Living in the Paradox of Time

“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If
I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” –St. Augustine

Musée d’Orsay – Paris

The concept of time is so fascinating because it is full of
paradoxes – it heals and it kills; it flies and it stalls. At the end of the
day, we seem to have no idea what time really is. When did it begin, and will
it ever end? What is a world without time? Perhaps we will never answer these
questions. What do we know is that time moves at the same pace for everyone. It
does not ever move faster or slower, yet we never cease to be amazed by the
passing of time. This is because time is perhaps the most fundamental thing
that intertwines with our feelings, thoughts and actions. Time defines who we

One of the most debated topics in philosophy is the
definition of personal identity. What does it take for us to still be the same
people after a certain period of time? For materialists, people who believe
there is no eternal soul and that humans are simply biological organisms, the
persistence of a person’s physical body through time is all that it takes for
the person to remain the same person. However, if someone goes through total
amnesia with no possibility of remembering anything in his life prior to
amnesia, is he the same person? Many of us would say no, or at least give the
question a second thought. Even in cases less severe than amnesia such as
severe depression or other personality disorders, we often hear people say, “he
is just not the same person anymore”. 

We usually take our personal identity for granted. “Am I the
same person today?” is not a question that crosses through our minds each
morning we wake up. However, the more time passes by, the more it’s potentially
capable of changing qualities about you that you consider to be the essence of
who you are today.

Time can hide or erase parts of us, but it can also reveal
who we are.  In the opening monologue of
Lady Gaga’s “Marry the Night” music video, she says: “When I look back on my
life, it’s not that I don’t want to see things exactly as they happened. It’s
just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way, and truthfully the lie
of it all is much more honest, because I invented it.” As time goes on, the
details of even the most memorable events from our lives will become fuzzy, so
as we tell stories from the past, or think of them to ourselves, we
subconsciously create details to make the recollections seem complete again. Of
course, Lady Gaga probably filters her memories in much more creative ways than
us, but the truth is we all do it. Suppose you and your friend go through the
same experience, and then separately describe the experience to a third person,
chances are you would never describe it with the same words, body language, and
nuances. The choices you make in the telling of any story reflect your unique
perspective and personality, and time only magnifies this effect.

Imagine a song, a smell, or a taste that reminds you of your
childhood. Nostalgia is defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection
for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal
associations”. Doctors used to think that nostalgia was a disorder, relating it
to pain and depression. However, modern psychologists have said that despite
the bittersweet nature of nostalgia, it is overall a positive emotion because
it makes life seem more meaningful. Nostalgia probably feels different to
everyone, but ultimately it is more about revisiting feelings rather than details
of events. When you hear your favorite song from high school, you might be
reminded of that teenage angst, or perhaps the feeling you got when you saw
your crush, but probably not a specific conversation you had with a friend
during lunch. Time strips the trivial details away from our memories. Nostalgia
helps us see these memories in a more honest way, thus get to know ourselves a
little bit better. T.S. Eliot said: “Only by acceptance of the past, can you
alter it.” The “it” here, of course, does not literally mean the past, but
rather the present, since every current second instantaneously becomes the
past. So only by reflecting on our past can we make decisions now that turns
our present into a different past.

Time is too mysterious, too powerful, and too paradoxical to
make sense. But it has to make sense because we all live in it. Perhaps just
like how we can never fully understand ourselves, we can never hope to fully
understand time. As we grow old and start to comprehend ourselves, however, we
will also start to fathom the enigma that is time.

I can’t believe HALF of 2016 have passed! In college I was a very passionate and involved member of Fashion Quarterly Magazine. I was the event coordinator, but I also wanted to do it all. For my last issue, I wrote this article on time because it has always fascinated and puzzled me. You might wonder: what does time have to do with fashion? Well actually, our entire issue was time-themed, featuring photographs from morning to nightfall, and we were all damn proud of it. Check it out here!