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Time: player behind legacy

A legion of different species lives on Earth, the only livable planet in our solar system. Amid all these species, one proved to stand out and reign over for generations now.

Homo sapiens is the supreme breed that prescribes way of life for every ecosystem there is in the world. This is the result of human adaptation and evolution for ever-changing acts upon their livelihood. Man has been floating through this bubble called life starting from an undocumented fraction of time known as Pre-history up to now. But, the laws of science do not distinguish between the past and the future. Homo sapiens developed a skillset to look back on life episodes; writing set about on a particular pinpoint and that moment was recognized in relation to time. This enabled mankind to seek a better understanding of time and its meaning while at the same time enabling generations to put their marks on a personal time, life. Ever since, we have constantly worked to better grasp the time theory and define ourselves by the time fraction we happen to live in.

Humans, like other creatures ranging from amoebas and bees to whales and elephants, come with built-in techniques for perceiving some aspect of time, such as the rhythms of night and day, the waxing and waning of the moon and the turning of seasons. What separates us, humans, from other animals is that we do not stop at merely sensing time’s passage. We tackle time head-on – or at least we try.

That is why time assumes a certain position in human mindset to be the centerpiece for every occurrence. It stands at large holding the very definition to our existence. We decide upon our status and often come up with spatial metaphors to describe time which differs from culture to culture. Even alone in our thoughts, we tend to think of time as space, leaning on brain areas known to play a role in spatial understanding. We employ the concept of time to measure the gap (interval) between events according to a standard unit of time in the same way humans have created the concept of distance to measure the gap between objects. Theories about time dimension, time journey and time warps are mere fanciful stories designed to inspire human imagination. In vain, some humans have attempted to ascribe properties of reality to the concept of time and thereby intermingle time and other human theoretical explorations. With such aberrations of a simple concept, humans are faced with delusional ideas such as “gravitational time dilation”. Many of us use expressions associated with time. We say ‘time stands still.’ Time flies. A minute can seem an eternity. An hour can go by in a flash. A child’s summer can seem endless. A grandparent’s season can go by in a whir. I believe it all depends upon the company you have or the complexity feeling toward your brain’s calculation of time. Time, as we put it, is weirdly elastic for the living world but cannot make any alterations to the physical world. So, the time experience is actively created by our minds.

Nowadays, as we can see all over our surrounding, time is the new weather. Everyone is constantly talking about it. Yet, what we perceive from such exchange whether it is in a lecture room or some small talk in a bus stop is so limited that such talk is becoming pointless. But, not all humans have felt oppressed by time’s inexorable passage. Some tried and others are still trying to overrule time’s oppressive grasp over human lives without acknowledging their brain’s role in enforcing that clutch. As our brain stands to be one of the least accurate time measurement devices you will ever use, it also happens to be the most powerful one. We imagine ourselves inside a sequence of events, with past, present and future conceptualized as locations where we once were, currently are and will be. Our brain makes sure that we treat time’s passage as movement (the week flew by). This way, humans are hypnotized on utilizing memory to construct scenarios for themselves in the future. Time dictates the pattern of our lives – when we work, when we eat, even when we choose to celebrate. We each form appropriate temporary schemata for ourselves for our own lives, which overwrite each other as they go out of date. (As soon you have a new school timetable, it’s very hard to remember the last one.) Some of these schemata are defined by our culture. For instance, there are more customers in cafes chatting on Sunday morning and unusual silence prevails around schools at weekends. As you would expect, the effect of the seasons varies depending on where you live, as do attitudes towards time.

Time-as-space metaphor shows up in our language and gestures and is active in our minds even when we are not communicating about time. It also shows up with striking clarity in depictions of external sequence of events which have come to saturate every aspect of our visual culture. No matter whether your calendar is printed or digital, it no doubt shows the days arranged from left to right and the weeks from top to bottom. English script proceeds from left to right, thus earlier symbols are to the left of later symbols and this guides intuitions about the way time flows in our head. Moreover, blind people develop a left-to-right model of time based solely on their experience of reading Braille, which flows from left to right. With calendars and watches, we are frantically engaged in trying to save time and speed up our lives all at once. For this to happen, we need routines to give us a sense of security.

They are so important that a mere act of breaking them can disrupt a person’s concept of time and, in extreme cases, even lead to anxiety which is like fear, only anticipatory. At Guantanamo Bay, it was standard practice to make the timing of meals, sleep and interrogation unpredictable, defeating a prisoner’s urge to count time thereby inducing anxiety. Nowadays, more self-help books are being published to tackle the issue at hand without offering advice on how to manage reading them while living your life. Organize, organize, they preach, and stop doing chores that consume your time. The ultimate aim is to make time your servant rather than your master, by allowing you to gain time to do more things. How that will eliminate the insistent feeling that the pace of modern life is out of control, I remain uncertain.

Time may be the abstract concept we use the most. In the words of one scholar, J.T. Fraser, it is a “familiar stranger”. This makes time a critical case study for understanding the human capacity for abstract thinking, a hallmark of our species. Humans everywhere create and rely on time concepts – ideas about nature of time that allow us to make plans, follow recipes, share memories and discuss possible future. Given that inclination, more people are getting worried about their time management. It already feels as if time is slipping by through your life without any tangible use of it. But, worry begets worry. Never has a society worried so much and so little simultaneously.

We are a new generation of worriers who practically worry about the time we enjoy spending. We entwine time with our success rating and look up to time management for approval. But, time all over is an illusion to increase living tempo. We all have our own clock for success in this world. Everything in life happens according to our time, our clock. We do not have to rush just because some people are ahead. It is a blessing to realize that many are behind. It does not mean just because they are mass-producing umbrellas in China, you have to buy one here unless it is raining in Asmara. Einstein once said that not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that is counted truly counts. That being said, our life does not have to be measured by some standards that can just denote gap between events. What truly matters is our desire to excel in life and the path we use to reach that dream. Time will always be here to dictate life for those who allow it and this will increase our reliance on metaphor to understand instances. New metaphors for time will almost certainly enter the picture as our culture evolves. Emails in-boxes show the most recent items at the top, but text messages go the other way, with the newest at the bottom. And so we must wonder: Which way will time flow next?


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