Monday, September 14, 2009

What Would You Save?

Something posted by a friend on Facebook sparked a train of thought about the concept of "saving".

Like many words in English, "save" can be used in several ways.  Most of them boil down to "to preserve" or "to rescue" — and some imply a little of both.  When we use a bank for our savings, it preserves the money we've earned and, if things get tight, it can rescue us from economic disaster.  Used as a noun, a "save" in sports either preserves the team's lead or rescues them from losing a point, etc.  At its root, I believe the word "save" implies "resistance to change" and it's this I'd like to explore a little.  To quote the recently departed comic writer Larry Gelbart, "I need to write to find out what I'm thinking" — so what follows may surprise me as much as it does you.

There is a fairly new theory in physics which states that time does not exist (see "Killing Time" video above).  This means that physics is just beginning to catch up with ancient Hindu philosophy which tells us that time is an illusion (Maya) perpetrated on us by our minds.  The illusion of time allows us to make sense of the world around us by putting the one quality of our universe that does exist into more-or-less linear order.  That quality is "change".

In Western culture, we've come to take the notion of time for granted.  We are certain that time is real because after all, in most places you can hardly turn around without seeing a clock or calendar.  This is actually a fairly new thing for humans.  The earliest timepiece that we know of was the sundial and that's only about 5,000 years old.  Long while you think?  Humans have been around for a lot longer than that — arguably between 250,000 and 400,000 years.  So, for most of our existence, we concerned ourselves, not with the passage of time, but the with the changes in the world around us.

Judging by anthropological studies of the few primitive cultures that have survived into the modern world, our ancient ancestors had a profoundly different concept of time from ours.   They saw the cycles of day and night, of the moon and of the seasons as turning wheels rather than a narrow line joining past to future.  They saw that everything changes continually but that each wheel inevitably comes around to the same spot again.  Ancient astronomers extended this concept to include the movement of the planets and created calendars to describe larger and larger cycles — 180 years, 3,600 years 26,000 years.  Eventually humans sought to capture the concept of smaller and smaller cycles as well.  Days were divided into hours, hours to minutes, minutes to seconds.  Today we have parsed time into divisions as fine as "attoseconds" (10 to the minus 18 or .000000000000000001 seconds) with 100 attoseconds currently being the shortest measured span of time.

During the long process of defining time, the primacy of the cycle slipped away and was replaced by the concept of intervals.  We are awake for an interval of 16 hours and asleep (if we're lucky) for eight, the commute to work takes 45 minutes, the coffee is ready in five minutes.  We may note the changes but they are not at the center of our awareness.  If fact, rather than watching the changes in the world, we seek to hold them back as they come rushing at us.  We try to preserve them until we can deal with them, beg to be rescued from the difficult ones, or seek some kind of salvation so that we never have to deal with change again.  This, then, is the crux of my question: in the blur of life's changes, what should be saved and what should be allowed to slip away?


At the bottom of the screen is a little blue button that says "Save Now".  If I click it — or even just wait a few seconds, it'll change to say "Saved".  It's a small thing but within this sphere of changes that I (somewhat) control, it provides a bit of comfort.

All the best,


Oh, what was in that post that started all of this?  You'll find it here: Stabbing Westward - Save Yourself

1 comment:

  1. I agree that time is an illusion, like most of what we consider to be real is created to help us believe that life happens beyond us.
    I sometimes think that life is the extent of our imagination.

    I like what you're thinking :)

    best wishes