Real or Imaginary Time? Even Stephen Hawking Wasn’t Sure

I’ve been reading A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking’s bestseller. It’s a bit dated now, having been first published in 1988.  I’m not a scientist, but I imagine there have been many knowledge updates since then.

I found it tough in the beginning to get into the book, but now that I’m near the end, I’m really liking it. Not only do I enjoy building my scientific literacy, but the book started to read like a novel to me. Especially the chapter about black holes. Wow! What suspense! What characters! That poor astronaut who keeps getting sucked in and turned into spaghetti! (Those who have read the book will get my humor.) In fact, I appreciate that such a monumental mind had a sense of humor.

The book takes you on a journey, as the title says, through humans’ observations, theories and understanding of the nature of the universe, time, and space. Hawking walks you through how scientists actually conduct research into such an esoteric and controversial subject. There is so much we know now, and so much we still do not understand about the nature of our universe.

One can read this book in a vacuum, though I am certain Hawking would insist that there is no such thing as a vacuum in space. But I couldn’t shut out the current world political scene while reading parts of it.

One passage in particular jumped out at me for its absurdity. I loved it so much that I have copied it for my own reference. I took philosophy in college and loved it. It challenged my brain, and expanded my ways of thinking and analyzing situations. I have found Hawking’s writing much like philosophy. It puts things in perspective and sometimes makes you throw up your hands and surrender to the cosmos.

The Brain Twister

Following is the passage that so tickles me. It might amuse you, it might intrigue you, or it might simply annoy you. I might just let this guide my view of life from now on.

“This might suggest that the so-called imaginary time is really the real time, and that what we call real time is just a figment of our imaginations. In real time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time and at which the laws of science break down. But in imaginary time, there are no singularities or boundaries. So maybe what we call imaginary time is really more basic, and what we call real is just an idea that we invent to help us describe what we think the universe is like. But according to the approach I described in Chapter 1, a scientific theory is just a mathematical model we make to describe our observations: it exists only in our minds.  So it is meaningless to ask: which is real, “real” or “imaginary” time? It is simply a matter of which is the more useful description.”

Got that?


While reading A Brief History of Time, I felt my brain being stretched to its limits, much like the astronaut being stretched to death in that black hole. What sprang to mind was one of my favorite and most appropriate Far Side cartoons from decades ago.

I hope I don’t violate any copyright laws by sharing it here. All credits to Gary Larson and The Far Side!

Full Blood Moon, Buck Moon, Here Comes an Eclipse!

Today’s superstar is the full moon, and this one is being hailed as the longest lunar eclipse of the century!

That’s a lot of hype. Sadly, the eclipse won’t be visible in the United States, because it takes place during daylight here. But it should be exciting for people in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and South America, who should see a reddish moon.

That’s where the name Blood Moon comes in. Any moon in eclipse typically looks reddish, so it’s always called a Blood Moon.

The July full moon is also called the Buck Moon, referring to the time that deer start to shed their antlers. Other names for the July moon are Thunder Moon and Hay Moon.

Whatever we call it, our moon is deeply tied to our rhythms and cultures on earth.

The Corn Moon

How fitting that our August full moon is a lovely golden yellow (from Canadian fire smoke), for it is known as the Corn Moon. A time of harvesting, this full moon is also called the Green Corn Moon, Sturgeon Moon, Grain Moon, and Barley Moon.

According to the Farmers Almanac, Native American tribes called it the Sturgeon Moon because sturgeon in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were usually abundant during this time.

Some tribes, the Almanac adds, had yet other names for this late summer moon: “Wheat Cut Moon” (San Ildefonso, and San Juan), “Moon When All Things Ripen” (Dakotah Sioux), and “Blueberry Moon” (Ojibwe).

August is a time when the earth is providing an abundance of foods. Fish are running; corn, blueberries and other crops are ripening. No doubt it’s a welcome time for feasting and preparing foods for winter stores.

This moon tells us it’s the perfect time to reflect on what we have, what we can sacrifice, and what we can put away for leaner times.