On Time, from the Lander College for Women Library

"The Persistence of Memory" by Salvador Dali (image via WikiArt)
“The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali (image via WikiArt)

The Lander College Library library has a clock posted in the wall that is frequently 15 minutes slow. It ticks slower than it should and needs to be reset every now and then. To me, this sometimes suggests a magical realm of the library where time can be transcended noetically, in one’s mind.

It reminds me of Salvador Dali’s artistic masterpiece, “The Persistence of Memory,” which depicts melted clocks. This piece dates from 1931, following soon after the publication of Einstein’s theory of relativity. The mathematics behind this discovery is based on the simple equation E=mc2, but is actually very complex. In a nutshell Einstein showed that when one is approaching at the speed of light, time slows until at the speed of light, time theoretically stops. One physically cannot go faster than light.

The mind, however, can experience instants of sudden understanding, metaphorically likened by many to lightning flashes. Thinking in this sense can be perceived go faster than the speed of light. When these moments of insight occur in thinking, time can sometimes even seem to reverse, becoming coterminous with lived memories from the past. Time also bends with the ability to get inside the mind and historical context of a person from a previous epoch. Active reading, studying, and learning can carry a reader back in time, not only to former eras, but ‘back to the future,’ of the living past. The library can be such an ‘enchanted forest’ offering noetic time travel through the memory banks of knowledge.

In Judaism the calendar is punctuated by Shabbos, and holidays map the seasons (see: http://libguides.tourolib.org/parsha), so that Jews can dwell poetically in time. The recent holiday of Rosh Hashanah is perhaps the holiday most closely linked with time. It is noted in the Talmudic tractate with this Holiday’s name, that the world has 4 New Years. Rosh Hashanah marked the commemoration of eternal divine creation ex nihilo, and on Simchat Torah (beginning the evening of October 5th this year), we bring “time itself full circle” when we complete the yearly reading of the Pentateuch, or Old Testament, by chanting the last chapter of Deuteronomy and beginning again with the ‘beginning of beginnings’ or Genesis.

While the physical phenomenon of time is described and predicted by physics, our human experience of time expands, contracts, and folds over on itself. So the next time you glance up at the time in the LCW Library, think of it as a reminder of the mind’s power to manipulate time, through thought and the acquisition of knowledge, rather than merely a slow clock.

Contributed by: Dr. David B. Levy, Librarian, Lander College for Women

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