Time is fleeting, so they say.
From birth, our cells replicate and divide in a relentless, programmed habit. Our taut skin grows and matures, becoming duller and wrinkled. Our hair, from a little fuzz on a baby’s scalp thickens and bounces, then greys, then thins back into nothing. And our teeth only have one chance to change, before those too, are gone. And people that used to be with us who are here no longer.
Can we not control this particular experience of time? After all, epigenetics say we can. For more than twenty years, research is accumulating evidence that ageing is under our genetic control. Yes, we can live longer, far longer than our ancestors. But do we dare reach for eternal life?
Frozen in time
If we freeze the tiny details of our ageing, would we be able to freeze time? Is eternal life then, time frozen? Aristotle and Leibniz said that time does not exist without the events that occur within it. Is eternity rather, a never ending flow of events? Or is eternity the act of time cracking the secret of a perpetual motion machine? Never losing energy, the always youthful and vibrant. Who wants to live forever, the song asked, only to be answered – if youth is its envelope unopened.
Plato and Newton disagreed. They said that time exists regardless, like an empty container to be filled or not filled with events. In the event of a non-event, time stays and time moves. Many events in our lives are non-events. The eventful events happen once in a blue moon. Some calendars are lunar based, keeping time by the sight of the moon. How does a blue moon look like? If it is so rare, is the time marked by its shy appearance more special a parcel than the others?
Moving with the times
Time is disrespectful of our decision to remain immature. Decision-less, time stays with us as we ourselves, rush to stay on time. Whether time moves us and matures us, is our decision. Whether we use time as a container to scoop the experience of today and carry them to tomorrow is our decision. Whether we throw away the sadness of today and rinse our cup of time for a fresh drink of tomorrow is our decision. That is how time and our decisions are linked.
What is now? The future is an accumulation of ‘nows’, if only we realise that getting there matters instead of saying, later, later. Later is only good if accompanied by the vigour and excitement of youth. Can epigenetics give us that, or would we be too jaded, old wrinkled souls, beneath our genetically modified baby-soft skins? But the ‘nows’ stack up. Even as we toil today, it is only tomorrow that we realise we did not stack enough ‘nows’. Like ‘unrealised profits’ on the balance sheet. Is that how time reminds us that it’s here? Has it always been here making memories, while we were the ones who just forgot?
The piano teacher says, keep the time, as we try to remember the fingering and play it lento assai. How do we experience sound? Can we keep a song? It passes through the cochlea and down the nerves as electrical impulses to be played by the brain, enjoyed by the heart, then those tunes too, disappear. What about a painting? The image reflects into the retina and converts into impulses for the brain to understand. For both song and painting, once understood, the energy of the sound and light is forever changed. No more but a memory. The difference between make-shift and permanent. Thus, how do we experience time? We keep memories, which before an event is nothing and after the event is a container-full of delight or despair.
How does time look like? Is it a straight rope? The topology of time has always been a wonder to many philosophers. Some might think of it as a narrow alleyway that we are forced to walk through without escape nor deviation.
At what rate do we traverse through this alleyway? I suppose if we can step out of time and return to another point, we would be able to travel through time. That is, if the alleyway has secret doors on either of its sides. That is, if time is even a straight line. It could however be a torus, at which point, why would we even bother time traveling just to end up where we began?
And so we mark birthdays after birthdays, anniversaries after anniversaries, hoping that with every knot we tie onto the straight rope of time, we bring more and more meaning to that of what we celebrate.