The Clock Mirage Our Myth of Measured Time Joseph Mazur

Publication date:
23 Jun 2020
Yale University Press
272 pages: 235 x 156 x 24mm
22 b-w illus.
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A tour of clocks throughout the centuries—from the sandglass to the telomere—to reveal the physical, biological, and social nature of time

What is time? This question has fascinated philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists for thousands of years. Why does time seem to speed up with age? What is its connection with memory, anticipation, and sleep cycles?  
Award‑winning author and mathematician Joseph Mazur provides an engaging exploration of how the understanding of time has evolved throughout human history and offers a compelling new vision, submitting that time lives within us. Our cells, he notes, have a temporal awareness, guided by environmental cues in sync with patterns of social interaction. Readers learn that, as a consequence of time’s personal nature, a forty‑eight‑hour journey on the space shuttle can feel shorter than a six‑hour trip on the Soyuz capsule, that the Amondawa of the Amazon do not have ages, and that time speeds up with fever and slows down when we feel in danger.
With a narrative punctuated by personal stories of time’s effects on truck drivers, Olympic racers, prisoners, and clockmakers, Mazur’s journey is filled with fascinating insights into how our technologies, our bodies, and our attitudes can change our perceptions. Ultimately, time reveals itself as something that rides on the rhythms of our minds. The Clock Mirage presents an innovative perspective that will force us to rethink our relationship with time, and how best to use it.

Joseph Mazur is professor emeritus of mathematics at Marlboro College. His previous books include Euclid in the Rainforest: Discovering Universal Truth in Logic and Math and Fluke: The Math and Myth of Coincidence.

“[A] mind-stretching book…skilfully written…[Mazur] has…considerately inserted human “interludes” between the scientific sections.”—John Carey, The Sunday Times

“Beautifully done…Mazur's first love is theory, and he handles it well, using Zeno's paradoxes to unpack the close relationship between psychology and mathematics.”—Simon Ings, Spectator

"This book is not so much about time but the human relationship with it, and if we modify its flow by interaction. It is a refreshingly oblique look at something we all experience every moment of our lives yet tend to see as a given."—Jenny Randles, Magonia Review

“Mazur by and large keeps to the core scientific disciplines, which he expounds with practised fluency and frequent charm…Readers will learn plenty from The Clock Mirage, be stretched by it, and have fun en route…It bristles with intellectual widgets cunningly squeezed into a machine of modest size.”—Boyd Tonkin, The Arts Desk

“Mazur opens an intellectual Pandora’s Box and marvels fly out. Our familiarity with time misleads us into thinking it is simple, when it is paradoxical, elusive, and counterintuitive. Highly enjoyable and informative.”—Ian Stewart, author of Do Dice Play God?

“A sweeping story in search of answers to a tantalizing mystery: what is time? Mazur offers an astonishing array of ideas, interviews and exposition, exploring time from many fascinating viewpoints.”—Robyn Arianrhod, author of Thomas Harriot: A Life in Science

“Mazur has an uncanny ability to engage both a scientific and lay audience through an intertwining of mathematics with tender considerations of humanity, affectingly guiding us to consider our own mortality: the clock winding down within each of us.”—Kia Corthron, playwright and author of The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter, winner of the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

“A journey of discovery in which Mazur, wise in the ways of the wild, invites us to see the edges of the known. This powerful investigation combines formidable research, mathematical expertise, and profound contemplations.”—William Goldbloom Bloch, author of The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel

“An expansive meditation on the meanings of time. As masterful teacher and earnest fellow traveler, Mazur leads us with heartfelt compassion, philosophical musings, and clear mathematical explanations, to find ourselves at the heart of it all.”—Gizem Karaali, Editor of Journal of Humanistic Mathematics