Charles Darwin wrote in his book “The Origin of species”, first published in 1859, that the mind cannot possibly grasp the idea of the lapse of time. He also added that the chief cause of our natural unwillingness to accept time as an agent of change ─concerning species or other subjects─ is that we are slow in admitting great modifications of which we do not see the steps.
Rovelli argues that what we experience as time´s passage is a mental process happening in the space between memory and anticipation. “Time is the form in which beings whose brains are made up essentially of memory and foresight interact with the world: it is the source of our identity.”
Philosophers claim that time is, by definition, nothing more than a system of temporal relations among things and events, so that the idea of a period of time without transformation of any kind turns out to be incoherent.
But whatever definition Science or Philosophy provide, what we really aim to answer here is what mental and biological resources does the brain use to represent what is generally experienced as incoming information.
It is a new discovery that we possess in our brains “time cells”. A small region embedded near the center of the hippocampus that works as an episodic memory (the memory of experiences).
Time perception is a field of study within psychology, cognitive linguistics and neuroscience that refers to the subjective experience, or sense, of time, which is measured by someone´s own perception of the duration of the indefinite and unfolding of events.
David Eagleman developed, a few years back, an interesting number of experiments to prove Time perception. He concluded that Time becomes a function of how much resources the brain avails in a situation and also that function changes according to age; what makes it look as it, when we are young, time would run in slow motion, which changes as we grow older. This is due to an increasing in the inability to create new memories as time goes by.
Despite the success of Eagleman´s theory, if we take into account Darwin’s point of view, we can’t still prove if man can really understand the lapse of time. For, biologically speaking, man is only able to process such term, whether as a concept or as an experience, through their senses. If man, in general, is able to understand his existence as a species or as inhabitant of a planet that has survived millions of years of evolution and constant change (and will continue to do so), cannot be proved.
All in all, if the human mind is only able to perceive and understand time according to the representation of sensory information and impulses, then it is absolutely necessary to conclude that, as a species, he is not able to render his own existence to a timeline that has begun before him and will probably go on developing without his acknowledgement.
Time, without the restrictions of the scales of man, will keep on running and working through agents of change that will make sure life prevails and follows a certain course of action. And man, as a species, may well start to develop a way to understand and to embrace the lapse of time as something happening outside of himself.
Someone said time is the only prove we have that our existence is real. We might be on our way to find out if that consideration is an actual fact.
Nancy M. Gallegos
Image credit Walking Darkly Painting by Howard Ross