Sunday, March 14, 2010

Time is an Illusion



Daylight Savings Time is the perfect reminder of the constructed nature of time. In 1784, Benjamin Franklin, then an envoy to France, suggested that Parisians could save candles by waking earlier. Among his proposals was to fire cannons off at sunrise to wake the populace. Pretty damn funny if you ask me. A little over a hundred years later, in 1895, New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson presented a paper suggesting a two hour time shift be enacted. Later, English builder William Willett lobbied the British government for a similar shift, which was finally put into action in 1916, the year after Willett died. Originally, a device to save time during World War I - kind of sad how often wars are the engines that drive these kinds of changes - Daylight Savings Time eventually became a commonplace time-saving technique.

Genkaku, in his latest post, takes up this issue with the following:

The wall clock read 6:57 this morning, but the computer read 7:57. Here in the U.S., daylight savings time went into effect today, pushing the clocks forward by an hour.

We lost an hour.

Where did it go?

Was something really lost? If so, where did it get to? Did it go on vacation or move to Tahiti or something?

It's a silly question, perhaps, but I think that the assumption of what we call time is something to consider ... and 'losing' an hour is a good reminder of an underlying axiom in our lives.


One of my Karen students recently said to me "Time is really important for Americans." We were reading an article that mentioned something about making appointments, and commenting on why it was important to "be on time."

However, conventional time has long felt like an interesting game to me, a sort of shared delusion that tries to be a guide for directing our lives, but often ends up being little more than a straight jacket.

Just to add to the fun, here's a few lines from Zen Master Dogen's essay "Being Time:"

"You may suppose that time is only passing away, and not understand that time never arrives. Although understanding itself is time, understanding does not depend on its own arrival. People only see time's coming and going, and do not thoroughly understand that the time-being abides in each moment."

The problem with clocks is that they appear to be moving in a certain direction all the time. That is, until we will them, through things like Daylight Savings Time, to move the opposite way.

Given all this, how can we answer a question like "Where does the time go?" There's certainly constant change in the relative, everyday world. Certainly, this body of "mine" has grown, and gotten older over the last thirty four years. And when I look around, everything else has shifted as well, even if only in tiny ways. But it's not the whole story. How could it be?

On a day like today, when there is an obvious shift made on the clock, we have an opportunity to reflect on what time is, and isn't.

Take this opportunity. Now. It's always there, but today it's right in front of your nose, waiting to be smelled like the muddy ground waking from winter.

1 comment:

LuLu said...

Just to add to the fun, a quote from the writers almanac, Sunday was Albert Einstein's birthday, how appropriate for daylight savings. "In 1905, he [A.E.] wrote a paper on the Special Theory of Relativity, which is that if the speed of light is constant and if all natural laws are the same in every frame of reference, then both time and motion are relative to the observer." Even scientists know the "truth" :-)