"The Persistence of Memory" by Salvador Dali (1931)
Tick-tick-tick, goes the clock.
measure time in seconds, minutes, hours, days; scientists, in
nanoseconds and light-years, giving us the impression that time is
quantitative and fixed.
Not so fast, my friend, as ESPN’s Lee Corso is wont to say. The human experience of time is varied, even mysterious.
is commonly measured by a chronometer (clocks, etc.), though these
devices are rapidly being replaced by smartphones and the like. The
fixed interval, tick-tick-tick, is the same, however, tricking us into
thinking of time as something external to our lives and experiences.
and general relativity altered the way many think about time. Space and
time are intertwined. Speed, especially as one approaches the speed of
light, affects time. This means that time is not
fixedimmutableeverywhere, that time is not identical for observers in
relative motion. The quantum theory of gravity, or quantum gravity, adds
another layer of complexity (many would say obscurity) to the
understanding of time. So, even in the scientific realm, time isn’t the
tick-tick-tick we once considered it to be in the days of Newtonian
There is also the matter of human perception. Who hasn't
experienced time as either racing by or moving at a snail’s pace,
depending on what we are experiencingjoyful or tedious activities?
Within each person, there can be a profound sense of time accelerating
or standing still.
Human memory is a place where time can be…well,
unreliable. There are periods of time we remember vividly, almost
minute by minute. Other periods of time are a blur, barely remembered.
Some memories are transformed as meaning gradually illuminates past
events. This phenomenon has biological and psychological explanations,
but there is also a spiritual dimension to human memory, with some
experiences having the sense of being “outside time” as it were.
perception of time is affected by historical and cultural settings.
Consider a medieval farmer, for whom time was linked to the flow of
seasons and capricious weather; or to a street urchin in 18th
century Paris, living from moment to moment without the luxury of
pondering the past or the future; or modern man, whose day consists of
connecting to one “cloud” or another. How different these perceptions of
time were, and are.
As for the effect of the passage time on fame
and notoriety, a few years pass and the famous are forgotten, or
scarcely remembered. When remembered, does the public image of the
person resemble the real man or woman?
Science and time get even
more complicated. The renowned mathematician and logician, Kurt Godel,
inferred that under certain circumstances, there could be no such thing
as an objective (fixed) lapse of time. Stranger yet, Godel, a close
friend and colleague of Albert Einstein, extrapolated Einstein’s general
theory of relativity to suggest that if we were living in a rotating
universe, loops in time could be produced so that the normally straight
past/present/future timeline could make time travel possible. Yikes!
In my novel, Toward the Gleam
(Ignatius Press, 2011), John Hill has a conversation in the Scottish
hills with the mysterious Gosdier Jones that goes like this: Jones
planted his feet on the path like two tree trunks and rubbed his beard.
“I can’t match your wit, but wit is not proof. I’ll put this to you.
There are two young men who are standing conventional wisdom on its ear.
You may not have heard of them, but they are shattering scientific and
philosophical preconceptions: Einstein and Godel. The former says that
time itself is relative, and the latter goes further, suggesting that
time may not even exist outside of the human mind. Einstein demonstrated
that if the physical laws of the universe are immutable, then
dimensions like space and time must be relative. If the speed of a ray
of light is constant, and if a man on the ground and a man on a train
measure it traveling at the exact same speed, then distance and time
must be relativenot fixedbecause speed equals distance divided by
time. To Godel, time is a human construct that speaks to the
simultaneity or sequencing of events. Thus, to Godel, time has no
absolute reality and may not be real at all. The point is that thinking
about a fixed and irreversible time line with past and present events on
sequential points is flawed.”
Scientific conjecture can be taken
too far, and experience has demonstrated that scientists change their
minds as new information is obtained. Even some of Einstein’s ideas have
been amended or rejected. Still, we are all time travelers in the sense
that we are ordained to move through time. Some experience time as the
caressing, enlivening beating of a mother’s heart, others as the
tick-tick-ticking of the relentless crocodile in Peter Pan.
has been said that reconciling human freedom and God’s knowledge of our
destinyand that of all human historycan only be explained if God is
outside of time, that is, present in every moment of history, in an
My dad used to say that a company cannot pay you
enough for your time, and to the extent that time is the matrix in which
we pursue heaven, he was right, especially if employment with a company
doesn't advance, or impedes, ones salvation. If you believe that man
was made for eternity, and if you believe that he is preparing for
eternity in this life, then using the gift of time to pursue material
wealth, prestige, power, pleasure for pleasure’s sake, is the
equivalent, in a secular sense, of tossing gold coins out a window. The
challenge we face every day is that our culture, the water in which we
swim, seduces us into believing that our time should be single-mindedly
applied to these acquisitive ends.
When we talk about a “fish out
of water”, we imagine danger and impotence, but don’t we desire to
become this fish out of the water of time in which we are now immersed,
so that we might share God’s great adventure in His eternal “now”.