Can we live without time? Ditching clocks altogether can harm our sense of self

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Ditching artificial light and living by the natural cycle of the sun can offer plenty of benefits for your health. But when you lose any sense of time whatsoever, you risk losing yourself too



Mind



15 June 2022

8 Can we live without time?

Getty Images/Fuse

FROM THE MOMENT the alarm clock goes off in the morning, our lives are governed by time. Anyone yearning to escape the daily grind might start to wonder: what would happen if you ditched your watch and tried to live without time altogether?

Our bodies evolved to be in sync with the spinning of Earth on its axis, and this intimate connection is vital for our health. Daylight hits specialised cells on the retinas in our eyes that send signals about the time of day to a master clock in the brain (see “How do we sense time?”). This, in turn, regulates the multitude of clocks ticking in cells and organs throughout the body, keeping us working as a coordinated whole.

With access to artificial light, many of us are staying awake when our brains and bodies are expecting sleep, throwing the body into uncoordinated chaos. For evidence on why this is bad news, look no further than night shift workers. This type of working pattern is so bad for our health that more than one report in the past few years has classified night shift work as “probably carcinogenic”. It is also linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, sleep problems and depression. Divorce rates are high in this group, too. Ditching your watch would probably be good for your health, and maybe even your relationship, as long as you also did away with artificial lighting and followed nature’s clock of day and night.

But to truly experience a life without time, you’d want to do away with sunlight altogether. In 1962, French geologist …



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