An Inquiry about Time

Daniel Boyer

A - Awful doubts... (L'ombre d'un doute)
1. Is there for you any convincing proof that time really exists ?

2. Couldn't it be possible that all our movements are not real and that all appearances are just a sort of holographic hallucination ?

Certainly, and there are many examples in writing, film, and so forth, of different conceptions of this, such as The Matrix and (most closely adhering to the question) the Holodeck in Star Trek: The

Next Generation ("even a holographic bullet can

kill"). (The advent of virtual reality has also

brought the acceleration of this question, though it

is, to say the least, a double-edged sword, and there

are many possible ways of looking at it.)

3. Does any object, which has never been observed, but which is existing nevertheless, possess any temporal and spatial existence ?

B - Approaching Time

1. What is Time to you - is it a friend or an enemy ?

Generally speaking, time is an enemy in the same way that money is an enemy (in bourgeois society money is generally referred to as a tool that enables one to do things rather than the money system being recognized for what it is: the imposition of limitations -- lack of money prevents one from doing things). Lack of time places unjustifiable limitations on human (and even non-human) activity. The reversal of this too-easily accepted fact, or the extension of the human lifespan to the point that this limitation would become of minimal importance, is a task of great urgency. (I am indebted to Breton here.)

2. Is Time something rather positive, negative or indifferent to you and why ?


3. If you were given a machine allowing traveling in Time, where would you travel and why ?
3.a. into the past?

Any time during the existence of the Roman Senate (so I could confuse the Senators by pretending it was a toga party), the Victorian era (so I could see what the smell of perambulators which now have that peculiar musty smell was when new), or the golden age of automobiles with fins.

3.b. into the future?

The explorations of the planet Mars and Venus.

C - Looking for the limits of Time

1. Could Time be limited by something ?


1.a. If yes please indicate by what and under which circumstances

The cessation of all events. (I am not presently inclined to consider the appearances of Zak Gibbs, Catherine Zeta-Jones, or Zack Morris.)

2.b. If not, why not?
2. Are there any means to stop Time ?

Yes, or maybe.

2.a If yes, which ones?

Love, or possibly some sort of machine.

3. What is the contrary of Time?

Either utter nothingness or an eternal present.

4. What is the biggest enemy of Time and why?

5. How do you interpret the meaning of the word "timeless"?

Leaving aside the religious sense in which a God or gods is supposed to exist eternally, either inherently or through the use of artificial aids such as ambrosia: the word "timeless" in a superficial sense refers to an object or work (as of literature or art) either relatively devoid of temporal reference or limitation, or "classic" (not made for the purposes or interests of one time, or referring to those purposes or interests, but pertinent to the interests, purposes, "issues" [as used here a cheap and relatively cliched word], sensibilities, and so forth, of a wide stretch of time, or even, possibly, of all time).

The superficial sense may be related to a deeper sense and may provide the clue to many present puzzles. It is supposed to be an unalterable principle of materialism (as opposed to idealist and religious possibilities) that the careers of individuals are temporally limited, but the truism "all men are mortal" is nothing more than a hypothesis that, again superificially, remains unproven for the current, very much living, generation, and actually represents nothing more than a presumption of our present state of knowledge. Much science fiction and, now, possible discoveries in fields ranging from cryogenics to molecular biology suggest that there may be "wiggle room" in the "inevitability" of death. More probably it is just a question of ever-increasing probability, but there is a <i>great</i> probability that the human lifespan will be vastly increased, to be more proportionate with the possibilities of human creativity. In the same way, there may be brought into being truly timeless objects; the thing that jumps immediately to a mind would be objects produced in a completely protected vacuum, but certainly more subtle answers (answers betraying a more subtle understanding of the question) will be developed. (See my answer to question 1.)

D - Parsing Time - Past, Present, Future

1. What does the present mean to you ?

We may loosely speaking of "the present," but in fact the present -- as time is generally constructed -- is infinitely small. We are in fact speaking of a short space of the past and a corresponding period of the future "arriviste".

2. Where does the future start ?

In the current conception of time, the future is now, the future has already begun.

3. Where does the past end ?

4. Explain the role of past, present and future within Time.

4.a. Do they play an equal roles ?

4.b. If not, which of them is the most important ?

This is not a precise answer to the question, but chief among the problems with time as currently understood or set up is the preeminence of the past: past events progressively limit the possibilities of the present and future. (Marx: "The tradition of countless dead generations weighs like an nightmare on the brain of the living".)

5. Which statements can you make about past and future ?

6. What are the most important meanings attached to past present and future ?

E - Shaping and Structuring Time

1. What is for you the most important characteristic of Time ?

2. What makes you recognize or realize the existence or the passing of time ?

I tritely reply, "the changing of the seasons," and as summer fades oh so gradually into autumn one's transparent protestations to itself "It's still summer! It's still summer!" cannot be defended; they fall one by one as the fire creeps into the leaves on the trees, every year a small tragedy that the crunch and crack of pads against one another that is American football can only mitigate to some small degree.

3. Do you think Time has any direction ?

The direction of time is not completely necessary. For example, its spontaneous reversal in Risky Business wouldn't be questioned by anyone who had spent any time in high school.

4. Does an expression like "the arrow of time" mean anything to you ?

Not outside the context of my answers to the other questions in this inquiry.

5. To which aspects of Time are you the most sensitive ? Please explain when, how, and why.
5.a - ryhthm ?

The rhythm of time is supposedly to be absolutely strict and unrelenting, but there are hints that it is actually syncopated, or at least as different from absolutely "in time" as is the rhythm of a human drummer from a drum machine. (See my answer to F.2a.)

5.b - instants ?

I have experienced the common phenomenon of terrible moments occuring "in slow motion" or almost stopped altogether. Once I had a serious sledding accident in which I was very high in the air before the impact, and I had quite some time to realise that I was going to crash, that it was going to be very bad, and that I wouldn't be able to do anything to stop it. I suspect everyone is very sensitive to these awful moments in which time slows its "instants" down for the purpose
of mocking us with what is to come.

5.c - events?

I am confused as how to separate time from events. Without events there would really be no time.

5.d - encounters?

The encounter is not experienced primarily as an aspect of time. There was time before the encounter and now is the time (or there will be time) after the encounter, but the encounter perhaps more than any technical aspect of time, is suffused with the aspect of inevitability and eternity. One meets someone, supposedly completely "new," but (in one's mind at the least), the "newness" has already fallen away. If there is or would be an aspect of any of this list having the ability to colour events that have already occurred, to be a kind of time-machine shading and saturating our history and the history of the person we have met with our impressions, it is this meeting.

I cannot be insensitive to the knowledge, coming out mysteriously and after many years, that my mother and father were both in New York at the same time a decade before they would meet. Their non-meeting with all its circumstances assumes the character of a deliberate error. Or is it a shadow of destiny cast at a distance ?

Every decisive encounter is pregnant with its own "of course."

5.e - choices and decisions?

See answer to E.5.f.

5.f. - irreversibility?

This supposed characteristic of time is its most tragic, even time's inherent tragedy. But I am by no means completely convinced that it is inevitable. I am by no means convinced that time is not really, or cannot be transformed into, one of those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books (in which one has to make a decision at a given page, and then based making one decision one must turn, say, to page 54, rather than page 23, to which one would have been obliged to turn had one made the other decision: I am not convinced that there is no possibility that we cannot start the book anew and turn to page 23 [with all the forks of possibility following therefrom] instead).

5.g - newness and evolution ?
5.h - continuity and duration ?

The apparent continuity of time at least needs to be recognised as like a serial rather than a very strict continuity. Dreams are the intermissions after which a voice (a harsh voice often of extreme terror) announces: "Our story so far..." Perhaps we should analyse time as comprising both the dream and waking life as part of the same story, which would radically alter our concpetions to the extent that it would render irrelevant many of the questions of this inquiry.

5.i - decay ?
5.j - the coming of death ?

I have some sensitivity to this but it is limited as "fleshed out" in my other answers.

5.k - other

6. Do you feel Time to be more like

6.a - a straight or curved infinite line ?

6.b - a closed line, like for instance a circle?

6.c - a spiral ?

6.d - a forest of frequencies ?

6.e - an ever forking shape, like for instance a tree ?

6.f - a piling of geological layers ?

6.g - accumulated dust under your bed ?

6.h - dirty plates in the corner of your sink?

6.i - other

6.f; I have used this metaphor in a novel I wrote back in 1990.

F - Mesuring Time

1. What is the meaning of the clock as regards the conception of time ?

2. If there were no more clocks, would it still be possible to mesure time nevertheless ?

Yes. (The experiences of Alexander Selkirk, or Richard the Lionhearted, might be instructive here.)

2.a. If yes, in which way ?

I have often thought that the subjective experience of the same period of hours or years seeming shorter or longer (i.e. while both objectively four year periods, 1988-1992 was a much longer period for me than 1972-1976) could be justifiably substituted for our present clock-measured or even atomic-clock-measured time.

3. Are you aware of special or rare means of measuring time ?

Other than methods which are to us now unusual, such as waterclocks (and perhaps different conceptions of time, such as that of the Aztecs and of Hindus), the Dreamtime would come closest to this in my opinion, but perhaps this is not truly a method of measuring time. There are a number of conceptions of an eternal present, and there may be some reason to believe that some non-human species have to some extent a conception more approaching this one.

3.a. Which one(s) would you recommand or like to use yourself?

I would be mildly interested in experiencing life, for a time, like a Charles Baxter novel.

G - Digging into common expressions

1. What does the sentence "I am wasting my time" mean to you?

Most precisely it would mean that one's efforts in a given enterprise will not bring about the desired result. This expression, however, is generally used in a Calvinist sense, tied as it has become in practice to the promotion of "productive work," which, when one is not pursuing, one is "wasting time." In this sense I believe "wasting time" to be a valuable, even invaluable, use of time. Away with the work ethic ! Replace it with the laziness ethic !

2. What are you thinking about the term "timebomb" ?

A "timebomb" is literally an explosive device set to detonate when a certain time arrives, and figuratively a person, thing or situation which will "explode," though interestingly enough, usually not on the arrival of a specified time (even a time unknown to the speaker), but at some more or less random time in the future -- in the figurative sense, the "time bomb" may rely on (often very subtle) external events (Nordberg from The Naked Gun movies: "Any vibration may set this thing off!"). The literal timebomb is dependent on the "irreversibility" of time (see my answer to E.5f), the figurative less so. (All sorts of interesting questions about time's irreversibility and whether we really believe in it are raised here.)

3. How can you disprove the best the following sentence : "Time is money" ?

This is obviously untrue, and was probably invented simply to support the work ethic, to get one to spend more hours at the factory or the office, to justify the unjustifiable existence of the "time clock". So many instances in which people made a lot of money unrelated to the "expenditure" of time: buying a winning lottery ticket, receiving an inheritance, getting the tobacco companies to settle for hundreds of millions based on a few weeks of work.(1)

4. Could you make a list of strange time related expressions in your mother language ?

"A stitch in time saves nine."

5. Can you provide explanations about these expressions ?

Dropping a stitch in sewing will require one to tear out the entire line and redo it; similarly timely action may prevent a chain of disasters from occurring.

6. Are such expressions of any help as regards building your own concept of Time ?


H - Psychological and sociological aspects

1. Where is the place of the subject within Time ?

Many of my answers to this inquiry suggest that the

subject does not, or need not necessarily, live in a steadily progressing, never regressing, straight-line past-to-present-to-future, one-continuum "time."

2. What can you tell about differences regarding the meaning of Time within different cultures ?

3. Where are the positive and/or negative aspects within these differences ?

4. Do you think animals have a comprehension of Time?


4.a. If yes, how does it look like ?

It is less tied to the numerical than the human, as animals have a lesser understanding of numbers, but (some) animals definitely have an understanding of "soon," or that different things happen at a given time of day. Dogs particularly, in my experience, can roughly sense the length of abscences and are easily able to distinguish between abscences in the weeks and abscences in the months, or abscences of a few months or many months, &c.

4.b. If not, why not ?

I - The Time of waste
I am just going to observe that time spent at work is almost invariably wasted time.

1. What percentage of your Time do you think you are usually wasting ?

2. What sort of means do you use to waste your Time ?

3. What are the most frequent rationale you use as a pretext for wasting your Time ?

J - The Time of creativity

1. Does your perception of Time change when you are creative ?


If yes, in which way ? Can you explain ?

When I was in a rock band in the recording studio, it was as if I were existing outside of time, time being totally suspended. I have had the same experience when drawing and writing automatically. I might note that at certain times when one is in love and with one's lover one exists out of time. Wonderland with its pulsing, transparent jellyfish, or Rockport's malodorous moss, exist outside the domain of the ticking clock.

2. How do you feel about the following :

"When hanging yourself to the tail of the calendar, you are not likely to reach the edge of time You'd rather climb on the shoulders of the instants" - Narayana Reddy

This understanding is an absolute prerequisite to creative production.

2.a. As a poet ?
2.b As an artist ?

The poet has no choice but to revolutionize the understanding of time, to explode the current limits of time's prison.

3. How are choices and decisions happening in your creative work ?


4. What sort of influence do you have on such decision ?

K - The Time of dreams

1. Would you agree with the statement that "there is no Time in dreams" ?

No. But it can be circular, endlessly recurring (like the movie <i>Groundhog Day</i>, it can rewind itself, it can fast-forward, and periods of time might even "drop out" or be able to be skipped over. So time as presently conceived of is undermined to an extent one might say "for all practical purposes, time in dreams holds no power over us." (See my answer to E.5h.)

2. Is Time transformed or altered in some way while you are dreaming ?


2.a. If yes, when and how ?

See my answer to J. 1.

2.b.What would be your explanation ?

It may be that the natural way in which people experience time is along the lines of the kinds of dislocations that I have experienced in "The Time of Love" and "The Time of Creativity," and the way time is experienced in the rest of the life is the interference of the reality principle, a principle that can be otherwise be abandoned.

3. Is the sequence of events preserved in your dreams ?

Usually but there are frequent exceptions.

4. Did you ever experience a reversed sequence of Time while dreaming ?

Not exactly.

5. Did you ever experience Time traveling while dreaming ?

I have frequently been in periods from "the past" of "reality" (ranging from the time of Julius Caesar to myself searching for Jack the Ripper), though I have only actually time-travelled once or twice.

L - The Time of Love

1. Does your perception of Time change when you are in love ?

Yes, there have been a number of moments when I have been with a girlfriend and time has seemed to be suspended.

Can you explain ?
See my answer to J.2b.

2. Is there any relationship between your perception of Time while you are engaged in your prefered creative activities and your feeling of time when you are in love ?

They are sometimes very similar; see my answer to I.1.

3. Does your perception of Time change when you are making love ?

Do you prefer to make love quickly or slowly or extremely slowly ?

When, how and why ?

4. Does your perception of Time change during an orgasm ?

M - Knowledge and Time

1. Can you explain what are the relationships between Time and Knowledge ?

2. Which <Token> come spontaneously to your mind when you are thinking about Time ?

A green bottle-opener carried by a naked polar bear (he should be wearing a waistcoat).

Please replace <Token> by :
2.a. artists

John Singleton Copley

2.b. poets

Walt Whitman

2.c. litterature and film authors

Charles Schulz, L. Frank Baum, Stanley Kubrick

2.d. technologies

The armilliary sphere.

2.e. scientists

Steven Hawking

2.f. other

A scoop of Superman ice-cream.

N - Time & Newness

1. Do you think anything new appeared/emerged since the beginning of the past century?

Yes, in a way.

1.a. if yes then what?

It is impossible to make a comprehensive list: I will mention but a few things having an impact on time: The atomic clock<br> Cryogenics<br> The electronic computer with monitor (must be distinguished from supercomputers and the computers of my early years that used punch-cards I would often find laying scattered on the ground) Virtual reality

1.b. if not, then why and how ?

2.Which recent or less recent events, trends, activities, conclusions, etc... appear new to you ?

The belief that ideas are new is almost invariably an illusion, or it stems from ignorance. Most of these would not be truly, or even loosely speaking, new.

3. Do you think the world is

3.a. deteminist ?

3.b. random ?

3.c. both depending on the considered aspects ?

3.d. a graduation between pure determinism and pure chance ?

3.e. not according to such categorizations that only reflect our mind's way of working and have no real meaning as regards the nature of the world itself ?

4. Can you explain what are the relationships between Time and Newness ?

4.a. How do you explain that something new may appear ?

4.b. Do you think chance plays a role in the emergence of newness and how?