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.


David Miller interviews Pagan teacher and author Waverly Fitzgerald, who says that natural time in her book is a reference to a time that can be touched. Conversely, artificial time is characterised as a temporality that is abstracted into homogenous, identical parts. Fitzgerald notes that the rhythms of natural time intersect with Pagan spirituality.

[Miller] You make a distinction in your book between what you call “natural time” and “artificial time.” Isn’t time really an abstraction? So how can it be natural?

  • [Fitzgerald] That was my quest (in writing the book), to answer that question. What is natural about time? And the answer had to do with looking at different time intervals and noticing that some of them you can actually see, touch and smell. You can tell when it’s day and when it’s night. You can observe the moon in the sky and after a few days of observing it you can know whether it’s waxing or waning. You can know what season it is by walking outside. These are all, for me, examples of natural time. What I noticed about all of those cycles was that they were, in fact, cycles. They had, if you will, an “on” and “off” position, or a maximum and a minimum. And then they had a slow gradual progression to and from that state. That’s really different than when you look at a calendar, a schedule or a clock, where everything is completely regular and all times are presumed to be exactly the same. There are blank spaces on the calendar, and you can put the same amount of activity into each of them. There is this sort of unnatural — that’s why I call it artificial — aspect to them, which I think gets us in a lot of trouble because we think, “Oh, we can do this thing in this amount of time,” when really all of these other factors play into it that are not under our control.

You’re not suggesting we throw out our calendars and clocks, are you?

  • No. There are really good reasons why those tools were developed to synchronize activities. But I think as biological beings we also need to be aware of our natural rhythms, including the need for rest. I think many people believe that when you sit down at your desk you should be working flat out at the top of your productivity for the maximum amount of time. At least that’s the ideal. But there something called the ultradian rhythm, a biological cycle where there is an arousal period, a period of waking up and becoming alert, and then a period of getting restless or bored or unfocused and then a time of rest. If you start to observe that cycle in your life, it allows you to have a more relaxed and effective approach to your daily tasks…

How and why do religion or spirituality and slow time intersect, do you think?

  • Most of the major religions have a seasonal liturgy, even though it may be sort of buried. If you look at Christianity, with the Easter cycle and the Christmas birth, there is this lovely use of the seasons to tell a story, and the same is true in the Jewish religion. And, of course, the pagan religion really works with this notion of the seasons and the cycle. So there is a very deep connection between this notion of cyclical time and spirituality. And there is a message of hope that things will come around again, that we may feel despair but spring will come again. It is a pretty profound metaphor that is imbedded in our lives (Miller 2008).

Miller, David. 2008. “Pagan teacher and author of “Slow Time, Waverly Fitzgerald talks about rethinking her relationship to time.” SFGATE. January 28, 2008. https://www.sfgate .com/living/article/Pagan-teacher-and-author-of-Slow-Time-Waverly-2525444.php