Posted on December 31, 2015
I’ve made a mistake.
I look behind me but there is no turning back, I’ve past the point of no return.
The chill of frost has seeped further into my bones; the other side of the frozen lake appears just as far away as it did an hour ago. Or was it only a few minutes ago?
With snow blowing around I bow my head and take a seat, lost in time.
Earlier today I met up with a friend, a theoretical physicist who has one of the best minds I’ve ever known. Her head is often in the clouds and her optimism makes her irresistible in conversation.
The day started out as it often does, walking along a path with coffee in hand amid a group of monkeys. Today, she brought up the infinite monkey theorem: given an infinite amount of time, a monkey at a typewriter would almost surely produce a piece of work such as the complete writings of Shakespeare.
Based on the low energy level of the group, we agreed today no such masterpiece would be delivered by our friends.
However, this did get us talking about time and the few fleeting hours remaining in 2015 before the New Year arrived. As if on cue, we both said “time has flown by faster this year than ever before…” and with this our discussion of time began.
A topic very dear to her heart is the question of how our brain sees the world ~ how our brain organizes what we experience, sorts through the chaos and creates a perception of reality so we can function effectively in this world.
Her enthusiasm is contagious. I remember the first time she looked over her coffee and breathlessly whispered, “The only reality we know is what our brain manufactures…how we experience and feel time – it all happens within the mind” followed by her smile and a mad-scientist laugh.
“When I was a young kid; summer days seemed to go on forever. Every second of the day had something new to explore, my mind racing to understand and learn. Time did not matter.” She sat back and mused, her eyes on a baby monkey being cared for by her mother.
“A young child has no understanding of time, they live in the moment…being time as there is so much happening in their world, their brain is in the now doing all it can to make sense of life.”
She is lost in thought but adds, “The adult interpretation of time is irrelevant to a child.”
I’ve always been fascinated by time, from the view of a physicist and the existence of time to the neuroscientist and our perception of time.
One early memory I have, I was a young kid floating in a pool of water thinking about time. Thinking about why adults always said, “time goes by faster and faster as they get older…” I had no idea what this meant.
When I grew older, I began experiencing this feeling of time speeding up, but did not take it seriously until recently when I sensed time flying past at an increasing rate. It is alarming.
The honking of the geese above signal the alarm as well, time speeding away out of reach. The bite of the cold wind sends shivers down my spine. Strangely, it is a feeling I am relishing – this rush of a new experience.
“This is the frustrating thing about life,” she nodded at me, eyes sparkling again, “when we were young, our minds were spinning. Our brain receiving so much information, often out of order, that it needed time to process and reorganize all the new ideas so we could understand the reality we were living in.”
She paused wistfully, “Our brains needed time to sort and organize reality, so our perception of time was longer when we were young. We extended time. This may be the key to extending life today.”
“Fast forward to us as adults, and the world is familiar. Information can be processed quickly,” and with a sigh she took another drink of coffee. “Thus our perception of time is shorter. Time flies by.”
“Add to this our repetitive routines, modern technology efficiently processing information and time begins to pass quicker every year. We continue to provide the fuel by getting in a rut, spiraling quickly downward with time.”
Her gaze landed on the far side of the lake, and she added, “Days quickly turn into weeks, weeks into months and months into years until one day *poof* we look back and it is over.”
She paused, and I was surprised to see tears welled up in her eyes. “I feel as if time has tricked me and I am spinning out of control.”
Her tears slowly rolled down her cheek, each representing a dream disappearing into the annals of time.
She wiped the tears away and exclaimed, “It is sad, we get older and our brain becomes efficient because we are boring!” she laughs. “Without adventure, life will fly right on by.”
Her eyes lock in on mine, and I am surprised how a discussion of physics can increase my heart rate and make my palms sweaty. “We need to find a way to extend our time…”
“We need to explore new sensations, overload the brain and perhaps then we can stretch out time just like we did when we were young,” the glimmer in her eyes not seeking approval.
We walked a few more steps before her words hit me like a wave of cold water.
She whispered, “Let’s be spontaneous.” Pointing across the lake, she added, “Your adventure begins with a trek across the lake, I’ll wait for you at the hot springs on the other side…and together we’ll try to stop time, at least for tonight.”
Stunned by her words, my mind went blank and I looked toward a monkey for help. Fortunately, he was a wise one, and seemed to understand my situation. He nodded his head, so I looked at her and did the same.
With a quick peck on my cheek, she grabbed her keys and headed out to the car leaving me stranded.
This is how I find myself in this predicament, lost on Lake Mashu-ko. I look ahead where I believe the hot springs lie and sigh…it seems I’ve been out here forever and the other side is still so far away.
Time, a concept impossible to define, but definitely worth contemplating as 2015 comes to an end. My goal for the New Year, to slow down time.
I looked at my watch and realize I’ve been out here for only 10 minutes. Yes, this is a good sign and my laughter echoes off the surrounding mountains.
With my heart beating and my brain working overtime – I pick up the pace. I figure, whether or not she is there waiting for me does not really matter. The adventure has begun. From across the lake, a cry from a white-tailed sea eagle reminds me of the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
I look ahead, and no one has to tell me, life is short, getting shorter. Make time in 2016 to explore. To slow down and take in all life has to offer.
Happy New Year!