from the world's big
How To Stop Time
Human beings have the capacity to stop time. It is, in fact, a commonly used capacity. We use our ability to stop time as a bulwark against the threat of disruptive newness that encroaches with the future. It also allows us to keep what we remember from turning into the mere past.
So how do we stop time?
The answer that I have in mind is: through ritual. Of course, ritual is not only or always a way of stopping time. But in this post I want to explore this connection: how ritual facilitates the felt perpetuity of the present.
This is the third of a series of posts on the nexus of temporality, self-understanding, and politics. In the first post (Are You A Paster, Presentist, Or Futurian?) I explored the possibility of dividing people according to their temporal orientation, rather than, say, according to their religion, ethnicity, and so on. In the second post (Are You Related To George Washington, Like I Am?) I reflected on the sense in which I am a Paster, hoping to draw out some more general thoughts about orientation toward the past. In what follows I will reflect on the sense in which I am Presentist with the intention of drawing out some more general ideas about orientation toward the present.
As I noted in last week’s post: if anything, I am actually a Futurian. Next week I will address this claim directly.
Since there are many kinds of rituals – and indeed many definitions of ritual – I will narrow the field with a stipulative definition of the kind of ritual that I have in mind. It has two components. First, a ritual is a schedule of actions that is meant to be repeated. Second, the repetitive enactment of it is understood by the enactors to be required on the basis of a “higher order” reason.
To be “required on the basis of a higher order reason” means, here, that there is an overriding reason to enact the ritual even when at a more immediate “lower” level you don’t feel like doing it or don’t want to do it. Some higher order reasons that function as the bases for rituals are: it will allow you to lose weight over time; it is constitutive of a proper and orderly day, without which there is the possibility of descent into depression and chaos; it is commanded by God.
In my initial reflection on the topic of temporal orientation I described the television show Friends (1994-2004) as quintessentially Presentist fiction. In each episode Ross, Chandler, Joey, Phoebe, Rachel, and Monica facilitate the repetitive expansion and contraction of a three-tiered cosmos that includes: the couch at the coffee shop (the center of the universe), the characters’ respective apartments (the next tier), and (farthest out) “New York City.” Girlfriends, boyfriends, jobs, even babies, come and go, but the repetitive structure of cosmic contraction and expansion around the centripetal coffee shop couch remains constant.
Arguably, Ross, Chandler, Joey, Phoebe, Rachel, and Monica are participants in a time-stopping ritual. The past is absorbed into the format of traded personal anecdotes that feed the hearth of intimacy. No monumental past event that is unrelated to the personal lives of the friends can trouble the waters.
The unpredictability and indifference of future events seems likewise overcome: every daily performance of the ritual reinforces the presumptive stability of the future – a future that just is the present ritual repeated.
Notably, the example of Friends illustrates the difficulty of attributing a higher order imperative to the ritual enactors. Surely the friends would not, if asked, describe their motivation in terms of a Presentist commitment to sanctifying the coffee shop couch.
It is generally the burden of the observer to offer a plausible interpretation of the repeated action in order to make it count as a ritual in the relevant sense. And even when the claim “this is a ritual” is plausible, it only provides observers with a good way to describe what they see. It need not (and perhaps should not) penetrate the vocabulary and self-understanding of the enactors, whose reasons for action may persist as inarticulate, inchoate, and subconscious.
On the other hand, it is possible to reflect on your own actions in order to determine the extent and significance of ritual in your life. My own life has included phases of intense ritual practice, which have given me a sense of how radical time-stopping ritual can be.
As a graduate student studying religion and ethics there were stretches of months (ultimately years) in which I was entirely absorbed into a daily ritual of textual immersion. I would wake up at around 6:30 in the morning, shower and shave, make coffee, shovel down some cereal or a bagel, take the few paces over to my desk, and then plummet into some text until noon. Then a sandwich and chips for lunch and back into the text until dinner at six (probably Pad Thai or Pizza). Maybe a trip to the library or bookstore after dinner, or perhaps a bit more reading. Usually a couple of hours glassy-eyed watching TV or a movie before sleep. Then repeat.
At its most extreme, during these phases of ritual intensity phone calls, personal encounters, class periods – all were concessions rushed-through dismissively to get back to my desk, back to my routine. Without interruption, long successions of days felt perfectly ordered in a beautiful repetitive orchestration, like celestial spheres in motion.
Ostensibly, the higher order reasons for my ritual were curricular: doing the readings assigned in a class, following the idiosyncratic trail of texts that would lead me to my own original scholarship, studying for doctoral examinations, etc.
But there was a more powerful higher order reason too. I thought: the perfectly executed, focused, uninterrupted day of study is the perfect day and a life composed of such days is a life well lived. I still sometimes have this thought.
Other factors keep me from slipping into the eternal present of study for its own sake: people that I love, various kinds of responsibilities, professional expectations, etc.
But I can imagine time stood still, where past, future, and other people disappear into the two-dimensional background. In the eternal present of ritual study the text alone is three-dimensional. Everything outside of the text is trivial.
This path, or some similar path, may be open to you. But be careful. If you manage truly to stop time it means that you’re dead.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
How can we promote the creation of new neurons - and why is it so important?
- Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth.
- After birth, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain: the olfactory bulb (which is responsible for our sense of smell) and the hippocampus (which is responsible for memory, spatial navigation, and emotional processing).
- Research from the 1960s proves creating new neurons as adults is possible, and modern-day research explains how (and why) we should promote new neuron growth.
Two parts of the brain can continue growing through neurogenesis<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkyMzk2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTAwODc1MH0.4GDLlZmkwuD0-pJ0s0UWcUoYXMy95a-AM61a_QAlAeA/img.jpg?width=980" id="2e77e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4e23499fdf3b2185533979083fd02db7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="brain made of twigs and plants concept of neurogenesis" />
Neurogenesis is still possible well into adulthood in two very important parts of the human brain.
Image by EtiAmmos on Shutterstock<p>Although most people are aware that aging or bad habits such as heavy alcohol use can contribute to the deterioration of our brains, not many of us give thought to how we can generate new brain cells.</p><p>Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth. </p><p><strong>After birth, however, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain:</strong></p><ul><li>The olfactory bulb, which is a structure of the forebrain that's responsible for our sense of smell. </li><li>The hippocampus, which is a structure of the brain located within the temporal lobe (just above your ears) - this area is important for learning, memory, regulation, of emotions and spatial navigation. </li></ul><p>Of course, when this information first came to light <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13860748" target="_blank">back in the 1960s</a>, the next natural question was: How do we promote neurogenesis in those areas where it's still possible? </p><p>Researchers today believe there are activities you can do (some of them may be things you already do on a daily basis) that can promote neurogenesis in your brain. </p><p><strong>Why is it important to promote the growth of new neurons in adulthood?</strong></p><p>We produce an estimated 700 million neurons per day in the hippocampus - this means by the time we reach the age of 50, we will have exchanged the neurons we were born within that area of the brain with new (adult-generated) neurons. </p><p>If we don't promote this exchange with the growth of new neurons, we may block certain abilities these new neurons help us with (such as keeping our memory sharp, for example). </p>
4 ways to promote neurogenesis in your brain<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkyMzk2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTE3NjczNH0.qyzh_AIUPKfaQIa1QEq4yTNCAAK9nYkH3HFV9vWXwww/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C104&height=700" id="64a68" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee1307fe2dd61ae425552da56db3c5ff" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="child playing trumpet concept of learning a new instrument neurogenesis" />
Learning a new instrument helps promote neurogenesis.
Photo by DenisProduction.com on Shutterstock<p><strong>Intermittent fasting</strong></p><p><a href="https://law.stanford.edu/2015/01/09/lawandbiosciences-2015-01-09-intermittent-fasting-try-this-at-home-for-brain-health/" target="_blank">A 2015 Stanford study</a> examined the link between <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-ways-to-do-intermittent-fasting#section1" target="_blank">intermittent fasting</a> and neurogenesis. Calorie restriction and fasting can not only increase synaptic plasticity and promote neuron growth but it can also decrease your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases and boost cognitive function. </p><p><u>Two of the most common ways you can intermittently fast are: </u></p><ul><li>16 hours per day every day - this is a method where you are able to eat for an 8 hour period of the day and fast for 16 hours of the day. Many people begin their "fast" after dinner, pushing their morning meal far enough towards lunch that most of their "off" eating time happens while they are asleep anyways. </li></ul><ul><li>24 hours every week - this is a method where once a week you fast for an entire day. Some people prefer this method because the rest of the week can resume as normal - but for many, this is a difficult way to fast. </li></ul><p><strong>Traveling to new places</strong></p><p>While traveling is something many of us enjoy — scenic routes and new fun experiences — these things also promote neurogenesis while we're on vacation. <a href="https://www.chicagotribune.com/travel/ct-xpm-2014-01-28-sc-trav-0128-travel-mechanic-20140128-story.html" target="_blank">Paul Nussbaum</a>, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, explains that the mental benefits of traveling are very clear.<br></p><p><em>"When you expose your brain to an environment that's novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts. Those new and challenging situations cause the brain to sprout dendrites (dangling extensions) which grow the brain's capacity." </em></p><p><strong>Learning a new instrument</strong></p><p>The mental health benefits of music have long been studied, but did you know that learning a new instrument can promote new neuron growth? </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996135/" target="_blank">this 2010 study</a>, learning to play a new musical instrument is an intense, multisensory motor experience that requires that acquisition and maintenance of skills over your entire lifetime - which of course, promotes the new formation of new neural networks. </p><p>When is the best time to begin learning a new instrument? Childhood, of course. </p><p><em>"Learning to play a new musical instrument in childhood can result in long-lasting changes in brain organization," </em>according to the study mentioned above. </p><p>While learning an instrument in adulthood will also promote neurogenesis, children who began training with a musical instrument before the age of 7 have shown that they have a significantly larger corpus callosum (the area of the brain the allows communication between the two hemispheres of the brain) than many adults. </p><p><strong>Reading novels</strong></p><p>A study from <a href="http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-novel-look-at-how-stories-may-change.html" target="_blank">Emory University</a> showed there was an increase in ongoing connectivity in the brains of participants after reading the same (fiction) novel. </p><p>In this study, enhanced brain activity was observed in the region that control physical sensations and movement. Reading a novel, according to lead researcher Gregory Berns, can transport you into the body of the protagonist. </p><p>This ability to shift into another mental state is a vital skill that promotes healthy neurogenesis in those areas of the brain. </p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Paul Krugman on the Virtues of Selfishness<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7ZtAkm6C" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="828936bf6953080e9018307354c0c02b"> <div id="botr_7ZtAkm6C_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7ZtAkm6C-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> The Nobel Prize-winning economist on the virtues of selfishness.
Evolution Is Moving Us Away from Selfishness. But Where Is It Taking ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cyeqmYCb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6c5efecb56456e9acc25cf36935b1826"> <div id="botr_cyeqmYCb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cyeqmYCb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.
Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?