The present time

or - In the presence of time

By Ruud Koreman

We never think it strange these days to hear anybody – or like Alice ‘anything’ – say, “I shall be late”. Our world is so stressed by the economy of time that the clock, although a human invention, rules our days as if it were part of our design, with no escape possible. But in non-western cultures time may play a very different role, such as the dreamtime of the aborigines. How do we experience time, is it fact or fiction or according to our personal and cultural experience? Does it have a meaning beyond the boundaries of this planet? Ruud Koreman constantly pursues an understanding of the great philosophical frameworks that constitute our lives and our society. In the following article he sets out to catch some glimpses beyond the veil that mystifies time.

“Nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!”
from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll

Time splits our existence into two, our future and our past, with the present as the bottleneck where the potency of the future is churned into the facts of the past, where the actualisation of what could be is made real. Without this split everything would be in the present time, in the now, and would exist all at once. Then we would be, all at the same time, young, middle-aged, old, man, lady, married, single, happy, unhappy And there would be no choice about what to be, about what ingredient from the future to turn into fact. There would be no freedom, because one would be everything. Thus, one could also be a liar or a thief, because that could be part of the potential of the future, and one could not choose not to be.

The child is lost in time, youth wants to grow up and quicken time, middle age wants more time and old age wants to set time back. Almost no-one seems to be settled about time as it is for him or her, and many would pay a great deal to be able to manipulate time in their favour; but if there is one thing in this world that we have no influence upon, it is time. Neither the rich nor the poor can change it, it cannot be bribed, it cannot be persuaded, it cannot be cheated. Time moves on! But the question is for what reason?

Let’s first look at the rocks of the earth and find out if a stone ages. We can say it erodes and changes shape. But a stone is not limited to a defined specific shape and its change of appearance indicates nothing about the stone itself. Scientists would argue that a certain stone layer is so many million years of age, but that only concerns the time that has passed since it was formed by the geological processes of the earth. The question of whether it has aged since its formation would remain. Clearly, anything as inert as a rock, anything without life, does not know about time. Time has no meaning for a rock, it has no influence on a rock other than eroding it into different shapes, like a sculptor modelling stone. Stone may even cease to exist as a specific mineral structure, it may melt and reform, but that doesn’t happen because of its age. Only humans define rocks into age groups, but stone itself knows not about age.

And a dog, does a dog know time? Well it ages and it grows old and dies. A dog experiences the influence of time, it sleeps and wakes up and has time for eating and walking and playing, but has time meaning for the dog? Would a dog give away its bone for an extra year of life? See, it would not understand the proposition and it would rather continue gnawing at its bone than consider the question. Time certainly influences flora and fauna life, but it has no meaning for it.

And what about people? Well as stated before, most people would be willing to sacrifice a great deal in order to gain control over time or at least influence it a little bit in their favour. And why would they want to do that? Well, the answer is in the word “want”. It is because we want things, we want to accomplish certain tasks, reach certain goals, do something memorable, or whatever a person may want to do. And in order to fulfil that purpose we are conscious of the economy involved; we’ve only got so much time to accomplish what we want, say, on average, 75 years. In the beginning we don’t mind postponing things because there is plenty of time (we think), in middle age we become industrious about our goals, and in old age we tend to look back on what has and what has not been accomplished, sometimes with regret.

And so the words that make time meaningful to us are ‘consciousness of the role of economy in a purposeful life’. A stone has no purpose (of its own); a dog is not conscious of its natural purposes in life; and for a person who wants nothing from life or who is no longer involved in the economy of life (which is different to the economy of the world), time starts to lose its meaning to a point where they may even welcome death.

But for people who want things in life, time is important. We count the days to our birthdays, the time to the next vacation, celebrate our years of marriage and so on. Anything, just anything can be a target of accomplishment; becoming rich, being promoted, having a child, going on a world tour, learning a new language..! What we want to do in the time that is given to us, is our greatest freedom. A human is born free, with a will to choose his/her goals in life. It is the greatest gift of all. Thus the saying, ‘Time is neither good nor bad, it depends what you do in it’. If it brings you closer to your purpose, time is good for you. But always, always as long as we want things from the time that is left, we are faced with our limited time on earth.

Thus, time is totally tied up with mortality. If we were immortal in our earthly existence, we wouldn’t know economy and time would be meaningless. What is the importance of tomorrow if there is always another tomorrow? One can leave things undone and always postpone it until tomorrow, again and again and again, and it would make no difference. So, if ‘that which created us’ wanted us to do things it would do exactly what it has done - bring economy into the picture of our existence by making us mortal and giving us time as a meaningful diagnostic tool with which to keep record of our accomplishments.

And, so to speak, here on earth we rather qualify as human doings than as human beings. For human doings (that is human thinking, acting, sensing, feeling, creating) have an economy they need to be aware of, whilst the term human being is more suggestive of the possibility of an immortal life, with descriptive language such as, ‘I am that I am’. Now there are many religious doctrines that will tell us what to do in order to be rewarded with that immortal life after death. Buddhism teaches the way of freeing oneself from the urge of wanting something from this life, thus rendering time meaningless in an attempt to join those for whom time has no meaning – the immortal ones – before time. The Christian and Muslim ways both teach the doing of good deeds and being rewarded by a life after death in heaven.

But whatever the way, they are all suggestive of collecting something on earth, a substance or a fineness that is equal to where immortal life exists in the universe, and to collect enough of it to be able to make the change at the death of the physical body. Now, this article is not about the arguments concerning life after death, it is about time and freedom. Thus, for all those who believe in an immortal life after a mortal life on earth, it seems most wise to find out what substance, what fineness, what qualities one would need to acquire, collect, grow and develop in life to be able to make that change and to do enough collection and development to be able to do so... in this life or the next life (reincarnation), if one is allowed to try again. And for those who do not believe in life after death, it seems wise to become the best human doing as one can possibly do in fulfilling one’s purposes, whatever they may be.

Thus, the discovery of our purpose(s) in life may be summed up in Shakespeare’s immortal words: “To be or not to be ... that is the question”.

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