Does time really exist? Or is it just a fleeting illusion stemming from our subconscious awareness of the finite nature of human existence –– the context of all our actions?
Sitting on the edge of a cliff at Enterprise (Miami) Beach late last Thursday afternoon watching the final sunset of 2015, these questions suddenly crossed my thoughts.
As most people around the world understood it, one year was ending and another was about to begin.
In other words, a transition was taking place. But was it really? Perhaps the reality of time is a subject which you too, at some stage, may have considered. Our lives revolve so much around time that it becomes somewhat of a preoccupation.
It begins the moment we develop a full awareness of our physical existence and continues until the day we die. Our preoccupation with time is reflected in many ways –– for example, habitually glancing at our watches every now and then to see what time it is, even when we have nothing to do.
It is also reflected in the standard practice of radio stations giving regular time checks throughout the day, especially at the top of the hour. Even the ubiquitous cellphone is designed to tell us what time it is whenever we take it up for use.
As children, we are introduced to time by adults around us. Parents in particular constantly drill into our heads the necessity and importance of doing things within a particular time frame.
“Time and tide wait on no man,” my generation was repeatedly told when we were growing up.
“Procrastination is the thief of time” was another well-known saying to which we were exposed. Children, however, do not understand time in the same way as adults do. Which explains why they hardly ever move with the speed and urgency which parents and other grown-ups demand.
It is this difference of perspective which is at the root of the perennial struggle which parents have on mornings in particular trying to children ready for school or day care as they simultaneously try to get themselves ready for another day of work.
The objective is to leave home by a certain time in order to reach both destinations on time. Children, however, see things in a fundamentally different way from adults who often do not sufficiently understand. What is urgent for an adult, generally speaking, is not urgent for a child.
Early childhood in particular is a phase of blissful and playful innocence. As children grow in age, however, they eventually come to understand what urgency is about. It usually happens during the teenage years when we start to yearn for independence from our parents.
We experience this strong desire to stand on our own feet, to be our own man and woman so to speak, that we cannot wait to finish school, reach adulthood and start working for ourselves. It is during this phase that we become fully conscious of time because it seems to move so slowly.
At that stage in their development, young people tend to believe they have an abundance of time before them. Which probably explains why some children tend to fool around in school, lag behind in their studies, only to painfully discover that it was a big mistake and that time really was not on their side.
At that stage too, young people cannot identify with old age. It seems so alien to their experience and so far away. I recall at age 14, people in their 40s seemed so old to me. By the time I reached 25, it struck me that 40 after all was not so far away.
As I sat trying to make sense of the idea of time as the waves gently crashed on the shoreline below, I realized I wasn’t alone. Indeed, the subject has captured the attention of philosophers and other great thinkers throughout history.
Their fascination with time was often related to a search for meaning of the human experience in the context of the vast universe of which we are part. The great Greek philosopher Aristotle, for example, saw time and change going hand in hand.
In Physics, one of his many works, he observed: “. . . It is evident that the mere passage of time itself is destructive rather than generative [. . .] because change is primarily a ‘passing away’. So it is only incidentally that time is the cause of things coming into being and existing.”
Human life is essentially spent in a race against time. The race track is the dash between the date of birth and the date of death. Our race against time stems from an awareness that this existence will end at some unknown point in the future when time eventually catches up with us and causes our transition to eternity.
Over the last 25 years or so, people have been complaining increasingly that time seems to be passing much more quickly. There is a general feeling that the time available today, compared with years ago, is insufficient to do all the things we would like to do.
Yet the pace of time remains unchanged. There are still 60 minutes in one hour, 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a regular year. What has really changed is that people today have access to more information than ever before in human history as a result of the arrival of the Information Age.
Access to more information has increased the range of choices, resulting in people trying to do so much more in any given day than was the case before. Information overload also has people under considerably more stress which adds to the feeling that time is moving by more quickly when, in fact, it is not.
There is a difficulty, however, placing the idea of time in a universal or eternal context. Eternity, which is the essence of God, is not confined by the boundary of time. Hence, Isaac Watts, the writer of the well-known hymn O God Our Help In Ages Past, could posit that “A thousand ages in Thy sight are like an evening gone”.
The great St Augustine, an early church father and influential Christian theologian who, by the way, was black, remarked in his Confessions: “For you, God, are infinite and never change . . . . You yourself are eternally the same.”
Time does not exist in the realm of eternity. It is an entirely human creation. Rather, what exists is continuity because there are no beginnings and no endings. Seen from this perspective, a year is simply a man-made cut-off point within the construct of time.
Nothing whatsoever changed at the stroke of midnight, except for the 2015 calendar becoming obsolete. The so-called transition from 2015 to 2016 was a mere illusion.
In fact, when I visited Long Beach the following morning, to witness the first sunrise of 2016, it was essentially no different from the last sunrise of 2015.
What do you think of time? Email me your thoughts! I’d love to read them. Thanks, by the way, to the many readers who took time last year to provide feedback. Your comments are always welcome.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and long-standing journalist.