The Time Of Clocks And The Time We Live
We engage with time when we look at our clocks and calendars. We engage with time in a very different way from moment to moment, living in time. If we look at our calendars, it seems absolutely natural to think that events are in the future, become real now and then fade into the past. Big events, like your birthday, are set to happen at a future date, they wander closer and closer, just to be for a moment – ‘now’ – and then fade into the past. The events of the future seem to be quite unescapable as they close in on the present. Just think of a dreaded exam, or some other future event you’d rather avoid and you know what I mean.
However, when we think about time in connection to our lives, in connection to the events shaping who we are, we would not naturally begin with a future event. We wouldn’t, for example, begin by imagining our deaths, to move to our being right now, reading these lines, to then think about our having been born in the past. As soon as we describe real being – our being – the most natural order seems to be quite different. It seems much more appropriate to begin with the past, tracking our development to who we are now and then projecting our possible futures from there. From this perspective the future feels quite open.
This future, however, while feeling more open can only be open to a certain degree. Not everything is possible. We know this from life-experience, many of the paths we did not pursue are not open to us anymore. We are now at a point beyond those options, they cannot be recovered. These past options are not part of the open future. The open future is limited by our past and present choices and experiences – the past and with it the present do restrict future possibilities. Let me give you an example. If no seed was planted in the past, it’s impossible for it to grow into a blossoming tree now. Just in the same way it is impossible for me to become a doctor now, if I haven’t put in the work necessary for passing my university exams. Only if I make some radical changes now can I create the conditions to open up the possibility of becoming a doctor.
Looking at time this way from the past through the present into the future, diminishes the illusion of having endless time ahead of us that our infinite calendars suggest. It shows the necessity of acting now. The open future is not a realm of hyper-possibility where everything goes and any wish could be fulfilled. There is potential in the future, but this potential has its roots in the past and can only be shaped in the present.