It is New Years Day, 2023. Where did the time go? What to do with the time left? There is no time like the New Year to ponder time.
What is time? I posed to my oldest and dearest friend while waiting for coffee to arrive. ‘Its a noun’ he replied. Then mumbled something off the cuff about organising things with it. End of conversation. He is a retired school teacher, but clearly off his game. The coffee had not yet arrived. If he was on his game he would probably have said that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, time is “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past present and future regarded as a whole.” He would then have presented a slide show with his laser-light pointer to demonstrate his definition, thus:
The Vacheron Constantin model 57260 pocket watch, named the “Tivoli”, was built by three watchmakers over eight years for one client and is a complex and sophisticated monitor of the procession of time.
The front of this watch is the side with the gold Roman numerals up top. There’s an astronomical calendar, which includes a display of the phases and age of the moon, a hand that tracks the movement through the Zodiac along with the equinoxes and solstices, a rotating sky chart, hands showing both hours and minutes for sidereal time for telling the difference between sidereal and solar time. Sidereal time tracks the earth in relation to the stars instead of in relation to the sun and differs from solar time by plus or minus a few minutes. You can also see what time the sun will rise and what time it will set in the watch owner’s home city as well as how long the day and night will each be on that day. There are three full calendar systems in this watch. The first is a Gregorian perpetual calendar that includes displays for the date with a retrograde hand, day of the week, month and year in the leap year cycle. There are also indicators for the number of the day of the week and number of the week in the year in accordance with the ISO 8601 standard calendar. The second calendar is a Hebrew perpetual calendar. This shows the Hebrew name of the day, Hebrew name of the month, Hebrew date, Hebrew secular calendar, Hebrew year, whether the year has 12 or 13 months, where in the 19-year lunar cycle that year is, and the date of Jewish holy day Yom Kippur, which moves around the calendar. It has a Double retrograde split-seconds chronograph and…. it also tells the time. The hours and minutes are shown with regulator-style hands, meaning the hours and minutes are on separate axes. The small gold hands show a second time zone.
This is how time is measured in a practical day-to-day way. But it does not explain the mind’s perception of time; of how, when my dear friend is supervising an examination room, time for him drags at a snail’s pace whereas time for the students, with so much to do, races like a mouse (a house mouse’s actual top speed is 13kmh while it ‘feels like’ 260kmh. another time-distorting example). This pocket-watch device is simply the measure of our observation of the motion of our planet in relation to the observable environment in which we exist, but is that all there is to time?
I needed more. If my dear friend had been a retired Physics teacher he might have said that, according to Minkowski, who was Einstein’s Professor, time is the 4th dimension of Space-Time, additional to the three spatial dimensions of length, breadth and depth. This formed a basis for Einstein’s theory of relativity. While the watch is a time-based micro management tool, Minkowski and Einstein were trying to understand macro time in a past, present and future sense. But what does this 4th dimension mean? The three dimensions of space are easy enough to understand because we can see them, but no-one seems to quite understand how time works as a 4th dimension.
We do know that we process information about our universe in a delayed sense according to the speed of light. The furthest star in the Southern Cross group is 364 light years away. So when looking at the Southern Cross tonight the furthest star is, to our eye, as it was when Oliver Cromwell ruled England and the closest star in that constellation is 88 light years away, showing us what that star was like when Franklin D Roosevelt was President of the USA. This is simply the nature of the universe, the further something is from us, the slower the delivery of awareness of that something. Therefore the further out from earth we look the further back in time we see.
So, the mechanical devices that monitor time, as observed by the rotation of earth relative to the moon, sun and other stars, are in fact no more than human inventions by which we try to control time, without which the organisation of our civilisation would fall apart. We also have a theoretical, invisible ‘fourth dimension’ formula that Minkowski and Einstein understand, but which is incomprehensible to most humans. And we also know that light, or the speed of it, seems to have a real effect on ‘time’ in a cosmological environment. So is time the effect of the motion of our planet on our lives, a fourth dimension of nature or is it the process of the motion of light particles? Or does time, perhaps, only exist in our minds?
This brings us to observe a tiny gland buried in our brain, right between our right and left hemisphere. It is illustrated here in green. We call it the pineal gland, because it looks like a pine cone, even though it is only the size of a pea. In fact the Sumerians referred to the pine cone shaped gland in clay tablets thousands of years old, which is extraordinary medical knowledge to have had so long ago. The ‘sacred’ nature of this gland was also known thousands of years before modern science now tells us that this gland produces melatonin, a serotonin-derived hormone which modulates sleep patterns in both circadian and seasonal cycles. Melatonin is a structurally simple hormone that communicates information about environmental lighting to various parts of the body. Ultimately, melatonin has the ability to control biological rhythms. The light-transducing ability of the pineal gland has led some to call the pineal the ‘third eye’. The pineal gland is also capable of making a compound called Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). DMT is a powerful psychedelic chemical released during extraordinary states such as time of birth and the time of death. DMT is also the chemical that induces our dreams of life in a timeless state.
The pine cone symbol has appeared in religious and spiritual images for thousands of years. Depictions of Hindu deities are interwoven with both literal and symbolic representations of serpents and pinecones. The Egyptian Staff of Osiris, dating back to approximately 1224 BC, depicts two intertwining serpents rising up to meet at a pine cone. A statue of the Mexican god “Chicomecoatl” (“Seven Snakes”) depicts the deity offering forth pinecones in one hand, and an evergreen tree in the other. Those who have visited the Vatican may recall the large pine cone sculpture that is displayed and which was built by the Romans, in pagan times, as a fountain alongside the temple of Isis. The pine cone symbolism is common throughout Greek and Roman art in reference to religion and it is hypothesised that the pine cone is the “fruit from the tree of life” referred to in Genesis. With all the references to serpents, it should be noted that, even today, the serpent remain the emblem of the medical profession.
So how did I get from a multi-million dollar customised pocket watch to a pea-sized pine cone? I was wondering that myself. Are we still talking about time? Yes we are, well about time and the absence of it. I am now wondering if time is the mechanism that our brain uses to process data. Our brain needs to organise events in a sequential list just to comprehend them and manage our lives.
Those yogis who achieve a very deep meditation state through the awakening of the ‘third eye’ put themselves into a state of timelessness, as do those under the influence of the psychedelic chemical DMT. Those who have returned from a near death experience, Anita Moorjani and Dr Mary Neale being two of the more famous living examples, also experience this timeless awareness. The pineal is the first gland to be created in the body, one month after conception, and is the last functioning part of the body at death with a great psychedelic shot of DMT to take us into the next dimension of body-less timelessness.
And in that timeless sense of time we are describing what the Greeks referred to as “Kairos” as distinct from “Kronos.” Kronos is a god associated with sequential time and is represented by the scythe-yielding, cloaked and hooded old man, Father Time, leading us all to the grave. His Roman name was Saturn and the sixth planet from the sun was named for him. From ‘Kronos’ comes the word ‘chronological’. Kairos on the other hand refers to time being a “timeless moment’. In Greek mythology Kairos is a young heroic god, youngest son of Zeus and the spirit of opportunity. But it was said you needed to seize Kairos from the front as he approached because, once he has passed, not even Zeus can seize him. Often this moment of opportunity is represented in movies, when the hero is suddenly aware of the heroine for the first time, by voiceless sounds, slow motion action and surreal lighting. In the book of Ecclesiastes phrase “to every thing there is a time”, time is translated in the first Greek Bible as Kairos. In Wm Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the quote “There is a time in the affairs of men” also refers to Kairos.
If our universe is actually made of three dimensions, space, mass and time. Space is then split into three dimensions: the light-reflecting space, that which we can see; light-absorbing space (black holes); and the dimension of wormholes, (a space version of the laundry shute in a multi-storey home). Mass is also split into three: height, length and width. And since the universe is the ultimate example of mathematical symmetry and so we could reasonably presume that time also has three dimensions which would then bring us to the great number 9 in universal majesty. We understand lineal or solar time, it has a beginning, middle and an end. A second possible dimension would be managed time, the process of time appearing to slow down or speed up; and then dreamtime could complete the third dimension of time. When we experience deja vu, or when we dream of ourselves in an unfamiliar setting or get a sense of some spiritual force, maybe that is just our us connecting briefly to ourselves or others in another dimension. Is our mind in sleep-mode simply wandering through the cosmic human database that is stored in the ether? That would be a long way into the speculative theory zone for us in this lineal time dimension. But perhaps that pea-sized, pine cone shaped pineal gland just our brain-computer’s wi-fi device connecting us to the universe and transferring us between three dimensions of time? And I confess I am not even sure what I mean by all of that or where such speculation came from. Did I just dream that up?
Goodness is that the time? Doesn’t it just fly by when you are immersed in writing? I must get off to bed; my melatonin levels are signaling that I need eight hours of timeless downtime from this game of life. I need to sleep…..to sleep perchance to dream. (credit: Hamlet, an avatar of Wm. Shakespeare).