Time is a scientific concept that deserves greater thought and study, though, despite advancements in the mathematical behaviors of time over long horizons under what I would call extreme conditions, it is a concept we will never be positioned to properly understand.
Time is not simply a matter of duration; time is movement, motion, transition and change. It’s not static, to be ticked off, eliminated. If we consider one of the best known implications of e=mc2, time is relative, it depends upon perspective. Black holes, as hungry-hippos of matter, could be considered a waste of time. Some say time flies when you’re having fun, lending colloquial truth to the notion time is relative.
There are boundaries to time in the temporal/spatial sphere just as there are in the sphere of neuro-chemical subjectivity. Time varies according to experience, perception of pain, focus, thought or its absence. Meditation can make time meaningless. Mindlessness, in a sense, does away with time, just as enjoyment, like a TV-movie, is often mindless, and over before we know it.
Self-help books talk confidently about “making time work for you”; so do investment advisors. Physicists and gods laugh when we make plans. Some say all matter is basically fixed; others say bodies reconstitute molecularly, and most agree neither energy nor matter are created or destroyed. Since 1662, we’ve invoked the immortal by the graveside prayer, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” so shall we all cycle in this eternal recurrence. Time plays the trump in every hand.
How does consciousness change with time? The serendipitous morphology of your world and your body is a brief flicker. We grapple with time, we fight gravity always seeking to bury us, we lean into the wind of prevailing wisdom; we rage against the uncaring forces of the cosmos, the amoral tyrant that is time itself.
Yet time is also the giver of life. It allows cell division growth, love—complex states are achieved through patterned development of eons of adaptive change; new states are reproduced through genetic programming and chromosomal mutations. Time gives our lives genetic high fidelity and brings the record player to the party too.
What is matter but a cousin of time? Or a relative, at least. Matter is inextricably linked to time in a relationship of cause and effect, effect and cause; now and again the quantum world behaves like a good boy should.
Lifespan is time-dependent, geology is time-dependent, volcanic belly-dancing and sculpted canyons are nothing if not the gorgeous supple movements of time, matter, and energy dancing to a particular slo-mo rhythm. The canyons of Zion, the craters of our Moon, the birth of the baby Krakatoa, the giant born from the belly of the sea—all miracles of time no less marvelous for being partially understood.
Time is judge and jury, but perhaps not the best conversationalist. Time’s a little slow on the uptake. Each of us is married to time; divorce is impossible. Thought, repeated over time, is part of the dowry the universe has given us. We have the ability to direct the actual arrangement and neurological formation of our brains by grappling regularly with the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle—such mind-bending activities keep the mind kept elastic and supple.
Zen meditation, cyclical breathing, yoga, Tantra—these are ways of taking time for a walk, though in the end, perhaps time is holding the leash and we are being led inexorably to an end most of us struggle mightily to frustrate. Time is the totalitarian ticket-seller of existence, the wizard behind the curtain, the puppeteer.
The plastic arts are ruled by time too. If you can’t keep time behind the drum kit, you’re out of the band. The cathartic transcendence of music is rooted in meter, rhythm, repetition, leitmotif, climax—time is the key to what makes music particularly moving. Consider for a moment electronic music. Drum beats are easily quantized, made to perfectly fix mathematical rhythm, but the effect is inhumane, robotic; the beat seems to slam you over the head like a hangover. It is the intersection between time and human frailty that makes everyone want to smile and dance, to feel the pocket of the beat.
Whatever may be the proper domain of time, clearly it is beyond human reckoning. Time is godlike; it is both completely outside of our ken and inextricable from the best parts of life. Eternal life, arguably, would be less precious than a finite one, and it is because we lay our heads at the feet of time that we are able to find joy in life, to the extent we do. All good things come to those who wait, goes another saying, and I argue that time—though we live by it every day and die by it in the great goodnight—time is a concept both otherworldly and mundane, fresh and worn. Our understanding of it will never be complete.