What is time?

A beautifully written text on time’s subjectivity by Kapuscinski.

” The European and the African have an entirely different concept of time. In the European worldview, time exists outside man, exists objectively; and as a measurable and linear characteristics. According to Newton, time is absolute: “Absolute, true, mathematical time of itself and from its own nature. It flows equably and without relation to anything external.” The European feels itself to be time’s slave, dependent on it, subject to it. To exist and function he must observe its ironclad and inviolate laws, its inflexible principles and rules. He must heed deadlines, dates, days and hours. It moves within the rigors of time and cannot exist outside them. They impose upon him their requirements and quotas. An irresolvable conflict exists between man and time, one that always ends with man’s defeat – time annihilates him.

Africans apprehend time differently. For them, it is a much looser concept, more open, elastic, subjective. It is man who influences time, its shape, course and rhythm (man acting of course with the concept of Gods and Ancestors). Time is even something that man can create outright, for time is made manifest through events, and whether an event takes place or not depends after all on man alone. If two armies do not engage in a battle, then that battle will not occur (in other words time will not have revealed its presence, will not have come into being). Time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it. It is something that springs to life under our influence but falls into a state of hibernation even non-existence if we do not direct our energy towards it. It is a subservient, passive essence and most importantly one dependent on man. The absolute opposite of time as it is understood in the European worldview. In practical terms, this means that if you go to a village where a meeting is scheduled in the afternoon but find no-one at the appointed spot, asking “When will the meeting take place?’ makes no sense. You know the answer: “It will take place when people come”.” 

Ryszard Kapuscinski – The Shadow of the Sun


1 Comment

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One response to “What is time?

  1. Pingback: A different greeting style « An encyclopaedia of the beautiful, unexpected & amusing

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