Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few things we loved reading and want to share with you. Settle in with a cup of coffee, or tea, if that's your pleasure — we saved you a seat! Read an essay or an article online that you loved? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.
The beginning of the year is always bittersweet for me. Each year seems to pass with increasing swiftness, and this time, I found myself at the top of a new decade, bewildered yet again. So in the spirit of this time of year - a couple Sunday reads about time, and why we feel its passing so keenly, how we grapple with its sensation of loss, and why humans, fastened to our perception of time, experience our lives.
Not surprisingly, as soon as the new year began, there was a online debate as to when the new decade really began : this year or next? This Vice article goes deeper, tracing “right now” and philosophies, psychologies, and physics of time from St. Augustine to modern day neuroscientists.
Right now is definitely not a whole year, it's not a day, and not an hour—these timescales are too long. Even one minute, if you really think about it, is too much. “We come closer and closer, and we end up in the few-seconds range,” he said. “Close to how long it would take if I say, ‘Now.’”
And he's right: According to a wide variety of studies, right now only lasts a few seconds or less. More intriguingly, it might not be right now at all, but right a-few-seconds-ago.
On the first day of this new year, Mariya and I went to see Little Women, the new Greta Gerwig film. It is luminous; I felt I was seeing something entirely new. In Gerwig’s hands, the story is sliced and diced so that childhood and young adulthood snapshot to and from each other as we watch each of the March sisters grow into the lives they ended up living. Like psychologists in the last article explained, we always live slightly in the past.
The effect is a moving portrait of the absolute, lambent promise of adolescence, and the crushing and conflicting uncertainty and finality of adulthood. During this past decade, I too made this transition. I was just 16 in the beginning of 2010; by the end of this year, I will officially be in the “nearly thirty” camp. These last ten years have made for an unfairly long decade. This Twitter thread by Frankie Thomas is the first “review” that I felt really explained why this Gerwig’s interpretation is so astonishing and poignant.
Little Women (2019) picks up where Lady Bird left off: the question of how to continue living when you feel like you were only ever meant to exist as a teenage girl— Frankie Thomas (@frankie_jay_tho) January 5, 2020
At the end of last year, I read Carlo Rovelli’s slim volume, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. In its final chapter, after having my brain twisted into thirty knots already, the theoretical physicist taught me that time, as we perceive it, is not real. As each year disappears into the next, Rovelli tells us that the “universal ‘flow’ of time doesn’t exist,” that sequential time is merely an illusion. The future is not less real because it is not “now,” and more than “there” is less real than “here.” I won’t get into all of it (because I barely understand it), but I recommend you read the book, and this interview as Rovelli eloquently describes how humans, more than any other animal, are “time machines,” constantly commemorating the past and imagining the future. And maybe you’ll feel calmer about the new year too.
We live a little bit in the past, in the future, in the present, and in the future at the same time together. We definitely do that. But then we narrate ourselves always in the present. We think about ourselves in the present. And the source of our confusion about time, and all this discussion about time, comes from that. When we hear music, we hear a musical phrase, and so we appreciate music because it’s a certain sequence. But in every single moment, we’re just listening to only a single note or a single chord. So how can we appreciate the narrative if we hear just one note at a time? And that’s it, precisely because we don’t live in the present. We strongly immerse in the memory of the previous chord, of the musical phrase, and you anticipate how it will continue.