What You Already Know

It is said that Western people have a linear sense of time, and that other people of the world do not. In the second case, replace “other peoples” with any indigenous race or culture you would like; if they’ve been in a TLC documentary or discussed in your anthropology class, chances are they “don’t have it”, where “it” is linear time.

Now I don’t mean to ascend the summit of Western cultural ignorance, but I am trying to demonstrate just how this ignorance applies to this issue. Ignorance is perhaps the wrong word, though. It implies that we do not know through some failure on our own part. Instead, I submit that we cannot know; we are incapable of transcending our own cultural limits.

More often than not, the various ways to perceive time as disguised as documentary, sandwiched in between the strange religious customs and the bizarre sexual taboos. These are all worthwhile topics when trying to understand any culture (especially our own), but we have yet to articulate the temporal difference in any terms other than something to the effect of “we have linear time and they…don’t.” Any cultural studies major will tell you exactly how that dichotomy demonstrates a hierarchical discourse, but I digress.

A lesser/greater writer would try to sketch a sense of what a non-linear temporarily would feel like. Writing is the worst medium for this. Each word occurs in a set sequence, suggestive of the forward movement of time.

Here’s a clever proposition: walk around without your watch for a day. This will probably only have the affect of making you constantly wonder what time it is. Time would still exist, and you might find yourself looking for other clues to determine what time it is, including the clocks, though luckily for me and my Lose Weight Exercise they are never in sync with anything, especially not each other. No, to do this and make it worthwhile, you’d have to somehow fail to miss the watch.

This is a tiny example of our inability to comprehend the world-view. You may hear people (almost certainly linear-timers) speaking of “circular time”, or “cyclical time” which to us suggests repetition. As near as I can tell, “circular time,” only makes sense if you position yourself at the centre of the circle with time surrounding you. Time and space become the same thing; you would know time in terms of how far you have traveled, how many moons you have seen, or what kinds of plants you can see now. Circular time is property of the environment. Linear time stands above and outside our world, regulating every action with absolute precision and authority.

Truly, if I were to deeply understand this, I probably wouldn’t have made this deadline. I am not suggesting that either time-view is preferable, only that it might be a good idea for people of either understanding to try to fathom the other, if only to fail, if only to stride about the limits of any human way of thinking. The greatest challenge in understanding anything is getting past what you already know.