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Timeless and Ageless

November 13, 2011

ScorpioI have a birthday coming up this week.  For those of you who are into astrology, you know I’m a Scorpio (The Scorpion; October 23 – November 21; the sign of rebirth and renewal).  For those who aren’t, it basically means I was born in late autumn (in the northern hemisphere) and that pretty much everyone in my family has forgotten my birthday at least once (because, for some strange reason, everyone else – parents, siblings, nieces and nephews – all came into this world between February and August; I’m the only one with a birthday on the ‘far side of summer’). 

Illusion of TimeSo – the more inquisitive among you might ask – how old am I going to be? Well, according to a fascinating show I watched on TV last week (“The Illusion of Time”, part of the PBS series “The Fabric of the Cosmos”) , that’s a completely irrelevant question –  because ‘age’ is directly related to ‘time’ and apparently there is NO SUCH THING AS TIME!

Most of us think of ‘time’ as the seconds / minutes / hours ticking by on a clock (often called a ‘timepiece’) or of the days / weeks / months / years we spend in school and/or working (or not).  But these are simply a basis of measuring something that cannot be defined (go ahead, explain ‘time’ to someone without mentioning years, months, weeks, days, hours, etc.).  We speak of the ‘passage of time’ (e.g., ‘time flies when you’re having fun’, ‘ so much time has passed…’, ‘it’s time to go…’) but what we’re really talking about is the number of ‘ticks’ on a clock or squares in a calendar. 

You can’t SEE time, you can’t FEEL time, you can’t SMELL times, you can’t HEAR time, you can’t TASTE time … so what (or should I say ‘when’) is it?

Humans have a natural desire to make sense of their environment. The concept of ‘time’ comes from our early need to explain the changing position of stars in the night sky, the movement of the earth around the sun, the moon’s phases, the consistency of sunrise and sunset.  Because these changes were sequential and recurring, we began tracking them using ‘calendars’ (of one type or another) to record :

    • the earth’s orbit around the sun (a ‘solar cycle’ or what we now call a ‘year’)
    • The Night Skythe phases of the moon (the period from full moon to full moon – or new moon to new moon – is one ‘lunar cycle’ or ‘month’)
    • the four seasons (different in each hemisphere, but generally marked by predictable changes in the amount of daylight, the weather, and/or the behavior of plants and animals)
    • the rotation of the earth (sunrise to sunrise represents one ‘day’).
      For centuries, planting and harvesting schedules (and/or other practices related to early existence) were based on the first three; people worked each ‘day’ while the sun provided light, and slept when it didn’t.  The world was certainly a much less complicated place! 

Early Mechanical Clock

    (NOTE: it wasn’t until the invention of mechanical clocks in the 14th century that days were divided into ‘hours’ – and, later, into ‘minutes’ and ‘seconds’ – and we became obsessed with how we spend incremental parts of each day.  It wasn’t until the era of train travel that we even thought about ‘time’ as something that needed to be consistent in different parts of the country, and around the world.  And I have to ask this: Why, in science fiction shows, do alien species always refer to ‘time’ in terms of Earth-specific years, days, hours, etc.?!?!? There is no way their celestial [or ‘time keeping’] references would ever be the same as ours … but I digress!).

Somewhere along the line, the cyclical nature of events became known as ‘time’.  Isaac Newton popularized the idea of ‘time’ as a fundamental structure of the universe – a ‘dimension’ that we pass through (in one direction; sometimes referred to as ‘the arrow of time’).  Albert Einstein introduced the concept of space and time as a single (rather flexible) dimension (‘spacetime’) that we exist in and move through.  Others have suggested – and this is the premise of the show I mentioned earlier – that time is simply something that we (humans) use to sequence and compare events.  In other words, time (and space) don’t really exist – we just made them up so that we can explain where we are and what’s going on around us at any given moment (and, let’s face it, no other species has any concept of ‘time’ – they do what they do when they do it based on an internal ‘knowing’ that we like to call ‘instinct’ or ‘the natural order of things’; certainly my cat doesn’t know Monday from Thursday or midnight from noon). 

Growth of the Universe

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This theory (‘there’s no such thing as time’) also puts forward the notion that past, present, and future don’t exist; instead, they are all just ‘slices’ of the ever-expanding universe and the continuum of what we think of as ‘time’. This would certainly eliminate (in my mind, anyway) the likelihood of anyone travelling through time (to change the past or influence the future) because you can’t ‘go back’ or ‘forward’ to something that doesn’t exist, now can you?!?!? (NOTE: if your head is beginning to hurt with all this hypothesizing, don’t worry – I had to watch the show twice to make sense out of most of it, and there are still a few bits that are fuzzy!) 

What’s really great about this particular view of ‘time’ is that it makes the whole concept of aging immaterial. I suppose I could (still) say that since the day I was born, the earth has gone around the sun more than 55 times, but – so what?  I have one ‘life cycle’ and – like the birds and animals and trees outside my window – I’m somewhere in the middle of it. When the cycle is over, I’ll cease to ‘be’.  How long will that take? Who cares? It’s not important – because all I’ve got is this little slice of the universe that I’m in right now (and doesn’t the idea of time not being ‘real’ give a whole new meaning to the concept of ‘living in the now’?!?!?) ‘Time’ isn’t passing me by.  There’s no amount of ‘time left’ in my life.  It doesn’t matter what ‘time’ I got up this morning, or what ‘time’ I go to bed at night.  (The fact that I have a dentist appointment at 9:30 on Tuesday morning does mean that I still need to own – and reference – both a calendar and a clock, but I can now think of that dentist appointment as just a single small slice of my existence in the universe, rather than ‘time’ out of my life!)

About a year ago, I read a statement (regarding how we view our age) that went something like this: ‘You are all the ages you have ever been’.  At the time I thought it meant that I was the sum of all the ages I’ve ever been – but now I realize that what it really means (since time doesn’t exist and the past is merely a whole bunch of slices of the universe that I’m a part of) is that I am still:

  • Me and Pepito the Clownthe five year old sitting on Pepito the Clown’s knee at the circus
  • the uber-cool fourteen year old in fishnet stockings and a green paisley mini skirt
  • the far-too-impatient-to-grow-up-and-get-on-with-life high school graduate
  • the thrilled but slightly terrified first-time mom
  • the just-as-thrilled and only slightly less terrified second-time mom
  • the enthusiastic teacher of far-too-often less-than-enthusiastic college students
  • the blushing mid-life (and much wiser) ‘recycled’ bride
  • the writer and hopeful author forever on … the other side of 55.

Years in Your Life

  1. December 1, 2011 9:51 am

    Margo, our youngest son is just like that with his birthday, which is November 14. The other three of us have our birthdays March, May & June. I think he feels better now though. His fiance’s birthday is October 15.

    Sadly, for my husband anyway, I’m one of those people who constantly believes I can make sense of my environment through clock watching. I’m trying to break that habit but it’s hard. My husband has never worn a watch. He says it comes from his Native American heritage and is instinctive.I wish I could be more like that! I am working on living in the present. I’m getting better, but old ways die hard. ~Leslie

    • December 1, 2011 4:43 pm

      Since I’ve ‘retired’, I’ve stopped wearing a watch – and my husband had started wearing one (since he can no longer lean over and check my wrist to see what time it is). I catch myself looking at my bare wrist sometimes but I like the idea that I only have to worry about what time it is if I have an appointment somewhere. The days when I DON’T pay attention to the time seem to go a whole lot slower.


  2. November 14, 2011 11:04 am

    Happy birthday to you. And great post. I never have been a firm believer in time. To much trouble to keep track of it.

    • November 14, 2011 2:04 pm

      I have TWO calendars (one at my ‘writing desk’ and one at my ‘everything else’ desk) and I usually forgot to write things in or forget to turn the pages to the right week. It’s much easier to just let things happen as they happen! Being ‘free’ of most time constraints is one thing I’m really, really enjoying about being ‘retired’.


  3. Sandor Hajdo permalink
    November 14, 2011 3:02 am

    Hi miss Margo,
    Happy Birthday to you from Hungary. I think there was some hungarian in your ancestor as I see it in your name.
    I also have been on the other side of 55, and my birthday was last week.
    i love reading your scripts and i improve my English with it.
    many happy returns again


    • November 14, 2011 8:37 am

      My husband is Hungarian; he came to Canada in 1966. I’m glad you enjoy my posts! Hope you had a good birthday, too!


  4. November 13, 2011 4:36 pm

    Paulo Coehlo writes about time in Aleph. You can also count in so called dog years 🙂 Who cares, really? I just met a woman who is 60 – on that day she ran 2 miles, had an hour of tennis, and was about to start a new sport.

    • November 13, 2011 4:40 pm

      There are so many ways of thinking of ‘time’ and how it affects us. A good question I once heard was ‘If you didn’t know how old you are, how old would you say you were?’ It really is a simple matter of perception!


  5. November 13, 2011 4:32 pm

    Happy Birthday (and many happy returns) as the saying goes. 🙂
    I wrote about Salvador Dalí capturing time in art through his palpitating jewel settings. Think about it…a palpitation goes through this continuum called “time.” It may interest you “Salvador Dalí and the Pinkerton Men.” back in October or September…somewhere in time.

    • November 13, 2011 4:38 pm

      Thanks! A heartbeat is a good measure of ‘time’. It’s funny how we have to categorize everything, isn’t it, rather than just enjoying ‘what is’. I’ll definately look at your post.


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