Considerations on Time

  • Title: Contemplationam, Considerations on Time.
  • Author: Arvindus.
  • Publisher: Arvindus.
  • Copyright: © 2011, 2020 Arvindus, all rights reserved.
  • Index: 201104141.
  • Edition: html, second edition.

Preface Second Edition

A paragraph with new information was added and the title was adjusted. The original title sounded: 'Time: Dynamism and Spirality'.


The English word 'time' is generally traced back to the old-Teutonic base 'tī', meaning 'to stretch' or 'to extend'.1 This base then is again traced further back to the proto-Indo-European base 'dī', meaning 'to cut up' or 'to divide'.2 The relation between a cut and a stretch may not be obvious at first, but can easily be made understandable. For when one given is cut into two givens, then necessarily a space between these two is made, a space which was not present before the cut took place. So in a cut does space increase, or, to formulate it differently, does space get stretched and extended. In the cut of a unity into a plurality space is stretched and extended. Here 'space' is used in a more abstract sense, for it is not used to refer directly to three dimensional space. Now it should be noted that when a unity is cut into a plurality the different givens cannot occupy the same space. Every one of them needs to occupy its own space at its own place. And thus they are ordered in a certain way. To cloth this abstract thought a little, the example of events can be taken. Events are a plurality. One event is not identical with any other event. Even the events that occur at exact the same three dimensional place differ from each other. They cannot occupy the same space, and if one event wants to occur at the same place of another event, then the other event must give up its place and seize to exist. One event ends and another begins, only to end again in order for yet another to begin. It is this sequence of events to which the contemporary English word 'time' is applied.3

From Change to Calendar-time and Dynamic Time

The substitution of one thing for another, such as with events, is also referred to by the word 'change'.4 And indeed are time and change very closely related to each other. If there would be no change of events, then there would be only one static, and therefore timeless, event. No change; no time. Nevertheless are the words 'time' and 'change' not used synonymously. And rightly so, because these two concepts cannot be thought of as identical. For change can be observed with the senses whereas time cannot. Indeed may we be able to watch the clock, but that is no observance of time. At the most we are able to see the pointers of the clock change position or to see the numbers on our watch change, but that is obviously a direct perception of change and not of time. So change is of an observable and time is of an unobservable dimension or plane. Now there has been much philosophical debate about the primacy of the observable or the unobservable. Radical empiricism holds that unobservable concepts are induced from through the senses gained data, and radical rationalism holds that the latter can be reduced to the first. The concept of time can and may be seen in both ways. The concept of time can be induced from observance of change, and this change can also be reduced to time. This will lead us indeed towards two different concepts of time, which however both may be considered as valid. For the word 'time' is indeed ambiguous (as the dozens of meanings given in de English dictionary indicate and explicate).5

Time is induced from change when the observed change is artificially arranged on a certain scale. The division of that scale is based upon astronomical events, such as the movements of the Earth, the Sun and the Moon in relation to each other. From these a calendar is derived with years, months, weeks and days. And as a reference point, a specific memorable event is taken. The most common of all has become the Christian reference point that orientates all events based on the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. This sort of induced time may be named 'calendar-time' and be defined as 'scaled events'.

But as stated can change also be reduced to time. But this then regards a time totally different in nature from the calendar-time. Now to reduce change to time means to explicate change as appearance and time as reality.6 To posit change as appearance is in line with the classification of change under the observable plane. For what appears is observed. What was never observed, never appeared. So that change is an appearance can easily be accepted. (It should be kept in mind however that positing change as appearance and time as reality does not necessarily posit time as not being appearance. Especially because appearance is not necessarily related to sense perception. So it may very well be so that certain realities appear. The only distinction between the two is that reality is necessarily real and appearance only possibly, and that appearance necessarily appears and reality only possibly).

Now in a reduction an appearance is being brought back to its underlying reality.7 That appearance is brought back to reality means that it has been there before, for this denotes the word 'back'. And this in turn means that the reduced appearance originated from the regarded reality. Something that moved from place a to place b originated in the relation of these two places from place a. So reducing change as appearance to time as reality indicates that change originated from time. But up till now the reduction of change to time is only an assertion which has not yet been made plausible. The assertion may however gain in plausibility when change indeed can be given a plausible root, and when to this plausible root then plausibly the term 'time' can be applied.

So is there a cause that initiates change? Basically change is motion. Change is the movement of things from one state to another. And what lies behind every motion is force (or power, which may be considered as force in a latent state). So force and power will also lie behind the motion which we call 'change'. Now a Greek word for force or power is 'dynamis'.8 It is from this word that the English 'dynamism' originated.9 And thus may dynamism indeed be considered to be the root of change. Dynamism initiates change.

But why would we call such a dynamism, lying at the base of change, 'time'? To understand this a look needs to be given to the pairs in which these two concepts come. Dynamism can only be understood against the background of stasis. If there would be only dynamism, then no contrast would exist to make its being known. So dynamism comes with stasis. Time also is not thought of without thinking of a second. And this second concerns space. When the dimension we live in is discussed, often this is referred to as the dimension of space and time. Similarly when (cosmic) manifestation is discussed, again the pair of space and time is usually brought to the fore. Now it is not difficult to see which role space and which role time play in manifestation. For space gives anything manifested being, and time gives it change. If there was no time, then nothing in manifestation would change. Then everything would stay static. Indeed. Space is the stasis of manifestation, giving it being, and time is the dynamism of manifestation, giving it change. Thus it may be accepted as plausible that change can be brought back to time, which then is thought of as dynamism. And now it also shall be clear that this sort of time is of a totally other nature than is calendar-time. Calendar-time concerns only scaled events, as has been mentioned earlier. 'Dynamic time', as we shall call the type of time presently under consideration, however concerns what may be defined here as 'dynamism of manifestation'. It is this dynamic time that shall be contemplated a little bit deeper in the remainder of the present contemplation.

Pointic, Linear, Circular and Spirally Time

In the previous paragraph change was considered to be the movement of things from one state to another state. And this movement was thought of as being initiated by the force of dynamism. Now movement, as has also been mentioned before, implies origination. Every event evolved from another event, which, being also an event, again evolved from yet another event, etcetera. Contemplating this thought, often questions arise concerning the nature of this sequence. In this paragraph different time conceptions shall be drawn and shortly elucidated. It should be emphasized that only very general ideas shall be sketched. In later contemplations refinements may follow.

Pointic Time

There are several ways in which the question of the seemingly infinite sequence of events can be approached. And dependent on the approach will be the view on time. A first approach here is named 'pointic time'. In this approach the Gordian knot is cut by simply denying the concepts of causality, origination and change, and with that basically denying a plurality of events. All events, so to speak, regard only one event. This conception of time can be illustrated as one simple point (figure 1), resembling all the individual events (a, b, c, d, e, …).

Pointic time

Figure 1.

That only one point is representing all the different events means that these events are in reality only one single event. So in pointic time there is only one unrelated static eternal event. Cutting the Gordian knot in this way means consequently denying time itself. For with pointic time being static, dynamism is denied.

To summarize it can be said that unity of events characterizes pointic time.

Linear Time

Linear time can be understood as an extension of pointic time. In linear time is the one point cut into two points (representing the ultimate cause and the ultimate effect) between which a whole plurality of points have their place. This is visualized in figure 2.

Linear time

Figure 2.

Here we see a true sequence of events. Events follow each other as points follow each other on the linear line. Such a time conception can be found for instance in the philosophy of Aristotle, where he traces all sequences of cause and effect back to an unmoved mover (here pictured by point a) that moves, but is not moved itself.10 In line with this thought point e then could be considered to represent an unhalted halter, halting the movement without being halted itself.

To summarize it can be said that plurality of events characterizes linear time.

Circular Time

Circular time can be understood as an extension of linear time. In circular time are the first cause and the last effect set as identical. With this they lose their special role, and become of a same stature as the intermediate events of linear time. Time goes round and round without beginning and ending. This thought is visualized in figure 3.

Circular time

Figure 3.

That time is thought of as going round and round also means that every event in time is being repeated over and over again. A thought which is prevalent for instance in Nietzsche's philosophy.11 Everything happens as it has happened and as it will happen, in exactly the same way and in exactly the same order.

To summarize it can be said that repetition of events characterizes circular time.

Spirally Time

Spirally time can in its turn be understood as an extension of circular time. In spirally time the circle is broken, however without losing the circular movement. This is shown in the helix of figure 4.

Spirally time

Figure 4.

This figure shows again a first cause, represented by point a, and a last effect, represented by point e. Their opposition is here however relative, and not absolute as was the case in linear time. For the circular movement of the spiral brings points a and e also together (both points are at the same angle of the circular movement). Nevertheless does, in contrast with circular time, no single event occur again in spirally time. Point e is located at the same angle of the circular movement as is point a, but the former is nevertheless different from the latter. Now what is the same but also different is similar. Every event in spirally time is similar to another event.

To summarize it can be said that similarity of events characterizes spirally time.

A Plausible Choice

Above pointic, linear, circular and spirally time were contemplated. Here a most plausible pick shall be made between these. Is time pointic, linear, circular or spirally in nature? In any case will time not be pointic, as we have seen. Pointic time must be seen as one static event. And with time regarding dynamism, such stasis can obviously not be accepted as a plausible option. Linear and circular time are more plausible than is pointic time, but do, based on the way in which time is experienced, also not meet up to the requirements. For in linear time every single event is incomparably different. The dynamism that moves change is there, but the change is so radical that nothing in any regarded event is of a same likeness of any previous or future event. The opposite applies to circular time. In circular time every event already happened in the past, and will happen in the future, in exactly the same way. It is clear that these descriptions of linear and circular time are also not conform the way in which time is experienced. In time we do experience change, but this change is never so radical that no recognition whatsoever takes place. And in time we do recognize, but this is never so radical that we experience events exactly in the same way as we have experienced them before. What is experienced in time is similarity. For every event can be compared to other events, without taking them to be the same. Boethius' death around 525 A.D. may not be identical to that of Socrates in 399 B.C., however the first may be thought of as similar to the latter because in both events a philosopher was executed by the ruling power. And one clouded day may seem as gray as another, however no two clouds blocking the sun were ever exactly the same. And thus do experiences of time plead for a choice for spirally time. This option is the most plausible to embrace.

Time as Such

Above spirally time was chosen as the most plausible option. This choice was based upon our own human time experience. However when human experience is followed an empirical methodology is followed. This methodology does often lead to wrong conclusions. Time for instance may on itself be quite different from how it is experienced. For our experience of time is almost always accompanied by our experience of space. Our experiences take place within a synthesis of space and time. Overall space and time are not experienced separately, except in perhaps cases of mystical experiences.

This means that the helix spiral does not represent time, but rather the time-space synthesis. And to separate time from space in this synthesis means that also within the helix spiral a separation must take place in order to arrive at the right geometrical symbol for time. Doing this we come to space being symbolized by a circle and time by a line, for in the end the helix spiral is the synthesis of a circle and a line.

To the above symbolism can be come through the consideration of time being dynamic. Dynamism in the ageless wisdom is related to spirit. And with matter being the opposite of spirit the first must be related to stasis, being the opposite of dynamism. Now matter is in the ageless wisdom seen as having a basic rotary movement, while spirit is seen as having a basic onward movement. Time then is here indeed related to spirit and space to matter.

Thus we then must come to the conclusion that time-space is spirally, however time as such linear.

  • 'Contemplationam, Reduction (and Pseudo-Reduction)', Index: 201004221.
  • Aristotle, 'Metaphysica', in: W. D. Ross (editor), The Works of Aristotle, Volume VIII, Oxford University Press, London / et alibi, 1928.
  • John Ayto, Word Origins, The Hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z, A & C Black, London, 2005.
  • Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, 'Also sprach Zarathustra', in: Digitale Bibliothek, Band 2, Philosophie, von Platon bis Nietzsche, (CD-ROM), Directmedia, Berlin, 1998.
  • Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0), Oxford University Press, 2009.