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The Hare and the Tortoise: The race is not to speedy (V). Thinkers of Time.

“Yes” replied the tortoise, “and I get there sooner than you think”.

Illustration by Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard Grandville (1855) from the edition of La Fontaine’s Fables

Today is all about understanding the meaning of time from the point of view of our ancient philosophers. On my next chapter, we will continue exploring the nature of time (from the philosophy perspective) since the beginning of the twentieth century.

Please remember that philosophy is nothing else than the investigation of causes and laws underlying reality. It is based on a logical reasoning. So when the first ancient philosophers of our times asked themselves what is time? Here we land into a set of different theories that have been trying to explain the meaning of “time”.

Thinkers of time. Diverse interpretations of “time” have always appeared. And these fluctuate abruptly from each other. Why? Because each culture in human history who tried to understand the “time” philosophically, had a different view of reality at the cosmic universe, collective and individual level of human life. Anyone who asked themselves what is time, was a thinker of “time”. All the past civilizations that we know, had specific intelligent thinkers of time that were wonderful observers of the celestial bodies, of the nature and its effects on human beings. Traditionally, thinkers of time have been divided in two types:

  1. Those who think that time may be interpreted from the point of view of a cyclic assessment
  2. Those who think that time has to be analyzed from the perspective of a one-way view

Thinking about time from a cyclic view: The cyclic view of time “bottom line” arose from the observation of recurrences of the natural environment. These observations’ about the day/night, stars, seasons cycles, recurrent natural phenomena water-air-energy (fire)-earth; and its effects into the human life key dimensions: as birth, fertility, death, food crop production, were reflected and connected to some religions of our past ancestors in history.  For our ancestors cyclical thinkers of time, they associated the cosmic (celestial planets, the moon, the stars and the sun) with human existence; and built the foundations of these religions. Religion was the structural backbone that kept human life under control, by providing the sources of explanation to the natural environment “unexplained situations” using a cyclical concept of time. These ancient civilizations observed cycles that repeated on and on. These cycles started to be calculated mathematically and measured using time units and degrees (adopted from the Babylonians and replicated by the rest of civilizations before christian era).  Those religions  from different cultures, explained the concept of time in a recurrence cyclic logical reasoning. Previous to Christianity, we are talking about the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Hindus and the Aztecs, civilizations which saw the time as a recurrence reality cycle. That is why we find in these civilizations, the concept of rebirth or reincarnation.

Thinking about time as a one-way view. When time is conceived not as a recurrent cycle, but as a one-way route; then we have a different philosophy that explains it, as having a beginning (start point) and an end (finish goal). The Aesop fable reflects this concept in the “The Hare and the Tortoise” perfectly. The race happens with a starting line, and the finish line is previously stated too.

The Tortoise and the Hare by Arlene Graston.

Religions that are aligned with this one-way view philosophy are Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism (Ancient religion from the Persian region). These 4 religions also explain the cosmic and human life through an idea of a powerful omnipotent God that creates everything and is able to annihilate everything, including “time”. This Chiefly Upper God, is also the boss of time. And this great God, who is one and unique (he is all) has a plan for the Universe. The God believed in these religions is omniscient, or has a total knowledge of the entirety of our existence and He has a plan for humanity through time. Our God creator of time, governs the time flow and he has made manifest himself to humans, either by his Son Jesus-Christ (in Christianity), or by the prophets through progressive revelations over “history”.

The latter religions also predicate that time is destined to end, or to be consummated in a terrifying climax that will terminate human life as it is known right now. The philosophy of a one-way time route, for these religions, has aggregated knowledge and technologies, from generation to generation. And human actions using those inventions, inevitably are heading humanity to destroy us. Not just because of our own foolishness to accelerate our living in “time”, but also because we have not understood yet the concept of “time” in accordance to the purpose or for what God created “time”. For philosophers of these religions, when humans cross the line between what is feasible for humans, and what is “only” viable to our omnipotent God; an imminent total ruin, annihilation or extinction happens, and it is coming in terms of “time”. For these thinkers or prophets, “the approach to the destruction climax is foreseen intuitively”. And it is being felt, feared, as a coming event. “Its imminence is, today not only an article of faith, but a datum of observation and experience”. It has taken a successive “great leaps forward” irrationality observed in all our industries and economic sectors, particularly, during the last two centuries. Particularly, when we discovered the clock, with the advent of the first industrial revolution, and with the progressive harnessing of titanic physical forces of inanimate nature.

The Philosophy of Regulated time. According to Keith Devlin, the Director of the Stanford Mathematics Outreach Project; it was not until and during the Middle-Ages, that the idea (or the philosophy) of a regulated time started to spread out from the monasteries along with the associated religious observances. In the thirteenth century, the first mechanical timepieces (called time machines or clocks) were introduced in Europe. By assimilating that time is something that flows with circularity, and can be measured by a machine, a clock measured chunks of daily time in equal 24 hours, dividing each hour into 60 minutes and the further division of each minute into seconds.

When the clocks made its entrance into the red carpet of societies, their mechanisms were primitive and unreliable. Early clocks required reviews and fine tuning for at least 300 years more. The invention of the clock based on oscillating mechanisms required multiple re-examinations of the theory, and further reconsiderations. Galileo´s (1583) contribution to define the pendulum accuracy, helped to improve the clock mechanisms, By the middle of the 17th century, pendulum clocks were manufactured with an accuracy to within ten seconds per day. When the clock precision started to be more precise than reading the time from the sundial; then and only then, the clock as a machine to measure time, was accepted.

When humans created the clock, a machine to measure “time”, then that was the trigger of the first industrial revolution. That moment was the exact time in which our lives began to live “by the clock”, and as Devlin remarks: ” We started to be slaves of the clock”.

This is the first prototype of a marine chronometer. By John Harrison (1693-1776) who was a self-educated English carpenter from Yorkshire, England. He was the clockmaker who invented the marine chronometer, a long-sought-after device for solving the problem of calculating longitude while at sea.

Clocks accuracy permitted the sailors to conquer the new world. Without clocks, Europeans would have never arrived to the new world. The legacy from the BCE Babylonian sexagesimal system of counting included the 360 degrees of the circle and the 60 fold division of the degree and the minute. The heritage from the Greek geographers that used astronomical calculations (Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, Ptolemy) to make use of the grid lines to draw maps; helped the sailors to have a method to determine their ships latitude and longitude positions. The Greeks observed that longitude could be regarded as a function of time. Since the earth makes one complete revolution every 24 hours, in each single hour it rotates through 15 degrees of longitude. This Greek discovery allowed that every degree of longitude corresponds to four minutes of time. With those observations, any sailor that knew the time (and longitude position) at a starting point, was able to compute any further longitude by carrying a clock on board.  From the 17th century onwards, the need for an accurate clock to determine longitudes became so relevant in world trade. We dare to affirm that the clock was basically the reason why Christopher Columbus and Vespucci first started to travel into the great oceans.

Afterwards, the accuracy of the clocks was continuously improved, encouraged and rewarded not just for ocean traveling; but because the accuracy of time wasn’t reached wholly. During the last century, the search for precision of time measurement has been required for many of the present day technologies., particularly those related to communications, computers and disruptive NAIQIs (Nanotechnologies, Artificial Intelligence (Including automation and robotics), Quantum Supremacy and the Internet). Without the atomic clocks of our days, GPS would not exist as we already acknowledge it.

To be continued…

Bibliography utilized to get some ideas when writing today.

Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, the majority of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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