What is time? To answer this, I will begin by using a sophomoric rhetorical device often used by writers to look smarter than we are. That means I’m going to quote from Aristotle.
He said “time is the most unknown of all unknown things”, which in a post-Donald Rumsfeld world has some odd and inappropriate parallels. We perceive time in part due to our cultural conditioning; in short, where you are from dictates how we experience time. It is not the case that we are oblivious to this phenomenon, where our cultures overlap we see the differences.
Because I am a British immigrant to Ibiza, I have my internal British Time which often conflicts with Ibicencan Time or Spanish Time. It’s a relic of the tangible past. My partner definitely considers her Polish Time to be the pinnacle when it comes to an accurate representation of temporal reality. Considering the number of times I have been late, you, dear reader, should agree with her.
For all the times I have been thrown into confusion as to the exact format of a siesta, I could just as easily count apoplexy among my countrymen for our perceived inability to run a functioning rail network. Despite having over 4000 years experience with our sexagesimal timekeeping system, we all run on different clocks.
So, the conclusion we can draw from this comparative experience of time is that time is in the mind- at least in the subjective sense. What is a long time? What is a short time? St. Augustine posed the conundrum in this most noteworthy way: It cannot be what is past, since that has ceased to be, and what is non-existent cannot presently have any properties, such as being long. But neither can it be what is present, for the present has no duration.
To borrow a line from The Smiths, how soon is now?
“When you say it’s gonna happen “now”
Well, when exactly do you mean?
See I’ve already waited too long
And all my hope is gone”
Miserable for sure, because Morrissey is from England.
Maybe we should read these words as an exhortation to live in the moment. In another revealing illumination of this writer’s incredibly nerdy music taste, the prog band Tool has this to offer on the subject:
“Feed my will to feel this moment urging me to cross the line.
Reaching out to embrace the random.
Reaching out to embrace whatever may come.”
Furthermore, there’s the quintessentially relate-able tale of how the fear of mortality and wasted years nibbles on the nerves, by Pink Floyd.
“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way”
Time and Space, Space and Time
So what are we talking about when we talk about time? Is it the mental theological cartwheels of St. Augustine, the Unknown Unknowns of Aristotle? The poetics of miserable English musicians? Lets see what the opposite view from the sciences of the mind can tell us.
Land of the Headshrinkers
One of the founders of modern psychology was William James. He contended that ‘the prototype of all conceived times is the specious present, the short duration of which we are immediately and incessantly sensible’ (James (1890). All well and good- but I for one am not immediately sensible at all moments; in fact the opposite, far from it. My mind wanders all over the place to be quite honest, as you have probably gathered from this piece of writing.
Eckhart Tolle, a contemporary writer, distills much of the esoteric philosophies of religion into a suggestion to be present in the moment. Tolle is talking about being aware in the specious present, much as Gilmour reminds us to pay attention to our finite existence on Earth. As James Maynard Keenan tells us to expand our horizons. While St. Augustine considers the present moment to be timeless and never ending, only the past being measurable and quantifiable.
And the Band Plays On…
I’m writing about time today as I’ve recently (if recently actually exists) been struck by the many-times and many-minds that experience Ibiza. The sun is the same, in a relative way, as Floyd sang. Probably because the relative experiences of all of us are unique. A product of the individual histories from our disparate cultures and the multitude of demands on our time. I wonder about if there is any hope that we can see time the same way at all. Is that even desirable?
I look around at Café del Mar and notice how time works differently for all of us. The guests experiencing our atmosphere for the first time, I wonder if it’s different, this moment, to what is experienced by my friends who return day after day.
Objectively speaking, we are in the same place at the same time (whatever that actually means). As we know, the experience of time is subjective in the extreme. It may well be the most personally biased sensation we humans possess.
If the earth spins differently for you, can we see things the same?
The sensation that time is the enemy is quantifiable. Studies show that walking speed is directly correlatable to the size of the towns in which we live- a Madridista literally walks faster than a Rojiblanco on their way to the stadium. Maybe you have noticed this yourself, either being annoyed by the slow moving country folk as you try to get where you need to go, or bewildered by the city-dwellers who are surely rushing their lives away. The Madridista and the Azulgrana probably experience the 94th minute of El Clasico quite differently too, depending on the scoreline of the game.
Furthermore, when we are seeing and feeling the same things outside of ourselves, the internal story is subject dependent- the ultimate individuality. At the Café we are lucky, guests and workers alike. We are joined each evening by the resetting of the clock. A group of individuals united by external context, the collaboration between the Sun, a DJ and Ibiza’s shoreline. As a result I feel those moments when we witness the sunset, that time itself slows to crawl. Not subject to our constructions of sexagesimal time or pressures of appointments.
And then, it is over- the night has begun, and the Café del Mar party begins.
Speaking of which, we have a lot of work to do in real-time. I’ll see you all tonight, or on the next post. In the meantime, let’s try to experience time in a positive way. Yet, pay attention to where we are, what we are doing, and who we are doing things for.