A sense of separation is so woven into our world view, we often don’t even realize it’s there. But it’s everywhere. And it’s palpable. We talk about being “far from satisfied” when things are not to our liking, as though satisfaction were a destination to which we’re traveling. You interact with your new neighbors, and when they don’t seem to warm up to you, they feel “distant” – even though they’re standing with arm’s reach. And when someone has practiced a skill for years, amassing enough experience to finally charge top dollar for their talents and enjoy the fruits of their success, we say they’ve “arrived”. Arrived where? At the imagined end of a long and winding path to achievement.
We experience separation in so many aspects of our lives, and Temporal Distance is one of the most prevalent. Our internal systems need time to do all their sensory transmission and processing. Whether an electrical impulse is shooting down a nerve, or a neurotransmitter needs a split-second to leap the gap of a synaptic cleft, everything takes time to get where it’s going. We may not consciously detect that temporal separation, but it’s there. No matter how fast the sensory transmission and decoding process may be – instantaneous to the unaided human senses – it’s impossible for it to complete in no time at all. Even the tiniest amount of time – say, one-one-millionth of a second – is something. And when that happens trillions of times, it all adds up.
Of course, not all delays we experience are completely hidden from view. You’ve probably experienced sensory processing time lag, when your body’s reflexes took a while to react to something you saw coming. As though in slow motion, you watch a carton full of plastic food containers spill from your arms, but you don’t react quickly enough to stop them. Sitting in your doctor’s office, as the little reflex testing hammer strikes your knee, it takes a small (but noticeable) amount of time for your leg to kick forward. And those times when you’ve touched something hot enough to burn your skin? If your body were capable of sensing and reacting instantaneously to the heat, you’d never get burned, because you’d pull away before the heat had time to damage your skin. But the heat does damage your skin. You do get burned. No matter how fast your reaction may be, it’s still part of a process which takes time. The sensations still have to travel from the surface of your skin to your brain, which makes sense of it, decides what to do, and shoots a response back to trigger a reaction at the point of sense origin.
In the larger outside world, we experience plenty of temporal gaps on a regular basis. You have physical distances to cross when walking across your kitchen or going to the park, and that takes time. You have processes to go through as you prepare for your picnic, and that takes more time. You can’t just wish a birthday cake into being; you have to bake it yourself or buy it at the grocery store. You can’t just decide you’re going to the park on a beautiful day, and magically materialize there. You have to go through the steps of packing for your outing, making sandwiches and loading the car, and forwarding your calls to voicemail. You have to drive the distance, for however long it takes. And when you arrive, you have to spend yet more time finding a parking space, getting all your picnic gear out of the car, locating a suitable dry spot to get comfortable… basically traversing a fair amount of temporal distance to get to your desired “destination”: relaxing comfortably beside your beloved on a lovely spring day.