Winter Solstice / No Relief from Time

One of the characteristics of “Aspergers” with which I identify, is this problem of “time” – setting appointments, desired or not, “somewhere” in the future, unsettles me greatly, as if a dark shadow or obstacle has interrupted, or even blocks, my “vision” of reality as a streaming field of action. I just don’t belong in a “scheduled” universe. The simple social question, “Would you like to meet next Thursday at 2:30?” produces at best, a void in my brain, but additionally, anxiety.


I must say that this is the “unit” of time that dominates my mind: Seasons. Every other measurement is irrelevant. That is, the “time” is either “now” or a progression of seasonal change that corresponds to spatial change . Is this a “visual” thinker’s version of time?

Definition of Time –

Thanks to:

Time is something we deal with every day, and something that everyone thinks they understand. However, a compact and robust definition of time has proved to be remarkably tricky and elusive.

Short Definitions

  1. what clocks measure (attr. to physicists Albert Einstein, Donald Ivey, and others)
  2. what prevents everything from happening at once (physicist John Wheeler and others)
  3. a linear continuum of instants (philosopher Adolf Grünbaum)
  4. a certain period during which something is done (Medical Dictionary)
  5. a continuum that lacks spatial dimensions (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Dictionary Definitions (None of these ring a bell in my brain – word concepts stuck within word concepts!)

  1. Various dictionaries have defined time as follows:the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present and future regarded as a whole (Oxford Dictionary)
  2. the measured or measurable period during which an action, process or condition exists or continues (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)
  3. the continuous passage of existence in which events pass from a state of potentiality in the future, through the present, to a state of finality in the past (World English Dictionary)
  4. a continuous, measurable quantity in which events occur in a sequence proceeding from the past through the present to the future (Science Dictionary)
  5. the measured or measurable period during which an action, process or condition exists or continues (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
  6. the dimension of the physical universe that orders the sequence of events at a given place (McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology)
  7. a non-spatial system in which events appear to happen in irreversible succession (WordSmyth Dictionary)
  8. the inevitable progression into the future with the passing of present events into the past (Wiktionary)
  9. the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole (Google)
Perhaps the best and most comprehensive overall definition is that offered by Wikipedia:

“a dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future, and also the measure of durations of events and the intervals between them” 

But to my mind this definition remains “stuck” in words. What does time have to do with words? In fact, removing words makes me feel better about time. What does that mean? My experience of time is not abstract, any more than space is abstract. Time is created by events and spatial relationships; and vice versa –

Different Aspects

Clearly time is not an object or substance we can touch or see. But neither is it merely a dimension, quantity or a concept. Indeed, time has many aspects and appears to represent different things to different people in different circumstances. A few examples of some of the different contexts in which the word time is used may serve to indicate just how flexible, multi-functional (and often vague) the word is :

  • “Time stood still”
  • “Excuse me, do you have the time”
  • “It took a very long time”
  • “Adolescence is a difficult time”
  • “This is not the first time this has happened”
  • etc.

In addition, time can even be used as an adjective (e.g. a time bomb, time signature) and as a verb (e.g. to time a race, to time an event).

Past, Present and Future

Another way of looking at time is as the totality of three separate elements: the past, the present and the future.

The past may be defined as those events which occurred before a given point in time, events which are usually considered to be fixed and immutable. It can be accessed through memory or, since the advent of written language, recorded history. The study of the past, in particular as it relates to humans, is called history. The “past” as a coherent body of concrete events is entirely “missing” – we “imagine” the past from artefacts, both physical objects, and verbal-written fragments. It’s not a dependable reference, and yet, it’s a wonderful “mental place” for supernatural speculation and argument.

The present may be defined as the time associated with the events perceived directly and for the first time, i.e. not as a recollection of the past or as a speculation of the future. It is equivalent to the word “now”, and is the period of time located between the past and the future. Just how long a period of time the present incorporates, however, depends on the context, and can vary from an infinitesimal or durationless moment to a day to a whole era, depending on how it is being used. There isn’t “one” present; there are infinite “present” events.

The future is the indefinite time period after the present moment. It is the portion of the projected time line that is anticipated to occur, and may be considered as potentially infinite in its extent, or as circumscribed and finite, depending on the context. While some people may see the future as fixed and predetermined, most see it as essentially unknown (and perhaps unknowable), and open to many different possibilities and permutations. The study of postulating possible, probable and preferable futures and worldviews is called futurology. The future (for me) is a bothersome notion: unreal, unpredictable, unnecessary. It unfolds.

Psychology of Time

Various aspects of time – whether it is absolute or relative, real or unreal, etc  – have been discussed in some detail in the sections on Philosophy of Time and Physics of Time. Here, however, we turn to matters of how an individual experiences and perceives time, and here things become even less definite and concrete.

Time perception refers to the subjective experience of the passage of time, or the perceived duration of events, which can differ significantly between different individuals and/or in different circumstances. Although physical time appears to be more or less objective, psychological time is subjective and potentially malleable.

The biopsychology of our perception of time is a fascinating but little understood area of psychology and neuroscience. It looks at the way our brain processes time and time intervals, and the brain’s built-in expectation of the order and speed of events, as well as the field of mental chronometry.

Most organisms have an internal sense of time generated by endogenous biological clocks, completely independent of ambient temperatures, sunlight, etc. The best known of these is the circadian clock, which maintains daily biological rhythms and regulates sleep, hormone production, etc, but there are also other peripheral biological clocks, some of which follow ultradian or infradian rhythms. A whole field of chronobiology has grown up to exploit our increasing knowledge of these biological rhythms.

Temporal illusions are distortions and misperceptions of time that arise from a variety of psychological and other causes. The most commonly encountered examples are the effects of ageing and psychoactive drugs on time perception, but there are several other interesting effects, such as the kappa effect, the stopped clock illusion, the oddball effect, etc.

Chronophobia is the fear of time or the passing of time, a specific and well-documented psychological phobia which principally affects the elderly and those incarcerated in prisons.




2 thoughts on “Winter Solstice / No Relief from Time

    • The thing is, no one knows what time “is” – ! It’s not a thing, but words present it as a “thing”. Very illogical. The “timing” of physical phenomena is built into us, and all animals, plants, and even rocks, but it seems that once these objects become objects, time is “captured” within them and gets “stuck” as forms and patterns: that is, time cannot go backwards. Even as objects break down into elemental parts, they are not returning to a previous existence, which is how we think of recycling – as if the compounds and molecules and atoms were “intact” and merely are released as the same parts that joined to form the object. What we perceive as reality – a “fixed” state, is continually “becoming” – continually new. That’s about as far as I’ve gotten in thinking about time, whatever it is! Somehow schedules and fixed points mess up how I experience reality!


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