Consider what the word ‘Time’ means to you. When you think of it casually, the definition and the ideas associated with it seem simple to understand. Time is the dimension of the passage of events from one to another and our experience with it, right? It’s the progression of events, one after another, towards the future and from the past and the position we are at right now is the present.
Human Beings love boxes and labels. I recently wrote a post about Gas Station Sushi that talked briefly about this, but more to the point is that labels are funny things. When we look at them in passing, they seem to represent exactly what they were intended for; to easily convey an idea or a set of preconceptions. But the harder we look at it, the more abstract and disconnected we feel from the label. Some people even adhere so strictly to labels that without the boundaries of labels to guide them, they feel like all is chaos. And they aren’t wrong, are they?
The YouTube channel vSauce recently posted a video on the passage of time and it’s abiguity as well as the method in which we, as human beings, have kept track of it. When you look at the past methods we’ve used to track time, it becomes clearer and clearer that we have tried desperately to fit our common perception of reality into boxes so we can quell our lack of total explanation.
The way the earth turns in relation to the sun has some interesting impacts on the measurement of time, from day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, century-to-century, and millennium-to-millennium. It makes muddies our once crisp view on time and the manner in which we track it. It’s an example of universal occurrences that are wild and chaotic that the human experience tries to quantify for the sake of our own understanding.
Philosophically it brings a few points to mind. Foremost is the idea of dimensions; if Time is a dimension because it’s a manner of perception, then shouldn’t all of our experience as human beings be consider its own dimension? After all, whether it’s a dog’s view on reality or an extraterrestrial’s, their entire concept of existence is entirely and abstractly different than our own. The next idea that comes to mind is that the universe, while amazing and marvelous, is the result of billions of years of actions and reactions that coalesced into only one possible outcome given the variables abound. Some people call it ‘intelligent design’ because it is so vast and incomprehensible, because it’s so calculated and exacting. But is it?
Let’s go back to ‘time’ as an experience. As box-creating, boundary-setting human beings, having established words like ‘past’, ‘present’, and ‘future’, we are surprisingly unable to set an exact instance of experience between the past and the present or the present and the future. Some say it’s the transition of awareness; when you are aware of an event that is no longer, it has transitioned to the past, whereas if you are aware of an event that will come to pass but hasn’t yet, you’re referring to that as a future event. But where do we draw the line? Can we observe a moment becoming part of the past, or is it only when we realize it? ‘Now’ can either be one second, or it can be a moment, an hour, or a day. So long as our perception establishes the sensation of the ‘now’. As I write this, is each word I write the ‘present’ and the previous word the ‘past’? And if this is my present now, by the time you read this, it will be my past, but your present. For me, it’s my present but your future. Geesh!
Astrophysicists Neil deGrasse Tyson and Steven Hawking have explained many times in many places that gravity can stretch and impact time. But if time is an experience, then the dimension of time is within us and so gravity stretches us. The gravity of distant stars skewing our perception of the universe may be another creature’s normal, non-altered reality. When we look into the sky, we see the light of a billion-billion stars, whose light is reaching us long after its source has faded into oblivion. This means that we’re experiencing the past in the present and that we are those stars’ future to their present.
It seems to me that the perception of time is relative to the human experience. With this in mind, our strict adherence and obsession with time to measure our lives, our days, our experiences, seems a tad silly. It’s this idea that reminds me that we created words to conceptualize experiences and ideas so we can share them with each other. So we can learn, and think, and grow. Ironically, when we spend so much time on the constraints of the labels we’re using, we are robbing ourselves of the very experiences we’re trying to share.
So, the next time you’re late, just remember that it’s all relative.