Samuel Blankson describes cultural time as a human, quantifiable invention. The time that is being quantified, natural time, would not manifest in measurable ways, if not for human intervention.

…relation between points brings into question the origin of points. Since that is human, it still means man is part of the definition of time, an uncomfortable notion for all those mathematicians who believe that time occurs as a natural entity without human intervention so that it can be treated materially with mathematics alone.

Let me explain that I agree (or I know) that there is such a thing as natural time, of course. But cultural time, as quantified time (that is ‘something’ quantified or extracted from natural time), is a human invention – somebody must be there to count the orbits of the sun as ‘years’ or there will be no years and no seconds derived as fractions of the year (Blankson 2011, 14-15).

Blankson, Samuel K.K. (2011). The logic of time in the universe: A critique of Professor Yourgrau’s “World without time”. Morrisville: Lulu.


Adrian Bardon describes how cultures are interpreted to represent a separate, Earthly time, via various forms of measurement. The idealist perspective is here endorsed, including that the human representation of time never accesses the actual reality of time.

If an answer to the question “What is time?” still seems to elude us, perhaps it is because we have been asking the wrong question. Time is not so much a ‘what’ as a ‘how,’ and not so much a question as an answer.

Time as we know it in experience is a matter of how we adaptively organize our own experiences; in a physical and cosmological context, it is a matt er of how we can most successfully model the universe of occurrences. As such, time is an answer: a solution to the problem of organizing experience and modeling events.

So who is right, the relationist, the idealist, or the realist? The answer lies partly in seeing that each position has something to be said for it.

Relationists have a point in that much of what we have to say about time has to do with our mode of organizing and relating events. In that sense, you could call time a kind of relation. The measurement of time is possible only in terms of observed motions or changes, such as the orbit of the Earth…

Idealists are right in that our grasp of time will always be mediated by our way of understanding things. Temporal experience is a kind of construction, rather than a mere reflection of nature. We can never penetrate to the sheer, naked reality of things as they are in themselves, unmediated by the conditions under which we experience things.

Whatever we come up with as a description of nature will always represent a particular way of understanding nature and never a final, unique, fully independent description. There is no way for us to step outside ourselves as a species and directly compare our representation of nature with nature in itself, in order to see if the former is an accurate reflection of the latter.

Bardon, Adrian. 2013. A brief history of the philosophy of time. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


David Hoy distinguishes between questions concerned with the nature of time itself, and inquiries into the phenomenology of human temporality. Time in this perspective is said to inform human lives, as a universal or objective source, that is then constructed with a human particularity.

These questions should indicate that this book is not primarily about the nature of time in general. The focus is instead on the history of the phenomenology of time as time shows up in human lives. To write about the nature of time in and of itself would require an exploration of a complex array of issues about the status of what could be called “scientific” or “objective” or “universal” time, that is to say, the “time of the universe.” Restricting the book to the phenomenology of human temporality—to “the time of our lives”—raises an equally formidable but different set of questions. In this book some of the questions raised by our authors are the following. Is the time of our lives a function of a life as a whole, a lifetime, or can it be condensed into a single moment of vision? Does a life have a unity that runs through it, or is the unity of time, and of a life, a narrative, a story, a fiction, or even an illusion? Can time be perceived? What is the time like that we encounter in our experience of our world and ourselves? Is the time of our lives the same as the time of nature or of history? (Hoy 1989, xii).

Hoy, David. 2009. The time of our lives: A critical history of temporality. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.


Gail Weiss argues that subjective time, and the time of clocks and calendars and planetary movements, are not mutually exclusive. In describing how clock time is embedded within corporeal movements, and vice-versa, Weiss likewise suggests that planetary movements are integral to clocked representations of time.

One danger of emphasizing the gulf between temporality and time as I have done thus far, is that it makes us liable to forget the ways in which our own lived experience continually traverses the divided between them. For surely it is overly simplistic to say that time, as measured by calendars, watches, sundials, and the movement of planets and stars, is “out there” while our temporal experience is within us; rather, we “inhabit” time and are inhabited by it, through our own bodily rhythms and movements, and through the interconnections between our own durée and the durée of all that we encounter. Indeed, to the extent that the conventions of clock time are themselves based on the movement of the earth around the sun, clock time is not merely an external, analytical device that helps us negotiate our everyday affairs, but is based on corporeal movement, movement that is inscribed in our own bodies (Weiss 1999, 112).

Weiss, Gail. 1999. Body images: Embodiment as intercorporeality. London and New York: Routledge.


Espen Hammer argues that human practices and actions shift time from being a natural phenomenon, to that which bears the intelligibility of social composition. This effect is said to be more apparent in contemporary eras than it was in pre-modern cultures, which Hammer attributes to the dominance of clock-time.

I started out by trying to establish that, for human agents, temporality necessarily has a social (and therefore also historical) dimension. In human practices and actions, natural time is humanized, thereby becoming a form of intelligibility that weaves together past, present, and future, and narratives bring structure and representational unity not only to actions but to events as well. Time is anthropologically temporalized in many ways: there are the daily biological rhythms; there is the cycle of life through adolescence and maturity to old age and death; and there is the transindividual time of periods and historical epochs. In all three contexts the modal shape of our lives and the meaning we are able to experience will inevitably have a temporal dimension.

I then drew on this account in order to make at least conceivable the idea of a specifically modern form of temporality. I argued that modernity generates conceptions of human time as increasingly quantifiable, a linear series of “nows,” where the future, with its goals to be actualized, attains priority over the past and its accumulated space of experience. The notion of lived time experienced (in line with the ideologies of progress) as a continuous rupture with the past was then analyzed in terms of notions such as modernization and purposive-rational action, requiring temporal organization to be calculative and forward-looking. The dominant temporal configuration in modernity is clock-time, the empty ticking away of transitory units of time that irreversibly and irretrievably distance us from the past. Modern time thus generates the dual problem of meaning and transience that I argue occupy the thinkers I deal with later in the book. For one thing, as the present is increasingly disconnected from structures of collective historical understanding and geared towards a linear progression towards an unknown future, it becomes incapable of securing a sense of stable meaning. Indeed, as the narratives that both individually and collectively relate actions and evaluations to a fabric of collective meaning unravel in the face of progress, the modern self tends to experience a sense of fragmentation, melancholy, and boredom. For another, as modern time is a time of perpetual transition, of the ever-new of the mere passing of homogeneous moments, the sense of transitoriness, I submitted, is stronger and existentially more devastating than that which, in pre-modern societies, gave rise to various types of metaphysics of counter-worldly immutability. In the accelerating world of modernity, there is never enough time (Hammer 2011, 237-38).

Hammer, Espen. 2011. Philosophy and temporality from Kant to critical theory. New York: Cambridge University Press.