By Sultana Zana
(You can opt to read the following piece here for an alternative reading experience: https://sultanazana.github.io/fieldness.io/tiem3.html)
The passing of time is neither slow nor fast in this quaren-time. In the beginning, I thought it was slower than usual, but I was mistaken. It is largely eventless, and so it feels warped.
There seems to be no present moment. There is nothing here in this moment. These time particles are slipping through without touching me. They have been slipping for a while. The present has not existed for a long time now.
Perhaps having an honest memory of this time would be a challenge. Even though I am working, eating, sleeping and waking, even seeing the sun on many mornings, I am not feeling anything anymore. I’m unable to occupy the present moment.
Time is folded within everything – occurrence of thought, light coming to us from the sun, possibility of sound – the propagation of waves. All perceivable things implicitly carry time. To have a thought is to be witness to the passage of time.
In this text, there are thought experiments for you – the reader. And there are findings of my experiments with time and mind. Before the lockdown, I was mostly busy ‘living’ – observing other human and non human things and being entangled in other beings’ realities. I have never had such an unbroken time of emptiness that creates an infinity room of mirrors in a small space of the mind. Self-observation can become dangerous. I did not start out with the intention of observing myself. It just happened – as you will see. This text also explores diverse and well-documented ways of time that are seen historically and scientifically. You can also, just for fun, explore the structure of language to see how it affects our perception of time – or our ontological view of it – as we go along.
The modern human lives we have created for ourselves are lives with inanimate objects. Nothing ever changes if you don’t change it. Even if there is life around, like indoor house plants, they too have an inanimate presence which is unlike the life of trees with roots deep inside the earth. In the potted plant scenario, there is a boundary. Soil is contained. Impermeable border for the roots. But it’s not just a limitation of space that the roots of the potted plant would experience. The roots of two plants are separate from each other, they have no way of knowing the other, isolated. No way of establishing a connection, of co-existing. Forever, they are alone and contained within space. Receiving water. But never reaching the water table. Dependent and confined.
I used to roam forests and spent time imagining the entangled roots underneath my feet while looking at the canopy shy high above me. Tall towering trees that have spent a lot of their time creating/consuming space. Their knowledge of space is so extensive that each of the leaves of one tree knows exactly where the leaves of the neighbouring tree will be. They have grown together and share the ground beneath. We can live like that with people we have known for very long. Not coming in the way of the light of others. If I know you very well, I would know how to be there but not come in the way; I will not block your light.
House plants would never know the joy of being entangled, of not shading the other. I never thought about the feelings of indoor potted plants. They were the only plants I never thought about. They were so silent, so humanly there, so intentional, predictable and alone, non-chaotic, un-changing that I never thought of saying hello to one. Now I know the thoughts that happen in those pots.
Looping with oneself can get out of hand very quickly like a mic’s feedback rebounding to itself. The empty space of the mind is not a safe place. Words bounce around and keep bouncing around, repetitive, each repetition making it more likely to repeat. In the absence of other sounds, the mic gets out of control. The thing about losing one’s mind is that one wouldn’t even know what is outside it. I definitely don’t want to lose my mind. At least not irreversibly.
Technically, a reversible process is one which can be taken from its initial state to another state, and then back to the initial state without any change to either the system or the surroundings.
Consider this scenario:
You come back home after 2 months of traveling to see that your apartment has been on a standstill, waiting for you. This creates the illusion that time has somehow not passed (for the apartment). Its state is not a function of time (at the human time-scale).
Outdoors, the rate of change is rapid. State changes are continuous and irreversible.
This modern human euclidean sense of space and living in cuboids with flat surfaces, corners, edges and forced boundaries, discrete levels: floors and ‘steps’, with no growing fractal surfaces, and life independent of the human inhabitants does something to our experience of time. There is control over states and something happens to time in this flat, smooth, controlled surface. Space, time, body and the space behind our eyes – our mind – are all entangled. Entanglement is a good word in the English language. It is able to express a relationship which is not clean, unidirectional, give-and-take, cause-and-effect. Entanglement brings forth the idea of a relationship between two or more (independent) entities such that the state of one entity cannot be determined without also determining something about the state of the other. At a quantum level, two particles whose states are entangled behave in a way that a state change in one particle affects the quantum state of the other particle no matter how far apart they are, they could be light years away from each other. This was lovingly known as ‘spooky action at a distance’ by Einstein.
Our surrounding space affects our perception of time and our surrounding time creates the space inside our mind that we live in. We cannot ‘decouple’ these elements. And so the only way to ‘know’ is not by ‘thinking toward the next thought’ but by repositioning – by changing space and time. Look at our thoughts in the light of different spaces and look at spaces in the light of different times and look at time in the light of different mental states. *
The limit that the lockdown has created is that it has curbed my ability to change my space, and this is having a strange effect on my relationship with time and my ability to ‘think new thoughts’. Space has become locked down and there is a passage of time that has to be lived before we can move again – what is it that I am unable to do or think? There is no way to know. 6 months have passed – unable to revolt anymore – it has changed – it asks for little to nothing. I am in a special situation. I am living in a place that I had left behind many years ago. The surface I am living on is highly euclidean and flat – separate from soil and high up. For miles and miles there are no forests – only agricultural cultivated land. This confinement feels too intense. One has always lived on this kind of a surface, but now one is confined to it.
This flat surface with unchanging permanence creates an illusion that things need to be pushed forward with time. Since nothing ever changes or evolves on its own and because our mind likes new things, the capitalistic idea of buying new things and eating data flourishes. So there is the dual pressure – that we must catch up and we must push everything into the future. Everything must be ‘renewed’ before the future arrives inside the cubes.
Certainly, the perception of time – i.e. our time – is different from, say, clock time. At the simplest level, our time is not ‘uniform’ over time of the day, time of our lives, etc. And it is also not independent of unfolding of events around us and the world we live in. Whereas, physical Newtonian time pre-exists these phenomena. It is independent of the existence of the cosmos, of a viewer, of anything at all.
‘Tiem’ could be used to describe ‘time as experienced by a being’ in a similar way as Umwelt – a German word- used to describe the worldview of a being.
It brings us closer to ‘organismic time’ rather than ticks-of-a-clock kind of time. Let’s take another step.
Now hypothetically, let’s say time is light. The brighter the light, more time is passing as more things are happening. When there is darkness (and there can never be complete darkness) time becomes very very slow.
What the tree does in its life is that it keeps taking light, and using it, to make lots and lots of food and lots of leaves which make even more food. This food is used to grow and become denser and larger, the water under it evaporates less, there seems to be excess in and around a blooming tree.
Looking at a tree in bloom in the sun looks like a paused explosion. But it isn’t a pause. It’s continuously exploding very very slowly. The seed is exploding. It is happening really slowly in our perception.
Time is passing. That is to be imagined as light. As the ‘coming of light’ to us. If light is time passing, then what is darkness. Now suppose you are standing in a dark room, there is very little time passing. And what about the tree. The tree uses time to make food and grow. It needs light for itself to be making food. And when there is no light, time is sort of not passing. How is our experiential time felt? We sleep and dream and time passes and the tree rests and time passes, but perceptually, what we actually consider the ‘time of our lives’ is the waking time. Just before the moment we sleep.
And all the activity in the slow explosion of the tree happens when there is light.
The lockdown has brought darkness. For a while, there was dense darkness, some of us even died. The lights were shut off suddenly. Some events themselves are unremarkable, yet as more time passes, the schism becomes a gorge. The state of things has shifted since the mention of a ’21 day complete lockdown’. The farther we come, the more we know that the state change was irreversible.
Take a step back. To the state of the mind.
As a fraction of time of our finite lives passes, and we stand paused, as seasons change, we are going farther and farther away from the feeling of proximity and the possibility of encounters.
Very simply speaking, it seems to me that there is a lot of ‘time’ but no present moment. All the time passes in a pause. A deliberate long pause. Pausing of thoughts is not possible [is very difficult (and it’s all you can do, if you are doing that)].
When this is over, we will know something about the plasticity of our mind. We will find out to what extent this state change was reversible.
If I don’t go to a forest and not be present, there is a dulling white noise. Just floating away into the past lived and future imagined lives. Unlived future is easier to live in than the suspended present. However hard I try, there is nothing in this room that I can live at, exist on. There is nothing to entangle with.
Touch is needed.
Humankind did so much for control. Erased all messy, incalculable, unpredictable possibilities. The ironic beauty of this is not lost on me. The porous and moist nature of reality and gaia is before us. Unpredictable chaos is beautiful by its very nature because it fails systemic oppression. This unpredictable chaos might kill me, but its beauty is not lost to me.
Next up is a thought experiment. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and from the next line on, read each line closely and do as it says.
Look at yourself reading these lines.
There is a light of awareness.
Think of the skin on top of your left ear.
Bring your awareness to the last little toe of your left foot?
Now think of both toes.
Bring it back to your ear.
How many points can your awareness be at, at any given moment of time?
To think about networked time. Being a network in itself consumes time in this way. What is time when we are a network?
When I imagine myself with you all, with minds reading these words, I am imagining a future where I will be with the others. With you all. The desire so much is to ‘ be with a lot or a few people, animals, trees..’. ‘To be with others’ is special because there is a collective observation. It makes oneself, the others and the environment more real. More entanglements, more explosion, more light. I have understood in this time of isolation that everything I want to do in my life is towards having many scales of life around me. Touch is needed. Touching a mushroom is a visceral feeling, of touching a life. One touches gently and with anticipation. I cannot ‘see’ at all if I am alone. I cannot see anything and there is nothing to see. It feels like being suspended. I feel like an astronaut. Like a house plant. So far away from everything. Since we are talking about ‘seeing collectively’, we must also mention that seeing the other is so different from seeing together, and when that happens, that is what life is worth living for. I live this isolated present in the hope of holding hands, being together, making sound into the other’s sound and existing together. I want to explode very very slowly, and that will be life. It would be lucky to get a chance to explode. Not every tree gets the chance, not every plant lives, not every plant is able to have other plants around. And those stories are tragic, but they too, I understand now, live in the dreams of the bloom. It’s the only way //
The end ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Sultana Zana is a new media artist working with sound synthesis, spatial sound composition, film, code and Blockchain technology. Her non-human collaborators include, but are not limited to, mycelium, mushrooms, trees and some insects. New developments in media technology, network theory and ecological research shape her work.
Currently, Sultana is developing FIELDENESS – a body of work that attempts to facilitate a growing blockchain and ecological network.