While biking home today, I scared a bird out of a tree. My first thought was it was probably some cousin of the hummingbird, judging by its hyperactivity and thin, long beak. But seeing this quick little animal got me thinking about some abstract stuff: relativity, and how it relates to comics as McCloud describes them, and to life in general. Please bear with my explanation of “just a stupid bird” before I get into all that.
In that second that I passed that bird, two very different things happened depending on the observer. From the bird’s perspective, he saw a threat, made the decision to flee, spotted a tree it could fly to, and performed an unstable flight that required thousands of tiny corrections to stay on a straight path and land. While all that was happening, I maybe made half a turn on my pedals, on a bike which requires very little control, and was just wondering what that motion was in the corner of my eye.
It’s no question that my mind is a bit sluggish compared to a hummingbird’s. But does that mean that, relative to my perceptions, the hummingbird sees things in ssslllooowww motion? Maybe, I guess you could think of it that way, but it’s kind of pointless because we could never swap minds like they do on TV and actually see through its eyes. I think the best explanation for this lies in relativism – that time is relative to how much is perceived to happen from the observer’s frame of reference. That one second that I passed by that bird is not necessarily a definite amount of time – it’s how you look at it. You could argue that relative to our average lifespans, the hummingbird’s second is my twenty seconds. So his flying from one tree to another is to my biking one block to another. And relative to each other, the same amount of things have happened – I probably turned my pedals about the same number of times the bird flapped its wings (who knows, but you get my point).
So how does this relate to comics and life? Relativity = meaning. For instance, take an empty vacuum of space. Cut it in half. What do you have? Still nothing. Any number divided by infinity is zero, just like any volume of infinite space is nothing, just like any amount of time where nothing happens is nothing. You need stuff to fill the void of nothingness to give it meaning. Not just stuff, but different stuff – two identical objects in space have no size. So the universe is filled with a bunch of different stuff, which gives it dimension and meaning, big deal. How sarcastically big? Depends on your frame of reference. This frame of reference thing applies to a lot of things, most importantly those two that Einstein linked together – the easy one is space, but time and its ability to bend and warp makes the brain cringe. But, it makes relative sense because if time were just boringly linear for everyone, it would be meaningless. Instead, time is defined by the events that are perceived to fill it up (at least that’s how I see it), and is dependent on frame of reference. (If you think about it, this is similar to the scientific principle of time being dependent on velocity, where an “event” is traveling some distance.)
So…comics provide the reader with a frame of reference of space and time, which McCloud explains in detail. The artist can sort of manipulate time on the space of the page by focusing on the most meaningful moments (as McCloud shows on 718 and 719). I say sort of, because “manipulating” time by using more frames for a certain moment is based on the assumption that time is linear through the page. Just like in comics, time in real life isn’t a straight line, but we tend to think of it as one. When we remember something, do we scan backwards in memories by date and time until we reach the point we’re looking for, or do we recognize events and how they relate to one another? It’s from those relative clues that we perceive a point in time, not a steady timeline – it’s an illusion and it’s your frame of mind that’s playing the trick. When a lot happens in a day, we say “what a long day!” and when we’re in the zone making split-second decisions, we say “time slows down,” but we hardly pay attention to what that really means, and how true it is.
I think the key to living a long life is not in a pill that makes you live forever, it’s in doing a lot of meaningful things, different things (you never remember watching reruns). Or you could say it’s in focusing on the meaning in more things. Either way, the relative content of time becomes richer, so who’s to say that time hasn’t slowed down to cope with a faster pace in life.
By changing your frame of mind, you mold your own time. But to what extent? By focusing your mind, could you eventually look at a hummingbird and see each beat of its wings clearly? There’s definitely cases of people who see things in relative slo-mo, like this guy, but that takes years of wax on, wax off kind of stuff, so until there is some miracle drug that can safely give you that ability, it’s not happening for most people. I guess the attainable way to live in slo-mo is to make the most of your time – like Steve Jobs, RIP. He was always seeking to do something meaningful, and I like to think he lived a long life because of that. I like this quote from Jobs about life: “We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent…”
So all this thought, that started with me seeing a bird, really took off, haha. But I think it’s an empowering concept, to think that so much of our world is dependent on our perceptions (even the moon!). I guess it’s ultimately up to the individual to find his/her own ideal frame of mind.