Anthony Aveni observes different ways in which human constructions of time artificially regulate celestial patterns and biological rhythms. This is described as a human intervention to nature’s heartbeat, and a manipulation of something that exists beyond human culture.

Time systems became more complex and ornate as an economy and its attending bureaucracy grew and diversified. In China and Europe, mechanical clocks replaced sundials. We slowly began to manipulate nature’s direct input into the timekeeping process for our own benefit. Intercalation was one of the first steps toward human intervention, an insertion of society’s time into celestial time. Thus, we make the year complete by improving upon nature where we believe it has failed.

In a sense, the Maya did to the Venus cycle what medieval Christendom did to the sun cycle. The Venus table in the Dresden Codex tampers with time and reduces it to a cultural creation based on minor variations in nature’s harmonic heartbeat which can be detected only by careful listening and close observation. In bureaucratic societies, human actors take over both nature’s script writing and directingThe modern mass production of timepieces – with their artificial hours, minutes, and seconds – symbolizes the extent of our singleminded struggle to exercise control over that ghostly mechanical entity we imagine to be jogging alongside us, as close as a shadow but uninfluenced by the way we behave. When you say you are strapped for time, perhaps you are only expressing your frustration at the way you have become enslaved to that oscillating chip you carry about on your wrist.

Human culture emerges as the great processor of time. Like the rest of the biological world, our ancestors began by sensing the orderly biorhythms of natural time-the beat of the tides, the coming of the rains, the on-and-off stroboscopic flickering of the full moon’s light, the comings and goings of swallows, locusts, and the red tide. Unlike the New Haven oysters that relocated in Evanston, somewhere back in the distant past we became impatient and dissatisfied. We grabbed hold of the controls; we changed the order. We manipulated time, developed and enhanced it, processed, compressed, and packaged it into a crazyquilt patchwork to conform to our perceived needs: greater efficiency in dividing up the day means more earning power for both the corporate head and his workers; greater precision in Olympic timing makes for a better Reebok sneaker; and strategic positioning of daylight-saving time gives us more rest and recreation, and that leads to a longer personal time line (Aveni 1989, 336-37).

Aveni, Anthony. 1989. Empires of time: Calendars, clocks, and cultures. New York: Basic Books.


Keiichiro Fujisaki portrays a clock, which graphically represents the regions of the world which are concurrently either in sunlight or shadow, as a recognition of the difference between natural time and artificial time. Whilst natural time is indicated by the sun, artificial time is said to be illustrated by the time zones.

In the morning, the birds all begin to sing in unison.

The passage of time is different from country to country and region to region. Different cities may be in the same time zone, but as the clock strikes seven in the morning, some may already be experiencing bright daylight, while in others the sun may not even have risen. Earth Clock affords a sweeping view of these various times around the globe. Yoshiaki Nishimura of Living World explains:

“Despite the fact that it’s as broad as the U.S. (excluding Hawaii and Alaska) when measured from east to west, China employs the same standard time throughout the country. The time difference between India and Japan is 3 hours 30 minutes, but the time difference between here and Nepal is 3 hours 15 minutes. Time differences of 15 or 30 minutes are used by certain countries to distinguish themselves from their neighbors, so in a sense they can be referred to as time borders. So among other things, time is a political tool.”

Indeed. I remember hearing stories about how at the western extremity of China the Sun would be directly overhead at three in the afternoon. The terminator marches on regardless of things like manmade national borders and standard time zones. Says Nishimura, “I had in mind the question, What would time be like without the influence of time in industrialized societies?” So Earth Clock was born out of a recognition of the contrast between artificial time and natural time.

“In the morning, the birds all begin to sing in unison as the terminator passes. On the opposite side of the globe, the sunset side, dogs start barking and crows return to their nests. Although in the cities, which increasingly operate around the clock, we live according to artificially designated time with little regard for whether it is day or night, the world at large is overwhelmingly governed by natural time. The terminator turns relentlessly like a music box. Frogs start to croak and birds start to sing. I find this kind of thing fascinating, and I’d always wanted to express this somehow in my work” (Fujisaki 2007).

Fujisaki, Keiichiro. 2007. “Natural time, artificial time: Earth Clock Report Part 1: Living World.” Living world. 14 January 2007. http://www.livingworld.net/blog/fujisaki-2/


Eviatar Zerubavel argues that no calendared construction of the week was ever an inevitable occurrence. Rather, the week represents the cultural division of natural cycles into useful structures for social routines. Social time thus exhibits constructed elements not apparent in natural time.

The week is not an inevitable natural necessity and, despite its pervasive presence in so many parts of the world, it is by no means a universal phenomenon. This apparently “indispensable” cycle can actually be found only in those civilizations that either generated a complex divinatory system (for example, the Hellenistic world, Central America, Indonesia); developed a market economy (for example, China, ancient Rome, West Africa); or have come under the influence of Judeo-Christianity or Islam with their distinctive extranatural liturgical cycles. The significant feature that all these civilizations seem to have in common is that they cherish regularity, and it is thus only that they have produced the particular mentality which seems to characterize the sort of “homo rhythmicus” who has invented the cycle known as the week.

Essentially revolving around the experience of recurrence, the circular conception of time encourages the establishment of rigid routines, which promote structure and orderliness by making our life more regular as well as more predictable…

There are many routine activities (such as shopping and family visiting) that we would like to perform on a regular basis, yet which, unlike brushing our teeth or changing our underwear, need not necessarily be performed every day. At the same time, however, we also may not want to have to wait a full month in order to perform them regularly rather than on an ad hoc basis. Nature, which has given us both the day and the month, has not been of much help in our search for some convenient cycle in between them. (Unlike several other planets, Earth has no other, closer satellites with shorter orbits than the moon.) Faced with the disappointing lack of any major natural cycle that is longer than the day yet shorter than the next available natural cycle, which is almost thirty times longer, various civilizations, quite independently of one another, have tried to fill this natural gap by inventing such a cycle themselves. Hence the evolution of various forms of the week in so many parts of the world (Zerbubavel 1989, 85-86).

Zerubavel, Eviatar. 1989. The seven day circle: The history and meaning of the week. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.