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.