Change takes time and does not happen instantaneously. A rock chip from a mountain, slowly, over centuries of rolling down a river, becomes a smooth, round pebble. A tiny egg and sperm become a breathing, living human in 9 months. A drop of water held at 31 degrees Fahrenheit becomes ice. Whether slow or fast, change is never immediate. Even in the split second between the last swipe of the axe and the tree hitting the ground, turning from a living tree to a dying piece of wood, time elapses. As the seconds tick by, the numbers on the clock and the calendar change, ages grow older. Time is the medium of change, but change occurs only in one direction. Where there is change, there is before and after. The interval between before and after is understood as the passage of time. Time enables change to happen, and at the same time, time is constituted by the observation of change, whether in a cyclic or noncyclic manner.
Although humans have determined ways to measure the distance between the start and end of change, some thinkers have observed that it is not time itself that passes, but rather our senses informing us that change has occurred. Parmenides of Elea and his teacher, Xenophanes, felt change was mere appearance. Paramenides’ student, Zeno of Elea, proved that time as change is unreal. Accordingly, time is not seen as a change, but with passage of time, change occurs. Change is also related to time in that the measuring and observing of time changes, yet this same event, despite different numbers measuring it, is still the same span of time, despite man’s resistance to changing his method of measure. The definition of time is the same the world over—the passage of life; it is the method used for measuring the time that changes. Whether by using a predetermined method or by how it feels to have passed, time is measured. The shared concept among all measurements of time is the counting of a regularly recurring identical change, sometimes the recurrences and sometimes equal increments between occurrences. Thus, it is this counting of changes that allows time to happen. And it is time that enables us to observe the changes occurring all around us. Yet time appears to change when we observe it without the benefit of counting regular occurrences. An hour can appear to change in length, between the hour waiting for an athletic event to start and the hour an exciting game lasts. An hour can change by how it is measured—a sundial hour can vary from a clock hour. In any case, time cannot be detected without change occurring, whether we observe the change or not. Time is only the measurement at regular intervals of a continuous occurrence. Whether the heartbeat used by Galileo when timing the motions of the pendulum, or the seconds passing as a minute hand goes around a clock face, these are all changes that are occurring and thus are measured to indicate the passage of time. Time cannot be altered; it is the changes in other things that occur as time passes that constitute the change, not the passage of time itself.
In the 19th century, change was often equated with progress. Since then, events have demonstrated that this is not always the case. Change can be progressive, or it can be regressive and destructive. Change can occur in any direction, can end or be open-ended. No matter the direction of change, this alteration is measured, in part, by the time that has passed between start and end, or between one point and another on the continuum of time. In order to measure change over time, one must examine not only the start and end but also intervals along the continuum of the change over time. In some areas of research, such as the social sciences, assessing change over time is often explicitly the focus of the study. In other disciplines of study, such as organizational research, this is often more implicit, but still fundamental to making inferences and deductions from the data gathered. When measuring change over time, the more observations of the occurrences, the more frequent the observations, the more accurate the final outcomes will be. Change occurs over time, and it is because of this that the notions of time-specific and time-related errors need to be considered in any evaluation of change.
It was said by Lothar I, Holy Roman Emperor (840-855), that times change and that we must change with them. It can also be noted, however, that not only do the times change, but so does time itself. We can never return to the time that has passed, nor can we return to the person we were at an earlier time. As time passes, changes occur, whether realized or not. Moreover, as time passes, the ability to observe change alters. Impairments in a person, whether caused by age or improved by age, affect the perceptions of time passage. These differences cause a change to be observed differently, based in part on the perceptions of time’s passage. Change, in this instance, can be defined as a variation in a property of a thing. Thus, the change occurs as the time passes and the property thus shifts in the item. Even an event that occurs never occurs in an instant, and thus change occurs throughout the event as the event progresses.
See also Charles Darwin; Cultural Evolution; Organic Evolution; Social Evolution; Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; Heraclitus; Vladimir Ilich Lenin; Karl Marx; Objective Flux of Time; Evolving Universe; Xenophanes; Zeno of Elea
Arundale, R. B. (1980). Studying change over time: Criteria for sampling from continuous variables. Communication Research, 7(2), 227-263.
Chacalos, E. H. (1989). Time and change: Short but differing philosophies. Rockville, MD: Potomac Press Circle.
MacIver, R. M. (1962). The challenge of the passing years: My encounter with time. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Mellor, D. H. (1981). Real time. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Van Schendel, W., & Nordholt, H. S. (2001). Time matters: Global and local time in Asian societies. Amsterdam: VU University Press.