Real Time

Some days, these days, I get really confused about what day of the week it is. I mean “really” as in more so than I normally do, er, did. I equate my heightened detachment from knowing which deity is being invoked on a given day (Sol[Sun], Luna[Moon], Mars/Tiw, Mercury/Woden, Jupiter/Thor, Venus/Frigga, or Saturn) to living in times that are so out of joint, as Hamlet would say. (He spoke only from a stage, never a feed.) I imagine you also, dear reader, are feeling some ill-timed effects from the new normal. I grouse a bit or turn glum, but then one thing I do to calm my attitude about the present is to switch on “big picture” mode in my brain and look at our situation from the outside. We humans and our ancestors (homo sapiens, specifically) have been dealing with natural disasters for many, many thousands of years. I think that’s a big reason our brains can go to big picture mode, as well as re-run mode (as I fondly remember how “simple” things were back in the winter) and preview mode (as I anxiously look forward to June? July?) Adult human brains can jump out of “real time” (What day is it?) and visiting past times (the good old days) and future times (such brave new worlds), near and distant, real and imagined. (Some other animals, like chimps, whales, elephants, and dolphins can think beyond real time as well, research has found.) I think being able to do this stepping outside the moment in our heads helps us maintain our composure (read sanity) during times of stress.

Human infants are not born with that ability to think outside of real time, or, to put it another way, at birth, the brain of a newborn is only just beginning the multi-year task of developing all its potentials, one of which is the ability to use non-linear “time travel” to its advantage. Consider, young children (your child or children), in the first year of their life with us live exclusively in real time. Those other time zones (memory and prediction) become available only after many bazillions of mind-shaping brain connections, disconnections, reconnections. All that connecting done in real time, based in a large part by observing and interacting with “big people.” Brain development needs input from other more developed brains!

Past time and future time are malleable and compressible. We can fool around with memories and predictions as much as we like, reliving favorite moments from the past, imagining and re-imagining things to come. Eventually, a child does that too, but only after living in real time where everything happens one event after another. How the events of that real time unfold and best serve infant/toddlers is controlled by us loving parents (and other family members). A young child has no alternative time to retreat to if their real time environment gets too confusing or unwieldy. They can’t pause their brain’s development and wait for a “better time” to continue. We adults make their real time world as carefree, rewarding and loving as we can, because it is the only time they have for now.

PS I haven’t used the word music yet, so it’s a great time to point out that music making is a decidedly “real time” activity. Music makes our bodies respond, with body movement, chemical activity, brain activity. All these responses are real time. Music is another characteristic of humanity that I think came about to help us all deal with real time, with others, with ourselves. We can temporarily trot off to the past or the future in our minds, but “real” time is where we spend most of it and music is always here with us to help us enjoy it.