FACES OF TIME
In 1970 I was building interactive environments. One of them, Utility for the Soul, (the illustrated booklet published in 1975 by the Didymus Press in San Francisco) explored the experiences of earth, water, fire and air. This project made me wonder whether the experience of time could be investigated in a similar manner.
The idea of how to go about it came in the fleeting confusion which occurs when one of two trains parked parallel in a station starts moving and a passenger is not sure which of the two trains is in motion. To replicate the effect, two movements taking place in parallel to each other were needed: one visual, the other moving the visitor. By changing the speed between them, I hoped to evoke sensations of being stationary while in motion, or being rushed or held back, or feeling out of place—create situations where duration, the experience of time, would be palpable.
To my surprise, sketches of mechanical installations yielded seven distinct perceptions of time. Recognizing that linear time measures synchronize human activities, that this social imposition dismisses all other perceptions of time as antiquated, and that different perceptions of time offer different philosophies and approaches to life practiced for centuries by other civilizations, I wanted to know what I was missing.
Described in dream-like episodes, The Faces of Time is an account of an artist's inquiry into her experiences of time. To highlight a point in an episode, related dream events were taken from In the Wake of Dreams, the narrative in verse published by iUniverse.com in 2001 and rewritten in 2008.
The following descriptions of the seven time concepts were first published in an article, The Physics of Metaphysics: Personal Musings, in "The Journal of Mind and Behavior," Winter 1998, Volume 19, Number 1, pages 65-90. Pages 85, 87, 88 (revised in 2009)—
"(1) There is a time when the past and the future part, and the present stops fleeting. It happens when I become other than myself—a cat stalking a bird, a branch swaying outside the window. By becoming other I enter a different state of being, before and after punctuating the transfer from one reality to another. In the here and now I am a mirror to the world and the world is a mirror held up to me.
(2) Time flows like a river when the world shatters into separate entities, all carried by the flow of time from the past into the future. In the river change and time conspire and as a myriad of durations take place at once everywhere, the steady progression of changes renders every thing separately mutable. In this time-frame only personal memories and dreams are reliable.
(3) And there comes a time when time seems less imposing, the flow of changes less intrusive. From the safety of my niche I see time as a commodity free for all, like water or air, and begin to divert the non-stop flow of natural events to generate changes intended to improve my lot. The availability of time gives me a grip on change itself: I can take the time to do what needs to be done, make time to catch up with changes, regulate the speed of events, and buy time and sell my time for some tangible advantage. In this linear time-frame life amounts to a string of right and wrong actions and every intentional action to a black or red entry in the balance sheet of gains and losses. The future itself is but one other event-in-the-making, the present only a means of getting there.
(4) Ever so often the futility of human arrangements shocks me into a standstill. In this state of mind nothing makes sense anymore: what's the rush, where to? What's the fuss and bustle all about? In the end, what difference does it make how I amuse myself in the meantime? Yet to sit back and do nothing is not that easy either—memories of an active self disturb the present while the present undermines the future. The weight of time stagnant crushes me numb. The slightest prospect of change strikes me like the promise of a spectacular escape—change to propel me back to life, change to bring a future, change to save me from a slow annihilation.
(5) I am in personal time when I sense a clock ticking inside me, the inner clock setting the duration of every event that happens to engage me. The clock strikes the hour when inner and outer events in confluence deliver beginnings to endings and change recommends itself. On this path of least resistance I gravitate from change to change as from magnet to magnet—change the vehicle that carries me into the future, time accounting for the duration.
(6) I am in circular time when days string together like beads on loops of time. On some days I slip back to where I was many times before, repeating the same motions, reshuffling the same thoughts. On other days I slide forward getting ahead of myself, yet I am not going any place in particular. Routine is where the self and the world intersect. In this time-frame change is the keeper of patterns that repeat themselves in circles small and large were everything is becoming something else—either more or less of itself, or part of some other thing. In circular time nothing is ever gained or lost or wasted.
(7) Once in a while timelessness alights with energy spilling forth like a fountain turned on full. Seized by the gush I surrender to the moment at hand. In this fissure of time I am an instrument to energy rushing through me, no longer acting upon me. Time, overcome by the velocity of inner events, makes me the agent of change. In the changes I make I receive gifts unasked for, brought forth by the sap that splits the seed pushes up the bloom and keeps the planets in orbit."New Mexico 2009
The above observations suggest that time has no correlate in the natural world. What we call time is the experience of duration in events unbroken or at a standstill, or when waiting for something anticipated to happen. How we respond to and interact with events that terminate or interrupt a duration shapes our outlook of the world-at-large in relation to our person.
The most basic are the seasonal changes on which our livelihood depends. When people noticed that the position of celestial bodies in motion triggers seasonal changes, the planetary movements were tracked and recorded, the record of solar and lunar events enabling humanity not only to predict the forthcoming changes but also to prepare for them. The calendar—the division of a solar year into months, weeks and days—synchronized human activities which might have initiated governance.
The word time is a verbal label affixed to the common experience of change-in-perpetual-continuity on whatever scale—the label with zero momentum reducing the experience of multiple durations to a single denominator—time an abstraction serving numerous socially practical interests. When we say so many years have passed since this or that event, we add up not the passage of time but the number of revolutions planet earth has completed around the sun during that interval.