on time, 2:

I am still reading ‘The Order of Time‘ by Carlo Rovelli.

From where do we get the word ‘time’? From a word origin *da ‘to divide’. It seems that perhaps from the very beginning we have done it – to divide things up somehow, to find a pattern, a rhythm. There is circular time (as in ‘tide’); and there is a global linear time, which we think we inhabit, but which at a closer look seems also to be something which we have made up (especially in the nineteenth century, for the sake of having convenient railway timetables).

As it happens, the reference to railways made perfect sense to me. Linear time has always reminded me of the railway lines that went past each side of my childhood home. I grew up near a village which had proudly grown up around a railway junction, developing itself with progress and ‘the march of time’. We lived half a mile outside of the village, on the far side of the railway junction between the divided lines. We saw and heard the trains from both sides: from the front along the embankment, crossing over the river at the bottom of the field, and from the back across the main road and down the lane to the level crossing, their tracks always running one way or another – onwards and West to the sea, backwards and East, as far as London Paddington.

If I have understood Rovelli right, using the equations of physics, we may be sure of the existence of interactions and events. But time, no. It is no longer needed, according to the author, as a variable in the equations that teach us about the underlying structures of the universe. Time is a perspective caused by entropy. A partial view of things. Time is the way we have of encountering events, unique confluences of points touching and then dividing. Being something that exists from a point of view, from the inside; being so subjective, it seems that there can be no true measure of time.

And so, as the author says, studying time keeps leading us back to ourselves. We exist in the present, each one in our own present moment, holding our own past and futures within ourselves.

So, from the inside, what are the things that travel across time? Well there are memories, and with them are emotions. Memory is the trace of the past in ourselves. I have been told that to make a memory we need both an emotion and a place or a sensation, to latch it on to. And maybe here is a clue about time. Emotions do not travel through time as a train might run along a railway, orderly and linear. They surge up like a tidal wave, battering us, taking our feet out from underneath us. Loss, grief. Love. This is how one can meet a person who one has not seen for a decade, and suddenly be overwhelmed with the fierce and protective love of the six year old self.

Or in another metaphor, time is a cloth, and there can be a fold; two times touching through the fabric. Our emotions pierce the present from another time, pinning and sewing the crumpled fabric into layers. Anger too. Rage, which is a kind of love after all, can travel into our bodies from before we are born it seems, down through the generations. Cloth sewn onto cloth.

Dreams, it seems, take no notice of linear time at all. Although having said that, my anxious dreams will often be railway dreams: running for trains, missing traings, catching trains, jumping in through the doors, struggling with piles of luggage. And this is fear, travelling through time, the luggage that is always getting in the way, bumping against my legs and holding me back from crossing thresholds.

I still have not finished my book, where doubtless there is more to learn and clearer understanding to be found. But perhaps, for now, all of this may help me to understand how growth can be non-linear, and why presence to one another is so important, so transformational – just the pure value of making it count for something when we coincide.

light reflection

researches on time

More rambling researches on time.

I have borrowed a hand held sundial, and yesterday managed to tell the time with it by setting the dial to February, holding it in the first bit of sunlight I had been side-on to for days, and looking to see where a spot of light hit the numbers inside the ring (it told between 4-5 in the afternoon, which seemed credible, as against my body clock).  You carry your own time with you with such a clock, although I imagine it will not be good anymore if I move too far north or south (or outwards). In this, it is like my body clock, but very much unlike our shared computer and national times – greenwich’s time? apple’s time? microsoft’s? Whoever it is that constructs and controls our shared time, it is clear that although no doubt world-changingly practical and handy for online meetings, it is stuck onto our lives from the outside. A bit like money, with which it is often equated, but with less flexibility, more limitations, and arguably more value. So anyway, I feel like we ought to be careful about believing in it too strongly.

As part of my researches into time, I have started reading a book about the physics of time called ‘The Order of Time’ by Carlo Rovelli  (see ). It is very good, very clear, very dense and quite debilitating, and as far from common sense as you’d ever want to get.

The part about entropy is especially unpalatable and queasy-making. The writer says that time has to do with heat, which has to do with molecular movement. Also, he says that time’s arrow, its flow (directionality) is not intrinsic to the laws of the universe, its a feature of approximation – of our bodies not being able to perceive finely enough. Or at least thats what he seems to be saying. That the flow of time, the one thing that probably everyone who has ever lived could completely agree on, share and understand, the fact of existence which absolutely defines us, is just a matter of perspective, and doesn’t, as such, exist.

Later, maybe worse, he says there is no such thing as a shared present moment, not in a universal sense at least. Its just that all of us living people are (relatively speaking) very near to one another (within our planet say), and our bodies aren’t very good at measuring very short intervals of time, and therefore we all share the same ‘now’, give or take a few tiny intervals of time. But that ‘now’ is only a bubble of present moment, surrounding us and our world. Everywhere else doesn’t share our now. As with the body clocks, and to a certain extent the sundials, everyone has their own ‘now’ and we carry it with us. If we could get far enough away from one another, our nows would separate out and diverge. (I think at that point our sundials would be quite useless too).

Time to end this now.