Saturday, November 22, 2014
Ponderings on Time
When as a youth I waxed more bold, Time strolled.
When I became a full-grown man, Time RAN.
When older still I daily grew, Time FLEW.
Soon I shall find, in passing on, Time gone."
Poem from the front of the clock case in the North Transept of Chester Cathedral, attributed to H. Twells (1823-1900).
To perform a personal examination of time, please document a single minute of time. Using a watch with a second hand, observe this one minute as carefully as possible. Then write as many details as possible: the location you are in, the sounds and sights available to you, and the 'feeling' of the time you are observing. Have you proved that time is relative?
Proving whether time is relative or not is something that I cannot do. As with many people who have a brain injury, I have lost my sense of time. I live in the Eternal Now, with the past, present, and future merging into a singular whole. Not only that, but now I see time as colors – blue days, purple months, green hours. (It is a form of synesthesia.) If I focus on time, it becomes a kaleidoscope of colors merging, fracturing, and flowing. Time, as I experience it, runs counter to most people’s sense of time. Therefore documenting a single minute of time is impossible.
Because my sense of time is gone, I decided to research how others see time. What I uncovered was that there is not agreement on how time is perceived. One thought is “presentism” in which “time is experienced but does not pass.” The other is “flowism” in which time flows whether people perceive it or not. “Flowism” says that people perceive the passage of time by reflecting on their experiences. The philosopher Immanuel Kant agreed with this. He wrote that “the phenomenology of passage of time is a necessary condition for any experience.” For him, time existed and was “true” whether we experienced it or not (A priori reasoning).
Before Kant, western philosophers traditionally defined time to be a construction of the self, starting with St. Augustine. (“I measure my self, as I measure time.”) Therefore perceived time is the “mental state of the beholder.” According to this philosophy, we perceive time as we feel. For example, depressed people usually see time as slowing down. However with a brain injury, my perception of my self is detached from how I feel. Therefore time is nonexistent to me, and is only an artificial construct. What exists for me is the illusion of time.
From a psychological point of view, people may experience time in one of two ways. “Polychrons” experience time as one continuous current much like a river flowing from the past through the present, and on to the future. Meanwhile, “monochrons” perceive time as discrete intervals, which are divided into fixed elements such as hours. Furthermore, societies tend to organize themselves on either of these perceptions of time. Since western industrial society is monochromic, the notion that time can be proven to be relative is plausible. (Of course a polychromatic society would not even consider the idea.)
To gain an understanding of how time could perceived in relative terms, I compared watching a football game to a hockey one. Fifteen minutes of watching players skating frantically trying to score seemed like an instant. Watching the last few seconds of a football game with the losing team trying to score seemed endless. I suppose that in relation to me and the action of the game, time could be seen as relative. However, sports games are usually measured in “sports” minutes, which differs from “standard” minutes. A fifteen minute quarter in football may result in thirty minutes of “standard” time. Therefore, proving how time is relative in sports can be problematic.
Since I live in a monchronic society, I have to accept the idea that time exists in measured units. To be in sync with others, I have to develop methods of “timekeeping.” Otherwise, I would simply follow the rhythms of my body in sleeping and eating. Monchronic time divorces many people from natural rhythms, and forces them to see time differently.
Hahn, Harley, “Time Sense: Polychronicity and Monochronicity.” Web. http://www.harley.com/writing/time-sense.html.
Janiak, Andrew, “Kant’s View on Space and Time.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 14, September, 2009. Web. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-spacetime/.
Le Poidevin, Robin, “The Experience and Perception of Time.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2009. Web. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/time-experience/.
Musser, George, “Time on the Brain.” Scientific American. 15 September 2011. Web. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2011/09/15/time-on-the-brain-how-you-are-always-living-in-the-past-and-other-quirks-of-perception/.
Prosser, Simon, “Passage and Perception.” Paper. Web. http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~sjp7/passage_and_perception.pdf.
Wittmann, Marc, “The Inner Experience of Time.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 31, May, 2009. Web. http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1525/1955.full.pdf.