A Conversation: What is “time”? What is “eternity”?

“Time is quantified eternity, timelessness chopped up into bits and pieces (seconds, hours, days, years) by us. What we call linear time is a reflection of how we perceive change.”

–Deepak Chopra

Kim (me): What is this time that we regulate our lives by?? It’s how often we see the sun, the moon, and how the way the clock moves. Essentially, we’ve caged ourselves into mortality, a series of movements that are inane in the grand scope of things, and convinced ourselves that we’ll never be able to retrieve the seconds we waste. But what are we wasting if seconds, minutes, hours are nothing but human constructions? Our thoughts, perhaps. Maybe our youth as well, and our infinite potential to be happy. Why be mortal when we can be immortal??

Jessie Li: That’s one side of it… the way I see it (put less poetically) is that rather than (or maybe in spite of) the idea that our measurements of time are restricting us, we need this construction, this illusion that we are not just somewhere along the line of infinity. It gives us a sense of control, a sense of satisfaction almost, to be able to cut up our lives into measurable amounts of time and plan or reminisce accordingly. If the quantifying of time is what makes us mortal, then we would always choose mortality, in order keep the illusion that we are in control, that we are not insignificant, that somehow if we and our construction of time and everything else was gone, the world would stop spinning.

Kim: That’s a valid point. I guess it comes down to fear–what are we afraid of? What would happen if we lose control, the sense of control, or the illusion of control? It also comes down to, again, the construction of time. Can we perceive life or existence in a different manner than we’re accustomed to? We’ve lived this way since the dawn of time (no kidding) and maybe we are simply too blinded by the default way of life that we can envision any other way to exist. We let ideas and constructions about time govern us without questioning it, just as we do to many things in our society. It’s kind of like marriage, which has little to do with nature but is merely the manner we choose to govern our social relations and involve ourselves as a couple. It’s unnecessary, but it is only necessary because we make it so. I think time operates in a similar way. Our existence is so predicated upon the physicality of time that we won’t know how to live in a world without time. It’s just the way we choose as a collective to exist. And since I took that quote from a spiritual author, and this discussion somewhat pertains to spirituality–ultimately, the objective is to realize that time is, like many things, unnecessary (although we cannot escape from it on a material level because of the way our society is structured) but we need not let it control our attitude, our identity, or the way we see the world. Ultimately we learn to relinquish control or the need to control, and we can simply just “be”.

Yilin Wang: While the actual units of time are arbitrarily created by people, time is still very real on a physical level. It’s based on sunrise and seasons, and people do age. Humans are very much mortal, and time is simply a way for us to measure that. I don’t think it’s a bad thing because time helps society functions. The main thing is just not to be obsessive about it and not let time control us rather than we control time…

Kim: Conceptually though, time is still based on the observation of “change”. If something never changes, we call it “timeless” or “eternal”. Sunrise and sunset are changes in the direction and movements of the sun as we perceive on earth. It’s the astronomical reference that we use to measure and calculate the length of a “day”. Aging, of course, is a process defined upon the physical differences observed throughout the timeline of a person’s life–while it affects us and poses individual changes to us, you can argue that nothing really changes because living, aging and dying are all part of the cycle of “life” in general–thus life itself isn’t subject to time and remains immortal in the grand scope of things.

Yilin Wang: For me, change is simply a shift that happens, so I would still consider a cycle to be change. At least, the details changes even if the larger universe follows the same patterns. While the cycle repeats, each iteration varies. A plant can go through many life cycles, but each would be a little different. There are no plants, people, or things that are exactly alike in the physical realm. Life follows a cycle with living, aging, and dying, each moment is unique in itself. For instance, when you take a picture, you are capturing a particular moment in time, a single viewpoint that cannot be replicated. Even if someone else comes along to the same spot, things would be different; perhaps a different lighting, or some physical change to the environment, different people, or so forth. Every moment we have is specific and once it’s gone can’t be replicated.

Kim:  I see I see. I suppose you’re seeing it from a more individual and personal perspective. I guess time is never as simply defined, straightforward, and readily comprehensible because it has so meany levels of existence, structure and meaning. Right now I’m looking at it from a more conceptual, macroscopic and cosmic point of view that nullifies time. Since we’re talking about “time”, it makes me ponder on the nature of “eternity”. Is eternity simply something changeless, relative to physical mortality? Or does it encompass something so utterly colossal that it is beyond our temporal reality?

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