Callender and Edney, in their book "Introducing Time," write: "In addition to the physical time measured by various clocks, there is also psychological time" (2004, p. 8).
The problem is: there is no "physical time" since time is not a physical stimulus . Physically speaking, there is nothing to measure. Clocks don't measure - they just tick.
A thermometer measures temperature. A tire gauge measures pressure. But what does a clock measure?! Clock is the only "device" that measures nothing. Nothing, except for self-imposed pressure...
All time is psychological. All time is information processing. Let me explain...
In my doctoral dissertation "Time Perception as a Measure of Pain Intensity and Pain Type" (Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, 14 (3), 2000, pp. 111-122), I presented the findings of my research into the interplay between pain intensity and pain type and time perception in terms of the perceived duration of an elapsed period of time.
"Elapsed period of time" - what's that?! Simple: you are in agony, in a waiting room, eager for pain relief. You stop a nurse: "When will I get to see the doctor?" Nurse: "Sir, it's been only a few minutes, have patience..." You (to self or outloud) estimate an elapsed period of time: "Only a few minutes?! It feels like it's been forever!" And it really has been - psychologically speaking!
In short, I was curious to see if pain intensity and pain type/pain quality would change the retrospective estimate of a waiting period .
You might think: okay, I see how pain intensity figures into this, but what about pain type? What does that have to do with anything?
Neuropathic and somatic pain - I reasoned - differ in terms of their "temporal" profile - i.e. in terms of how they are experienced across a period of time. Patients with neuropathic pain often depict their pain as burst-like. Meanwhile, patients experiencing somatic pain are more likely to describe their pain as "dull." In other words, neuropathic pain, in comparison to somatic pain, is dis-continuous and variable, while somatic pain is more constant in its quality, less variable.
Put simply, neuropathic pain changes a lot while somatic pain tends to stay the same over a given period of time (thus the distinction between "burst-like" vs. "dull").
The theoretical basis for my dissertation was grounded in the cognitive information processing theory. Guyau, a 19th century theorist, was one of the first people to relate the experience of time to the processing of cognitive information (R. E. Ornstein, On the Experience of Time, Penguin, 1969).
Guyau realized that time was not a physical stimulus, and that time perception was a mental construction. He speculated that the subjective perception of the speed of time passage depended on the extent of differences between events, their number and intensity, and the attention allocated to processing such events.
Given this understanding of time perception, I hypothesized that nocioceptive (pain) stimuli, which are more varied, complex, and more demanding of attention, would lead to an increase in information processing and, consequently, to an alteration of time perception.
In other words, if one were to assume that a rapidly throbbing pain sensation, due to its varied, rhythmical, dynamic, and intermittent nature, involved more information processing than a constant, "dull" pain, then one could expect that there would be differences in terms of time perception.
While my dissertation supported the relationship between time perception and pain intensity (greater degree of pain makes time "drag" more so than milder degree of pain), my findings did not provide any significant support for the relationship between pain type and time perception.
Bummer! I really liked that hypothesis of pain type and time perception... But not a problem for the purposes of this "blogging out loud."
My findings empirically confirmed the intuitive : while in pain, individuals tend to perceive a given time interval as being longer than it is. This phenomenon of overestimation of time fits with Leder's theory on the centrifugal or inward-focusing effects of pain experience (D. Leder, Toward Phenomenology of Pain, Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry, 19 (2-3), 1984, pp. 255-266). Such inward-focusing on the force (intensity) of pain leads to a greater attentional focus on the self and the "here-and-now," resulting in a subjective experience of time slowing down. This experience of "time slowing down" was supported by two thirds of the 81 participants (with cancer pain or cancer treatment related pain) in my study: they experienced time as "dragging" or "standing still" while in severe pain.
Now, let's pause for a second: time slowing down, if not standing still... Doesn't that sound like that proverbial "here-and-now" presence of "being in the Now?"
It sure does! You can see the similarity of pain experience and mindfulness in Leder's 1984 verbiage as to the possible differences in time perception as a function of pain type. Leder, like I, speculated that a pain sufferer's time perception might vary as a function of qualitatively and phenomenologically different pain sensations. He juxtaposed " the durational now of cramps, filled with retentions and protentions of internal periodicities" with "the homogeneous present of the dull ache" (p. 257).
The "durational now" of pain... Not a particularly romantic corollary of mindfulness - but it certainly reminds us of the fact that we all have already "tasted" the potentially painful Presence of Being.
Pain is mindfulness.
And... in some ways... mindfulness is pain .
A pain of witnessing the passing-on of our lives - time or no time... A pain of being present to the ever-fleeting, evanescence of our existential evaporation...
Or, borrowing from the Czech author, Milan Kundera, mindfulness is the pain of experiencing the " unbearable lightness of being ."
Here it is - this moment. And now it's not...
"Einmal ist keinmal" - Once is nonce *. "What happened once might have never happened at all" (M. Kundera).
This is the angst of mindfulness...
Time - this perception of passage - both heals and pains...
And so we escape this pain of existence into the anesthesia of our mindless rat's race , - in proportion to the intensity of our pain, and (I stand by my "type" hypothesis!) in accordance to the type of our pain. More often, when the angst is "burst-like" and less often when angst is just "dull."
1 : the one, particular, or present occasion, purpose, or use
2 : the time being
Pavel Somov, Ph.D.