Those who know me well will attest that I can be quite hedonistic. I have often overindulged in food and wine and occasionally in hilarity. It could be fairly said that I in my sometime displays of immoderation might be accused of seeking to have a “good time”. I probably was unduly influenced by a second rate inspirational speaker I heard decades ago who advised us to remember we “were not here for a long time but a good time!”
I have written previous blogs about the mystery that is time. It is fair to say, however, that our concepts of time are hopelessly confused by the colloquial use of the term. When I was young and would ask my parents for something I desired, the inevitable response was always “all in good time”. Now whatever that “good time” was that they were referring to, it certainly wasn’t what my concept of a “good time” seemed to be.
Time as a concept is always relative both in an objective and a subjective way. Objectively we know through the Theory of Relativity that the dimension of time is enmeshed physically with the dimensions of space. Consequently it is subject to the relative effects of velocity and gravity. We know, for example, that astronauts returning to earth from periods in space have not aged as much as their earthbound contemporaries.
Subjectively we know that an hour at the pub on a Sunday afternoon flew in comparison to the hour in church in the morning listening to the rambling sermon. But then again that is natural, I suppose, because the church seems more inclined to want to identify with eternity than a publican and his patrons.
But here I fall into the common fallacy of equating eternity with all of time or perhaps infinite time. I believe that to experience eternity is to stand outside time.
The great Hungarian Professor of Psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, gave me pause to think. You might recall he created the notion of “flow”. In this state people function very effectively whilst experiencing a sustained sense of well-being. In a lecture he gave in Sydney in 1999 he described how it feels for someone to experience this state of peak performance. Some of the characteristics of this state included:
- Completely involved, focused, concentrating
- Sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality
- Sense of serenity – no worries about self, feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of ego – afterwards feeling of transcending ego in ways not thought possible
- Timeliness – thoroughly focused on present, don’t notice time passing
- Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces “flow” becomes its own reward
In many ways this seems to be standing outside of time, accessing somehow, eternity.
It is interesting that he refers to ecstasy.
He compared those in “flow” with artists. He stated those in “flow” were similar to those engrossed in “creating meaning”. Many described an “ecstatic state” or a feeling of being outside of what they were creating with their hands. Of course, “ecstatic” comes from the Latin for “to stand to the side”. Csikszentmihalyi accounted for this feeling of being consciously outside of the creation as due to the psychological limits of consciousness, that at higher levels of consciousness the more mundane aspects become subconscious in order to restrict conscious attention to the number of items it can manage. So a pianist described not noticing the room, his hands, the keys, the score, but rather being conscious of only “being one with the music and expressing emotion”.
Such a person seems to me to be standing outside of time – perhaps being momentarily in eternity. (I can’t avoid the ambiguity of again referring to time – “momentarily”. It is a damned nuisance this time!)
Recent research published in the journal Animal Behaviour gives reason to suspect that the perception of time in animals is related to their metabolism. The researchers believe that the faster the metabolic rate of an animal the slower time appears to pass. Which seems to explain why it is difficult to swat flies! What we think is a rapid swat when we attempt to exterminate the little critters appears to them as a rather undaunting assault – something threatening but approaching at the speed of tectonic drift.
This probably goes some way to explain the ennui of our young people. Maybe their physical metabolism hasn’t sped up, but it is likely that their communications metabolism has plummeted out of control. With I-phones, I-pads, social media and so on continually assailing them unrelentingly, any momentary pause of such stimuli must thrust them into an unimaginable wasteland. It could be the ADHD homeland! This seems to me to be a difficult evolutionary problem to contend with.
But there could be other beneficiaries in this evolutionary struggle. Beware the sloths!