Last year, on a long trip through the central Australian deserts, I read a trio of books that helped shift my understanding of time and space..
The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk
Border Districts By Gerald Murnane
Three radically different books. One, a science work on the nature of time; one, a rumination on wandering through time via the corporeal, and one, a journey through a world meticulously built from “mental images” in the mind of the narrator, time and timelessness together. Flights and Border Districts both offered beautiful and strange worlds where time never moves in a linear motion… days, weeks… whole lives existing in parallel, ducking and weaving. Threads from the two works of fiction seemed to open up through notions of time revealed in The Order of Time and reading all books simultaneously was a unique experience, especially as we were travelling through extremely remote desert tracks in central Australia, without clocks, calendars, any deadlines or any actual sense of linear time. The Sun rising and setting was our measure and it began to feel like we were living outside of time.
The Order of Time is a poetic teaching on the true nature of time, a science book for non-scientists, outlining theories of one of the current understanding of what time actually is. (as there is still no consensus on the matter, scientists are divided and pretty catty about it actually). For me what was valuable, was that it pulled apart the way we understand (or feel) time. What we think of as time, is actually not real. As per usual, reality is way more weirder than we think. At a fundamental quantum level, there is no real difference between the past and the future, these are just approximations of events and time is what we experience from our perspective when moving through those events. There is no constant equal flow of time across the universe, we perceive time through the memory of events that have happened to us. There is no “now”, no “present” existing across the universe. Linear time isn’t fixed in nature and has differing properties when viewed in relation to other things. In fact time only ever actually happens when one thing is viewed in relation to another thing and often at very different rates. A clock on the floor, tells time slower than a clock on a wall. (clocks closer to the planet or a heavy gravitational object slow down). The closer you are to a heavy object in space, time will slow down and take ‘longer”. A scene about “Miller’s planet” in the movie Interstellar describes this well, when “..every hour we spend on the planet will be seven years on Earth..” as Miller’s planet sits closer to a massive black hole than Earth does.
Look up at your ceiling now… its travelling faster in time than you are! (by a really really small amount).
When you travel through very ancient places like Central Australia, this conversation becomes more concrete. Too many distractions in the city to slow down and contemplate vast periods of time, or perhaps more accurately, still moments within matter.