Clocks, stopwatches, rulers, odometers, and compasses are just some of the many tools we use measure time and distance. Measured in this way, we identify time and distance as fixed, data to be posted on a graph's x and y axes and tracked with exactitude. And for many good reasons, we value this exactness, lauding trains that run on time, watches that tell time precisely, and apps that track how far we walk in a day and ensure we are getting enough exercise.
Yet, we know that time and distance are not always experienced with exactitude by us. When waiting in line, 10 minutes can feel like an eternity. A walk of 10 city blocks can feel like nothing to a pedestrian commuter chatting on his cell phone, but can feel monumental to a person with a foot injury. The world record for the 100 meter dash is 9.71 seconds, less time than it will take me to walk to the kitchen for a snack. For Usain Bolt it was epic, with each second and microsecond unfolding and well worth his traveling for hours across the globe to Beijing to run.
Over centuries philosophers, scientists, and artists have grappled with ways to characterize our relationship with time and space. Isaac Newton asserted absolutest measurement. Centuries later, Maurice Merleau-Ponty postulated that we filter the world around us through our senses, leading us to interpret the world in ways that are not necessarily consistent with the exactitude of scientific absolutism. A sensory-mediated approach to the world also promotes an awareness we too are part of the world, rather than the separate, remote, and strictly rational observers suggested by Rene Descartes with his declaration "I think therefore I am."
Not unlike Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, Einstein's theory of relativity offers a valuable framework for considering how variably a fixed period of time or distance can be experienced. It asserts that the way anything except light moves through time and space depends on the position and movement of someone who is watching. Indeed, from Cezanne's saturated blotches of color to Seurat's pixilated renditions of landscape scenes, visual artists have expressed the experiential, sensory-mediated approach to encountering the world around us. Likewise, Modernist authors have drawn attention to the expansiveness and nonlinear ways we experience time, with James Joyce depicting an Odyssean epic in the course of a day in Dublin in the life of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway blending the past and the present as thoughts and memories cycle through her mind.
Like Einstein's theory applied to principles of physics, Merleau-Ponty's philosophy, and the works of Impressionist artists and Modernist authors, so much of our perspective on time, space and distance depends on our sensing selves and the frame of mind we are in. In the next few blogs, I'll be exploring frameworks for rethinking how we engage with time and space in our daily lives. By adjusting our perspective or modifying our awareness, we can discover nature and find adventure in even small windows of time and space.
About this Blog
Hi! I'm Nancy Kopans, founder of Urban Edge Forest Therapy. Join me on an adventure to discover creative ways to connect with nature in your daily life, ways that are inspired by urban surroundings that can reveal unexpected beauty, with the potential to ignite a sense of wonder.