Visual Thinking and the Perception of Time


The subject of time is itself peculiar: we don’t know what “time” is, and assume that physicists do. (see link below to Quanta Magazine.) Our familiar time markers, whether phases of the moon, the unwinding of a spring, or the vibrations of a Cesium atom are not measurements of time, but rather tools that keep track of the rate of recurrence of recurring events. Some recurring events have strict frequencies, but others vary, like the rotation of the earth, which is slowing, therefore the length of a day is increasing. Each of us is born but once, but it’s the custom in western culture to make the date of birth a recurring celebration of the fact that young children have survived another year; other cultures may or may not observe individual birthdays. None of these measurements is time: these are “behaviors” of matter and energy that we use to order events and experience into a mental landscape – a “model” that is useful.

Vladamir Kush Chaos Butterfly - Arrow of Time

Vladimir Kush: Arrow of Time- Chaos Butterfly

We know that the experience of time for our species is subjective and may expand and contract during periods of anticipation and stress or enjoyment. The brain creates variable perceptions of time. One of the clever things that humans have done is to construct a triple division of time – a scaffold on which to arrange ideas and to create plans. Past – Present – Future anchors our awareness in a familiar but also “unseen” and unpredictable environment.

For humans the “present” is a 3-second window of attention that the brain strings  together as unbroken experience, much like the frames in a movie create the illusion of continuous motion. We construct a “past” from memory, records and artifacts, a mental domain that is a continual source of disagreement between individuals and groups about “what happened” and the meaning of “what happened” because our  memories are highly incomplete and faulty; even written records (history), photographs and verbal-visual “reporting” fail to nail down “facts” – and most mysterious is the inability of streaming “real-time” events to be captured by technology or reporters in any measure of clarity. This disparity between “what is” and the extremely limited human sensory-processing system is well-known; it simply isn’t possible for humans to be “accurate about reality” without intensive use of technologies, mathematics and artificial data collection and processing systems – and even then, “the results” are subjected to never-ending arguments over subjective social domains of prejudice.

“What happened” is rarely “settled”.  Individuals and groups are obsessed with owning “what happened” because it’s a “no-fail” means to coerce the “future” allocation of power, wealth and social control. As an Asperger this “conniving” is at the least, annoying, at its worst a failure to address basic survival of our species and the “health” of the planet that creates and provides for the millions of species with which we share earth. For hypersocial humans, “imaginary” reality is an addiction that feeds on itself; the same “conversations” go on and on; the same behavior repeats and repeats.

The futility of human behavior has in essence “taught me” to be a Bhuddist! The “arrow of time” is not straight but “curved” and manifests as a wheel of suffering. Past-present-future, as a plan for “ultimate success” (whatever that is) is an illusion. The addiction to a scheme of “past, present-future” merely presents a failure to pay attention to the limits of “human mental constructs” – and human happiness. Mental constructs can be valuable as “scaffolding” during the process of building human societies; the problem is that the “social brain” has lost connection with the original function of the brain, any brain: to operate an organism “in sync with” the physical environment.


“Now, physicists are unmasking a more fundamental source for the arrow of time: Energy disperses and objects equilibrate, they say, because of the way elementary particles become intertwined when they interact — a strange effect called “quantum entanglement.”

For an up-to-date look at the flow of “time” as an effect of quantum entanglement, go to:


What does this have to do with the visual person’s experience of time?

1. So much of what is different about visual thinkers unfolds from visual perception and processing of information.

2. Visual information is concrete, specific and detailed and is retained in the brain as non-linear memory. Images and information from many ‘time points’ are directly accessible because visual memory exists in the present, and is not subject to the past/present/future language construct. For a visual thinker it isn’t ‘time’ that connects information, but patterns and systems. This includes function and detail. My awareness of “social time” is so poor that it does truly create an existential disconnect with the overwhelming demands and intrusions placed on individuals by Western Civilization.

3. My experience of time, as it is constructed by clocks, calendars, appointments, plans, events, schedules, obligations, even when I pay attention to these divisions, is that this social convention is wholly artificial and alien to my existence. I obey time-keeping only when I must, and only because social culture is obsessed with the “evil” of any human being having a single unstructured moment to relax. “Idle hands are the Devil’s hands!”

4. When I must attend a clock-based function, if feel “yanked out” of my “reality” in the eternal present. I feel like a snail being pried from its shell – horrible!

5. Individuals who are, by default “visual” brain type, are intuitively “in tune with” the cycles of nature, the ways of animals, visual pattern recognition and concrete intimacy with the environment. This type of perception predates social typical constructs of time. Our way of being (in the present) is how humans experienced being alive for the majority of time that Homo sapiens has existed. It is my “hunch” that megalithic structures, which “boggle the minds of neurotypicals” (why would anyone go to all that trouble when they could buy a clock and calendar? LOL) are the consequence of a change from “living in the present” as animals do, that is, operating on instinctive “instructions” for behavior, toward an external “structure” that was necessary to conscious processes of planning and coordinating group behavior – the effort to impose order on human activity required “anchoring” in the cyclical “behavior” of forces in the environment. What better way to get everyone “on the same page” before there were “pages”?

5. Observations by early anthropologists of hunter-gatherer people (accurate or not!) describe what to me is an ideal lifestyle: individuals came and went from groups as they pleased, ate when hungry, or when food became available, kept individual patterns of sleep and awake times, and generally employed their time and energy as they pleased and had no inclination to track time. This was partly possible because a mere four hours of work per day provided hunter-gatherers with life’s necessities.

It was the Agricultural Revolution that tightened the noose of “time” around the neck of mankind.




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