Time flies, drags and waits for no man.

31 05 2010

I am fascinated by the concept of time.

My bookcases are crammed with titles such as Times Arrow, Achilles in the Quantum Universe and Time travel in Einstein’s Universe.

So what is time?

It is common to suggest that time is the 4th dimension. We can measure the other three directly – we can reach out and touch three dimensional objects. Our physical bodies exist in a three dimensions. But we cannot touch time. I am aware of it’s effect when I look in the mirror. I look older. And time is always heading in the same direction. I am never going to grow younger.

This effect – times arrow – is scientifically founded in entropy. As we go “forward” in time, the second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of a system tends to increase or remain the same; it will never decrease. Entropy measurement can, therefore, be thought of as a kind of clock. However entropy is the only quantity in the physical sciences that seems to imply a particular direction for time. In other cases, other equations, time does not assume a particular direction. But it is this perception of time passing that resonates in our everyday life.

We experience time in different ways. We talk about time flying, time dragging, time weighing heavily. It’s passage is rarely, if ever, seen as regular, even or linear.

I heard a short story recently – more of a mind exercise really – where people in heaven relived their lives in the exact proportions they did on earth, but not in the same sequence. So if they had spent an hour a day on the train to work then in heaven they would spend 9,600 hours consecutively, without a break, sitting on a train. Bizarre thought but it does make you reassess how you spend time here on earth.
I had a perfect example yesterday. I have an iphone on which I play Bejeweled. I was trying to find the high scores when I came across a statistics page that suggested that I had played the game for 5 days – 5 whole days!! I’ve only had the phone for 7 months. Surely not?! I only play in those dead moments, waiting for a train, waiting for the kettle to boil so let’s assume i play 4 times a day, 10 minutes a time; 40 mins a day over 7 months is 8520 minutes – almost 6 days!! To my horror it is possible!!

And every Wednesday I sit. I sit in a world where time in the way I normally experience it just doesn’t exist. I help a guy who is the same age as I am and who has dementia. He has no coherent sense of time as his memory is fragmented and unreliable.

He knows that he knows me. He recognises me as a friend but can’t remember my name. He asks where I am from at about half hourly intervals. And so we sit and cycle through simple, often asked questions and responses throughout the evening.

He gets tired and he sleeps; he gets hungry and so he eats. There is a rhythm to his day which marks the massage of time but all of the memories of what has passed are vague and jumbled. Time is flattened as all his experiences have happened at the sane time: yesterday, last week, last year are indistinguishable and lumped together as being past.

In my life and when I teach yoga or meditation I encourage myself and others to live in the moment. Things that have happened are gone, cannot be changed and should not be dwelt upon. Things in the future are beyond our control and should not be worried over.

I do believe that this is true but to be trapped in the present is not to live in the moment. Rather it is to be timeless. To be adrift in your own life.

Working with someone with dementia has added hugely to my understanding of time. It can fly, it can drag and it can be lost completely.