Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Dance of the *Now Moment*

At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards;
At the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.
Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.
Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance,
And there is only the dance.
T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, 1936,  Four Quartets

Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, 
and there is only the dance.
A gallery of dance pictures from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, 
the Renaissance, colonial times, Native Americans,  
to contemporary dance today, in all cultures and at all levels of society --
 dance is and has always been part of human expression.
Images courtesy of

*Click on any picture to view*
*a slideshow of this blog-article*

Friday, February 1, 2013

Basic Facts About Time

Okay, lets keep it simple, really simple -- no tricks, nothing up my sleeve.

#1. Time only exists in the moment. Period.

#2. The past did exist in the moment at an earlier time.

#3. The future will exist in the moment at a future time.

#4. The present is now -- you reading these words. This moment. The past is #1, #2, #3 you read earlier.

The future is the rest of this blog -- if you continue reading.

In a sense everything that happens, everything that is real is time-stamped. Nothing is real unless it has that time stamp -- even our speculations -- as those speculations, imaginations, fantasies, etc. happen in time -- even our thoughts about probabilities or our delusions happen in time.

Yet the human perception of time, which is linked to memory, which in turn is rooted in brain functions, is quite different from time stamps and clock time. 

As living beings with blood going through our veins, we are always moving through time. With every breath and every heart beat, time moves forward -- and not just by seconds  like a clock's second hand, but continuously in tenths of a second, or millionths of a second, or nanoseconds (billionths) or even picoseconds (trillionths). We are always in time, we can never be outside of time.

I believe much of the confusion about time is due to mistaking our artificial divisions of seconds and minutes -- which are quite useful for managing time -- with the fundamental nature of time which is indivisible;  it is an unbroken stream that flows continuously.

As I quoted in an earlier blog in this series:
A deep-sea fish has probably no means of apprehending the existence of water; it is too uniformly immersed in it...
Sir Oliver Lodge, British scientist
What could a fish tell you about water? Probably not much. It lives in water, it is surrounded by water, it floats and moves in water; water is the world that it lives in -- so a fish is probably unaware of many of the properties of water. I doubt, for example, that it could understand the concept of wetness.

And so, like the fish, we live surrounded, but not by water but by time. There is no way out -- no way around it. While we work with it everyday and every moment, we are so immersed in it, we have trouble grasping its complexities.

Common phrases about time provide some hints about how we operate, phrases like, "she's been through a lot" -- implying that time is something we move though and also that there is no way around it, there is only a way through it.

But even when we try to simplify and focus only on the now moment and the present time, there are complications:

At no point is the present only now, some of it is always future and some always past -- and without this connection between past and future, the now moment and time itself could not exist.

Time keeps on slippin', slippin', 
Into the future 
Steve Miller

Neither from nor towards; 
at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. 
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.
T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, 1936, Four Quartets

Consider this: 
At every moment in the present 
you are reaching into the future 
and letting go of the past. 

From the point of view of the passengers in the boat, the wake of the boat is the boat's past, the bow
 and direction is its future, and the passengers are in the present.

In this shock wave photo of a plane breaking the sound barrier, past, present and future are all in one shot: the nose breaking into the future, a passenger in the middle of the plane in the present and the past trailing behind.

The 'arrow of time' has often been used as a metaphor to describe the relentless headlong movement of time. The now moment is like an arrow that flies always forward: the arrowhead piercing the future, the tail trailing behind and the shaft in the middle, in the present and between them. Without all of the parts: arrowhead, shaft and tail, the arrow could not fly.

My point is this:

Past/present/future are not separate from each other -- this is a misunderstanding and one which can cause a number of problems.  

Further this lack of separation is not only true moment to moment but also day to day, week to week and year to year. Past/present/future are inseparable and intertwined.

All photos in this article are courtesy of

Virtual Human Meta-Time

In this series of blogs I have made the point that the human perception of time is very different from clock time. Plus the human capacity for understanding time is different from all other animals on the Earth. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the way we conceptualize and use time in our conscious functioning. 

I like to think of it as "human meta-time" -- 'meta' meaning time above and beyond the standard moment to moment existence of time, beyond now -- an almost different dimension of time, a kind of virtual time. This 'human  meta-time' works in conjunction with a 'human  meta-space' -- our mental map of the places where we live, work, drive through, visit, etc. 

Within each of our minds is a conception of space and time that we have gained over the years -- a space and time that we can move around in -- created from memories -- and a space where we can even create new areas with our imaginations. This virtual meta-space includes past, present and future -- and we can move easily within it across both time and space at warp speed. 

For example, in a matter of seconds, I can walk through my childhood home that I have not seen in 30 years and that physically is 600 miles away and vividly remember events in my childhood, think about what I am going to do in the next minute and then walk around an exhibit I am planning in my mind, that will be in a building an hour away and does not yet exist.

This aspect of human time is so complex, this article can only begun to scratch the surface.

Memory is the key component of meta-time and our ability to manage, shape and organize time. Because of memory we can learn skills, learn to conceptualize, recall what we have accomplished so far in a task, and build on experience. 

Beyond the basic cataloging of our past, it also remembers things that happened in a unique way. It can remember occurrences as events, not measured by minutes or hours, but rather as an internal experience with its own sense of time. This aspect of memory comprehends duration -- that is time beyond the now moment -- and creates depth, dimension and perspective. It also puts together composites of places and events and allows us to walk through them at will. 

We all work with meta-time and meta-space everyday yet think little of it. 

In an example of meta -time and -space, each of us can visualize places where we are not now. For example a co-worker in your office an hour from you, might call you from your office and ask for the location of a book. In your mind you could move around in your office, open and close desk drawers and guide that co-worker in their search.

And in another example of meta -time and -space, I can go back into the past and walk through the house where I lived as a child. I can stand outside and see the door, the bushes and the windows -- then walk up the steps, open the front door and walk down the hallway, touching the walls with my hands and looking at the pictures hanging on the walls -- pictures that were there years ago and are not there now. When I taught a creative writing class, I used this idea as one of my exercises. Everyone was able to write a detailed description of a home they had not visited in decades yet they could conjure up in their memories.

All of us have a remarkable capacity to move though meta -time and -space effortlessly. If, for example, I asked you about a party you were at last Saturday that was held a hundred miles away, you would probably be able to walk around that party in your mind and tell me who was there, how they were dressed and what some of them said and recall in seconds things from the beginning, middle and end of the five hour party. Yet you might be hard pressed to say exactly what time -- i.e. clock time -- each thing happened, only that it occurred within the 'time frame' of the party.

This same meta capability works just as well for future events. For example, last spring I was involved in designing an exhibit of digital photography. In my mind I ambled around the gallery space where the show was to be hung, made diagrams, looked at my work, not there yet, on the walls -- so that in my imagination I was actually able to walk through the exhibit that did not yet exist and rearrange furniture and displays.
Diagram of my exhibit months before I set it up. (Rick Doble)

The exhibit after I had put it together -- 
very much like my plan above. (Rick Doble)

To Summarize:

Human meta-time is a virtual time that we can access in our minds. In meta-time you can go forward and back in time and also into the future. The normal real world constraints do not apply in this virtual realm. 

Nevertheless, your personal meta-time must mesh or work in conjunction with objective time and cultural time, as I described in the article before this one. So when you are driving down the road thinking of the last time you saw your girl friend a hundred miles away and imagining what it will be like when you see her again, you'd better pay attention to stop lights up ahead and apply the brakes when a car in front of you stops unexpectedly.

This wonderful composite self portrait shows the artist as he is now and photos of him as a child, a young adult and also his parents -- not unlike the meta-time described in this blog. (

All photos except the plan for exhibit and photo of exhibit are courtesy of