What’s the deal about life and time? It seems to be a rather strange subject to address, even for scientists. Most people are already well aware that time is a very real thing, a fact of physics that we are all unfortunately deeply conscious of. In fact, the whole concept of time is actually the product of human ignorance: we think that it exists in some external, outside of ourselves, source, but in reality it exists within all living things and events, whether they be plants, animals, or people. For a moment consider this: if you were to ask any scientist what the definition of time was, what would their answer likely be?
It’s a very easy answer: it’s a means of survival. And a very hard one too, because all that we really understand about time is how it affects our daily lives. If one of your common sense answers is that it’s a way to measure how fast something travels, then I think you miss the mark. Life is neither a way to measure speed, nor is it a way of measuring how long it takes something to travel, for that matter. The only way to truly understand time is to view it as a quality inherent in all living things, for which we give no value, and to see that there’s no meaningful distinction between living things and nonliving ones.
A good example of how to respond to life questions without denying the importance of time can be seen in the very structure of life: it’s a series of routines, each of which has an end and a beginning, and which repeat themselves ceaselessly through time. Life is actually a feature that identifies the repeating patterns of nature, not an arbitrary series of trivia. The fact that we don’t know the answer to most life questions doesn’t mean that they aren’t important or worthy of curiosity. They’re often quite perplexing, even when we recognize that they are typical of how living things work. How we deal with life questions then depends on how much we want to know, and how much we are willing to risk losing our comfortable, unblemished faith in the ordinary.