The Interface of Time
The Scales of Experience and Depths of Communication

Shin'ichi Takemura
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 ground.

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 words.

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.