In this chapter, we will explore the nature and function of time as it influences the creative mind, and why you, the artist, must find the space to create independently from it. In separation from the idea of time, we allow ourselves the mental capacity to make things without restriction. This process happens for some creative people entirely automatically, but for many, the space to create away from
Worldly things such as family responsibilities, financial demands, the day job, TV, peer influence and so on, have the potential to feed the creative muse. But going unchecked, they serve as distractions, dilutants of our psychic energy and focus of attention. In The Artist’s Manifesto, we read how the nature of the creative process is a constant moving between this world of people and bright shiny things and the artist’s quiet creative space. Finding balance in this too and fro of life is vital to our wellbeing and creativity. The Artist’s Manifesto does not support the idea that we must obliterate those things that challenge us. Instead, it suggests we see them for what they are; necessary in limited quantities for the constant creation and expression of the self.
The Artist’s Manifesto recognises that every human being is creative and has the inherent ability to create beautiful things. However, the pressure to conform to social norms and societal ideals of what valuable work is, keeps many of us from ever realising our latent creative abilities. For many of us, there is the belief that we are not creative at all. For the rest, we believe we are time short. We believe that there are far too many important things to do than to entertain ourselves with fanciful notions of doing what we love, let alone making a living from it. Work is paramount and inextricably linked to our self worth. The necessity to labour continuously at something we don’t like for the sake of money is our common idea of work.
Most of us in western industrialised society feel the pressure and incessant responsibility to comply with popular conventions such as time. Although time shortageness bears down on us heavily, it seems to be a socially acceptable tyranny. We discuss our lack of time with other kindred spirits in the struggle, almost wearing lack of time as a badge of honour. We try to cram in as many activities as possible into our standard sixteen hour waking day. We try to be as productive as we can, to show our peers and family we are capable of delivering, that we can succeed. Within that sphere of thought we anticipate, and mostly fear a future that never gets here. And we lament or regret a past we can never revisit.
Our society says this is how the system works. If you want to be a part of it, to be a successful and responsible member of this society then this is what you need to do. The collective voice says that it’s dangerous on the outside, it’s safe on the inside. To be different and unique is to be isolated and alone. So we chase the dream, we pursue a non-existent future. We talk negatively to ourselves when we fail to meet our own, or other’s expectations. We often seem prepared to damage relationships with those we love for the sake of fulfilment of those expectations. All the while we value so highly this invisible commodity, lament its scarcity and our apparent inability to make the most of it. We seek advice from time management experts, we buy books and courses to help us become more organised and efficient. There just seems to be not enough time. If only we had more, or could be more efficient with the time we have.
The problems begin for you and me in our earliest days. In school and via popular media we are taught to conform to other people’s rules. We are told to hurry up, be on time; time is of the essence, time is money, efficiency is paramount, results, grades! Memory and recall of information is the key to success they say. Measurement against our peers is the criteria upon which our worthiness is gauged and from this comes our internal sense of worth and value. In the aligned group pursuit of goal-directed outcomes, such as team sports, for example, conformity can be a constructive and positive thing. However, for the creative mind in this boxed-in academic environment hinged to time consciousness, there is often frustration and a feeling of being lost and worthless in a world we do not belong to. For many kids in the standard education model, learning is a genuinely uncomfortable and stressful time.
What Is Time?
It’s strange, we all get this feeling of a lack of time yet we can never really explain it, touch it, see it or feel it. What is this thing we call time?
Time is a concept, a rule, a mathematical constant, a social convention we use to measure ourselves and the things we make against the world. Time is a representation of relativity, a measure of one worldly phenomena against another in a place called here and now. Personal time is subjective. Universal time is abstract. However, according to Quantum Gravitational Scientist, Carlo Rovelli, there is no such thing as a universal time, a constant that exists independent of the observer. Newton was wrong and Boltzmann, Einstein and their contepories knew it.
Time seems to pass linearly one way or another – left to right, front to back, up or down. In the western industrialised world, we hold the wholly embedded idea that we live along this line reaching back to the past, through the present and on into a mysterious future. We were born, we live our lives along this line of subsequent events, one creating or leading to the next, then we die. But some people don’t experience time this way. In eastern cultures, they see time as a stack, one experience on top of the other. Other cultures see time as a scatter of events like a random array of dots on a page. Anthropologists believe the ancient Egyptians saw time as a continuously repetitive cycle linked to the birth and death of their Pharoh, a cycle in which they lived . The native American Hopi tribe made famous by studies of their culture and language by the linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf, see no time. Their language has no verbs that represent a concept of time. They appear to live in an ever-present moment.
The modern idea of time exists under an arbitrary concept based on the relationship between the rotation of the earth and its path around the sun. In the 16th century, Pope Gregory XIII tasked his scientists with unifying the people of the Christian world under a single measurement system of time known as the Gregorian Calendar, the one we use today. Before that, days, hours, minutes and seconds varied depending on which city you lived in. But there’s a problem with this – it’s not accurate. It’s out by just less than one-quarter day per year, so we’ve got to add one whole day every four years to make up for it – the leap year. But even that’s not sorting it out because the relationship between the spinning earth and its path around the sun doesn’t fit. By adding one day every four years, we overdo it by 11 mins resulting in another correction required in every 128 years.
As the industrial revolution approached, and the advent of faster travel, ununified ideas of time led to problems. Trains arriving at cities across Europe for example were not synchronised.
Time is intangible, yet we seem to experience it. Its apparent effects are everywhere, most notably in the growth and decay of things including you and me. In scientific terms, we call this growth and decay entropy. Entropy refers to the arrow of time, the apparently irreversible nature of physical processes central to the laws of thermodynamics. In scientific terms, the linear analogy of time is applied in pretty much all interpretation of worldly phenomena. This analogy is the same one we align our real-world experience to so rigidly. But perhaps it’s not time moving in an irreversible line but rather a path of a multitudinous fractal cycle, a cycle within cycles. Like the blossoming of a flower, it will grow out from its centre, die and return to its point of origin beyond the reach of our senses. If you think about the path of magnetic fields, you may be able to picture this process.
Now, you might say that all this talk of no-time is baloney. You say, “I woke this morning, I had a shower, ate my breakfast and went to work on the bus that comes at 08:00. Now it’s evening, so there, that’s the passage of time”. Well, when you did all those things you did them now, and it’s still now. Your remembrance of those things is merely the recall of a series of memory stamps, a series of freeze frames floating in the infinite space of your consciousness. Those experiences are gone, and as you live out new experiences, those previous ones become altered, shift or fade away. Unless that is you hang on to them as a means to form and justify a sense of self.
Scientists say time is one of the fundamental properties of physics offered to us in the original concepts of Isaac Newton. In a physical sense, I would tend to agree. However, the idea behind some of the most fundamental ideas in physics might well be flawed. In observations from studies in quantum physics, for example, these Newtonian laws are seen to be inapplicable. The British physicist Julian Barbour in his book The End of Time, suggests that only solution for science and humanity in resolving these problems we face is to remove the idea of time altogether. He says we must reformulate our fundamental understanding of reality. Barbour goes for the idea that this experience is a series of Nows that roll into one another creating a single, ever-present moment in which physical phenomena exist. I like that idea.
There is a place for time just like there is a place for a ruler, a hammer or a weighing scales. But in accessing that place from which inspiration comes, there is no place for it. Time cannot be a conscious factor if that thing you make is to be a genuine piece of you, a reflection of the real you beyond social norms and conventions. If time must come into play in your creative process, then it must be used by you, rather than it using you. Therefore, one of your most significant challenges as an artist is finding the quiet internal space where you can isolate yourself from the influence of this and other abstract concepts.
So, it’s all a bit paradoxical, isn’t it? On the one hand, you have our linear experience of the growth and decay of things telling you time exists, and then there’s the other telling you all there is, is now. So which is it? Although what I’m breaking down here is in itself an answer, I will later propose a one-liner to sum it all up.
Nows within this now, rather like snapshots in an album. Each Now is separate and a world unto itself, but the richly structured Nows ‘know’ about one another because they literally contain one another in certain essential respects. As consciousness surveys many things at once in one Now, it is simultaneously present, at least in part, in other Nows. – Julian Barbour, Physicist and Author.
Individual Vs Collective Experience
In fundamental reality, time does not exist. That is to say; time is irrelevant to the truth that brings about the human creative experience. To create, the artist must remove herself from the concept of time altogether. When I sit alone to gather my thoughts I must exclude all worldly responsibilities from my mind. When I do, I only see now. I accept that to some, this idea as a little bit esoteric and new-agey but that’s what I see. My reality in this frame of mind is total peace and contentment. Nothing matters in this state of mind, and I have not a care in the world. No anxiety – mild or otherwise. No stress. No demands. I get this by merely sitting in my kitchen staring out the back window at the trees and the birds and the sky. Here is where I like to write from, although I think it was James Patterson who said; a good writer should be able to write wherever they are.
I see this creative place I occupy as a pulsating fractal manifesting in the appearance and disappearance of things within the realm of my experience. I engage with this going on via my nervous system. In modern mathematical terms, this entire life experience and creative pursuit can be compared to a Mandelbrot Set – perfectly structured, beautiful and infinite in its extents. In this, there is the constant exchange of something and nothing, like the dripping of a tap, the ringing of a bell, or interestingly, the ticking of a clock.
This constant going on of things I experience through my nervous system involving the conversion of real-world data into bioelectric signals in my brain. These signals in turn relay what I experience to the individual cells of my body. So in that, it appears I am in constant exchange with the data – it makes me, and I make it. There is a point of focus of consciousness that I call my self, fixed here in this physical reality, for a while at least. Everything that happens here to me, everything I experience is the passage of information through that single point of conscious awareness. This is why things seem to be linear in their growth and decay.
Consider this; Right now at this very moment, it is what we call daytime somewhere on this planet. At the same moment, it is what we call nighttime on the opposite side of the world. The clocks will tell a different “time”, but it is the same moment. As indicated earlier, we manipulate the clock and calendar to correct flaws in our calculations; the key is once we are all in agreement on the structure of time we can coordinate and get things done. The now that I live in seems to be a 360-degree thing – like an ever pulsing, growing 3D Venn Diagram. Where you and I witness the same event or collaborate on a project, our spheres of experience overlap. You have your unique experience of that apparent event, and I have mine.
Our modern concept of time is linear and continuous. Collectively and individually we believe that the past created today and today will create tomorrow. It seems that causes bring about effects. In contrast, The Artist’s Manifesto suggests that what we think, say and do now creates everything – effects bring about causes. We create both the past and the future now, at this moment. Every experience you’ve ever had you had now, and as you contemplate, talk and write about those experiences you do it now. Therefore, the past you think you know you make now, and it continually changes based on your thought about it.
As you contemplate your future, be it good or bad, you do it now, pre-paving the way for yourself. Everything you’ve ever experienced you have created for yourself either by conscious, purposeful thought or unconscious, automatic thought. We think that in every moment we make conscious decisions about this and that. The momentum of thought influences those choices and as we think we create at a micro level. After maintaining that thought pattern for days, weeks, months, years etc. we create our own experience. So like the ripples in a pond where we cast the stone, they move out from a centre. You and I exist at that creative centre.
Everything that is, including the so-called past and the future, are created now. Think about it – when you remember (put back together) an experience, you do so now. You recall snapshots of events you experienced, or sometimes didn’t, and compile them into a movie in your mind. But is the movie real? We know from memory research by Frederick Bartlett and more recently Elizabeth Loftus that we cannot rely on the accuracy of our memory. Our recall of so-called past events is continually influenced by current events and experiences, and even by the commentary of others. Therefore the past is always changing. Like the alchemist, as we make peace with our history, we transform it.
Events seem to be separate. I say “I enjoyed my holidays last year” as if I can separate my holidays from my entire life experience. My holidays last year are part of the ever existent now and cannot be separated from it. Where did my holidays start and where did they end? Where does today begin and end? At midnight? When the clock strikes 12, it’s tomorrow already and then all of a sudden it’s today. Today and tomorrow cannot be separated. Night and day, the seasons, one second from the next, none of it can be divided because it cannot be. Everything rolls into everything else. There is only one thing going on – Now.
There Is No Time
There Is No Time, things just is you see
In the house of my mind where the child I did be.
Seconds, minutes, hours, days, structured things
Are merely of my mind, man’s creation brings
Tempus fugit! my old man used to say
Nothing left to the world but my thoughts this day
Flower rock beast and tree, they have no time for me
For they just are
They exist in my mind you see
Much like my whole earth, mountain sky and sea.
None mark this friendless face and wish
They were somewhere else, where they’d be happier…ish
No, it’s not for me to want for time to pass
for there is no better place for my spirit to last
Than this universe, the one mind has gifted
To one part of the whole
Let my heart be lifted
To the heights of the sky
To the heavens and say
There is no time, just my thoughts this day.