Friday, June 1, 2007

When is time?

An artist with whom I roomed many years ago once said, “You really don’t understand time and space at all, do you?”

I said, ‘Well, if you’re going to explain, just start with time. I don’t think my brain can take in both at once.”

She looked at me in bafflement for a minute. Then she said, “Okay. Time. When is it?”

“What? You mean, it’s 2:30?”

“No! I mean when is the time, when is the time?”


“It’s NOW, that’s when it is. It’s always now. It’s never then, it’s never future time either. We’re trapped in a tiny sliver in between then and time-to-come. We have no influence over either the past or the future, only the present.”

“I see why we can’t influence the past, but of course we can influence the future. That’s called planning.”

“ No, the future…you can never go there and change it. All you can do is right now, something you guess might change the future. But you might guess wrong. Don’t you see? Time is a tiny, cramped spot, not the huge expanse we like to think about. Right now. If you don’t sense your surroundings right now, if you don’t observe, then you have wasted that part of life.” She looked at me quizzically.

I thought she was talking philosophy, a subject that can give me a strong headache. But I had a glimmering of the idea she wanted me to get. “It’s only now, but I still say the best use of now is to plan how to influence the future.”

“So that’s why you smoke?” I did at that time, luckily I’ve had the sense to stop.

“No, that’s why I can do experiments. The smoking is stupid.”

“Stupid now and stupid later. But the best use of now is to perceive NOW, not waste all your time planning for the future. We humans aren’t that good at planning anyway, and if you’re doing that, you’ll be missing what you could take in from your environment, human and otherwise.”


katwilkens said...

Interesting--something to think about. What we think of as the past has very little objective reality. Things that happen leave clues (like footprints, the fossil record), but most of what we think of as history is just what people said. If you and I experience an event, we might have two very different memories of it.

Laura L. Mays Hoopes said...

I love to think about the different perspectives people have on the same event, although it makes 'truth' a very slippery concept. The movie "Rashomon" did a good job of that idea, and it has been included in several books since then. I am thinking about using perspectives of two different college girls in the novel I'm working on, not quite alternating, but showing some events from both perspectives.