The Big Bang, cosmos, and string theory – there are a surfeit of books that delve into wild ideas about the deepest mysteries of our universe. This caused astronomer Adam Frank to ask himself a question late one night in his fifth month of writing his book, About Time: “Who cares!? ” Save astronomers, physicists, and theologists, does cosmology matter on a day-to-day scale for the rest of us? His answer is yes … but not in the way one would expect.

Dr. Frank’s recently delivered a talk titled About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang as part of the Benjamin Dean astronomy lecture series at the California Academy of Science.  Cal Academy has no shortage of fascinating talks by prominent speakers, and this particular talk included immersive visuals to illustrate Frank’s points, planetarium style.

According to Dr. Frank, cosmology shapes the human experience through one important connection: time. Each cultural era has had its own concept of what time is, or “time logic”.  Time, therefore, is an invention that serves the current needs of humanity. To demonstrate this point, Dr. Frank asks, “What time is it?”  Everyone in the audience found the answer quickly, 7:48 pm, but the abstract concept of 48 minutes after the arbitrary hour of seven would have made no sense to someone living before minute hands were added to the invention of a clock.  For example, a thousand years ago people gauged the time of day by the placement of the sun and the length of the shadows (in Ancient Rome, noon occurred when the sun lined up between two prominent buildings), but there was no metering of time in increments as small as a minute.