Meditation on Time

Let’s take some five second breaths to begin. Maybe even a ten second breath. We will breathe a finite number of breaths in our lifetime and it is less than one billion. Being aware of this fact is supposed to make us value every single one. We understand the present moment as the nexus of past and future, time as a linear system of coordinates, a rather boring line that we experience as straight and endless, even if general relativity tells us it can bend in exotic ways if stretched.

We are all alive at the same time. We share this extraordinary intimacy without much wonder. Geographically, we are almost never together, yet temporally, our paths always coincide. We are ‘Zeitgenossen’ (contemporaries), but that never seems to generate the kind of solidarity we feel for people who live in (were born in, whose grandparents were born in…) the same country as we do. The reason is that there is nobody around who is not a contemporary.

This might be a compelling reason to read history books. The temporal distance to the Greek, the Romans, the Ming, the Aztecs, could make us feel united in our own historical place, ‘against’ the older peoples. It turns the coordinate system of time into something meaningful, a way to distinguish ourselves, a way to become aware of our unique moment.

Solidarity between contemporaries doesn’t seem to bear an intimate relation with the concept of time itself. Breathe calmly. This solidarity is the celebration of simultaneousness. We wonder why an infinite number of events can happen at the same time and be visible for each other. We think of a sort of spiritual gratitude for the fact that we are thrown together in the same moment. It is a relatively simple exercise for a human mind to find such gratitude. When reflecting on time, we want to reach this idea of gratitude. Breathe out calmly, we have the same seconds.

Artwork by Ian Bourgeot

Meditation on Time was originally published on Meandering home


Published by

Kamiel Choi

Dutch philosopher and poet, sometimes sharing thoughts on the internet.

7 thoughts on “Meditation on Time”

    1. I deliberately don’t give a standard “lecture” on the philosophy of time, that would for example begin with Heracleitos, then Aristotle, then Kant’s transcendentalism, to Henri Bergson’s thinking about them, and finally Heidegger and maybe Fukuyama’s “end of history”. I like the history of philosophy, but I leave telling that tale to others. That’s what I mean by no namedropping: I hardly mention the names of the philosophers on whose shoulders I stumble –

      1. That’s a fair point to make – and at first glance a humble one. But I think in reality unless you agree in totality with another thoughts on the concept of time or existentialism, then it matters little to quote them. Or mention their names.

        For instance, in the example you gave it wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate to list the chronology of people who led the person you most agree with to reach the point that they did. This is the point of abstraction.

        To make a point in philosophy or ontology, I don’t have to mention that Thales of Miletus was one of the first we can recall to think in such a way.

        It’s ultimately not a lecture, but rather some musings.

        Again, thank you for the read.

      2. Yes, such was my intention. The idea that you can “do” philosophy in such a way, without explicit reference to the history of philosophy, is much more alive in the US than in continental European faculties.

        Thank you, I’m inspired to continue this series of meditations (that aim to playfully combine meditation in the Cartesian and the Eastern sense)

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