Augustine of Hippo wrote, “What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who asks me, I do not know” (1997 [ca. 397-98], 256). The question stumps us for quite different reasons. We surround ourselves with cognitive artifacts to tell us what time is, and the time these artifacts represent is demonstrably confused in accuracy. We have hyper-accurate atomic clocks and a calendar that poorly represents the duration of the earth’s orbit. The nature of time’s existence is confused by cognitive artifacts and by the human invention of the time constructs these artifacts indicate. . . .
It is ironic that Derrida, the arch-postmodernist, choose absolute temporal uniformity, and that the physicists adopt relativity. The ideas of time important for daily life and the construction of knowledge are dependent on objects, and the presently used objects — modern calendars and clocks — are relatively recent in their form and design. Their synchronization across different contexts is still more recent. Whereas there are cognitive benefits from the precision derived from the measurement of small durations and there are also cognitive benefits in unburdening the mind from having to calculate the time, it is also the case that these devices have channeled cognition in specific ways. When not recognized, this channeling, I argue, constrains our ability to understand time across cultures and to ascertain temporal characteristics of our world not subject to the clock and calendar. By deferring cognitive processes to these objects, we run the risk of diminishing our ability to think about time, and we also run the risk as Greenhouse states for clocks, of using the objects as “a materialization of some universal time sense” (1996, 7). — pp. 30 -31.
So, “What, then, is time?” . . .
- Have you encountered constraints on your “ability to understand time across cultures and to ascertain temporal characteristics of our world not subject to the clock and calendar. . . . ‘a materialization of some universal time sense'”?
- Is there something unique about a follower of Christ’s understanding of and relationship to the way in which time is “kept” as part of God’s creation?
- More coming, as time permits 😉
- Before I forget, “Well done Kevin! Thank-you for writing this excellent piece. Keep up the good work. It’s great to have you in the mix of ESN.”
Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!