, it holds only 2 percent. This creates a sense of acceleration, much like the illusion that the moon shrinks when it moves from the horizon to overhead. This theory is obviously false; everything around us is moves and changes at a faster pace, so there is no reason why the spin of the world should not be subject to those same forces.
The real reason is based on sound principles of physics and has been demonstrated by decades of dedicated experimentation. First, gravity has been increasing dramatically; second, so has the spin of the earth. These astute observations come from personal experiences, experiences which most of us have had but may not have linked to these changes. As soon as they are explained, you will immediately see the connection.
Gravity, in this case, may be defined as the force of attraction exerted by the Earth upon objects near its surface. It pulls us towards the center and keeps us from flying off into space, especially for people who live at the bottom of the globe. That force has been increasing, steadily over the years. Young people may not notice it, but as one ages and acquires more experience, the body develops greater sensitivity and awareness to these environmental forces. To convince yourself, all you need do is lie down on the floor. You will see how much more difficult it is to get up today then it was a year ago, and especially if you compare today with 10 years ago or more. You can also just step onto your bathroom scale. Weight is directly related to the strength of the gravitational field. The evidence here is absolutely incontrovertible. Although there have been minor fluctuations, the trend is clear. Each year the number gets higher and higher.
Now let’s turn to the spin of the Earth. No question here, either. Think about 2010 and how much faster it went by than did 2009 or even worse, 2005. I remember when, as a child, a year was still a year. Today a year is just a shadow of what it used to be. It’s a process somewhat akin to inflation, which, over time, makes the dollar worth less. But here the currency is “time.”
I estimate that a current year is only about 8.5 "old months" long.
Normally, one would expect the increasing spin to toss us all off into space. But that hasn’t happened. The only logical explanation (again, more proof) is that the increased centrifugal force has been countered by an even greater increase in gravity -- so weight gain is not all bad.
There’s nothing much to do about the spin, except to hold on tight. It really would be terrible to see people zinging off into space. Interestingly, increasing one’s mass, and therefore increasing gravitational attraction is one way to deal with this situation. Perhaps it’s nature’s way of coping. As for the acceleration of time, I’ve tried to counter it by leaving pages on the calendar and setting my watch back a few hours each day. It doesn’t work. We need a new breakthrough that seems, currently, to be beyond the capabilities of modern science and technology.
The passage of time needs to be placed in perspective. One benchmark was George Orwell's book about a distant and dysfunctional future titled "1984.” That date is now 27 years in the past. Arthur Clarke's fascinating story of the future, which Stanley Kubrick turned into an amazing movie, was "2001: A Space Odyssey." That date passed 10 years ago. Who says the years aren't whizzing by at an ever-increasing pace?
2011 will bring many challenges, most of which have been with us for some time. The world presents a strange mixture of human endeavor and emotions. People work to conquer disease and better understand the universe while others build bombs and are hell-bent on destroying what has been achieved. Many devote their lives to building a better future, while others sacrifice their lives in wanton acts of incomprehensible murder. Billions spent on education still leave many in ignorance, with intolerant and intransigent thoughts that lead to continuing conflict. Incredible wealth exists alongside incredible poverty and islands of traditional values struggle to survive against the many forces that constantly erode them.
My hopes for 2011 echo those I had hoped for 2010. For our nation: 1. improvement in the economy; 2. a reaffirmation of the qualities of personal integrity; 3. the reestablishment of trust in our institutions; and, 4. the recognition that the good in each one of us can be projected outward to encompass the nation and even the globe. It’s a lot to hope for.
For the world: 1. peace and the building of bridges between otherwise hostile communities; 2. the elimination of more of the diseases and the poverty that plague so many; and 3. nations coming together to work on building a better future for all. All or any of this will only come to pass in one way -- if each of us does what he or she can to make it so and to make our government responsive to our desires. Pressure placed upon Congress, voter by voter, is the only way to create the tidal waves needed to effect change in that institution.
And for each of my readers, I hope the New Year will bring good health for you and those you love, happiness and dreams come true. And I also hope that each of us will get satisfaction from whatever efforts we can undertake to help make this world a better place for all.
Melvyn Copen lives in both Georgia and Arizona. He is an educator and businessman who has worked and lived in many foreign countries and provides consulting services throughout the world. His column appears every other Wednesday. Please share your comments with him via e-mail at email@example.com.