Sunday, June 18, 2006

What is Time?

Once again, I owe some of my current fixation with the concept of time to Dave. However, several serendipitous writings have fallen into my awareness about time in the past few days, so I feel like sharing them with you.

First, some of my own, original thoughts on time. Time is a very strange concept simply because our perception of the universe does not occur in an instantaneous manner. Take for example, catching a ball (all jokes aside!): if I catch, oh, wait a second. If you catch a ball, when did you actually catch it? Not when you perceive yourself catching: light doesn't travel that fast, and since light is the speed cop of the universe, neither did any of the signals in your body. Therefore, all the events that you think occurred "in the present" didn't actually occur as you saw them.

An extreme example of this is of course stars: most people know that when they look up at the sky, the pinpoints of light they see aren't coming at them instantly. Rather, the light is thousands, millions, even billions of years "old." It's a trick of our perception that makes it seem as if we're seeing the "present" of those stars.

Add relativity to the mix, and suddenly time becomes even MORE confusing. I'm not going to go there, because I don't quite have the requisite grasp of physics necessary to make intelligent commentary.

Now some thoughts from outside sources. I came across an interesting article about a group of native South Americans that have a "backwards" concept of time. Basically, where we "see" the future as being ahead of us and the past as being behind us, the Aymara of South America believe the opposite. When they think of the past, they feel that it's ahead of them (because, well, what can you really "see" better, the future or the past?). When they think of the future, they believe it's behind them, something that they can't possibly see or even guess about.

Interestingly enough, they're one of the few people left on this planet that views life through this metaphor. This raises the question of how much metaphorical thinking affects our concept of time. The Aymara view the future as something not worth regarding, so they never plan "ahead."  This has resulted in severe restriction on any sorts of advancements. It makes one wonder what sorts of restrictions OUR language has placed on our perception / engagement with the world.

Stuart Davis (yes, another one of the ubiquitous names I reference on this blog :P) did a magnificent series on this over at his blog. I highly recommend his series on linguistics here, here, and here. Davis is creating a new language known simply as IS. He's created his own characters, syntax, grammar, and every other thing necessary to have a language FROM SCRATCH. It's his attempt at creating a more faithful interpretation of the Kosmos through language. Because truth be told, so much of how we "know" the world around us involves how we approach the world verbally. Cultural conditioning.

Well, so far I've covered physical and cultural correlates of time. Now lets talk subjective experience of time. For this one, I'll have to add a new name to the mix: David Deida. He's a spiritual teacher that focuses on more tantric (read non-dual) approaches to life. If you download his sample ebook Instant Enlightenment and turn to page 12, you'll find an interesting discussion of time. Here, Deida describes how watching your favorite movie at differing speeds would greatly affect your enjoyment of that movie. He then goes on to discuss how our interpretation of time works much the same way. Humans only focus on a very small swath of what occurs around them: grass growing is boring, but celebrity affairs are fascinating. We use a HUMAN timescale to judge how much we will pay attention to something.

Here's one of my favorite parts:

Nevertheless, parts of your life are happening really fast -- such as the constant motion of your eyeballs that scientists call physiological nystagmus, a high-frequency tremor of the eye that serves to continuously shift the image on the retina.

And, your hair grows far too slowly to occupy your attention, although you notice when it's finally too long.

Yet, the angry argument with your spouse about who forgot to pay the utility bill does occupy your concern. The quarrel happens at a precise speed, which catches your attention more than your hair as it lengthens or your eyes as they oscillate.

Everything happening too fast or slowly to catch your attention goes unnoticed; the human domain of drama is paced within a very narrow range, indeed, yet we take it very seriously.

I highly advise reading the entire chapter. And any other work by Deida, for that matter.

Well, that's all I have to say about time for now. If you've gotten this far, thank you for reading. It's things like this that get that set of that spark in me. I guess you could call this "metaphysics." I'll hopefully be exploring more of these topics, in memory of a good, short-known friend.


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1 comment:

Tallxcrunner said...

Very true stuff. Keep on keepin