Brain & Mind

Our time-blindness

Time remains an elusive backdrop to our existence that our brain is still not equipped to behold adequately. We cannot cognize passage of time in any manner other than a relative idea that we can fabricate using a sense of continuity between events that our cause-and-effect understanding of reality generates.

It appears that sense of passage of time and resulting awareness of existence of past, present and future could be a recent arrival in the folds of life on Earth; because, if we look at the sensory pathways evolved during the 3.5 billion year long evolution, we find none dedicated to sense time.

It is extremely strange that, time, a dimension that we hold dearest to us today, finds no real recognition in life on Earth. From bacteria to blue whale, life is all about following chemical cues that various cycles generate. Time passes only at the grandest scale, in terms of making the universe move and sending ripples down to galaxies and stars, in our case, to our yellow dwarf of a star. All the cycles that life responds to are mere local and chemical manifestation of this giant clockwork in action.

Time, probably, is the most counter intuitive idea that we have discovered very recently, making human brain struggle constantly to come to terms with it. The time-agnostic nature of our brain is evident in the way brain treats various time related concepts. Death, the ultimate representation of time, and probably the biggest problem that life: a system with survival-fixation should be dealing with, is impossible to behold in brain for a long time. From our death to end of the universe, cognition of time should bring an inevitable sense of futility at every level, and yet our brain manages to sidestep this abyss and allow us to continue with our existence.

This makes it clear that the great neocortical achievement of becoming aware of the future and thus be better prepared to deal with it may have survival benefits but we are still not as equipped to perceive time in a dependable manner. For most of the time (!), we remain time-blind, and this blindness could be a great hindrance if we are not consciously dealing with it.

At this stage of our evolution, we appear to be straddling a cusp. We are torn between our recently evolved imaginary perception of time and the natural rhythm of chemical cues that triggers our brain responses. This has made us creatures of neither today nor tomorrow but those that live in an imaginary world of distorted time.

This innocent looking trait is, probably the cause of greatest amount of unhappiness. Human life has lost its natural charm because of the illusory sense of time that we have developed.

We fail to relate to the short coming of our brain vis-à-vis time and plan our lives making really bad estimations in terms of time. We assume youth to be eternal and death far away. We ruin health and well being to save money and yet most of us die leaving behind nearly 70% of our hard-earned money. We seem to have stopped living in the real time and have moved to a time that is mostly a figment of our imagination.

The need of the hour for all of us is to wake up to the reality and recognize shortcoming of our brain in dealing with time. As we lack a innate mechanism to avoid this trap, we need to develop a conscious check.

We need to return to the present and rediscover life that is often being wasted in pursuit of a nonexistent future. This can only be possible when we become aware of our blindness to time.

DNA: 20/12/15

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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