Philosophy and Ethics

This blog follows up issues and ideas from my website: Philosophy and Ethics.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Happy New Year - as time flows!

But what's the New Year got to do with this candle?

We slip imperceptibly from 2016 to 2017 - the clock keeps ticking, the next second will seem just like the last, and yet time flows in a single direction; we shall never go back, have no choice in the matter. Tomorrow, a new year, a new century or millenium, all slip past us in a smoothe movement, shaping us, moulding us.

Although, conventionally, New Year is a time for new starts, resolutions, reviewing and anticipating, in reality nothing changes any more at this particular midnight hour than at any other. The 13th century Zen philosopher Dogen argued that time is a passageless passage as one state of being flows into the next. Time is not something that happens - for, if it were, we would only perceive it in the gaps between events. Nor can it be a fixed, structural feature of the objective world (thank you, Einstein) but only a way in which our senses order experience (thank you, Kant). Dogen sees 'time' as the name we give to that continuous flow of being.

Hence the candle. Like wax, we soften, shift, mould round events and people, move on. We are essentially plastic. If we follow Aristotle and see the human person as the shape stamped onto the wax, we also need to remember that the shape is never immune from a little warmth. There is no permanent self, no fixed entity above the changes of life to which we can cling, no self-image that is not due for revision. Hence the Buddhist argument that the attempt to grasp and hold life, hopelessly wanting things to remain fixed, as though we might possess each moment and everything it offers, can only lead to dissatisfaction and frustration.

Let it be! Go with the flow! Celebrate the passing moment and release it from your hand.

At certain times, as now, we - unpausing in our flow - try to take stock, re-evaluate, re-formulate our dreams, learn to live with, or rectify, the things we most regret. Yet, like it or not, we take it all with us as we move on. Enjoy your plasticity; only the very cold think of themselves as fixed.

Happy New Year!

This blog post has also appeared as a Visual Philosophy page on my website: