…or man, as it happens. Read on for some of my thoughts about time, how to manage it, and why you sometimes shouldn’t.
Time has toppled some of the brightest minds of the human race, puzzled the most powerful thinkers, and, as we all know too well, trudged steadily onward since it’s supposed dawn. Time is the one constant that seems to fluctuate from minute to minute, slowing down and speeding up when we never want it to. It marches on, swiftly, assuredly, carrying us each into the future and assuring our deaths. It flies, swooping along with our joy. It drags, like our soles after a long day at the office. Worst of all, it ticks by, each second a suspenseful, painful crack. Occasionally, it seems frozen. And perhaps my favorite, it melts away in moments of pure bliss, where time is immaterial.
And yet, we still know surprisingly little about this thing, time, that rules our lives.
I’ve spent a few good moments thinking about time. A few particularly interesting thoughts stick out, but I’m not Einstein so I won’t attempt to awe you with any mathematical insight. Consider it more like philosophy.
I once heard a talk about circular time versus linear time. I believe the context had something to do with the Greeks, but the idea was that certain things occur in linear time–that which we experience every day, the standard, one-foot-after-another time of our lives–while still others live in circular time. Circular time is about cycles, and may have been considered holy. It connects events to their removed-ness from the minutiae of every-day details and places them in a different sphere altogether.
Simply put, this view of time separates the simple from the strange and the mundane from the majestic. But it’s not a complete picture (and, I’ll admit, it’s not even a very clear one–this is an older, incomplete memory).
You’ve got to give the Norse folk one thing: they had a good thing going when it came to the world tree mythos. I don’t really want to talk about Marvel’s Avenger Thor, although it certainly kept a decent number of references to Yggdrasil. No, I’d rather compare it’s branching structure to one suggested by some of our own physicists.
Some have hypothesized that parallel universes exist, universes just like this one, only something is slightly–or even drastically–different. It could be the color of your best friend’s hair, it could be the winners of WWII, it could be the speed of light. But parallel unfortunately doesn’t capture the whole idea, at least not for me.
We call them parallel because they supposedly will never intersect with our universe. This is probably for the best, but I would suggest that perhaps they share a single point of intersection: decision. Rather than lines crossing paths, think of the roots of a tree diagram. Some nodes branch off into others, which in turn branch off into others… it’s one of the basic foundations of computer science, and we often model decision logic in video games and other complex simulations using a tree.
Why then, couldn’t the universe? What if every decision is the beginning of a new universe, each with their own unique decision at that point in time? Sure, it’s not exactly space efficient (we’d have quadrillions of them by now), but it’s a neat idea. Plus, it’s reassuring to consider that somewhere out there every bad decision I’ve ever made went a little better.
At the end of the day, time is part human construct, part observable change, and part mystery. We can measure it’s passing, and have invented various kinds of watches to help do so.
But the idea of seconds and minutes and hours, concepts so deeply ingrained in our brains we wouldn’t know what to do without them, are purely human. Time is nothing but the fact that life changes. Life couldn’t exist without change, and change couldn’t happen without relativity. If there is not ‘before’, there can be no ‘after’–like memory, which is simply a recording of changes over time, life is marching along to it’s heartbeat, slowly drumming out over time, changing with each generation.
So what do we do with it?
I won’t lie, there’s no easy answer here. Time is a fickle fiend; it loves us and whispers to us about all the things we could accomplish, and then laughs when at the end of the day when we’ve wasted it.
However, I can share some of my guiding principles.
How this all play out in the end depends a lot on what things I want to do, and the granularity of my planning, be it hourly or daily or weekly. In the end, though, it helps me get some stuff done.
Here’s the thing. We aren’t in control. Of time, of life, of much of anything. And we like to think we are; it helps us sleep sounder, breathe easier, and just keep on chugging away.
But we’re not.
And this is a good thing.
We do need some time to not be in control–that’s a state of high-tension, with a lot depending on our decisions. Just as Nintendo Thumb comes from too much button mashing, trying to jerk the control stick of life around too much will hurt you. Besides, trying to control everything for too long always ends up failing. So take a break sometimes–not just from accomplishing, but from controlling.
Go for a walk. Lie in the sand or the water. Breathe deeply, see something you never have before. Do something different, or don’t do anything at all. Find a good book, an animal, a friend. Relax the controlling parts of your brain; submit to a different rhythm, and dream a little.
It changes my life every time I do it.
P.S. It is after much thought that I have decided to follow my own advice. I’m cutting down my writing schedule to 3 times a week in order to take more breaks and put some more thought into what I say. Here I wrote almost 1300 words, simply because it was the one big thing I’ve written in quite a bit.
End result: posts will come out every Tuesday and Thursday, give or take, and one sometime during the weekend. This is for my benefit and yours.