Through our body movement we gain access, knowledge and insight about spatiality and time. When you move, the properties of our experienced kinaesthetic sensory input, is your body physically responding to your surroundings. The embodied sensory input provides you with information about the space around you and through the spatiality you are enabled to comprehend time.
Imagine if you were laying or sitting still, no bodily movement apart from the movement of your chest when you inhale and exhale, would you be able to comprehend time? How could we without a body, be able to comprehend space?
Merleau-Ponty understood that one’s own body (le corps propre) is not only a thing, a potential object of study for science, but is also a permanent condition of experience, a constituent of the perceptual openness to the world. Continuously we experience and are provided information through our bodies, our senses are always perceiving, continuously collecting information.
He underlines that there is an inherence of consciousness and of the body of which the analysis of perception should take account. The primacy of perception signifies a primacy of experience, so to speak, insofar as perception becomes an active and constitutive dimension.
A small artistic experiment was carried out some years ago in Berlin, Germany. It involved three participants, each participant was placed in a small room with no windows and relatively well isolated. The participant was asked to assess how much time they spent in the room. They were free to leave the room anytime, should they start to feel uncomfortable or otherwise inclined to end the experiment. The three participants didn’t beforehand know how long they were to sit in the room and for each participant the duration was different, one thirty minutes, another forty five minutes and the last twenty five minutes. None of the three were able to assess the duration of the experiment accurately, one mentioned that time felt none existent, another had a notion as to having a good sense of time. The third participant experienced something, explained as a sort of stream-of-consciousness, with thoughts and memories rapidly flowing, jumping and changing.
When we look at our clocks, it is tempting to fall into the notion that time is absolute. Observing the phenomenon time is maybe one of the most complex and challenging from a philosophical point of view. However looking at it from a scientific perspective, we are offered some options.
Time dilation is described in the theory of relativity. Through experimental testing of time dilation Bailey et al. (1977) measured the lifetime of positive and negative muons sent around a loop in the CERN Muon storage ring.
Muon is an elementary and a subatomic particle similar to the electron, it has an electrical charge of -1 and a greater mass then an electronic. Arriving on the Earth’s surface the muons are created indirectly as decay products of collisions of cosmic rays with particles of the Earth’s atmosphere.
This experiment confirmed both time dilation and the twin paradox, i.e. the hypothesis that clocks sent away and coming back to their initial position are slowed with respect to a resting clock. Other measurements of the twin paradox involve gravitational time dilation as well.
Gravitational time dilation is experienced by an observer that, at a certain altitude within a gravitational potential well, finds that their local clocks measure less elapsed time than identical clocks situated at higher altitude (and which are therefore at higher gravitational potential).
Gravitational time dilation is at play e.g. for ISS astronauts. While the astronauts’ relative velocity slows down their time, the reduced gravitational influence at their location speeds it up, although at a lesser degree. Also, a climber’s time is theoretically passing slightly faster at the top of a mountain compared to people at sea level. It has also been calculated that due to time dilation, the core of the Earth is 2.5 years younger than the crust.
“A clock used to time a full rotation of the earth will measure the day to be approximately an extra 10 nanoseconds/day longer for every km of altitude above the reference geoid.” Travel to regions of space where extreme gravitational time dilation is taking place, such as near a black hole, could yield time-shifting results analogous to those of near-lightspeed space travel.
Exaggerated representation, from the blue clocks reference point, the red clock, being in motion, is perceived as ticking slower.
Our embodied experience of time being relative would be possible if we were able to move a great speed and we would need another reference point. Our very own physicality makes it hard to overcome through a pure phenomenological perspective, a reference point is required, another person and a measuring device.
However it isn’t uncommon that we at times experience time as moving faster and at times slower, depending on our state of mind, position, company, mood etc. Aren’t that exactly our phenomenological experience of time being relative.
In that sense do we ever experience time as being something absolute, isn’t it always a stream and flow? A flow with irregular speed, where you sometimes perceive and experience the velocity as slower and at other times as faster? If you were to phenomenologically describe time as either absolute or relative, wouldn’t it rather be relative than absolute.
It seems too easy to oversee the experience of the continuously changing and relative quality of time, when our clocks seem to point to its absolute quality.
There is a beautiful and liberating quality in considering of time as relative, perceiving and embracing our embodied experience of time. That depending on the situational context, some days are long, the weeks are slow, a month is forever and the year is fast.
Embrace time being relative and know that you can influence your perception of time. You can then through your embodied experience expand or condense time accordingly.