Conceptions of time from nature are less weak than religious times – Ratcliff.


Marc Ratcliff reviews how conceptions of time taken from Nature were considered, from the Middle Ages onwards, to be less weak than those relatively constructed by the respective religions. 

…from the Middle Ages onwards, three aspects had strongly affected the sacred time and tended towards its progressive naturalisation: first the mechanical clocks, second the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII (Coyne, Hoskin & Pedersen, 1982), and third the Chinese calendar quarrel (Pinot, 1971, pp. 189-279). All these transformations indicated that the religious foundations of time presented certain weak links and that there was space for new conceptions of time “taken from Nature”. Indeed, the view of a natural versus religious time became the subject of a quarrel of innovators against conservatism. It was during the eighteenth century that new attacks on the traditional model of time —both the biblical model of the Genesis and the model of the fixed species— were carried out from several parts of the scholarly world as well as from philosophers. The representation of naturalised time was transformed and theoretical glimpses at a non-fixist approach of the species were provided for instance by Benoît de Maillet in his Telliamed —an anagram of his name. Experiments were even carried out by Georges Leclerc de Buffon who brought a cannonball to the red-hot and measured the time used to refresh. A computation led him to put back the age of the earth to c. 80’000 years, providing the earth was a fired part escaped from the sun. In natural history, certain scholars such as Maupertuis and Diderot, the botanist Michel Adanson and later Lamarck in the beginning of the 19th century, challenged not the biblical model of time but the fixity of species. It is less known that representing natural time into a chart was already done in the second part of the 18th century by a botanist named Antoine Duchesne. Having discovered a type of strawberry not described that reproduced normally, he considered it to be a type descending from another ancestor, and drew a chart of the genealogy of the various strawberries. Later, the tree was one of the important iconographic charts used to represent natural descent that was developed during the 19th century (Tassy, 1991; Barsanti, 1992).

The general trend that lead to naturalise time took advantage both from the relativistic quarrel about the Christian calendar and from the desacralized approach of the Enlightenment naturalists who dared expanding the biblical time (Ratcliff 2002, 21).

Ratcliff, Marc. 2002. ‘An epistemological history of time: From technology to representations.’ Estudios de Psicología 23(1): 17-27.

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