We’re Underway for Merely 500 Years

We as a species are underway for quite a while now. But when you look at how much of this time we’ve actually been making some progress, it seems like we’ve just started. It wasn’t until the Enlightenment (17th century) that we started to make some progress in our knowledge. Up till that time, we were consumed by religious indoctrination preventing any creative ideas from coming into existence. The Greeks had made some progress in the centuries before and after Christ, but this progress was mainly philosophical in nature and hardly applicable in any industry. So you could say that we as a species are truly underway (read: making a difference) for only 500 years or so – adding a few centuries of the Greeks to the period spanning the Enlightenment until now.

That’s an inconceivably short amount of time when compared to the 7,5 billion years our earth – and possibly us – has left before it is shattered to pieces by the ‘death’ of The Sun. 500 years…that is .000000666 percent of the time still to come. And look at what we’ve accomplished in this short amount of time already. We’ve totally revised the world. We’ve come up with electricity, computers, the internet, transportation, medical care and many other life- and world-changing inventions. Look at the progress we’ve made in science, the many disciplines and specializations that have come into existence. It is absolutely staggering.

With that in mind, imagine what can happen in the upcoming 500 years. Imagine our economies going green, robots doing pretty much all physical labor for us and the internet being put into our heads so that we can ‘wireless’ communicate with anyone else. Maybe even a new substance will be found, called ‘consciousness’, which might resolve many of the most fundamental philosophical problems around, such as the mind-body problem, scientific reductionism and determinism. It might even explain why some fundamental particles appear to change their course when humans are watching them. Furthermore: imagine that, after the next 500 years have passed, 15 million of such 500-year cycles are yet to come in the future of our species. And probably even more, since it’s not impossible to imagine that we’ll find another planet to live on, thereby leaving the earth before it explodes.

Almost everything you see around you is built on knowledge that is gathered in the last 300-400 years. The buildings you see, the car you drive and the power you use. Everything that is of any relevance to your daily existence. You can imagine our descendants in 300 million years from now laughing at our convictions that we know quite a lot about the world already.They will see us as nothing more than an extension of the Neanderthals.

I ask you to take a look at your grandparents and listen to their stories about their youth. My grandfather told me about his neighbor getting the first tractor in town. He also told me about his experiences in the Second World War, an opportunity the next generations will never have.

What do you think?

Time and its Prerequisite to Exist

“What time is it? It is 7:15 P.M. Hhm…then I’ve still got time to write another article. But after that; what am I going to do then? How am I going “to kill” that time? Well, I would probably watch another episode of Californication and grab a bite or something. But let’s not think about that for now; let’s stay in the present. Let’s put time on a hold, shall we?

Too bad that isn’t possible. There’s no switch around, allowing us to turn of “the production process called time”. But what exactly is time? It is intangible but omnipresent; it is always moving forward and it is limited. It is unity and difference at the same time. It is the most valuable good we have. Everything we do depends on it. Time is the creator of value and the destructor of lives. Time can cure aids or let it continue unsolved. Time is us, we are time.

But, besides the philosophical picture of time, how do we “use” time in our daily lives? As a planning device, right? We use it to create order in this mess we’re living in. Imagine that we wouldn’t have our notion of time; our notion of standing up at 7:10 A.M., taking a shower, start working at 8:45 and wander around until – let’s say – 10:30 P.M when it’s time to go to bed and start the whole cycle of time all over again. Without time we wouldn’t know when to take our children to the crèche; cook dinner or attend at a birthday party. Without time we would be trees or clocks. Although the latter seems to have a pretty good sense of time, or doesn’t it?

But who’s in control? Are we in control of time, or does time control us? We think we know what time is which makes us base our entire lives upon it. “Our” time is a human construct; it’s created by us to make sure everyone gets on the train “on time”. But this is merely a superficial reflection of Time with a capital “t”; Time as the flow of life and death; as the creative power of this earth. Without this notion of Time there wouldn’t be anything. The only things that could “be” are snapshots; frames in time. But there would be no-one to experience these frames, because experiencing takes time. There wouldn’t even be things; because for something “to be” it needs to exist in time. Without time there would be nothing; and not even that. We could chop up time in pieces and glue them together, but that wouldn’t make something exist. “You can’t step in the same river twice”, Heraclitus said, because time is always present, making the river change continuously. However, without time, there wouldn’t even be something to be called a river; not by us – because we cannot exist outside of time – but neither by the world itself, because without time there wouldn’t be “things” to divide the world into; without time there wouldn’t be a difference between a river and its water. Both are one without time. It is only within time that these “things” become what they are. It is only in time that nature shows its true colors.

Time makes us who we are but continuously changes this “us” at the same time. The “I” that exists now thinks differently than the “I” that started this sentence. The “I” that reflects upon the previous sentence thinks that this article might be getting a little too philosophical. But luckily for you, I see it’s time to go.

What do you think?

The Nonsense of Feeling Regrets

Have you ever done something at a particular point in time that you didn’t consider to be the best thing to do at that particular point in time? I am not talking about looking back on something you did and, while you are looking back, you come to realize that it might not have been the most reasonable thing to do. No, I am talking about deciding at a particular point in time to do some something: something you believe to be the best thing to do at that particular point in time. Now, let me ask you: given that you always do what you consider to be the best thing to do at a particular point in time, how then can you – at a later point in time – decide that what you choose to do was not the best decision after all? How can you regret having made a decision that you considered to be reasonable at the point in time when you actually had to make the decision? Is it even reasonable to have regrets? And if so, when? Let’s take a look at that.

You choose to go study Business after you finished high school. After a year or two, you come to realize that this is not where you heart lies: you are not as enthusiastic anymore as you were when you started the study. You decide to switch studies: you go study philosophy. Now, two years after you’ve started studying, you finally have found the area where you heart lies. You start thinking about how nice it might have been if you would have started studying philosophy right away. And then you ask yourself the ultimate question: do I regret my choice for studying Business? And although you might be inclined to say that you did, you cannot speak the words out load. And the reason you can’t do so is the following: you have chosen to do what you considered to be best at that particular point in time. You have consciously thought about the options you had and you decided – given the information and feelings you had at that particular point in time – to go study Business. Now, looking back on those two years, you have come to realize that this study doesn’t fit who you really are. But this looking back experience isn’t something you had when you started your academic journey. You feel relieved: you have come to understand that you simply cannot regret the decision you have made.

The thing that is at work here is time and its ever forward flowing motion. And a consequence of this unstoppable and uni-directional movement of time is that you cannot escape it; you always are positioned somewhere within time. And since time – like a moving train – is always in motion, you cannot escape the fact that the world you live in keeps on changing. Today is different from tomorrow, just like the landscape a train moved through two hours ago is different from the one it is driving through right now. And it is because of this inherent change of the world we live in, that you constantly have to make decisions. After all, why would you have to keep on making decisions if nothing in you world would have changed? You would only have to decide once, right? Once; at the start of your journey. And this is where the analogy with the train breaks down; because where the train has to follow the track as it is layed down in front of it, we are free (or doomed) to choose where we want to go. The only thing we cannot choose, is not to chose. Because even if we decide not to choose, we are in fact making a choice.

But what has this to do with having regrets? Well, given that you are at a certain point on your very own track called life, and you are forced to make a decision where to go next, how then can you ever regret the choice you make at this particular point in time? Not based on the “unintended consequences” that came about, right? Because you didn’t know the unintended consequences and you didn’t choose for these unintended consequences, right? You didn’t choose for Business turning out not to be your kind of study. That simply was an unintended consequence of your decision to start studying Business. But even in case of more severe (negative) unintended consequences, this line of reasoning holds; even if you were driving in your car, taking a side-turn and suddenly hit a drunk woman that recklessly crossed the street and she would die, you cannot regret your decision to have taken this side-turn. You were forced to make a decision in time and you chose to take the turn. Why? Because that was the direction you had to go to in order for you to reach your destination. But what about the girl? She died, right? That seems something that could make you regret your decision? Well, you didn’t choose to hit the girl, right? It was an unintended consequence of your decision. A consequence that you didn’t choose for at the point in time you had to make the decision. It was not a consequence you could have reasonably taken into consideration.

The moral of this story? Don’t regret what you did not choose for. Shit happens. As long as you were not choosing the shit that happened, you cannot blame yourself.

But what do you think?

We Are the Masters of Time

I am sure you know the feeling: you have been focused at completing a task – let’s say studying – and then, when you look up from your desk and take a look at your watch, you see that a couple of hours have passed. A couple of hours! It feels like you have just started. But, when you take a closer look at the situation, you come to realize that it is not just that time seemed to go faster while you were deeply involved in the activity: it is more like the entire notion of time did not exist at all.

While you are 100 percent focused on doing something – whatever this ‘something’ might be – nothing outside of that something seems to exist. No outer world, no expectations, no time. Not even you. Only the world of the something ‘you’ are immersed in seems to exist. But what are the implications of observing this momentarily ‘non-existence of time’ for our common perception of time?

Let’s start by picking an activity in which your consciousness is put outside of the scope of time: sleeping. When you wake up from a good night of sleep, you have no idea – given that you did not look at the clock – how long you have actually slept. A period of time that in reality might have spanned a couple of hours might feel like it spanned only a couple of minutes. An even more extreme example would be a comatose patient: patients who awake from a coma usually have no clue how long they have actually been in the coma.

But it is not only while you are sleeping that time seems to play tricks on us. Also in our daily lives we are constantly bothered by its remarkable properties. For think about it: how slow does time go when you are waiting for your dentist, and he is already ten minutes late? Ten minutes can feel like eternity, right? But what if you are hanging out with your friends, laughing and having a good time, but you know that you have to leave in ten minutes? Then ten minutes might feel like a second. And you know who also pointed out this weird feature of time? The same man that shocked the world with his theory of relativity: mister Albert Einstein. This is what he had to say about our experience of time:

When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.

Although our experience of time – and even time itself – might be relative, there is one aspect that remains constant throughout all frames: the seemingly uni-directionality of time. For it seems like time is always going forward, to the future. But even though nature pushes us forward in time, we can decide where in time we want to be: do you want to be in ‘the now’, or would you rather dive into your past or dream about the future? It is your consciousness that determines where in time you are situated mentally. It is pretty much like the movie The Matrix: your body stays put on planet earth, while your mind lives a life on its own. What this observation shows is that time does not equal the hands on the clock. Our perception of time is not always moving in fixed units in a fixed direction. The fact that we have invented the notion of time because it is convenient within our daily lives does not prevent us from experiencing time in any form we want.

But of course: we cannot live our lives totally detached from the ordinary – constantly forward moving – property of time. After all, our human bodies are earthly constructs and will break down after a quite predictable period of time. However, within the fixed time frame we have been offered, the unit of time is variable: within this fixed time frame a minute does not have to feel like a minute and a couple of hours can feel like a couple of seconds. Within this fixed time frame we are the masters of time.

What is your notion of time?