Delving into the Intangibles


In Goethe’s Faust, there is a famous passage, “To the moment might I say, Linger a while––so fair thou art.” Happy as Faust was when he uttered these words, they contained the germ of what would destroy him through his pact with the devil, Mephistopheles. Similarly, the sixteenth-century French poet Pierre de Ronsard cried out in his Sonnet to Marie, “Time runs away, Time runs away, my lady.” Vanity of love and life seem to resonate here. Whether “time” flows over us or we live through it, we are not sure. Sometimes, however, I am tempted to think that the principal player is not “time,” but we humans.

The ancient Greek philosophers identified two concepts of time, which they named kairos and khronos. The former, meaning “the opportune moment,” considers time as subjective and personal. The latter word was used to refer to “measured time” that flows from the past to the future, in one direction, mechanically, at a fixed speed. It is wonderful that such a distinction was made so long ago by wise men.

“I want to live my numbered days in a kairotic way from now on, since I feel I am getting older and older,” my brother said to me once when we met after a long interval. Attending to his remark, I realized that time has to do with something that is both “qualitative” and “quantitative.”

We feel differently about time, as we grow older. The young think they have an infinite future ahead of them, which is quite natural. But as we become older we begin to realize our days are numbered and that we must cherish our existence, day by day. Even if we could live longer, a life without “quality” would be no fun, possibly even unworthy of living.

Time is invisible, one of the essential “intangible” elements. Unlike “Vision,” however, it does not demand anything from us, nor does it help us; it seems to flow on indifferently, as if our small existence is of no interest. Instead, “time” asks us questions about how we should live best in it, using “intangible energy” wisely, in order to achieve an ideal balance between the “quantity” and “quality” of time.

Kairos, the concept of opportune time conceived by the ancient Greek philosophers, makes us think of various things, living, as we do, in an aging society: when, for example, to start living in a kairotic way.

Philosophers of all ages and nations have come up with ideas and concepts about time, and each is convincing enough. Yet there seems to be no one correct answer; it varies according to how many minds and wits are applied to the subject.

Nevertheless I think that someone who is forever thankful towards everything and everyone might have found a good enough answer to the eternal question.