Baby Ole and Captain Duke were two child citizens of the Norwegian fjord city of Trondheim, who supported me in exploring the scope of philosophical blossoming for adults when they enter children’s playfully constructed worlds as guests (Author 2020). The use of fictitious names is first and foremost to protect identities. Captain Duke created his own character as part of playing ‘Flying Cars in Lava Land’ – an imaginatively constructed world that he self-authored. I chose to refer to him by the name he created for himself because it is deeply intertwined with the experiential context that I present later on in this section.
While there were other children who were co-explorers on my journey, I have chosen two distinct experiences with Baby Ole and Captain Duke because of the specific role the suspension of clock-time played in our encounters. Both examples however differ insofar as the first one involves an infant and the second one a toddler. Secondly, the experience with Baby Ole was an informal precursor to my encounters with Captain Duke, which were more formalised and theoretically pre-deliberated. Consequently, readers will find a variation in the manner in which the reflections are presented. The account of the encounter with Captain Duke for instance begins with a brief orientation of the hybridic phenomenological approach I used in order to enter into an immersive play encounter lead by him. The inclusion of the breath, based on the Vipassana school of Buddhist meditation, along with Jaina logic as my analytic framework during the encounter were deliberate choices influenced to a large extent by what I learnt from being with Baby Ole. One could well say that Baby Ole in his own way helped to prepare me to meet Captain Duke as a toddler. Thus, the following accounts are to be read as a continuum of two experiences that contribute to a reflexive process of thinking about sensing Time.
Encountering Breath with Baby Ole
In 2012, when I lived in the city of Trondheim, I was closely befriended by a couple awaiting their first born. On Baby Ole’s arrival, I began helping his guardians in care-giving and had the possibilities of getting to know him closely as an infant. The ways in which Baby Ole showed signs of sensing the world around him captivated me. As I took care of him, taken-for-granted motions of my mundane human condition.g. breathing, sleeping, waking – as ways of sensing spatio-temporality through my body surfaced. The most striking of all was coming closer to a subtler and and more diverse sense of temporality. Baby Ole did not share a sense of mathematized clock and calendar time that human beings begin to regard as real Time once they are socialized into being grown-up.Footnote 7 However, universal social ordering of Time through clocks is possible because there are temporalities in the first place (Lippitz 1983). By way of analogy one may say that it is possible to set order into rivers through engineering because water flows in the first place.
In the presence of Baby Ole, Time did not tick away to the rhythm of the clock. Baby Ole’s time-less,Footnote 8 temporal scale often conflicted with those of adults like me around him. I supported mediating his ‘erratic’ flows of sleeping and waking into timely cycles through a synaesthetic approach bringing together sight, sound, touch and movement. For instance, entering his perceived spatial field, making melodic sounds, touching gently or moving around holding him firm and close to the body helped tune his cycles into our clock-time. Additionally, placing a little piece of soft red wool in his palm, or keeping it within his convenient reach was an indispensable part of Baby Ole’s timely sleeping and waking initiation. Such ‘rituals’ gradually initiated him to start tuning into the clock we followed.
In terms of visual attention or making and maintaining eye contact, Baby Ole showed an impressive capacity to maintain a constancy of attention. When placed in an eating-chair, it often seemed like he was ‘distracted’ from the bowl of food. But then he would hold my gaze and smile playfully. If my own attention moved to another object in the room, he followed my gaze. On some occasions I noticed that Baby Ole’s capacity to hold our mutual gaze was greater than most adults I knew, who would easily look away or avoid eye contact much more quickly. Baby Ole seemed to have a considerable capacity to look. I would let myself be guided by him by looking where he looked. Consequently, I could start relating to the immense joy he took in the smallest things. Similarly, I began listening more carefully to ‘meaningless’ sounds that captured his attention. Baby Ole used eye contact and babbling to maintain connection with me if I allowed my attention to wander away and to engage me in activities that he invent e.g. him throwing the spoon and me fetching it.
Once, Baby Ole and I were in a recreational room for children and their caregivers at the university student village. According to the agreed schedule, the hours should have been spent playing and socialising with other children within Baby Ole’s age-group. However, Baby Ole seemed reluctant to join the activities. He crawled away every time I encouraged him towards other children or directed his attention towards toys. He maintained eye contact with me initially, made sounds and flashed me with notorious smiles as he crawled away or resisted me carrying him to spaces that he did not want to go to Gradually, he stopped maintaining eye contact or addressing me with sounds and got cranky. I found myself co-responding to his signs of resistance by feeling restless and irritable myself. Baby Ole couldn’t understand my imposed importance of socialising with other children during the clock hour when it was planned.
Eventually, I let him crawl in the direction he chose i.e. away from the designated play area. I walked towards a reclining chair in the same area and took a seat. I waited clueless as the clock ticked and Baby Ole explored ‘nothing’ in the corner. Finally, he crawled towards me and reached out for my knee and I lifted him onto my lap. We stared at each other. He then neared my chest and I could feel the difference in the rhythm of our respective breaths. Compared to mine, Baby Ole’s breath was far gentler and subtler. I began tuning into his breath and I stopped focusing on the clock-time emphasised in my mind. As our breathing rhythms came closer together, Baby Ole began closing his eyes and fell asleep. I remained tuned into his breathing tempo which in turn was transforming my sense of temporality. There was a gentle stillness, my eyes open and aware of my surrounding world, yet I also felt removed. It was as if my body were a breathing mattress with my hands placed on Baby Ole’s head and back.
Revisiting the rich moments with Baby Ole through Merleau Ponty’s phenomenological holism offers an interpretive paradigm which allows me to view Baby Ole as having taught me something about sensing Time through the way I breathe. Despite their interdependence, temporal registers scales of adult and child beings often clash. Tuning into moments of harmonious intergenerational temporality with Baby Ole required disempowering my own clock-timed temporality and opening up to a new way of negotiating embodied temporalities. The primary negotiation between child and adult seems to begin with the embodied negotiation of Time itself. Who plays along with whose sense of ‘real’ Time seems to be the beginning of an embodied philosophical tension between two temporal kinds of beings called child and adult. At the same time, following Merleau Ponty, the scope for creative reciprocity lies in the originary positive nature of this relating.
It is impossible to access what went on in Baby Ole’s inner consciousness. However, what can be said about the realm of internal consciousness i.e. the realm of thoughts, feelings, plans and so on is that it is in motion since even before ‘nonsensical’ babbling begins. Internal consciousness is where our subjective temporalities mediate our relationships with the external world. Subjective temporalities are largely mediated through counterfactuals expressed through words like might, should, could, would and if. Even babies consider possibilities, distinguish them from reality and use the knowledge to alter the world around them. They do sense that there are rules in the external world, but the rules can be negotiated and changed (see Gopnik 2009). Adults certainly have larger physical, social and temporal compared to children and infants. However, the European enlightenment’s conclusion that childhood is a primitive state in need of development by the adult does not follow.
From a holistic phenomenological standpoint a stage-based developmental hierarchy is untenable. Even developmental psychology now begins to recognise that children and adults have different yet equally complex and powerful minds, brains, and forms of consciousness serving diverse evolutionary functions that cannot be captured with a chronological clock-time logic underlying a stage-based developmental hierarchy (Gopnik 2009). They are regarded as different forms of homo sapiens (ibid.). Accordingly, unlike in the traditional understanding of stage-based development as simple growth, development is better grasped as consisting of processes of metamorphosis, for instance like the case of caterpillars becoming butterflies. In the case of humans it seems more as though adults are “the vibrant, wandering butterflies who transform into caterpillars inching along the grown-up path (Gopnik 2009: 9).”
As a caterpillar (to use Gopnik’s metaphor), my experience of knowing Baby Ole closely had not only made me aware of the centrality of breathing in tuning into the lightness of temporal otherness; it had also hinted towards playfulness in the ontological structure of how we exist as bodies in the world. The sensory richness that I had observed in Baby Ole allowed me in turn to confront my own sensory poverty and left a significant trace in me. It further informed the direction of my inquiry; that significant trace surfaced organically in my exploration of the scope for philosophical blossoming for adults when they play with (hos/bei) children (Author 2020 in press). The trace was a trace of awareness that there was something beyond my sense of Time which was ordered according to the clock. I owed the ordering of my sense of Time to past processes of socialisation of which institutional schooling was a large part. Timetables and schedules were an essential feature of capturing, measuring, using, spending or wasting ‘Time’.
Learning to move my body in accordance with the rhythm of an external clock as opposed to internal sensations was an important marker of being seen as a grown-up. Consequently, clocks and calendars had become a naturalised reference for me to grasp Time, in turn restricting the repertoire of possible experiences of Time beyond the adult-sized clock. When I met Captain Duke as a toddler who generously let me enter his playfully constructed world as part of my research,Footnote 9 I took with me an important lesson I had learnt with Baby Ole. The first one was that my breath would serve as a point of departure and return whilst tuning into the temporality of the other. Further, this experience with Baby Ole also influenced my deliberate decision of suspending clock-time while interacting with Captain Duke.
Unstiffening Conceptual Muscles with Captain Duke
To begin briefly with a relevant digression: encountering Captain Duke for playfully immersive experiencees required a systematic preparation because I couldn’t immerse myself in the imaginatively constructed worlds as effortlessly as he did. This included incorporating theoretical considerations from outside the continental phenomenological tradition, that is, the Jaina school of pluralistic logic, and pragmatic tools such as the practise of returning to the breath from the Vipassana school of Buddhist meditation. The play encounters had a temporality of their own and did not always meet the clock-schedules that Captain Duke’s adult caregivers and I agreed upon. In order to tune into Captain Duke’s specific temporalities beyond the pre-determined schedule of my visit, the first suspension I made was the suspension of external clock-time. The second suspension was a spatial suspension of my taken-for-granted world, that is the network of meanings around me, which usually enable me to make sense of everyday life. The reflective account that follows describes approximately 6 clock-time minutes of an intense play encounter in ‘Lava Land’ (Biswas 2017, 2020). Due to their intensity those 6 clock-time minutes felt indescribably longer. With my embodied experience as the focal unit of analysis, I describe the encounter with Captain Duke in a ‘kitchen’.
In the ‘kitchen’, Captain Duke repeatedly flew a toy car as though it were a plane that he was holding in his hand. At first, these repetitive cycles felt boring because they did not make sense. But I consciously returned to my breath and intellectually opened to the meanings Captain Duke brought to life through his dynamic embodied movement. Gradually, it ceased to appear boring and senseless. Rather, an exciting and abundantly meaningful alterity entered the horizon of my perception. Captain Duke flew the toy car over the kitchen counters and landed it on the dining table. His movements were accompanied by onomatopoeic sounds he generated through his body. When I stepped outside the ‘route’ he cautioned me that there was lava on the floor and that all the cars were in it. Therefore, we had to fly the cars and land them on the dining table. As he continued to fly the cars on the route, I gradually surrendered to his lead and followed.
The presence of Captain Duke’s adult caregiver in the room made me conscious of my own adulthood, but I played along with Captain Duke. Somehow I was simultaneously observing and immersing myself in the play. I managed this by surrendering to Captain Duke’s lead as much as possible until at one point our body movements synchronised. In other words, I copied Captain Duke’s moves. When I couldn’t sustain the synchronicity, Captain Duke repeatedly explained to me what I should change or do better until I got into a flow again. Eventually, my prior conceptual understanding of the network of meanings – that is, (of) the world around me – remained and at the same time ceased to exist. As opposed to the usual sense within which I encountered them, material objects such as the 'dining table' revealed themselves as co-determinants of our bodily movements.
Subsequently, my prior conceptual understanding relaxed and a parallel world presented itself to me. Captain Duke accompanied me through an embodied thought experiment in motion and helped me see what else a particular spatio-temporality could be. This, in turn, opened up horizons for me to unstiffen my conceptual muscles. I could somehow experience being and not being in the kitchen at the same time. The experience is further characterised by its indescribability and I was compelled to acknowledge that I usually capture experience through my linguistic repertoire. Furthermore, since I am not aware of everything, not all concepts through which I make sense of my world as a network of meanings are exhausted. However, in being present with Captain Duke there were plenty of opportunities that lit up which were within the scope of my awareness and self-reflection. These opportunities called for relaxing mental muscles in a way that can facilitate crossing the borders of my taken-for-granted world. Subsequently, I could experience other fleeting, temporal, co-existing worlds regardless of their contradictory appearance. I name such opportunities philosophical clearings.
In life, objects within the scope of my awareness make sense within a network of meanings that I take to be true. The dining table appears as a piece of furniture to sit at, not to sit on. Similarly, the kitchen counter is to prepare food which in turn is placed on the dining table. Utensils, appliances and so on as well as empty spaces in between the kitchen counter and the dining table assume meaning in functional relation to each other. Networks of meanings extend to upscaled macro and physically absent aspects of my world too (see Heidegger 1972, 1977, 2010). The dining table probably came from an IKEA store. It was brought to IKEA from a factory in a distant nation, which in turn procured raw materials such as wood from trees in a forest from another nation. Furthermore, there are co-responding 'professions' and codes of transaction of resources in where the acts necessary to maintain dining table production are systematically carried out by human beings and other species, and so on. This is one way the kitchenness of a kitchen that I take for granted as real is maintained. With Captain Duke, my natural attitude of taking this kitchenness of a kitchen for granted was put into question. I was in a land of lava, where I flew cars in order to rescue them. As a consequence, within the frame of that other spatio-temporality, the distinction between cars as play-world things or toys and the kitchen as a real-world thing became bleak. The kitchen remained a kitchen and at the same time became a play-world thing, just as the play-world things remained play-world things and simultaneously became real-world things. In flying cars, with my body making accompanying onomatopoeic sounds like Captain Duke, my body was not only a doer of kitchen-world acts, instead it was also the doer of lava-land acts (Author 2017; Author 2020).
Suspending my natural attitude of clock-time as real Time was a necessary step for me to be able to experience myself in co-existing spacio-temporalities.