Time is a tool for acceptance and appreciation*
This quote started me thinking about what it is to be human on planet Earth. I also read in the news this week that astronomers have discovered other Earth-like planets. These planets, which may contain life, do not rotate. What would it be like I wondered to evolve on a planet where day (or night) were eternal and permanent? Imagine if there were no seasons, would one have a sense of the year(s) passing? Would one have a sense of time at all? And what are the advantages and downfalls of our sense of time?
Tool-use is one of the markers of humankind’s evolution and has lead to our extraordinary ability to control and manipulate our environments in pursuit of comfort and security. Progression from the first use of sharp rocks to scrape skins to computer systems that can mimic neural networks and learn can be used as a definition of what makes us human. Alongside these developments arise moral questioning as we wonder what it is to be human and worry that, in delegating some of that function to machines we will lose some essence of ourselves.
Maria Montessori in a critique of education claimed that education must inoculate against greed, laziness and our tendency to let machines do our work for us. She was speaking a hundred years ago, in the time before the Internet, smart phones, pocket calculators or typewriters. Our relationship to machines and tools is tempered by our love hate relationship to ‘the other.’
Time is a mental concept, a tool we have invented and continue to invent in response to the world in which we find ourselves. To live on Earth is to be a time-being and our individual and collective relationships to time reflect a love-hate dichotomy. We have invented time, yet we feel driven by it. We have become more accurate at measuring and marking the passing of time in the past two hundred years and every individual has access to multiple time alerting devices, from watches to alarm clocks, computers to reminder messages on our phones.
Yet spend a day with a child on their schedule or alone in nature and rhythms of time assert themselves in a way that is very different to our consciously timetabled lives. Time passes and we grow older in ways that are imperceptible from within. Children and trees grow, beloved pets live out their life span in fractions of ours, buildings rise and fall and time appears an inevitable fact of our lives. But I would argue that while on our planet the concept of time makes sense the kind of relationship we have with it is up to us.
Time, like any other tool can be used for good or evil. The best use I can make of it is to acknowledge the opportunities it offers for internal growth, for acceptance and appreciation of what is, has been and ever will be. We can see time as a God-like figure, directing us but perhaps by seeing beyond life on our planet we can arrive at a more nuanced understanding of time, appreciating time as a tool of our unique human situation.
*I came across this quote in some Harry Potter fan fiction by a writer calling herself Bec-Chan