The Interface of Time
The Scales of Experience and Depths of Communication
Anthropologist and Producer of sensorium
The rapidly twirling blades of an electric fan look transparent
to us because when something is in a different rhythm to ourselves,
we barely recognize its existence.
We are forever passing by things without even noticing them, for
our rhythms are either too fast or too slow for our perceptions.
Nonetheless, there is an implicit order that keeps us in contact
with them. On the other hand, within visible phenomena, there
are hidden times and rhythms.
For example, a rapidly revolving top looks stationary to the eye.
This allows us to speculate that the things around us that appear
stationary, or when we ourselves are sitting still, may in fact
be revolving at a very fast rate.
At the base of our perceptions and communications in and with
the world, there remain some yet-to-be-identified problems concerning
the differences between our various senses of time and synchronicity.
How may we design an interface of time to help us achieve as fulfilling
a life as possible?
Utrillo's Trees/The Dragon Hidden in the Mountains
When our sense of time is even very slightly disturbed, our normal
perceptions of reality are altered. Think, for example, of the
growing processes of trees and fungi on fast-motion film.
Trees display a clear pattern of "energy radiation" that extends
from the ground to the sky. They show a regularly rotating pattern
of movement that reaches up in a spiral.
Mushrooms, on the other hand, exactly like the mushroom clouds
of atomic explosions, exhibit a nebulous movement that swells,
explodes and replicates. (Another example: look at creepers growing
on a wall or column. Watch how their leaves caress the surfaces
they lean against.)
Without the aid of our advanced technologies, artists and scientists
have observed, analyzed and then seen through surfaces and understood
such secrets of epigenetic processes and patterns of formation.
Recall Utrillo's trees. It is obvious that he regarded the trees
lining Paris's boulevards as patterns of radiation emanating from
The essence of traditional Japanese and Chinese landscape painting
and calligraphy lay in recognizing the invisible form and movement
of the "chi" (energy) that lies beneath the visible landscape or scene or
each Chinese character. Artists did not depict mountains or valleys:
rather, they perceived and expressed the patterns of the vital
energy that flows like a dragon throughout those landscapes and
Within the human body can be found many vortices of energy: in
the ears, on finger prints and in the way our hair grows in a
pattern radiating from our crown. In these many patterns is the
very growth process of our bodies inscribed. For example, the
growth processes of a fetus and an ear are clearly similar, with
both following a spiral pattern. You can imagine a fetus growing
in the same spiral pattern as its ears.
Observations like this make me think of those geniuses of art
and science, like Leonardo da Vinci, Goethe and the Japanese anatomist
Shigeo Miki, who have perceived essential forms that are normally
invisible to others.
The Tortoise's Time Versus that of the Hare
In traditional psychosomatic harmonization arts and practices,
such as the martial arts, chi-kung and dance, great emphasis is
placed on the rhythms of breathing and movement. It is, in fact,
a result of these practices that we begin to recognize the vital
importance of an interface of time in all of our activities and,
indeed, within the world around us.
These breathing patterns emphasized in Oriental exercises often
try to mimic those of the tortoise, deep and long, and is in contrast
to the modern ideal, imported from the West, of huffing and puffing,
like a running hare. There are things that only a tortoise can
see, dimensions only this animal can experience.
We live in a world that has outgrown its idea of the modern: we
require a wisdom and capacity that go beyond what is needed to
sustain military forces and industrial labor. We are in need of
a new idea of physical exercise, one that emphasizes increased
freedom and versatility that will enable us to be both the hare
and the tortoise.
Dr. Tatsuo Motokawa has written a book, "The Elephant's Time and
the Mouse's Time," that has many interesting ideas concerning
the relationship between the rhythms of breathing and heartbeats,
and the biological time of each species.
Elephants and mice are entirely different in terms of body size
and longevity. But, curiously, the total number of respiratory
cycles and heartbeats of the two are exactly the same! In fact,
the numbers are the same for all mammals. Mice breathe in short
cycles and their hearts beat fast, so their lives are short. Elephants
breathe in long cycles, and their hearts beat slowly, enabling
them to live long lives.
Real time doesn't progress at the same rate as clock time, quantitatively
speaking, equally distributed among species. Recent evidence indicates
that the structure of temporal experience is designed in terms
relative to the species involved.
Editing Our Temporal Experience
There is no absolute agreement that living slowly but longer is
necessarily better. The quality and content of the time we live
and experience also matters, though they are not to be measured
quantitatively from outside. Nor, certainly, am I recommending
that we breathe more slowly so as to live longer.
What is important is that we have the freedom to perceive in a
relative manner both the elephant's time and the mouse's, as well
as the freedom to be both the tortoise and the hare.
In other words, it is a question of extending the interface of
our sense of time, and of establishing a multi-tiered structure
for our interaction with the world around us. This entails a certain
sensory skill to freely switch our gears of time, to be attuned
on differing levels with the various phenomena of the world. At
the core of the eco-aesthetics of the world's long-lived cultures
is this virtue of possessing an elaborately designed time interface.
As we further develop our technologies, and enhance our audio-visual
senses and capacities via digital integration, we need also to
find a way to connect to these cultural/temporal resources.
If we call the essence of modern information technologies the
ability to process, collect, edit, package and display information
in such forms as Expos, museums, movies and TV. Then the concerns
of any new technologies should be with "temporal editing" as Naoto
Okude, a member of IWE '96 Committee says.
To what extent will new technologies enhance and deepen the scope
of our senses and experience of time? This is an important question
for overall cultural design.