Margaret Newman argues that nursing shift work exemplifies the artificial compartmentalisation of natural time. Furthermore this artificialisation is said to compromise the natural rhythms of interpersonal nurse-patient relations.


The paradigm shift from personal perception of time to interpersonal patterns of time now extends to global patterns of time. Arguelles (2002), a scholar of the Mayan calendar, asserted that “time governs the whole order of the universe in a manner that transcends all spatial limitations” (p. 13). The true nature of time is as the universal frequency of synchronization. By not understanding this nature, humans have created their own concept of time. Arguelles hypothesized that this artificial time constructed by humans will deviate from natural time to the point of self-destruction. Take for instance the shift work that characterizes many nursing situations. This artificial compartmentalization of time serves to maintain the operation of the hospital bureaucracy, but not the natural rhythm of nurse-patient relationships. It is difficult to honor the natural interpersonal rhythm when the nurse’s presence must conform to a prearranged schedule. The rotation of staff from shift to shift is based on the erroneous assumption that nurses are interchangeable. In such situations nurses answer not so much to the patients as to the artificial time structure. Arguelles (2002) pointed out that whoever owns your time owns your mind. There is a need to get back to the natural cycles of the universe. The time of civilization (clock time and the Gregorian calendar) is not the same as the time of the rest of the biosphere, our living planet earth. Natural time is radial in nature, projecting from the center, and continuously moving in the direction of greater consciousness as it moves back and forth from the galactic core in an instantaneous flow of information. Viewing time as linear sees only half the process. Arguelles (2002) said, “time is such a vast and important topic in the orientation of human consciousness within a biosphere that we may declare it is paramount in human affairs” (p. 35). Time is inseparable from the issue of consciousness. It is the medium of instantaneous information transmission through the universe. Both time and consciousness are factors of the implicate order and can influence changes in the explicate domain regardless of whether or not one is aware of it. The Internet, for instance, is a third dimension reflection of the noosphere, a field of consciousness to which humans are evolving. Arguelles (2002) called for a new paradigm “that is all about time” (p. 3), a shift from artificial time to universal time.

Newman, Margaret. 2008. “It’s About Time.” Nursing Science Quarterly 21(3): 225-27.


Helga Nowotny asserts that an historical perspective regarding social time is exhibited in work of Norbert Elias, for whom knowledge about time is not connected to an invariant part of nature. Instead, time-knowledge is passed down via generations of humans, in which time-standards are both created, and made durable. 

The formation of time concepts and the making of time measurements, i.e. the production of devices as well as their use and social function, become for him [Norbert Elias] a problem of social knowledge and its formation. It is couched in the long-term perspective of evolution of human societies. Knowledge about time is not knowledge about an invariant part or object of nature. Time is not a quality inherent in things, nor invariant across human societies. Nor is it solely the result of a specific human capacity for concept formation in the sense of creating ever more abstract synthetic concepts. It is also a capacity inherent in the societal evolutionary process, connected to the ability of learning and the passing on of knowledge to the next generation about how to order events both in sequence and in synchrony. But at the same time this remarkable capacity is also ‘creating’ and ‘setting time’ which then is felt as exerting a compelling influence upon actors (Nowotny 1992, 436-37).

Nowotny, Helga. 1992. “Time and social theory: Towards a social theory of time.” Time & society 1(3): 421-54.


Pitrim Sorokin and Robert Merton differentiate between a purely quantitative constitution of astronomical, mathematical time, and qualitatively differentiated constitutions of social times. Social times are said to use what is homogeneously regular about astronomical time for the development of calendars and rituals.

The system of [social] time varies with the social structure. Astronomical time is uniform, homogeneous; it is purely quantitative, shorn of qualitative variations. Can we so characterize social time? Obviously not-there are holidays, days devoted to the observance of particular civil functions, “lucky” and “unlucky” days, market days, etc. Periods of time acquire specific qualities by virtue of association with the activities peculiar to them. We find this equally true of primitive and more complex societies…

Summing up, we may say that thus far our investigation has disclosed the facts that social time, in contrast to the time of astronomy, is qualitative and not purely quantitative; that these qualities derive from the beliefs and customs common to the group and that they serve further to reveal the rhythms, pulsations, and beats of the societies in which they are found.

Mathematical time is “empty.” It has no marks, no lacunae, to serve as points of origin or end. Yet the calendar-maker requires some sort of starting-point or fixed datum. Some beginning, arbitrary or not, must be set in order to initiate any system of time reckoning which purports to be continuous (Sorokin and Merton 1937, 621-23).

Sorokin, Pitrim, and Merton, Robert. 1937. ‘Social time: A methodological and functional analysis.’ The American journal of sociology 42(5): 615-29.


Émile Durkheim characterises time exclusively by the divisions created by social symbols and rituals. Durkheim recognises that the framework for this symbolisation and ritualisation is seasonal, natural, and cosmic. However, that societies each regulate time differently, illustrates that natural forces are external to the social causes of time.

What if one tried to imagine what the notion of time would be in the absence of the methods we use to divide, measure, and express it with objective signs, a time that was not a succession of years, months, weeks, days, and hours? It would be nearly impossible to conceive of. We can conceive of time only if we differentiate between moments. Now, what is the origin of that differentiation? Undoubtedly, states of consciousness that we have already experienced can be reproduced in us in the same order in which they originally occurred; and, in this way, bits of our past become immediate again, even while spontaneously distinguishing themselves from the present. But however important this distinction might be for our private experience, it is far from sufficient to constitute the notion or category of time. The category of time is not simply a partial or complete commemoration of our lived life. It is an abstract and impersonal framework that contains not only our individual existence but also that of humanity. It is like an endless canvas on which all duration is spread out before the mind’s eye and on which all possible events are located in relation to points of reference that are fixed and specified. It is not my time that is organized in this way; it is time that is conceived of objectively by all men of the same civilization. This by itself is enough to make us begin to see that any such organization would have to be collective. And indeed, observation establishes that these indispensable points, in reference to which all things are arranged temporally, are taken from social life. The division into days, weeks, months, years, etc., corresponds to the recurrence of rites, festivals, and public ceremonies at regular intervals. A calendar expresses the rhythm of collective activity while ensuring that regularity…the course of natural phenomena, the rhythm of cosmic life set its mark upon the rhythm of ritual life. Hence, for a long time the feasts were seasonal…

But the seasons merely provided the external framework of this organization, not the principle on which it rests, for even the cults that have exclusively spiritual ends have remained periodic. The reason is that this periodicity has different causes. Because the seasonal changes are critical periods for nature, they are a natural occasion for gatherings and thus for religious ceremonies…Yet it must be acknowledged that this framework, although purely external, has shown remarkable endurance…The form of this cycle is apt to vary from one society to another. (Durkheim 1995 (1912), 9-10 & 353).

Durkheim, Émile. 1995 (1912). The elementary forms of religious life. Translated by Karen Fields. New York: The Free Press.


John Urry reviews how social science in general, and sociology in particular, regularly positions social time in opposition to natural time. For Urry, a key parameter in this distinction is the portrayal of social time as contingently pluralistic, given its differing constructions between societies.

Most social scientific accounts have presumed that time is in some sense social, and hence separate from, and opposed to, the time of nature. Durkheim (1968) argued in Elementary forms that only humans have a concept of time, and that time in human societies is abstract and impersonal and not simply individual. Moreover, this impersonality is socially organized; it is what Durkheim refers to as “social time.” Hence, time is a “social institution” and the category of time is not natural but social. Time is an objectively given social category of thought produced within societies and which therefore varies between societies. Social time is different from, and opposed to, the time(s) of nature (Urry 2000, 417).

Urry, John. 2000. ‘Sociology of time and space.’ In The Blackwell companion to social theory: Second edition, 416-44. Edited by Bryan Turner. Malden and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.


Douwe Tiemersma reviews how African literature describes time in Africa as being more closely associated with organic events than time is in Western societies. Tiemersma expands on this definition by noting how African time is perceived to be more natural, present-centric, and less abstract, than the mechanics of Western time.

Mbiti’s description of human life also shows organic time. Birth is a slow process which is finalized long after the person has been physically born…Growth of time is the growth of the child, of growing old with special indicators for the various periods. There is an ordered sequence and duration of periods, and that is time intrinsic to the events of human life. Personal events are also connected to environmental events as the flooding of a river and the enthronement of a king…

Time in Africa seems not so abstract and mechanized as it is in Western societies. It is closer to natural phenomena and everyday life, which are more organic. Time seems to be connected with the important idea of life-force (Tiemersma 1998, 269).

Tiemersma, Douwe. 1998. ‘A model of organic time and development in Africa.’ In Temps et developpement dans la pensee de I’Afrique subsharienne/Time and development in the thought of subsaharan Africa, 267-86. Edited by Souleymane Bachir Diagne et Heinz Kimmerle. Amsterdam: Rodopi.


Barbara Adam illustrates that in social science perspectives, natural time is positioned as distinct from its social conceptualisation. This assumption is bred from general impressions that social scientists have about the separation of natural and social phenomena.

In contradistinction to social science analyses this research shows that most of what social scientists preserve exclusively for the human realm is generalised throughout nature. It demonstrates that the characteristics identified with natural time are in fact an exclusively human creation. Past, present, and future, historical time, the qualitative experience of time, the structuring of ‘undifferentiated change’ into episodes, all are established as integral time aspects of the subject matter of the natural sciences and clock time, the invariant measure, the closed circle, the perfect symmetry, and reversible time as our creations. This investigation thus establishes natural time as very different from its social science conceptualisation. Furthermore, it shows that it matters what assumptions social scientists hold about natural time and the subject matter of the natural sciences in general as these not only affect the definition of social time but also the understanding of the nature of ‘the social’. Since our traditional understanding of natural time emerged as inadequate and faulty we have to recognise that the analysis of social time is flawed by implication. However, the difficulty extends beyond the need to achieve a more appropriate understanding of natural time since the assumptions associated with this understanding are embedded in the more general theories that social scientists hold about nature (Adam 1990, 150-51).

Adam, Barbara. 1990. Time and social theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.


Katrin de Guia reviews the conception that time in the Philippines is regulated not by clocks and mechanical measures, but rather by more natural patterns. These patterns are said to include the sun, seasons of harvesting, and lunar cycles. As a result, Philippine Time is described as more natural than other cultural times.

Philippine Time, some say, is experiential time (Mercado, 1977; de Leon, 2008). It is “cosmic time”, not “clock-time”. Rather, it is “organic time” – cyclical, oscillating, approximating, alive! It is a “felt time” filled with memories and contemplations – not the repetitive staccato of machine time, or the sterile on/off bytes of computer time.

A researcher once asked Filipino farmers about their concept of time (Nicado Henson in Pe-Pua 82). She reported that none of those rural folks measured time by such things as a watch, even though some of them owned one. Instead, these natives measured time by the sun; by lunar and by planting cycles; by harvesting seasons; or by the time span it takes to smoke a cigarette. To the despair of some foreign investors and urban administrators, “Filipino Time” has endured in the Philippines. Where no cash exists, or where money is not valued enough, the dictum “Time is Money” does not hold (de Guia 2013, 187).

Guia, Katrin de. 2013. ‘Indigenous values for sustainable nation building.’ Prajna Vihara 14(1-2): 175-92.


Maurice Bloch, when commentating on Clifford Geertz’s characterisation of the dual calendars by which the Balinese population live, presents the point that an unconditional sense of time’s cultural relativity is overly reductive. Nevertheless, Bloch posits that a culture’s everyday, social concepts of time, are not true concepts of time.

[T]he Balinese evidence does not support the view that notions of time vary from culture to culture, it only shows that, in ritual contexts, the Balinese use a different notion of time from that in more mundane contexts and that in these mundane contexts categories and classification are, it may be assumed from Berlin and Kay’s findings, based on cognitive universals. Furthermore, the nature of the contexts where we find these cognitive universals itself suggests an explanation of their presence. Durkheim, like others after him, rejected the notion that cognition was constrained by nature, by pointing to the variability of concepts, especially of concepts of time; but if he is wrong in this, his objection cannot hold. What is more, since it is in contexts where man is in most direct contact with nature that we find universal concepts, the hypothesis that it is something in the world beyond society which constrains at least some of our cognitive categories is strengthened, though this need not be nature as an independent entity to man, but, as I believe is suggested by Berlin and Kay’s data and foreshadowed by Marx, nature as the subject of human activity (see also Rosch 1975)…

I am not making the empiricist mistake of thinking that concepts as concepts are given in nature, I am only talking of the constraints of nature on thought given the human condition. In this I am following Piaget (1968). It would be nonsense to say that our everyday concepts are true concepts of time. The notions of time held by physicists are not remotely like folk notions of time. On the other hand my position is totally opposed to that of Levi-Strauss who argues that nature in this respect is an unordered phenomenon only ordered by culture in whatever way the logic of thought takes it (Bloch 1977, 285, 290-91).

Block, Maurice. 1977. “The past and the present in the present.” Man 12(2): 278-92.


Edward Evans-Pritchard describes how an African community, the Nuer, experience time in a manner that is intimately connected to natural events. This is distinguished by Evans-Pritchard from the abstract form of time that is said to be constructed by the mechanics of his own culture.

Though I have spoken of time and units of time the Nuer have no expression equivalent to ‘time’ in our language, and they cannot, therefore, as we can, speak of time as though it were something actual, which passes, can be wasted, can be saved, and so forth. I do not think that they ever experience the same feeling of fighting against time or of having to co-ordinate activities with an abstract passage of time, because their points of reference are mainly the activities themselves, which are generally of a leisurely character. Events follow a logical order, but they are not controlled by an abstract system, there being no autonomous points of reference to which activities have to conform with precision. Nuer are fortunate.

Also they have very limited means of reckoning the relative duration of periods of time intervening between events, since they have few, and not well-defined or systematized, units of time. Having no hours or other small units of time they cannot measure the periods which intervene between positions of the sun or daily activities. It is true that the year is divided into twelve lunar units, but Nuer do not reckon in them as fractions of a unit. They may be able to state in what month an event occurred, but it is with great difficulty that they reckon the relation between events in abstract numerical symbols. They think much more easily in terms of activities and of successions of activities and in terms of social structure and of structural differences than in pure units of time.

We may conclude that the Nuer system of time-reckoning within the annual cycle and parts of the cycle is a series of conceptualizations of natural changes, and that the selection of points of reference is determined by the significance which these natural changes have for human activities (Evans-Pritchard 1940, 103-04).

Evans-Pritchard, Evan. 1940. The Nuer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.