The idea of Time — that it is precious, ever-fleeting and difficult if possible to recover — looms over our personal and collective existence.
For many, it is frustrating to think that they just might be running out of time or are being chased by it. We fret over passing time, many a time, and commit blunders in a hurry to meet up Time.
We mount clocks on our walls, adorn our wrists with expensive watches and mark our dates on calendars all to help us “tell the time” (at least this is the conventional reason).
Yet other than the scientific indeterminacies of the physicists, we really cannot say what Time is.
What is this property of the universe, Time? How does Time work? What does it mean for Time to ‘pass’? Is it in the sense of an object being in motion? Then at what speed?
If Money is measured against weight in gold, which, by the way, is valuable only because we all agree it has been and will be in the future, what about Time? You’d probably say “Time is money”. But, what if it’s not? What is Time measured against? How much Time passes per…whatever?
And, if Time is something that passes, can it also be stopped? Can it be mounted and travelled on to a preferred direction? Could Time be altered?
For example, consider the “grandfather paradox”: if one “travelled back in time” and killed his grandfather before his mother or father was born, could he prevent his birth and those of his children?
(The thought of preventing your own conception and birth is crazy, I know! It also presupposes that you could bring back your lost loved ones! Really alluring).
Is Time personalized and limited? As in, does each person have a specific amount of Time allocated, by default or divine design, to him in this existence? Is that what we mean when we say Lifetime? Or is it tied to all beings, things and events generally? That is, do we all have the same Time and in equal proportion?
If one’s Time is limited, what does it mean to have not wasted that time? Is it based on activity or productivity? And for what and whose purpose?
If your clock stopped working and you have no access to other means, say, the natural signs in the Sky, to “tell Time” for a considerably long period of time, would your sense of Time be dislocated and reconfigured? Would it affect the speed or length or direction of “your Time”?
So yes, I mean Time — not the clock!
Please, before proceeding to read the next section, be advised:
- I do not pretend to know the workings of the universe well enough to provide THE answers. Nor do I intend to formulate some theory of physics. Matter of fact, this article was intended to raise questions than provide answers. So, strictly speaking, its aim has already been achieved in the preceding section.
- I also do not pretend that my mind is the first to be bothered by thoughts and questions on the subject of Time. Think of the 16th-century thinker, Newton (of Absolute Time), and more recent thinkers such as Albert Einstein (of Relativistic Time) and Max Planck (of Quantum Time). The thoughts expressed herein may or may not align with any established theory of Physics. They are the fruits of a wandering but fallible mind.
To my fallible mind in the course of its unguarded wanderings: Time runs its own course. No, not in the sense that it is in motion. Just, it has a seemingly self-executing agenda. It appears to be neither propelled nor driven by human playthings such as clocks and calendars. At best these human playthings are an attempt to keep track or measure rates of activity or productivity.
Factually, clocks and calendars are relative to the varying cultures of Earth. These cultural perceptions, though not representative of actual Time, influence our behaviours in relation to Time.
Robert Levine believes that the more economically developed(?) a country is, the faster the pace of their time, since, to them, “time is money”. On the other hand, cultures with poorly developed economies(?) nurture a more relaxed attitude towards time. They are more “family and socially oriented” and their time orientation is slow-paced.
So, basically, some live their lives by the clock. Others live their lives by the quality of time. So to speak. I think this was what Karl Marx meant when he made a distinction between labour-time and free-time. Labour time being necessitated by the capitalist world, and free time being for the “full development” of man.
The idea — that everyone has an equal time and simultaneously so — is rather implausible.
Think about it this way: While Time is a common denominator and leveller, each person’s portion and length of Time, at least in the land of the living, is clearly uneven. At least by evidence of what the human mind seems to conceive as the “beginning” and “ending” of individual life in this world: Birth and Death. More so, some people “die” before they are “born”; some on the very day they are “born”. While others live very long lives, regardless the contents of the life so lived.
Though one cannot be sure of the length of his lifetime, except revealed to him by his creator, the length of Time one has to themselves is of no actual consequence. Marcus Aurelius says, and I am inclined to agree, this moment is all you have to lose — not the past or future. One must live well in the NOW.
What if Time is on a Loop?
I know so many people who believe in reincarnation. I also know people who are believed to be reincarnations. I have been shown scars that supposedly attest that a particular person is a returnee from past times.
Could it be that Time is on a loop?
Think about it. Think about all the emperors who have fallen alongside their once indestructible empires.
Think about all the peoples past, both commoners and elites, saviours and villains and all that is yin-yang about our collective existence.
Think about the billions of interesting and many times instructive stories we are repeatedly told by history.
Think also the thought that down the timeline are apocalyptic — even cataclysmic — events, some of which have probably been forgotten alongside the memory of those who witnessed or had recorded them (at least this is the hint we get from folklores, even religious texts).
And then, think about how their stories are not so different from ours — tragedies, comedies or a combination of both.
As Einstein remarked, and I am inclined to agree, “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”. To my mind, Time doesn’t pass.
I think we are the ones passing through Time. To and fro.
This may explain why some times, events and people seem so familiar and you could swear you had met them before. You are so sure. Isn’t that what we call deja vus? To my fallible mind, deja vus are memories longing to be remembered.
Heraclitus thought of Time as a river. He said one cannot step into the same spot twice. I diverge from him a bit. Maybe, Time is like a river, but I think of it not as a one-way river.
The river of Time seems to have a cyclic flow rather than a linear one. It empties in and refreshes itself from a boundless ocean, creating the possibility of repeated experiences in one lifetime (or the other, assuming there is another).
The idea of a cyclic river of time makes sense when you consider the fact that every other day, a Caesar is murdered in cold blood, a Brutus justifies his betraying a friend, a Jack freezes to death for love, a Jesus is crucified for his beliefs and a Saul becomes Paul. You could think of happier templates than these.
And, if Time is like a river, I think of History as the Ocean of Time.
It is, to my mind, a perfect metaphor. To my mind, these current events and us are all just repetitions of time flowing from that boundless source. I am almost certain that, if you stare long and hard enough into the Ocean of Time, you will find a reflection of your experience, or something close to it at least, staring right back at you, teaching you. Go on, try it.
To my mind, it is by learning from the past that we are able to make progress in Time. If not, if we do not learn from it, we are doomed to repeat it in continuum.
The study and mastery of history, therefore, affords us some power over Time. We avoid repeating experiences by learning from them. In that sense, we travel through and alter Time.
To my mind, life is a staged play. We’ve seen this play numerous times, and it really doesn’t matter that you leave the cinema at the close of the first scene — you won’t be missing out on anything. Same old play, with roles set in stone, too often staged and now stale. What I find interesting, however, is the fact that the actors commit the same old blunders despite having the script for hundreds of years. It’s a comedy, honestly. And that alone should make one want to stay for one more scene. But, does it? Hardly that reason. Even comedy, repeated countless times, becomes irredeemably boring — a tragedy. Hope. Hope that they’d finally get the act together in the next scene. Almost always that reason.
“And if it be a knot I must un-tie/ set Time in one eye and Death in the other/ and I will look on both with no eye/ as though they were twined of a monstrous mother.”
PS: The seeds of these thoughts were planted in my mind at a time of grief and anxiety. I have long resigned that my times are in the hands of the Great Physicist who put the Universe and its properties together, and he teaches me how to number my days. I rest with the presupposition that each and every one of us has our respective times. I hope you rest in this knowledge, too.