Short Story: The Dilation and Constriction of Time

Story by Vivianne Wagner, Illustration by Grace Dooley

Isn’t it astounding how some moments seem to drag on forever, while others appear to end immediately?

It’s as if time moves on a dilation continuum, sometimes zooming in and blowing up moments in intricate, excruciating detail, other times zooming out into the distant regions of irrelevance. We may have engineered clocks in order to best embody the abstract concept of time, but isn’t it useless to do so? If you really think about it, the malleability of time essentially renders it nonexistent and nonsensical; it’s just an artificial concept coined by man in a futile effort to extract meaning from our lives.

Although the clock resting on the wall behind you or on the screen of your electronic device may be ticking consistently, why must that signify that “time” is passing? Why do we commonly comprehend life as being comprised of sequential moments, rather than a single stream? The sun may rise and set in order to exemplify the progression of something, this is true, but that something does not necessarily have to be time; in accordance with the trajectory of the sun, “days” seems to follow a circular path, so why on earth do we conceptualize time as linear in nature, with days adding up eternally to weeks and months and years? Who says we must constantly move forward rather than backwards or sideways?

Rather than being objectively tied to the physical universe, time is merely an arbitrary concept that each person approaches subjectively, and our emotions undeniably warp our perception. For instance, take the classic example of being bored in class—the desperate desire for escape from an undesirable situation yields an inevitable dilation, a close-up, slow freezing of time that makes the already unbearable situation infinitely more unbearable. On the other hand, being immersed in a situation that provokes excitement and joy produces the entirely opposite effect — a contraction that seemingly forces the situation to a close before optimal satisfaction can be reached. 

This utter fluidity in the pace of time can only lead to the conclusion that it is an illusion; however, it is in many ways a positive illusion, since conceptualizing it objectively as tied intricately to the natural world cushions us against existential dread and enables us to better organize our lives around a semblance of structure, despite how fabricated it may be.

Time may not actually exist, but we are much better off believing that it does.

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