Linear, circular, fractal, relative—these are but a few ways we label time, or more correctly, our human perception and experience of the moment. Discussion ranges from the scientific to the philosophical, back and forth over the well traveled ground. On the one hand, time is illusory and ineffable; maybe we have created the concept as a necessity for organizing ourselves and our unique human existence.
For example, this is my cat experiencing time on a Monday morning in May.
This is how I experience the same moment in time.
Of course, I am the subjective eye in each case, so the ruse is obvious: both photos reflect, quite literally, my framing of time. I see this creature in all his feline grace, in placid repose, and imagine that he has the secret to the passage of time—to be entirely in the moment, unattached to the past or the future, neither of which exists. Considering that his brain is the size of pecan, he's probably not looking back at me and pondering how foolish are my machinations with the soil, all the fussing with trowels and buckets and dirt. But the smug look on his face suggests to my overactive pre-frontal cortex that he grasps something I do not about time.
The blue wheelbarrow is a remarkably functional piece of equipment, and each of the tools in it has a specific purpose for which it is ideally suited. Yet these inanimate objects will remain as they are for as long a time as I leave them. Their mute eloquence speaks to me, though—the dirt clinging to the shovels and rake confirms the time I spent over the last four days "putting in the garden," itself a trick of time that involves cultivated awareness of passing seasons, seed potentialities, and so much more.
The piling up of things here also speaks loudly to me of my desire take up these tools, put them once more into action, something I'd prefer to heading off to teach the last class sessions of a long academic year. What I call time swirls around and through this whole set of considerations. And just to keep things absurd, I'm passing time by neither working with the tools nor teaching at this particular moment, which is self-evident, no?
Time, in another sense, is a game we play. I look at the buds of this Garden Huckleberry and I imagine an August morning when the shiny berries will finally fade to dull blue-black, signaling that they are ready for my harvesting, sugaring, and pie-making. That day doesn't exist. It's a moment I invent, though I'm comfortable enough in its inevitability that I planted the seed from which this plant emerged way back in March, and then transplanted the young bush in a nice spot this past weekend. Furthermore, I fully expect the berries to develop as planned, though I acknowledge other possibilities: hailstorms, pests, birds, etc. The day itself when I harvest them will likely not be exactly what I have in my mind, but the closer I draw to the precise thing itself, the more true my imagination—I can see my hand reaching out and plucking the berries, and I think it will look exactly like . . . that.
Circular time? This is a perennial plant so if it survives in the Front Range climate zone over the winter, I'll find myself on a yet more distant moment kneeling before the bush on another late summer morning, mouth full of imagined flavor. Another August table will be set with a golden-crusted pie, steaming from the oven.
Linear time? To paraphrase Heraclitus, one of my favorite philosophers, you could not harvest twice from the same Garden Huckleberry bush for other berries are ever growing there. That's intersubjectivity in a nutshell, or perhaps I should say, in a berry skin.
Time makes the most sense to me, therefore, as intersubjective experience. Phenomena are intersubjective—all things are in motion, including us, and a moment of perception is point zero of this life-world (Husserl's Lebensvelt). The particular phenomena of that moment will never again assemble precisely as they are. All living things on the planet tune into patterns of the biosphere, but humans are unique in this way: we are not only clever at recognizing and exploiting patterns, we extrapolate that fundamental biology outward to science and art, and we do it by use of imagination—the capacity to construct and remember a past and likewise construct and envision a future. Those who are not satisfied with such pursuits can chase time ever outward toward metaphysical concepts, which are generally harmless unless turned back toward politics and the consolidation of social power, but that's a whole different subject and one best left for other discussions.
Meanwhile, the plants themselves remain indifferent. The cat, however, seems to know something. If I could just get it out of him.