Thoughts on Time

When one works a monotonous job, such as in manufacturing, one tends to possess a great deal of time to dedicate to one’s own thoughts as a distraction from performing a repetitive process. Against the relentless symphony of countless machines, individuals are often left to amuse themselves within the confines of their own skulls.

Since I took my current job, I’ve gained a lot of time to think. Some of my thoughts are realistically productive. More often than not, though, I find myself thinking for the sake of thinking -– forcing my brain to produce enough stimuli to maintain consciousness so as not to injure myself by being devoured by some archaic piece of steel automation.brain-gear-2

When I finally emerge from my underground labyrinth, after twelve hours of functioning not much unlike an organic robot, I inexplicably feel as mentally exhausted as I am physically. Though factory work is hardly a mentally demanding activity, I arrive home in a daze after a shift – as if I’m watching my life in third-person. What bothers me most about this is that after a shift, I usually have absolutely no recollection of anything I thought about. I might as well have drunk myself into a stupor and woken the next morning, unable to remember broad stretches of time that I know existed.

I was sitting in such a daze one evening, staring out across the backyard from my deck, when a few scattered, fragmented thoughts began to resurface. Apparently in order to pass the time, my mind had spent hours contemplating the very meaning of time.

Nothing like working in a factory can make you so aware of the impact of time on the human condition. There are instances when time can be your most intimate friend, nurturing you and sheltering you from the world. There are other instances when time is a cold, hungry void – devouring all hope, meaning, and existence.

Modern science has told us that time is relevant. However we as humans, incapable of comprehending all but a fraction of our existences, experience time at the same rate no matter how fast or slow it is currently moving. It makes one wonder if there are ever any fluctuations in our experience of time – like those near-death experiences you hear about where a person’s entire life is replayed before them in a matter of microseconds, or how car wrecks seem to happen in slow motion.

There are many other instances in our lives when our experience of time seems relevant. Let’s examine the time increment of 30 minutes as an exercise. Contemplate each of the following scenarios:

  • 30 minutes of sleep
  • 30 minutes until quitting time
  • 30 minutes in the checkout lane
  • 30 minutes left to live
  • 30 minutes of lunch break
  • 30 minutes of driving
  • 30 minutes locked in a room with someone you love
  • 30 minutes locked in a room with someone you hate

Some of these situations can seem like three hours. Others can seem like only five minutes. This leads us to believe that our experiences of time, just like our experiences of reality in general, are created entirely by each of our own minds. How our minds experience time, therefore, can be observed by noting the occurrence of one of two very different thoughts: “When will this end” and “I hope this never ends.”

quotes-time-is-relative_4566-0We must also remember that time is an entirely man made concept. Man created the concept of time in order to keep everything from happening at once. This is why in the Bible it is written that God has no beginning and no end – He just is. Just like time and space. This brings to the table another interesting question. Does God ever experience time at a different rate than us?

I’ll illustrate this with an example.

I’ve spent many hours lately playing the game SimCity. Like many such Sim games from Maxis, the player has the ability to speed up and slow down time. Sometimes the player slows down time so that he or she can perform some meticulous task. Other times, the player can speed up time in order to “get to the good part.” No matter what speed the player plays at, the “Sims” (the people in the simulation) experience time as a constant.

What does God’s control panel look like? Can He slow down or speed up time like a player running a simulation? Even more mind-blowing, can He pause it? Can He rewind it? And if He does have the power to rewind it (after all, why wouldn’t He?), then we find ourselves asking why would He need to? To correct a mistake? But God doesn’t make mistakes – He is a perfect being! Or is He perfect because He can reverse time and change things as He wishes?1154_1_wandtattoo_play_stop_tasten

I’m afraid these comments may come off sounding a bit blasphemous. An unfortunate side effect of most deep philosophical thought is that it tends to stumble into some very touchy spiritual issues. We know God is perfect, but we don’t know why or how. Our inquisitive minds implore us to find out, but warrant sensitive questions that we’re hesitant to ask.

We are not meant to understand most of our existence, but when has that ever stopped us from trying? Is there a point where the philosopher should stop questioning so as not to drive himself mad? More importantly, has he really gained anything by asking a multitude of “easier” questions only to uncover some terrible question he is afraid to ask?

I suppose out of all this I am starting to grasp the profound paradox of those who contemplate time: In order to understand it, we would need an infinite amount of it.

At this point, I can only point readers to another article discussing the many aspects on the philosophies of time. The concept of alternate timelines is nearly if not more mind-boggling than the concept of alternate universes. If that’s not enough for you, check out topics on chaos theory such as the Butterfly Effect.the-butterfly-effect

From what I gather, part of chaos theory touches a great deal about how slight variations in a system can cause huge variations over time. For example, if I accidentally type the wrong key while typing this sentence, and have to use my backspace key so that I can type the right letter, how will that impact the future 50 years from now? Did my use of the backspace key at that particular moment somehow trigger or prevent a cataclysmic event? It makes us wonder how even our most subtle actions and inactions are shaping the future in significant ways.

I think I’ve rambled enough. I leave it to you to extract any meaning from it, despite my unnecessarily long introduction.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Time

  1. Brandon

    If you really want some material to work your brain with in regards to time and space, I highly recommend The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0375708111/002-0905948-1769631?%5Fencoding=UTF8&n=507846&s=books&v=glance). Through some of Einstein’s experiments, you’ll find that people actually *do* experience time differently from different perspectives under certain circumstances. It’s one of those rare science books that are actually fun to read. I couldn’t put it down.

  2. Kody

    That looks quite interesting. I may have to pick it up, seeing as most of my current literary diet consists of fantasy and fiction. Sometimes it’s helpful to read a good non-fiction book to bring your head back down out of the clouds.

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