Wednesday, 29 June 2011


In language the word "time" has commonly accepted usages.  We speak of "spending time", "using time", "biding time", "wasting time", as if time were a commodity.  We "measure" time by the clock and the calendar, as in "waiting times", "delivery times", "arrival and departure times", "timetables", "time zones" and "life time".

A 'life time" was brought powerfully into my mind yesterday as I attended the funeral of a ninety-seven year old lady.  I use the term "lady" because women of that generation were generally more accustomed to that term than to being described as a "woman".  Here was a life measured in almost a century.  A century of great change: of two world wars, the holocaust, the atom bomb, universal sufferage, economic crises and times of mass unemployment, of increased travel abroad, of the formation of the National Health Service, of improved educational opportunities,  of scientific invention and technological change, and of the development of the internet. 

Kathleen's life time also had a personal and a domestic span: as a girl, a young woman, a wife, a mother, aunt and grandmother. She was a person of our time.      

The words from Ecclesiastes were read:

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away;
A time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak;
A time to love and a time to hate; a time of war and a time of peace."

Another philosophical view of a life time is to be seen in the British Museum Afghan exhibition: the words of Clearchus of Soli, of Aristotle's peripatetic school.  On a funeral monument of about 300-250 BC are the words translated as:

"As a child, learn courtesy,
As a young man, learn to control the passions
In middle age, be just
In old age, give good advice
Then die, without regret."

I am grateful to Sue for drawing my attention to these wise words.

What then about time?  For me "time" is just a word we use to help us to understand and to accommodate into our daily living the phenomenon of change, and of movement from one state to another.  It is the change and the movement and how we deal with the phenomena that fascinates me.  I am open to all ideas and all wise words on the subject.

Two further philosophical utterances that I find especially useful in helping to guide me in my time on earth are:

"A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life." 
Charles Darwin

"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment."

How about you?  What do you think?


  1. And what is an hour anyway? When you are having fun an hour passes in the blink of an eye, but when you are doing something boring or horrid it can seem to last for ever. I understand there to be scientific evidence that time passes quicker as you get older - related to more memories, I believe. So can our perception of time be affected by other factors too?

    I like the words from the funereal monument but at what stage do we pass from young to middle aged, or middle aged to old age? It seems to vary for everyone. Whose to say we all perceive time in the same way?

  2. Time is only exists in the present. The infinitesimal second of "now" becomes the past even as we recognise it. This flow from the future to the present to the past leaves us with the feeling of flow of time. This constantly changing relationship is also essential to the
    description of time.

  3. I agree with Hannah that our perception of time varies and have also heard that there is some scientific evidence that it does “speed up” as we age. In my experience I found that in a period of extreme stress, time appeared to slow down dramatically and a week felt like a month.
    I like Jill's description of the flow of time – like Heraclitus and his river.
    How good – but how difficult for most of us - to be able to do as Buddha says......

  4. But June, You say that time only exists in change and movement, so if we keep very still and do nothing doesn't time exist? Surely it still is and still passes? And Jill you say time only exists in the present yet then say that it is the flow and change that gives us time> Clarify, please. I read somewhere recently that hours and days go slowly but weeks and months and indeed years go quickly. That seems very true, doesn't it?

  5. Hi Hannah, interesting point you make. My answer is that while we are conscious it is impossible to be doing nothing: we are breathing and impressions are passing through our minds. The passage of time could be marked by these movements. As I said earlier, for me time is just the word we use to explain the general phenomenon. If I understood physics better I might be able to construct an explanation of how a nanosecond can seem to last a lifetime, sometimes and vice versa.