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Michael Flaherty explores the difference between the subjective impression of time’s passage, versus how much of that time has actually passed. The distinction is established between a reality of time, and contingent impressions of time.

Time flies. For centuries, this has been one of the stock phrases in Western civilization. But, on occasion, we are struck by the sense that time has passed even more quickly than is usually the case. This is to say that, in particular circumstances, it feels like much less time has elapsed than has actually been measured by the clock or calendar. Regardless of whether the relevant interval is ten hours or ten months, it seems to those of us in such circumstances that a much shorter length of time has gone by. Therefore, we can refer to this sensation as “temporal compression” (Flaherty 1999, 104).

Flaherty, Michael. 1999. A watched pot: How we experience time. New York: New York University Press.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Mario Castagnino and Rafael Ferraro explain the differentiation between curved space-time, and the measurement of it by a clock. Whilst the physical parameters recorded by the clock are recorded as natural time, there is said to exist an infinite number of such parameters, all of which are defined as observer-dependent.

It is well known that there is a small confusion between a physical observer’s system and a geometrical coordinate system (or chart) in several papers. Of course they are two different concepts, e.g., in classical physics, an observer’s system is a rigid frame and a clock, where we can use all kinds of charts, for instance, Cartesian or polar coordinates. In curved space-time we cannot use a rigid frame and the natural generalization of the observer’s system will be a timelike fluid of observers, each one endowed with a clock, i.e., a set of timelike paths, each one with a different parameter, the “time” measured by the clock. This time is not necessarily the proper time; it is only an arbitrary continuous function of space-time. Of course we can describe this fluid of observers with any chart we like. We will find that physics is, in fact, observer dependent, but it is of course, chart independent. We shall restrict ourselves to irrotational fluid; thus we can define a set of orthogonal timelike hypersurfaces to the fluid paths, and we can define a parameter T, on each surface, such that the equations T = const would define the orthogonal hypersurfaces. We shall call this parameter a “natural time.” Of course, there exists an infinite set of natural times. We can pass from one to another via a continuous function T -> T’ = T'( T). We shall see that physics is independent of the natural time we use; it is only dependent on the chosen observer’s fluid. Of course, in general, natural time is different from proper time. We can label each fluid world line by three real parameters x1, x2 , x3 ,* and we can call x0 to the natural time T induced by the fluid of observers. Then x0, x1, x2, x3 is a chart and every event of space-time has its coordinates x0, x1, x2, x3 – namely, the space coordinates of the fluid world line, where the event happens, plus the natural time measured by the clock of this world line when the event happens. We shall call this chart an adapted chart (Castagnino and Ferraro 1988, 52-53).

Castagnino, Mario, and Ferraro, Rafael. 1988. “Toward a complete theory for unconventional vacua,” In Claudio Teitelboim (ed.) Quantum mechanics of fundamental systems 1, 51-62. New York: Springer Science+Business Media.

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Jose Arguelles characterises human life as occurring within an artificial time that is separated from the natural rhythms of the biosphere’s (planet’s/universe’s) time. The clock is portrayed as an artefact of artificial time. Contrarily, the Law of Time is said to show that energy, combined with real time, equals art. Time, governing energy, is here positioned as inherent to naturally artistic creation.

From my experiment in time, seeing and studying the human as part of the larger self-evolving fabric of the biosphere, I came to the conclusion that the human is living in a time apart from the rest of the biosphere – an artificial time whose climax and termination is inevitable, for nothing artificial can withstand the force of truth. If the human is living in artificial time, the clock is an artifact whose system of measure has nothing to do with natural cycles but is a totally abstract standard, then there must be something called natural time. I will go even farther and state that not only is there natural time, but that there is a law governing natural time, and that is the Law of Time. Just as Newton only discovered gravity some 300 years ago, though gravity has always existed, so the Law of Time has always been in operation, even though it was just recently discovered…

The Law of Time is formulated very simply, and in some people’s way of thinking, rather unscientifically as T(E) = Art, “energy factored by time equals art.” All phenomena in the material world represent some state of energy, and every state of energy is governed by time, the resultant product of which is always something beautiful or elegant. Have you ever seen an ugly sunset? A hideous flower? Even if you examine a scorpion with some objectivity you will be amazed at the flawless and elegant manner in which its parts are organized. Yes, all of nature is organized by time to produce in you the sensation of beauty. And time itself, well, believe it or not, time is a frequency, and a frequency is not measurable by a clock. The Law of Time states that time is the universal frequency of synchronization. It is the nature of time to synchronize and to maintain all things in a condition of synchronization. Synchronicity, then, is the experience of real time. When we say that time is a frequency, we can be more precise and say that time is a universal constant expressible by the mathematical ratio 13:20. That is, the 13:20 ratio is the frequency of synchronization (Arguelles 2002, 3-4).

Arguelles, Jose. 2002. Time and the technosphere: The law of time in human affairs. Rochester: Bear & Company.

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Mark Smith observes that with the proliferation of clocks and watches during periods of American slavery, plantation owners forced slaves to move from a temporality which naturally revolved around the sun and stars, to an existence governed by the clock. Whilst natural time and clock time are not entirely divorced for Smith, a distinct transition between them is apparent.

Nor should we be misled, as Michael O’Malley has wisely counseled, into thinking that a naturally derived understanding of time (time defined by sun, moon, wind, and a host of other naturally occurring phenomena) necessarily precludes a commitment to clock time. Not only is the dichotomy false, not only is nature itself sometimes as frenetic as the clock (as humans find when planting and harvesting, for instance), but there is evidence suggesting that natural time and clock time are in many respects complementary. Both are largely cyclical in their movements, and the regular, perpetual movements of the clock are to some extent mirrored in the rhythms of the seasons or sun. Naturally derived, task-oriented, and clock-regulated forms of time measurement, in short, coexist in any society, the most modern included…

Under modernity, the clock becomes a fetish: the clock is time itself, and clock time develops an apparent autonomy and hegemony. The dictates and needs of the capitalist mode of production ensure that the clock is used to control workers, measure labor, increase efficiency, and heighten personal time discipline in order to coordinate workers and society generally. Given these imperatives, clock and watch ownership under capitalism tends to increase considerably. Conversely, in pre-modern societies, clock time is usually bound to religion and has little secular significance or function…

Before anyone, whether master, industrialist, or worker, could reduce time to money, however, they had to dilute, or at least modify, age-old Christian imperatives stressing that all time was God’s time. According to Jacques Le Goff, this process began in the Middle Ages, when “[a]mong the principal criticisms levelled against the merchants was the charge that their profit implied a mortgage on time, which was supposed to belong to God alone.” But God was not the only impediment to secular commercial time. According to Le Goff, “Like the peasant, the merchant was at first subjected by his professional activity to the dominion of meteorological time, to the cycle of seasons and the unpredictability of storms and natural cataclysms.” To rationalize time, European merchants used God’s time by recruiting the aural power of his church clocks to coordinate city life and the times of markets. “The same process for the rationalization of time,” Le Goff points out, “was responsible also for its secularization.” Once this rationalization was under way, mercantile activity, while “distinct and, at particular points, contingently similar,” to God’s time, became regulated by the clock. And it was the dual forces of God’s temporal imperatives and merchants’ commercial time that provided the historical basis for the rise of clock consciousness among workers and managers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Slaves remembered the clock and watch and testified that they had come to accept, albeit grudgingly, timed agricultural labor under slavery. Although they originally came from societies where natural time was predominant and that same reliance on natural time remained important to them, southern slaves, like nineteenth-century urban-industrial workers, found their reliance on sun and stars as exclusive arbiters of time attacked and, ultimately, undermined (Smith 1996, 1435-37 & 1461).

Smith, Mark. 1996. “Old south time in comparative perspective. American historical review 101(5): 1432–69.

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Jonathan Kramer explores the position that a real, musical time, exists. In comparing the clocked measurements of the durations of musical notes, with how long such notes seem to a listener, a consideration is developed of which constitutes the real time of music.

Many writers on music acknowledge, directly or indirectly, that music provides more than one kind of time experience, more than one temporality…Some writers address implicitly, some explicitly (and some not at all), which of music’s temporalities is/are “real” and which are, in some sense, virtual or illusory or transitory or imaginary…

I will take up questions of time taken vs. time evoked in a musical performance, real time as a performer’s or a computer’s reaction without delay to a musical stimulus, real time as objectively measurable (clock time) vs. real time as the essence of subjectively perceived music, and the relationship among the composer’s, the performer’s, and listener’s real time.

The distinction – between musical time that is real and musical time that somehow is not – is meaningful not only on the abstract philosophical level addressed by my questions above. Even in the pared down context of a simple sequence of durations, the question fo what time is real is complex…We now understand that the durations implied in musical notation do not generally correspond to the “actual” durations performed, yet our perception of these durations corresponds more closely to the notation than to their clock-time measurement. Consider, for example, this series of durations, which has been studied by Henkjan Honing and Peter Desain.

Honing and Desain have found that, in an expressive performance at a certain tempo, the duration of note A is 0.34 seconds and the duration of note B is 0.35 seconds. Note B – a sixteenth note, presumably representing a quarter of a beat – is performed slightly longer than note A – an eighth note of a triplet, presumably representing a third of a beat. Yet listeners do not perceive B as longer than A. Quite the contrary: they invariably hear A as longer than B, because of the rhythmic and metric context.

So: which is the “real” time? The objectively measured time, which tells us that B is longer than A, or the musical time as interpreted by performers, which tells us that A is longer than B? The answer depends on just what we mean by “real.” Is real musical time an objective time, out there in the world, or is real musical time the way listeners perceive musical events in relation to one another? Scientists may be more comfortable calling clock time “real,” but performing musicians may well feel the opposite. The musical time they feel and project, and that they hope listeners sense, is for them the essential musical reality. Musicians tend to disparage or dismiss outright objective time…

So, which is the real time? The lengths of sections as measured by the clock, or their apparent lengths as felt by listeners? (Kramer 2016, 161-62).

Kramer, Jonathan. 2016. Postmodern music, postmodern listening. New York and London: Bloomsbury.

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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.