Just a matter of time

Staying In

Book review
Bríd Conroy

At a recent Philosopher’s Hat Club meeting, we discussed the issue of ‘Time’. What is time? How does it govern our lives? Do we experience time differently. Do we exist in time or does time exist in us?
‘The Order of Time’, a truly fantastic book by Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli (Penguin Books), seeks to answer many of these questions.
In ancient times across Europe, every town had a sundial to register the time when the sun was at its highest, midday. And of course this would be different for every town depending on their location. It wasn’t until the invention of telegraphs and trains that a more global synchronisation was needed. Yet we now know that time passes differently in different places for instance, time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level.
Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that time is nothing other than a measurement of change. Isaac Newton believed there is a ‘true time’ that passes even when nothing changes.
But does time exist at all and is it continuous? Well interestingly at a hundred millionth of a trillionth, trillionth, trillionth of a second, the notion of time is no longer valid. Space is not static, it is a series of changing events and because we are only a small part of the universe, our interaction with space is ‘blurred’. Events can ‘fluctuate’, meaning an event may be both before and after another one. So there is possibly no past and future as we perceive it.
What is ‘now’? For instance, if I am speaking to my sister and I look her in the eye, there is a nanosecond of delay in the travel of light from my eyes to hers. We are essentially experiencing a different now.
Like a geographical map, it is not enough to locate a place, we must know where we are situated in relation to it; we must see time in ourselves. Our memories of the past and our continuous anticipation of the future open up a space for us to experience time and a sense of ourselves. We are time.
Two other books ‘Breath’, by James Nestor (Penguin Life) and ‘Thinking, fast and slow’, by Daniel Kahneman (Allen Lane) are great further reads. Breathe in a sense is about how we can slow down time and give attention to that which sustains us in time. The book contains a wealth of knowledge and learning for how to breathe for good health.
‘Thinking, fast and slow’ introduces us to two systems of thinking in the brain: ‘system one’, which operates automatically and quickly, and ‘system two’, which is slower and involves subjective experiences, analysis and decision making. What governs which sides of the brain we use is often not what we think.
For instance, when we are happy we are mostly likely to make decisions from ‘system one’ using our creative and intuitive brain. This may not be the best decision for us.
Equally, we are inherently lazy and ‘system two’ can involve more effort than we care to give so we revert to system one. Again, this may not be the best decision for us. Kahneman uses a further example to explain – a question “How many animals did Moses take into the Ark?”. Most people reply two each without realising that Moses did not take any animals into the ark, it was Noah. Kahnemen is a Nobel Prize Winner, and the book contains his lifetime’s work to help us understand how better to experience this world of ours.
All three books are fascinating and keepers to return to again and again.
The Philosopher’s Hat Club meets monthly on Zoom, and is open to all.

Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at The Quay, Westport.