The Ever-Elusive Path of Time: A Question of Time Continuity
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In addition to being relative or absolute, time can also be seen as circular or linear. As mentioned in the "Perspectives of Notable Time Physicists" section, Newton initiated the concept of linear time. Linear time is typically considered a Western perspective on time. It is a perspective on time which takes human influence out of the picture, as it rejects human perception and general feeling of control over the passage of time (Randall). It presents time as an orderly procession from past, to present to future. This also relates to the concept of the arrow of time, which describes time’s constant forward-moving nature. It is essentially reinforcing the fact that time always moves forward and never backward.
A common example of this is a cup which falls off a table and breaks: an occurrence that many people will witness at some point within the course of their lifetimes. Yet we never see a shattered cup rise from the floor and fly back up onto the desk, reassembling itself in the process. The only way humans can observe such a phenomenon is to watch video footage in reverse. Immanuel Kant, a famous German philosopher and expert on the subject (“Immanuel”), has presented the following definition of linear time: “in linear terminology the past is thus determined as ‘what no longer exists’ and future as ‘what does not yet exist.”
When compared to circular time, linear time is both the more widely accepted view of time and also the older one. Circular time is quite different from linear time in that it is cyclical and takes into account the human perception of the passage of time and our role in it. Circular time can be likened to the age-old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg. If you think of time more like a circle, since life is cyclic, there is always a chicken and there is always an egg present. Which came first is relative, similar to the way Einstein's theory revealed that the past and present are relative to some point of reference. Circular time is therefore cyclic and repetitive and tied to the changing of seasons and the cycles of birth, death, and often—in a more religious sense—rebirth or resurrection (“Definitions”). As with relative and absolute time, both of the linear and circular definitions of time are called upon to support different theories, depending on which definition of time is more applicable to that particular theory.
- “Definitions of Circular Time on the Web.” Google.com. (7 Jan. 2007):
- Dowden, Bradley. “Does Time Flow?” - The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Time page: http://www.iep.utm.edu/t/time.htm#H7
- Randall, Steve, PhD. “Linear Time—The Cultural Norm” (7 Jan. 2007): http://members.aol.com/rslts/linear.html
- "Immanuel Kant." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998.
- Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007: http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC