When you’re listening to jazz, you lose your sense of time…
Round Midnight (1986)
I’ve been thinking hard about how to express to people around me how important time keeping was to society. Time is very nebulous. If you read books about it, it will range in topics from the mechanics of a clock to the more esoteric physics of Einstein’s theories. I was looking for a way to explain time to people in a way that I don’t have to show them a mechanical clock, or I don’t have to explain Einstein’s theories. One of the ways that I thought was a great way to demonstrate this was through music. When you listen to music, your sense of time changes—not with music such as classical music, but music such as jazz. Jazz breaks all the rules. Sometimes you play a little faster, and sometimes you play a little slower. It ends up that your brain keeps time by physical cues. When you’re listening to music such as jazz, you lose your sense of time. That’s what I’m trying to impress upon people when I say that “we are the time we keep.” Although we make these very beautiful watches with great precision, and some of them are quite expensive, our brains don’t keep time by seconds; they keep time by the physical cues that are around us and by the shape of our memories.
When I say shape of our memories, think of it this way: Our brain has a hard disc, and as we live our lives, information is stored on that hard disc. When we’re experiencing terror, for example, a second hard disc is activated and more information gets stored. Let’s say that we were in a car accident. We start remembering information like the expression on the other person’s face, how things are crumbling, and the sounds of that moment we’re in the middle of the crash. It seems like forever. All the information that is stored in your brain recalls that information. And because there’s so much information stored, it senses that event as a very long event. There’s a difference between a clock and our body’s clock, and sometimes they’re aligned and sometimes they’re not in sync. We should honor that as a society and not try to make ourselves clocks. We’re not mechanical; we’re humans, and at the end of the day, we should honor how our bodies operate.
One of the things that’s been very interesting to me as a scientist is this narrative that we use: “I create this. Period.” I’ve been thinking a little bit about this, and that period needs to be changed to a comma. So it would be, “I created this, and then this recreated me in some way.” We’re in a dance with the tools we make and the technologies we create. This is something we need to share with our younger generations, because we can’t just think that what we do is isolated from the world, from history. Everything is connected, and it’s that complexity that makes things fascinating.