Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How Do You See Time?

"Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them."

Dion Boucicault

I just thought of something pretty neat.

Now, our brains are poorly wired to understand the concept of time, and we often associate the "flow" of time with Euclidean vectors and shapes. We then break time into discrete absolute units like years and then break those years into days, hours, minutes and seconds - but if Einstein's anyone to go by (and you can bet he is), time is a relative creature.

Most people in the world visualise the hours of a day (or rather, a half day) with a clockwise cyclical circle. This is most certainly a conditioned mental image because most of us grew up telling time using an analogue clock. So if I am to make an educated guess, I'd say that a person who grew up without ever seeing that iconic 12-hour face would see a wholly different shape of his day in his head. If I ever produce a kid, I'd try teaching him to tell the time using sundials and see how his mind's eye perceive the daily hours - among other messed-up, nurture-type psych experiments I've thought up over the years. This is also why I shouldn't be allowed to procreate.

Then, there are time units which are much less ubiquitously and graphically represented and thus, would figure very differently in different individuals. Take the 7-day week, for example. This is how I see the week in my mind,

Shape of My Week

I consider Monday the first day of the week. The weekdays are arranged in a horizontal row from left to right, bowing slightly upwards. My Saturday and Sunday are "situated" below them, swinging from right to left in the curve of a smile. It's a bit like a semicircle, looping back again and again on itself.

The girlfriend sees her entire week in a straight horizontal line running from Monday to Sunday which rewinds back to the start of every new week.

Let's scale it up to a month, shall we? Phoebs' month has its days arranged in rows of seven. The days in each row runs from left to right and subsequent rows are placed below the preceding ones. The leftover days of every month (except non-leap year Februaries) would form the fifth and final row. It's essentially how a calendar page is configured.

Me? This is how my month looks like,

The Progression of My Month

I visualise the progression from one month to the next as a "step" up from left to right, with the previous month vaporising away as soon as the transition is complete. I also break every month into two parts: the first 19 days being one bit and all the remaining days being the second. There's also a "step" to climb between day 19 and day 20. Do not ask me why I think this way because I haven't a fucking clue. It just feels right.

Anyway, when I zoom out to the scale of a year, the stepladder effect disappears and I get a smooth, flat line heading eastward,

The Direction of My Year

My vision of time itself is also a left-to-right horizontal line. I fancy that this is probably the influence of how historical and scientific timelines are traditionally depicted. Unlike mine, Phoebs' year is oriented vertically from up to down. And she envisions the concept of time as going forward, with the past positioned behind her. Her predilection might have been persuaded by the English language (the tongue she thinks in) which does in fact assign such arbitrary prepositions to the the past and future.

And I've even heard of a guy who sees the months of a year as points on an analemma. What a nerd.

I don't know about you but I find this to be fascinating stuff. All my life, it never occurred to me until now that all of us perceive time in different fashions. Knowing how someone would process time feels a bit like taking a tiny glimpse into how his or her mind operates. It might not be terribly informative, I know, but it's still pretty damn cool.

So how do you see time? Describe your week, month or year here. Enquiring minds want to know!

A step from December,
k0k s3n w4i


Zzzyun said...

That's really interesting. I see my timeline quite similar to the way Phoebe sees her..

I used to wonder if other people see time the same way I do. But you beat me to it in blogging about it! I need to write down ideas to blog instead of letting them waft through my head. -.-

Glo-w~* said...

I often have this discussion with Ben. It seems to me that time exists in large blocks where I can only occupy limited things in a day. Thus I often feel that time passes by so very quickly. A snail on caffeine and still the world zooms by. Where as for Ben, especially during bad on call days, it goes excruciatingly slow. Sort of like the caffeinated squirrel in over the hedge. For me last year feels almost like last month, perhaps that is the reason why I still feel young on most days ^^

Anonymous said...

The days always start with a Monday for me, even though there are people who consider Sunday as the first day of the week. I don't get it - why would they torture themselves into giving one day of the weekend away? It's called the weekEND for a reason, not a weekSTART or something equally ridiculous.

One thing that is common over here (in Brisbane, at least) is seeing the week in a hump shape, with Wednesday being right at the top. So once you hit Wednesday, it means that it's the middle of the week and it's almost over. That makes the weekend a completely different timeframe to consider. I actually quite like this idea cause it's nice to know that there's something to look forward to throughout the work week.

As for the days of the month and months in a year, I just imagine it as a left-to-right concept, quite the way you depicted it in the last picture.

Now, what does that say about me?

Idzwan Phoenix said...

trust you to come up with something like this...

let's just say i let all my time flies by just like that...

and yeah, i haven't been reading your blog for a long time...seems like i'm missing out on lotsa stuff

Anonymous said...

sen wai,

this blog might interest you.
i am sure there will be some good intellectual discussions across :)

k0k s3n w4i said...

Zzzyun: you can try and keep a notebook of your ideas. i used to keep one, but then i realised i never revisit anything i wrote down in it :/

Glo-w~*: it's common knowledge that time dilates and contracts depending on how much of a good time you're having. maybe you just enjoy life more than ben :)

lovealynna: i always thought that the word "weekends" is analogous to "bookends". they hold up the weekdays from either ends. anyhow, i too consider wednesday as the apex of the workweek but like in my illustration, it's not exactly a very steep climb up or down. i also think that most of us are conditioned to imagine a left-to-right timeline because we were taught to write that way. people who write arabic, for example - right-to-left - may be predisposed to seeing it differently.

Idzwan Phoenix: i won't say a lot.

Anonymous: nope. nothing i haven't seen before. next!

Glo-w~* said...

Oh no, but time is flying by too fast for my liking =( woosh and it's already a year! Maybe I should stop having so much fun =(

Zzzyun said...

haha the worst part is that these ideas often waft past when one is trying to sleep.. so not the best time to wake up and start scribbling in a notebook. oh well.

Anonymous said...

Are your 2 latest blogs reposted as seen in the dates of the comments, or your blog has been hacked?