Tick Tock: What is Time?

Anwar AlKandari
9 min readJan 15, 2021


“Alice: How long is forever? White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

As you are reading this sentence, you are experiencing time travel in a forward motion. If you are reading this at a ground level, you’re aging differently from a reader who is living at the top of a mountain. Of course, our perception of time in a macroscopic world won’t allow us to tell the difference. However, looking at it from a microscopic perspective will allow us to detect the difference.

In fact, let’s do a small experiment that involves your experience of time. Take a look at any person around you, or any far object in your surroundings if you’re sitting alone. The person/object you’re looking at is not how it actually looks like in the present moment (your present moment), what you’re seeing is how it looked like in the past. And by the past, I mean a few nanoseconds ago. Puzzling right? But this is how time is observed on a microscopic level. Whatever you see, its light will take time to reach your eyes. For example, next time you see the Sun (I hope without directly looking at it) remember that this is how the Sun looked like 8 minutes ago, not now. Each one of us is looking at the past state of his/her space, including the people we interact with. It’s not significant that these are the past states from our macroscopic world, but it’s astonishing to look at it from the microscopic world.

From this point, it becomes obvious that each person has their own present moment. We don’t share the same present moment. If you want to dive deeper into this topic and play around with common logic, I highly recommend “The Order of Time” by Carlo Rovelli which was my main inspiration to write this article.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

As a musician, I am astonished by how half or quarter a second matters to the beats and their significant effects. Musicians experience a different sense of time. Every second matters to us, and missing a beat that is quarter a second could collapse the entire tempo of the piece. We notate time on music sheets with beats that precisely fit their measures. Then we bring these beats to life by playing them, but I sometimes wonder how do I experience time when I am not playing music?

Writing this article, I have more questions than answers. Therefore, I will leave you with insights from bright-minded and inspiring people from various different fields on how do they experience time. What does time mean to them and to what they do in life?

Diana Diamond, Oriental dance instructor and performer

Dance has changed my relationship with time as I realized how so much can happen within a few seconds. A choreography is usually not more than 5 minutes long tops, but it often takes weeks, if not months, to prepare and master. It’s fascinating how we can have a choreographed 2 or 3 minutes that took so much time and effort, or a sloppy 5 minutes scrolling through our phones without us even noticing, for instance.

Not only did my relationship with time change, but my understanding of music became broader and deeper. Percussive rhythm is an artful division of time into endless variations, creating different moods and states. Percussion in particular can put me in a very meditative state, especially through repetition. Repetition gets such a bad reputation in an age that is easily bored and distracted, but this is why we need such practices more than ever. In almost all ancient religions and traditions, rituals that include repetition of chants and movements exist; I feel we can experience full flow and presence through continuously going through the same movement for a period of time.

I understand time measures like half, quarter or 16th notes not only in theory, but through my body. In a very mind emphasized modern day culture, it’s good to experience and understand things through the physical, corporeal self; a much deeper awareness can be found.

Adnan Najeeb Al-Abbar, interested in science, philosophy, and economics

All the objects of the world are either concrete (exist in time and space), or abstract. When we claim to know something, that is, to say that a certain state-of-affairs is a fact, what we are ultimately saying is: the world is organized in such and such a way. But can we know things we cannot justify? We have to put forth axioms. One such axiom that is necessary in the physical sciences is Newton’s 1st law. This basically tells us that if we know a concrete object’s position, and guess its speed, and acceleration, we can know the future states of that object. Imagine telling your friend he will utter this paragraph heretofore spontaneously. Newton’s law is equally as encroaching on the future, though we think little of that. Moreover, the profit and loss mechanisms are social orders that coordinate predictions of future states-of-affairs. That is, entrepreneurship is a claim of knowledge about the concrete objects and their abstract properties. There is much to know about what we think we do know but actually are guessing at, and to me, that is beautiful. Time is the discriminant of guesses about future states-of-affairs about concrete objects and their abstract properties.

Patricia Hurducas, flâneuse & data analyst

Time stops. I move forward. But the movement itself already implies that time did not stop at all. Time flows. A character from a novella I am currently writing said:

‘It is complicated, Ava. A complicated story with too many timelines. But I will do my best, lass. First thing first: time is not chronological as our human minds believe and perceive it. Time can be bent. Some of us can see the different lines of time and experience the plurality of our worlds.’ — Sir James

Inventing Sir James for my time travel novella Travel to Edinburgh felt like describing an old friend I never had. The outsider with too much inside information. I think about time every single day.

What is Time? I can answer only from my own way of seeing and experiencing today this world. I can imagine other worlds in my stories where time can be bent, but at the end of the day I go back to sleep knowing that I cannot go back in time, only forward. And forward there is a lot of incertitude, infinite possibilities and choices to be faced and made at the right or wrong moment. Time is an illusion (Einstein), “a measure of change” (Aristotle), “the form of inner sense” (Kant).

Shoug Alessa, recent graduate from Kuwait University, Chemical Engineering Department

Mankind’s mind does not fear the questions of its existence and is fond of the answers and curiosities of its being and all that surrounds it. Every once in a while, the question of time rings in order to explore its variations in meaning for the sole purpose of understanding and it has revisited me again in the form of “What does time mean to you and to what you do in life?”. I remember the first time I heard the question “what is time?”. It was during a summer course in 2017, I was taking advanced thermodynamics in the field of Chemical Engineering, and in the middle of the lecture the professor knocked us with this question. Everyone gave the answer of how it is a fourth dimension, how it is a measurable period, and how it is a not steady measurement. The typical answers of STEM students would give, but I answered that time is a concept in the perspective of philosophy and existence. I believe we are in a consistent movement of the present. We live in a compilation of “NOW”, and the past deals with its residues as the future deals with its actions. We have simplified time to simplify the flow of life and this has formulated into a concept by giving ourselves the chance to not waste life and keep moving forward because time is continuous and it does not end when we take our last breath rather it ends when the world takes its final course. Believing time is a concept has helped me appreciate small moments in my day and be grateful to my past, present, and future. It has also allowed me to not argue and let situations be and pass through for I know there is something greater to come than what I am seeing in the present.

Elene Ghelaghutashvili, traveller

“When I was young, my dad told me that time would go faster as I aged. I hated it so much that I found a hack.

I don’t remember when, but I started to notice that time passed slowly as I travelled.

A day spent in an unfamiliar place felt like a week.

Travel, for a long time, became my tool for slowing down time.

Then I found myself using this knowledge to make other times in my life go slower — by taking a road less travelled to work, by engaging with things that were new to me — in short, by doing things that stimulated my senses and forced me to be present in the moment, really taking in what I was witnessing.

Then I found Mindfulness could do that for me as well.

And so I ended up with this toolbox for slowing down time.

Carlo Rovelli, the Italian physicist who wrote ‘The Order of Time’, said something that blew my mind: “Time is ignorance”.

Of course! If we knew where everything was in the universe at any given moment, time wouldn’t exist.

Now that slows down my time too. Big time.”

Anca Bunescu, photographer

To be preoccupied with photography means, for a great deal of this passion, to be preoccupied with the concept of time. Even for those who photograph for many different reasons I believe this to be true: we are all recording life, after all. But what is life more than a continuous sequence of moments?

“When we are afraid, we shoot. But when we are nostalgic, we take pictures”, wrote Susan Sontag in her book “On Photography”. These words speak to my soul so much, I wish I could hug them. While reading them for the first time, I remember thinking: Finally, someone understands. I found myself often, with the camera in my hand, nostalgic for a moment that was unfolding in front of my eyes. I thought about how weird that is, to be nostalgic for something that did not even cease to happen yet. It’s hard to explain the how’s and the why’s, when the only thing I was aware of was the way I pushed the shutter button and photographed with a greediness I’ve otherwise rarely experienced.

For all I knew, this was my realization that what I photograph is time, a time that regretfully was never meant to come back, but to which I would always like to hold onto — forever, if possible. Every time I photograph, I am aware that I’m creating a piece of a present moment that, if taken care of correctly, is capable to outlast us all. Nan Goldin wrote in a letter to a dear friend who was dying, whom she often photographed during her life, the following words: “I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough.” The bad news is — we do. The good news is that through photography, there is a possibility for the world not to lose them — and this last thought, this makes me really happy.

Feel free to reach out to me through:

Email: anwaraalkandarii@gmail.com

IG: Anwaar.alk

Twitter: AnwarAlKandarii



Anwar AlKandari

Industrial engineer and a pianist continuously falling into rabbit holes.