Times of Our Lives; Scientific American Time; Special Editions; by Karen Wright; 8 Page(s)
The late biopsychologist John Gibbon called time the “primordial context”: a fact of life that has been felt by all organisms in every era. For the morning glory that spreads its petals at dawn, for geese flying south in autumn, for locusts swarming every 17 years and even for lowly slime molds sporing in daily cycles, timing is everything. In human bodies, biological clocks keep track of seconds, minutes, days, months and years. They govern the split-second moves of a tennis serve and account for the trauma of jet lag, monthly surges of menstrual hormones and bouts of wintertime blues. Cellular chronometers may even decide when your time is up. Life ticks, then you die.
The pacemakers involved are as different as stopwatches and sundials. Some are accurate and inflexible, others less reliable but subject to conscious control. Some are set by planetary cycles, others by molecular ones. They are essential to the most sophisticated tasks the brain and body perform. And timing mechanisms offer insights into aging and disease. Cancer, Parkinson’s disease, seasonal depression and attention-deficit disorder have all been linked to defects in biological clocks.