Addendum on the Origins of Time

1 December 2011


big-history-timeline 2

Yesterday’s longish post The Origins of Time occupied me for quite some time. Parts of it appeared in fragmentary form on my Tumblr blog, Grand Strategy Annex, in the posts on The Experience of Innocence and Innocence and Time Consciousness. I also made notes and occasional sketches in my notebooks as I was working on these ideas.

Below is one sketch that I made last summer in order to try to sum up the idea of the construction of ecological temporality in a way that would appeal to geometrical intuition.

While this drawing is too schematic and too simple to be quite true, it nevertheless has a certain value, as all abstractions have a certain value. And that’s what this is: a sketch of an abstraction.

This is an attempt to delineate the large scale structures of space and time from the standpoint not of physics or cosmology (which is how we are accustomed to seeing exposition of the large scale structure of space and time) but from a philosophical perspective. What I was trying to show with this image was how time has its origins in micro-temporal interactions, and is predominately a temporality of micro-temporality until larger structures emerge along with the larger temporal structures entailed by these larger structures. As larger structures emerge, micro-temporality becomes less central to the way the world works, and the less comprehensive forms of temporality fall away as the center of cosmological history migrates to the larger structures.

In my closing speculation of yesterday’s The Origin of Time I suggested that the ultimate telos of civilization is for humanistic temporality and cosmological temporality to merge, and if this should come to pass, it would come to pass at the farthest reach of metaphysical temporality.

I have also incorporated in the drawing above what should have been obvious to me earlier, which is to abbreviate metaphysical temporality as meta-temporality (the same thing can be done with metaphysical ecology rendered as meta-ecology). The abbreviation of “metaphyscial” to “meta-” is then readily assimilated to the familiar ecological levels of mirco-, meso-, exo-, and macro-, to which we now add meta-.

An interesting lesson to take away from the relation of this drawing to my ideas about ecological temporality and the origins of time is that an image can express an abstraction as readily as can words, though we do not ordinarily think of pictures, sketches, videos, illustrations, and so forth as abstractions. Indeed, we typically think of images as giving concrete embodiment to an idea that was difficult to grasp on the basis of a text alone. But this is not so. Illustrations are not easy to understand because of their concreteness; illustrations are easy to understand because of the role of geometrical intuition in human thought.

Vision plays a disproportionate role in human knowledge. We know that, for other species, the relative contribution of the senses constitutes a different mix in each case. For dogs, smell plays a very large role; for bats and dolphins, hearing plays a disproportionate role; perhaps eagles are in a similar boat with us, relying as they do on particularly keen eyesight to detect prey on the ground from flying altitude.

We don’t even have electro-receptors like a shark or pits like a pit viper, so we can’t know what it is like to be a shark or a viper (to borrow a phrase from the famous Thomas Nagel essay, What is it like to be a bat?). Since we have ears and noses we can at least make a guess as to what it is like to live a life in which these senses play a disproportionate role in experience.

While we can augment our senses with instrumentation, we are more or less stuck with the cognitive architecture that evolved under selection pressures directly bearing upon those senses crucial to our physical survival and reproduction. Because the ancestors of human beings took the path of relying on our vision — probably binocular stereoscopic vision for swinging through the branches of trees and color vision for distinguishing the ripeness of fruit — we have a cognitive architecture that is heavily integrated with visual processing power.

So, we have the minds we have, and while we have learned to help them along a bit with languages and ideas, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I take it that this is one reason that Wittgenstein said Nothing contrasts with the form of the world.

The form of our world is a visual world, and in a visual world geometrical intuition counts for a lot. And since geometrical intuition counts for a lot, geometrical abstractions — i.e., images that illustrate abstractions — also count for a lot.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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