SPACETIME FEELINGS

(for the proper effect, please imagine the title of this said in a really intense excited voice.)

so like, time agnosia. that. that’s a thing. it’s a thing where you don’t have any sense of how much time is passing, or just any sense of time in general. this is a hard thing for a lot of people to imagine. especially when i try to explain it, because i have really absurdly intense time agnosia. for everything.

to give you an example: there is a bus stop a few blocks away from my house, where i go to catch the bus that takes me downtown. i took that same bus to and from high school all four years, as well as for multiple summers of jobs downtown during college, and i still take it on the way to doctor’s appointments and to get prescriptions filled and to do like 50% of all things that require leaving the house. so i’ve walked this walk from my house to this bus stop like thousands upon thousands of times.

i don’t know how long it takes.

seriously.

i have a rough estimation system that goes like this: it must be between five and fifteen minutes total, because if it was less than five minutes, i’d always have caught my bus, and if it was more than fifteen minutes i’d have like never caught my bus, and therefore since i catch my bus sometimes but not others, it must take in between those two amounts of time to walk to the bus stop.

this is basically the only estimation tool i possess. it only works for short trips from one location to another, with a deadline.

other than that, i’m at sea.

when someone asks me how much time i need to do something, i cannot honestly answer them, because i don’t know. you might say “well, emma, how long did it take you last time?” to which i’d answer, “i don’t know, and it takes a different amount of time every time…” when someone tells me that they’re going on a trip for X amount of time, i don’t know what that means in terms of how long it will be until i see them again. i have a very, very bad case of the “now or not now” syndrome. i truly can only think in those terms. you might say “emma, if you can’t think of anything other than now or not now, how can you ever wait for things?” and my answer would be “the only way that i can actually ‘wait’ for anything is if i can somehow forget that i’m waiting at all.” you might say “emma, how can you actually do basic daily tasks or plan your life if all you think about is now or not now?” to which i’d reply “when you figure that out, please tell me, because i’d love to know.”

i have no metric, no ruler, no timer, no clock inside of my head. i do, however, have one BADASS metronome in there. my sense of what time means has two metrics: one is kinesthetic, and the other is spatial. rhythms and maps.

my brain records intervals between beats as movements, gestures. repeat the gesture, repeat the movement, and you make the beat. i don’t have to tap my foot to keep tempo, because i can feel my body moving even when it’s not, and my brain is often just feet tapping.

and when it comes to larger intervals of time, like days, weeks, months, years, centuries, so on…things get verrrryyyy spatial. there’s a type of synaesthesia (i’ve read everything reputable that you can get your hands on about synaesthesia, i just don’t feel like talking about it right now, so if you want to have “synaesthesia versus ideasthesia” debates go away i’m tired.) referred to as “time-space synaesthesia” which i imagine a great number of people have to some degree. it’s where you imagine calendar time (months, years, etc) as either two- or three-dimensional spatial maps. for most people, this means like, you know, a year is a circle, the months are bits on the circle, so on, whatever. i have time-space synaesthesia on steroids. i’ve actually never encountered an equally detailed/spatial time-space synaesthete in all my perusing of the scientific literature. the closest parallel is with daniel tammet and numbers. i have no memory of ever understanding time without this exact map. it has been the same since i can remember. it is my only way of understanding where i or anything else is in time. if you want me to think of what day of the week it is, i instantly try to picture where i am on my map. it is time, as far as i’m concerned.

here are some pictures i drew for my psychologist of different scales/perspectives on my time-space map (i’m sorry, i will caption these descriptively later for visually-impaired readers, but they’re complicated and i just don’t have the energy to words that much tonight):

IMG_1409Above: What weeks look like from the front. On the Sunday on the left, you can see where I’ve roughly marked where the times of day show up on the fronts of the days.

IMG_1409 - Version 2

Above: This is why I referred to the “fronts” of days when describing the first picture. That whole week-map thing? It’s actually a three-dimensional spiral, like a ribbon curl that goes around and around. This is a drawing of that ribbon-curl thing. The lower of the two sketches is of how the curliness of the ribbon-curl shape plays into the way time is displayed on each day. The nighttime is the backside of the ribbon, literally the part in the shade that from the front you can’t see. 

IMG_1414Above: This is a picture of what the year looks like to me (on the left) and then how centuries line up (on the right). And yes, the year-map is carefully to scale. That is how long those months look in my head, and exactly where they show up on the oval. And yes, the months do go in counter-clockwise order. No, I don’t know why.

IMG_1413

Above: So this is what the centuries look like all lined up (from the front). But remember, they’re in three dimensions, right? So this isn’t just a flat, level image. You have to think about the centuries as if they make up a long, narrow sheet of paper that hangs in space. Some sections of this paper are lower than others, and it can curve over. This is an image of the centuries from above (looking down on the wide flat surface of that sheet of paper, with shading to show how at certain points in time, the paper curves down.

IMG_1413 - Version 2

Above: Now, if you were to look at that sheet of paper made of centuries from the side, this is the change in height/curvature/direction that you would see. I’ve marked the important dates that involve curve or direction changes on there as well. 

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5 thoughts on “SPACETIME FEELINGS

  1. A couple of questions, if you don’t mind me asking. Have you ever explored the ways in which different cultures have conceived of time? This includes anything from Hindu time cycles to Western conceptions of time just prior to the invention of telegraphy. Lots of fascinating material, along with associated visualizations, to get lost in, to mix metaphors.

    Speaking of which, how good are you at spatial orientation? Are you good at wayfinding, map reading, and navigation, or do you get lost easily? (I’m a geographer so spatial perception fascinates me, though the topic is not at all my specialty).

    My cats don’t seem to have issues with time agnosia. I tweeted the following a year ago: 🙂

    “The cats hover around the kitchen as if expecting their 7 PM dinner, even though the clock says 6:20. They are right. The clock has stopped.”

    • I actually have, to a certain extent. One thing I also find it interesting to read about is the ways in which different cultures think about time interact with how they spatially orient themselves–many other cultures (especially non-industrialized, non-Western cultures) discuss direction and location in entirely allocentric (i.e. North, South, East, West) versus egocentric (Left, Right) terms. And there’s also a lot of cool research on how the landscape and environment in which a culture exists will condition their sense of both time passing, and of their spatial orientations. If you really want a trip, look into the literature on traditional Pacific-Islander/Polynesian maritime navigation. Their understanding of direction and spatial orientation is based in currents and wave-shapes and wind directions, all of which constantly undergo slight changes in direction and location. So their manner of navigating and orienting themselves uses non-fixed points and axes. It totally mindfucks most anthropologists who try to study it. Super cool.

      Ah, a fellow spatial perception nerd! Quite the informed question: Spatial perception does happen to be one of my extreme strengths, and it has been since I was a child. I’m very good at navigating, which is a miracle considering how bad I am at remembering multi-step processes–I’m the kind of person who, if asked for directions, could never tell you step-by-step how to get someplace, but could sketch you a map of how to get there off the top of my head. For me, though, all spatial perception is very “egocentric” in format, and kinesthetic, rather than allocentric and visual. I have a very good feeling of where I am always relative to other things around me, but I don’t have that great of a visual memory, actually. When it came to the cognitive tests where you’re required to re-draw diagrams from memory, I did well solely because I got to draw things (aka move, and remember them kinesthetically), whereas when I’d be asked to just reason about or compare similar pictures, I’d do terribly.

      Dude, cats are like a whole ‘nother deal. They have such an uncanny ability to just know exactly when you’re supposed to be doing things, and if you don’t do what you’re supposed to, they’re just sitting there, staring at you disapprovingly. It’s simultaneously endearing and disconcerting; definitely one of those “Are my cats my pets, or am I my cats’ pet?” moments.

  2. I have that type of synasthesia, as does my mom and brother! I have tried to draw it out in the past and just get frustrated because I can’t make something 3D or 4D on paper. I loved seeing yours!!

  3. OH MY GOD THIS SOUNDS SO FAMILIAR
    time 100% only exists on a flat surface of a clock (seconds, minutes, hours), a vertically-oriented ring with midday at the top and midnight at the bottom (hours, days), open pages in a school diary with an extra unseen piece for Sunday (days, weeks), a horizontally-oriented ring that you move along as time moves and look at the rest of it from the position you are currently at (weeks, months, years) and a long line hanging in space that has centuries and years marked on it and takes a sharp turn towards you/to the right at the year 2000 (years, centuries, millenia) and you can zoom away from it to get to the whole scale of earth’s existence

    time for stars in the outer space does not exist at all, only spatial movement of objects and processes do

    I’ve always been pretty decent at tracking time however, because I always look at the clocks and I visualize the face of the clock with time marked on it readily… but that’s it??? I can’t tell the amount of time that passes in any other way… okay there’s manually counting which is hard work but works technically and looking at the second-hand of the clock for a less brain-splitting way of tracking seconds and another way of tracking time that’s pretty badass: in songs that sound in my head or on my player, how many have there been? They last from two to five minutes, and often it’s an estimate that’s good enough.

    Do some people… actually perceive time differently?…

    • oh wait, there’s also a band of years that takes a sharp turn to the left at 10 and then goes on, it goes for years in life. It looks almost identical to the band of numbers in general, and p much fuses with it after 100, but the band of numbers starts from near you and can also go back into negatives (which unloops it so it’s all parallel to you) and takes a sharp turn to the right at 10 while the band of years starts at 0 and away from you if you are looking at it from later, and also it’s much more zoomed-in than the band of numbers

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