Pray to the Moon when She is round,
Luck with you will then abound,
What you seek for shall be found
On the sea or solid ground.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Animist Blog Carnival: The Shape of Time & Other Things

...Why I never doggedly pondered you? Because I can see your shape & it is so familiar... within & without. 

"Double Helix Nebula" by ashiphire of deviantART.
"Double Helix Nebula" by ashiphire of deviantART

I have always found myself agitated by philosophical & theoretical discussions of Time. Time is, like the universe itself, incomprehensible to a large degree & (unlike the discussions) I am comfortable with that. I don't need to know how it works, or where it does not work, or how we puny humans might manipulate it, or where it throws out all the rules & works in a new, mind-bending manner. I need only know that it is working at this moment.

However, in thinking about this prompt* (which I have found faintly agonizing), I realized that my sense of time has always included a natural form, a visual understanding of its structure. In my mind, Time has a shape. It is a familiar, known formation. This is a notion I have carried with me -- almost entirely unaltered -- since I was a child. Given my strong belief that children's ideas & conceptions of the world are rooted in animism, I felt that some digging about in the memory stores was in order.

Prepare thyself for weirdness. Or something.


"What time is it?" by KAZ1167 of deviantART.
"What time is it?" by KAZ1167 of deviantART.
During the majority of my life, when people have referred to the recent past (that is, the past I have experienced, that which is within my lifetime) or the approaching future (also, within my lifetime) I clearly see movement around a platter-like surface. I am standing on this disc, this plate of Time. The dish has a gradation of sensory cues; changing light, colour, smells, temperature, humidity, etc, but no distinguishable figures. I always seem to view it from approximately the point of my birthday which places October to my right (in the South, as near as I can tell). Midwinter is then directly behind me, Spring curving forward along my left, Midsummer in front, etc. I still see it this way today. Little about it has changed over the years except for the markers or cues which are infinitely more numerous than they were when I was a youngling.

However, this scheme isn't as simple as prancing 'round & 'round the two-dimesional saucer of Time ad nauseam like Alice in the Caucus Race. From my position on the platter I can see the recent past & the near future. But what of the more distant laps around the plate? The past & future should have shape too, no? Just what is the shape of the length of Time & how does it relate to the little saucer of the relative now? By strange revelation, I came to know the extended shape of Time some time in 1980, thanks to a man as familiar, influential & beloved to my generation as Mister Rogers: Dr. Carl Sagan.

Except that Dr. Sagan wasn't talking about Time. He was talking about cells.

In the COSMOS series, Sagan visits & revisits cellular structure in great detail. Why? Cells are extraordinary, miniature universes. They form & drive our living world. They encapsulate & exemplify the vastness of inner space. They personify the intricacy of the everything & the nothing. Cells also contain limitless lengths of nucleotide chain. The double helix -- endlessly unraveling & rewinding -- is the shape of Time.

I clearly remember the moment I recognized it. While watching a cellular biology segment of COSMOS (quite possibly the segment below) I realized a disconnect (or was it a connect?), thinking, "This is Time. I am watching Time! He is talking about DNA & RNA but I just know this is Time!" I felt with a child's certainty that I was viewing a very faithful portrayal of the assembly & disassembly, the orchestration & dissolution, of Time... 

Carl Sagan Discusses Cells. 
If you don't like trees, you can skip to 2:11 to view the nucleotide segment.

Mostly however, I remember wondering with a vague desperation, "Who are these "enzymes" who weave & unravel this stuff?" (I remember feeling a peculiar fondness for them as well.) That is the big question, isn't it? I still don't have that answer. Not that I have any answers at all, just crystal clear pictures in my head.

Watching nucleotides being strung together gave me a new, three dimensional structure to my platters, each disc sitting on one layer of a an endless coil. For some time now, I have defaulted to this disc-filled slinky-like vision of extended Time, neglecting the important fact that the double helix is just that: double. I have simply ignored the other side of Time. 

While reflecting on Time for this piece, I have begun to consider that second strand. What is going on over there? Is that the side of all possibilities? Our reflections? Our dopplegangers? The timeline of the Otherworld? What? Or, perhaps I have always misunderstood a basic aspect of the structure. Could it be that instead of the past & present residing on opposite ends of a single strand, each one of them is a strand? Two strands, past & future being spun & frayed, replicated ad infinitum while we stand somewhere on a saucer, suspended between them in the intelligible present...

"Slinky" by Iridescent of deviantART.
"Slinky" by Iridescent of deviantART.
In the mind-bending, I inevitably reach the essential animist's question: "Can we talk?" Ah, relationship. 

I tend to understand Time as a function with form, albeit an intangible form. Maybe. Or perhaps it is something of a function & a place. But is it within, or without? Or is it both? Or neither? Of course I naturally wonder, am I missing something? Everything? My marbles perhaps? Is there a being of Time with whom we can talk? Or does it just "go," like a Dr. Seuss verb?

I have never tried to talk to Time. Nor do I plan to. As I mentioned earlier: I need only know that it is working.

However, there is someone -- or some Ones -- I would really like to know. Maybe. The Time-winders. The builder, divider, replicator enzymes of the temporal chain -- wouldn't an attempt to know & understand Them prove to be a more fruitful & valuable endeavour than coffee klatsch with Time? Exactly Who are the weavers of Time & how do we talk to Them?

I don't have answers, just pictures. Understanding those enzymes of Time is a pretty distant reality & the truth of the matter is, I can live with that. I am very happy with the relationships I have here on this pretty little platter & the best part about it is, it is working.

"Creating Time" by intao of deviantART.
"Creating Time" by intao of deviantART.

This post is a part of the Animist Blog Carnival of March 2013. To read other animist perspectives on time, follow the link.

An aside (for the files): During my early school years, I had a relatively short-lived, yet concurrent, linear view of time which might be better described (in retrospect) as a plan or trajectory. I think I understood it to represent time, or more specifically, the future. In Salt Lake City, there are many parallel streets. I happened that my elementary school was located on a street that paralleled the street of what I believed to be my future high school (located further North). Additionally, the University I always imagined myself attending was on that same street belonging to the high school yet even further North. So, I had this picture in my mind's eye that I would be progressing Northward, over time, toward University. But then school boundaries changed as they are wont to do & I missed the district of the school to the North by one block & my whole image of direction & future was nearly shattered except that there was still the University, except that I ended up at a University in New England. Thus, I gave up my brief interlude with Time that looked like a straight line as wide as a city street.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the ancient but still often used memorization trick - one imagines the objects on the list to be memorized as being placed on a familiar route. Like if you're trying to memorize a list of ten names, you could put John at this corner, Mary on the next block, etc. until you get to Pat at the local Grocery. Some people naturally use the spacial recognition capacities of their brain to augment other areas. I bet you have a great memory!

Moma Fauna said...

I think I remember reading something about this in the Drip of an Eave possibly? Or was I reading about it in Huson's the Devil's Picturebook?
Gah. My memory! Perhaps not what it once was! ;)

Chas S. Clifton said...

It's a medieval technique, also described in John Crowley's Aegyp or its sequel, I think

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