Monday, August 18, 2008

Time as distance

According to Hannah Arendt, Henri Bergson first discovered that all words referring to time are words borrowed from spatial language. As Arendt quotes Bergson: “If we want to reflect on time, it is space that responds … [D]uration is always expressed as extension” (The life of the mind, Two p. 13). Or, as Arendt adds: “[W]e can measure time only by measuring spatial distances. Even the common distinction between spatial juxtaposition and temporal succession presupposes an extended space through which the succession must occur” (ibid.).
What Arendt quotes here about what Bergson discovered is exactly in line with a personal experience that I apply several times a week. As readers of my blogs may have noticed, running is one of my favourite sports. However, unlike many other runners, I have no particular routes where I make my runs. I run usually in the wood behind my house and I simply go with the idea to run, say, 45 minutes, choosing the paths during the run as my mood is and according to what I see. However, how long is 45 minutes? Already after less than 10 minutes, I have no idea anymore, how long ago it was that I left home. I experience this phenomenon even more when I do not run in my familiar wood but on an unknown road somewhere abroad, when I am on holiday. The solution I have found is this (and I do not suppose that it is unique): I know every path, every corner, every tree by way of speaking, in “my” wood. After all those years that I come there, I know also how much time it takes about to arrive at certain points on my runs there in the wood. Therefore, in a Bergsonian way, I simply translate my running time into distance and use the paths and places that I pass as marking points in order to guess how long I am already on the way, checking now and then on my watch (usually not before I am halfway) whether my guesses are right. This experience has made me realize already before I knew about Bergson’s time analysis that time as such cannot be measured and that it has to be translated into distance.

1 comment:

paulajohns said...

for bergosn time is "subjective"..
timeis a subjectiveform which has no objective existence. Kant said an infant experience Time..Bergson insisted the childhas to learn to experience time. this difference of opinion can throw much light on human experience of time as such...

timeas extension is a promising idea.. keep going