To those who saw it in its very first theatrical run, the opening crawl at the very top of the original 1977 “Star Wars” film automatically dispelled any notions about cosmic civilizations and a linear march of time. We all got the reference to a “galaxy far, far away” at the outset, but “a long time ago” was all at once brilliant and mind-blowing.
Inherent in that notion is the idea that civilizations outside our own solar system have been living and dying since time immemorial. And the civilizations depicted in this bit of space cinema also appear to have become masters of their own galactic quadrants, if not their whole galaxy.
Yet here on parochial Earth, we are wedded to the linear march of time in a way that is not likely to change until the very far future. Here, we are guided by our own history of technological advancement in a way that extraterrestrial civilizations may find antiquated. They may already be inured to the fact that they are mere technological babes in the woods when compared to much more advanced civilizations they, themselves, may have encountered.
We, however, remain galactic neophytes when coming to scientific terms with our place in the cosmos.
We are just beginning to understand our own inner solar system. We barely have a handle on how our own Moon formed. We continually question whether Venus, our nearest planet over, might have once had habitable conditions. And we do the same for Mars. There are even large gaps in our knowledge and understanding of how life arose on Earth.
Thus, the linear march of time for us humans remains a biggie, even though it’s one of the few reassuring measures of our own evolution.
We still have major questions about the nature of time itself. As the 2020 Nobel laureate Roger Penrose again recently asserted, cosmic time may even be cyclical, coincident with an infinite loop of collapse and rebirth. Thus, in Penrose’s view, our current cosmos is part of an infinite cyclical and temporal loop. At some point, such distances and such timescales may not be as humbling or as daunting.
For now, though, we look up and watch time pass with every celestial movement of stars and planets in front of us. Perhaps that’s why we love a well-made watch; or a town clock in some forgotten belfry. Every time we hear that second hand tick or the town clock striking the hour, it lets us