Philosophy Trivia: What Is Timeless Design? What Is Time?


The definition of time

People in the luxury furniture industry seem to like the words “timeless design,” right? Yes, our company also uses them for our products very often. To tell the truth, they sound a bit confusing to me because the definition of “time” is not completely settled in physics and philosophy. Today, I’m writing about timeless design from the view point of physics and philosophy. No worries but be careful. I’m not an expert in the fields, but by talking about this kind of a bit complicated things, I always try to show myself smarter than what I actually am.

The portrait of Newton and Einstein. The former is a paint; the latter is a black-and-white photo.

The magic word, “entropy”

Time flows at a constant rate—Newton developed the concept; Einstein denied it a long time ago. Now in physics, the flow of time is expressed by the change in entropy. Please be patient for a little more time and don’t have a rejection to the word “entropy.” It’s the magic word that makes you look smart. Let’s say “Entropy increased a lot” instead of saying “A lot of time passed.” You will gain respect if you’re lucky. If not, you’re just disliked as a know-it-all, though. Anyway, let me explain with a famous example. There’s a set of playing cards ordered ace to king. If you shuffle, the entropy of the card set will increase. I personally understand it as un-uniformity.

A bench or a sofa upholstered with gray fabric. There's a coffee table in front of it.

Time doesn’t flow in physics and philosophy

Some physicists even claim the change in entropy is reversible: time doesn’t flow (timeless, in a sense). Philosophical explanation on this issue has more impression on me. According to some philosophers, even entropy doesn’t exist. The reason why shuffled cards look un-uniform is only because our consciousness can’t perceive order, though some order exists there. Probably it can be seen only from God’s perspective.

Based on this logic, we may summarize timeless-design furniture like this. It’s low in entropy, with a specific pattern or rule customers can easily find. Unfortunately, this conclusion doesn’t make much sense even to me. It’s interesting to consider timeless design from the view point of physics and philosophy, though. I just hope you can feel low-entropy vibe in the above image of our product somehow.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.