No concept of time [essay]

July 25, 2008 · Print This Article

I have no concept of time.  By that I mean that my mind does not easily accept the accepted ways of perceiving time.  To start, let me list my difficulties with time:

  • I always think people are the same age as when I first met them.
  • Weeks feel like a constant stream of the exact same moment.
  • I have very few memories of my childhood.
  • Time can be quantified easier as one gets older.
  • I want (or need) to be able to pause time, or step out of it to try and catch up.

In the following I will elaborate on the above points in order to try and express my distresses with time and not being able to stop it, how it is to feel it slip through mental fingers in my mind, and how it all feels like just one long moment, as Vonnegut described in Slaughterhouse-Five.

I always think people are the same age as when I first met them.

I have known Ann Morris since 1993.  That is now 15 years ago.  To me she is still only about 48 years old.  When my brother appears in my dreams, he is never more than 12 years old (the age he was when I went away to college and stopped seeing him regularly).  In my dreams, I, myself am only about 22-years old.  I rarely see extended family members, so when I hear that cousins I still perceive as 8-years old have gotten married, it really blows my mind.  My first thought at such news is, “how is a kid getting married?”  Hearing a high school friend has had three children, I think, “wow, that’s a lot for someone only 20-years old.”  Perhaps this is because my mind is seemingly stuck in a permanent “student mindset.”  I break the seasons of the year down still according to the academic calendar.  Even though I have no more summer vacations, I still perceive that June, July and August are “easier” months, as those were the months I had off when I was a student.  I guess it doesn’t help that with many of my close friends, I don’t see them for years at a time because I have lived abroad for almost a decade.  

Weeks feel like a constant stream of the exact same moment.

I used to have a group lesson at a medical supply company at 6pm on Thursdays.  There was a security gate, so one of the guys had to come and meet me.  It was usually the same guy and I would always say to him as we walked to the guard’s office to sign me in, “doesn’t it feel like just one second since last Thursday at 6pm?”  Eventually this became just, “One second?” to which he would reply, “Yes, one second.”  And I could recall the previous 10 meetings or so, such that my life felt like a stream of these 6pm on Thursday moments.  But this could be said for any moment in my week, routine as they are.  How about 9:43pm on Fridays?  Those have been the same for years.  I walk home from Okubo station and look into two small restaurants.  One particularly memorable time I can still remember, it’s a marker in my mind.  And I can’t believe dozens of viewings into that restaurant have passed since then.  

I have very few memories of my childhood.

Eight years ago I was staying at my Aunt Allison’s house.  She brought out some photos of our extended family at a beach I know I went to many times as a child.  Yet when I looked at the photos and saw myself in them, about age 10 or 11, I had absolutely zero memory of that occasion.  I cannot describe how disconcerting and disturbing to one’s mind to see oneself in a photo and have absolutely no memory of that occasion.  I felt like I was looking at spy photos, but not really, because I didn’t even remember being there myself.  This led me to realize that I have few childhood memories, possibly very few.  My full memory set only kicks in after my family moved to Florida when I was 12.  Perhaps this is the same age most people begin a full memory set?  All I know is that before that age, there are only a few sparse memory images in my mind.  

Time can be quantified easier as one gets older.

I think this is widely known, that as one gets older, one’s ability to perceive quantities of time gets easier.  It’s only logical.  If one has only lived one decade, how can one really perceive that much time?  I used to think a decade was, “forever.”  Now, I can quantify it in my mind.  And in being able to do this quantification, and then extrapolate it over my entire future, I feel like my remaining life will only be a second, just like that same one second that passed between 6pm on Thursdays.  

If you can quantify the rest of your life, does that mean you’ve already lived it?  

Not that you’ve technically already lived it, but rather that one’s life is already on rails, and you are just going along for the ride.  I feel these weekly seconds are quite finite, and quite countable.  The question is to try and catch and hold on to one of these numbered seconds, or burn through them as fast as possible and not care when they run out.  This question is often on my mind.

I want (or need) to be able to pause time, or step out of it to try and catch up.

Since I am seeing weeks in seconds, and highly repetitive, it is very hard to pause and take stock of things.  To look around and access the situation, or rather, to simply being able to digest all that has happened, and then, and only then, when fully ready, begin to advance through time again.  

Everything has a pause button, I want one for time.

I want that because I feel without a time pause button, I can never change anything about myself.  This is the feeling I feel constantly, which is like this:  when you trip and are about to fall on your face, you feel like that first bit of falling is slow and you can contemplate a thousand things just in that instance.  That is how I feel about a lifetime of time, that I have already tripped, and that it will be all over in a second, which is fine with me.  I would just like a paused moment to be able to think on things before it ends.  Every time I try to do this, damn Monday comes again and I repeat the cycle:  say hi to student at 6pm on Thursday, stare into the restaurant at 9:43pm on Friday, etc, etc, etc.  

Please share your concepts, perceptions, and experiences with time in the comments below.


14 Responses to “No concept of time [essay]”

  1. on July 25th, 2008 10:44 AM

    What if every week at 6pm or 9:43 pm you were doing something different? Sounds like you are on rails and not happy with it- like you need to just do something new. It’s good that you have the plan to do so.

    Pause button- well, there is none- though I find traveling to be a pretty effective simulacrum. On a plane or a long train journey- you’re really imbetween places, times, and events. Sure the trip takes time, but it’s a timeout, during nothing else can happen other than you sit there and wait to arrive. Certainly if you fly west, you effectively pause time as you can arrive at the same time that you set off.


    Jason Collin Reply:

    Thanks for the insightful comment.

    I think you are right, if I weren’t doing exactly the same thing at each time each week, probably it wouldn’t feel like each week is only one second. Can’t wait to get out of this routine next year!

    And that is a good point, when I have been out traveling abroad as well, it feels like being out of time. That’s the slowest time feels like it’s moving.

    So go to flip the weekly script and take a trip!


  2. on July 25th, 2008 11:20 PM

    I think we’re hitting it on the head there- new experience= time slows down. Hence kids have no conception of how much time is passing because they’re always so caught up in the moment- because just about everything they do is new.

    For us, it’s mostly always the same thing we did before.


  3. Dy
    on July 26th, 2008 12:00 PM

    I think everyone is my age. I remember one time I was walking two children by the hands and saw a friend approaching. She said, “Children!” and I truly could not — for one second — place what she meant. I speak to everyone the same way — same topics, same perspective. Grown-ups don’t notice it, because they’re used to it, but children and the relatively elderly generally really respond well to it.


    Jason Collin Reply:

    I agree with talking to children the same way one speaks to an adult. I’ve never used a little kid voice to talk to them.

    I guess very young children (under 4) do respond though to high pitched “baby-talk” and hearing it helps them round out their hearing range or something.

    But yeah, if the kid is old enough to carry on a conversation, no need to not talk real to them.


  4. Sakiko Takano
    on August 3rd, 2008 7:47 AM

    Please excuse my bad English. but I would like to leave some comments.

    You well described in this essay what I always feel about time. I cannot help thinking myself as 28 years old woman. When I realized that actually I am going to be 50 next year and approaching my grave, I was trully devastated.

    To change the stream of time, it would be better to change place of living or get seriously involved with someone (like getting married and starting a family).

    By the way,

    Is the grammar of the sentence “I think this is widely know” correct?

    Could please explain why you used “know” instead of “knows?”


    Jason Collin Reply:

    Thank you for commenting Sakiko!

    Well first, you are my proofreader this time, your grammar question is only because of a typo by me. I wrote this essay very late at night (about 2:30am) and never proofread it since then. So the sentence should be “I think this is widely known.”

    I hope you are no longer devastated by that realization about your age. I think you are still very far from the grave! And you seem much younger. So I wouldn’t worry so much if I were you.

    I will be doing both of your suggestions within the next year for changing the stream of time.


  5. Sakiko Takano
    on August 3rd, 2008 7:49 AM

    Sorry, my last sentence should be

    Could you please explain…


  6. on August 8th, 2008 9:52 PM

    I was 43 in 1993. I was 58 this past December. In my head, I’m still 17.

    I look in the mirror and wonder how that old face could be mine.

    So, not only do I tend to think of people as the age they were when I met them but I have trouble understanding how I got as old as I am.

    Because I am older, I think about the approach of that dark night that is ahead and sometimes, I have a gripping fear that almost paralyzes me but then I try to think this. I am alive now. Every other person who is alive now is the same as I am. We are alive in this moment and this moment is what matters.

    It can be hard to reconcile living in the moment with planning or looking toward the future but I try not to think too much about that because it makes my head hurt in much the same way that trying to understand how there could have been nothing and then suddenly there was something and then our universe came into existence. Ouch! These things just make my brain ache.

    I have many memories of childhood. This is probably due to having become verbal very early. Children who develop language skills earliest tend to have the most memories, unless some traumatic event wipes them out. Once we name things, memories of things that came before the naming tend to be lost.

    Oh, how I do ramble. It’s that whole very verbal thing.

    Anyway, nice article.



    Jason Collin Reply:

    Thank you for the comment Ann, that wasn’t rambling at all. I wanted to read more! I mentioned this essay to you specifically because I knew you’d have something good to contribute to it.

    You are still 43 in my mind as well!

    I will ask my mom if I learned to talk at an early age. That’s an interesting thing to know. I guess maybe not since I have almost no memories of my childhood, but then again, something could have wiped them out.


  7. Fumiko
    on October 5th, 2008 6:21 PM

    At some point of my life, maybe when I married, I stopped thinking that I can control my whole life (time?).
    Living without a pause button is hard indeed, but I’ve learned how to enjoy it.
    I’m afraid I miss the point…


  8. on June 4th, 2011 11:45 PM

    I live outside time. I have to force myself to “step into it” in order to function at work, at school, etc. That actually sucks, because I’m an animator, and few people have to be more deadline-oriented. I’m always late to everything, and I’ll probably be half an hour in heaven before the devil knows I’m dead. I also have very spotty memory of my childhood, but I grew up in a broken home, and think that most of the memories I’ve simply blocked out.

    Fortunately for me, my boss recognized my lack of any concept of time (which actually might be related to my temporal processing deficit) and made plans that help work around it, such as assigning me specific tasks each week, instead of telling me she needs this amount of tasks completed before such and such deadline. By limiting the tasks she expects me to complete, she’s figured out how long it takes me to do them, and now knows just how much work to give me each week in order to guarantee that I meet the deadlines by default.

    People who know me well tell me to show up at their houses/events half an hour before I’m actually supposed to be there, knowing that this way, I’ll arrive right on time. They know I have a Swiss cheese memory, and most of them are very patient with me, reminding me frequently of times and dates, so it doesn’t fly out of my mind until it’s too late.

    Honestly, I’m amazed people can put up with it. I used to think it was weird, but I’ve come to grips with it, found peace. I recognize that I’m just not living inside time, and I do the best I can to function in a world where time is money. Thanks for writing this essay, it’s nice to know I’m not alone outside the time stream.


    Jason Collin Reply:

    Interesting comment Cori…..working on a schedule can be difficult, I prefer a fluid work day, which I have since I work for myself.


    Cori Reply:

    I would dearly love to do that, but I know that I would never get anything done, for the same reason. It’s “better” for me financially to have someone setting out the schedule for me, with specific time goals to meet. Time gets away from me when I’m left to my own devices.


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