Monday, February 01, 2010

Musings On Time: The Infinite Storyteller

The only reason for time is so everything doesn't happen at once.
Time has been much on my mind lately. That certainly is in part a product of it being a new year and a new decade not too far into a new millennium, but it also is the realization that I am about 80 percent of the way through the life expectancy of your average white guy. This is not to suggest that I am having a late-life crisis. I'm not. Nor that I am looking back on vast swaths of wasted time, because while I've made some knuckleheaded decisions how I have spent my time has not been among them.
No, I think this semi preoccupation has to do with an increased awareness that like Mark Twain's quip about the weather ("Everybody talks about it but no one does anything about it"), there's not a damned thing we can do to slow down, let alone halt or reverse, the relentless passage of time.
Sean Carroll notes in the prologue of the new From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, that according to researchers at the Oxford English Dictionary, "time" is the most used noun in the English language.
"We live through time, keep track of it obsessively, and race against it every day," Carroll writes, "Yet, surprisingly, few people would be able to give a simple explanation of what time actually is."
Carroll, of course, is thinking big as in Big Bang, while I'm thinking small as in whether I should take the time to defrost and heat some fettucini alfredo or order a pizza for dinner, but our views nevertheless intersect.
Come to think of it, some of the most fruitful times in my life were spent doing seemingly mundane tasks like cutting grass, weeding a flower bed or soaking in a hot tub. This is because times like these have had a way of allowing my mind to run free and have resulted in some of my most fertile thinking.

Images (top to bottom) are from Metropolitan Museum of Art holdings pertaining to time: "Harvesters" (1565) by Pieter Bruegel, an early depiction of nonroyal time; A Chola bronze of Shiva from 11th century India representing cosmic time; "The Creation of the World and the Expulsion From Paradise" (1445) by Giovanni di Paolo, a depiction of time on the move; "Stationarty Figure (1973) by Philip Guston, a depiction of psychic time; A carved ivory altar and finial from 19th century Congo showing proximate time in the form of European deal makers and natives wrestled into captivity; a Majolca plate depicting Daphne turning into a tree to escape Apollo that depicts split-second time.

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