No. 3 – The Quantification of Time

Posted on: Friday 21st August 2015

Although in the realms of science fiction (and somewhere on the edges of theoretical physics), time can ‘warp’ and ‘bend’, in actual fact the ticking of the clock remains constant for us. A second always lasts for precisely a  second – and in every day there are 86400 of them in every day. Precisely.

Not so our perception of time. Neuroscience is awash with accounts of how human beings, often because of illness or trauma, experience life ‘slowing down’ and view events as a series of freeze-frames (what it sometimes labels the “zeitraffer” phenomenon or “akinetopsia”) – moments when our perception of time, if not time itself, slows or even stops.

But for most of us, it is the opposite we experience: not life slowing down, but life speeding up. We start the day knowing just how long we have to achieve everything – and then we find ourselves running out of time and being late. In our crazy modern urban life we live life at a fast pace anyway; and our perception is often that there aren’t enough hours in the day.

Summer holiday time can be an opportunity to notice this – and, whether in London or by some distant poolside, to slow down and catch up with ourselves.  Many of us notice this skewed perception of time in ourselves and our dysfunctional pace of life when we do stop annually – only to return to get caught up in the same cycle of life again.

Perhaps this year we could plan to do things differently?

One useful ‘holy trinity’ of thinking about time divides time into three types.  Sold Time is time committed to what you simply have to do, usually your job.  Maintenance Time
is time spent keeping  things ticking over – doing those unavoidable things like sleeping, eating, cleaning’ and so on.  Discretionary Time
is free time you can choose to spend as you choose.

Many people forget maintenance time, so busy are they with their work.  Most of us see our discretionary time eroded under the pressure of living and keeping things going.  What is the balance of the three in your life? Is it healthy?

The Judeo-Christian tradition cherishes the ancient legend of God’s creation of the world in seven days, on the seventh of which God rested. Awareness of time, its use and its sanctification or setting-apart is a non-negotiable part of the life of faith.

Fr Alan Gyle