One Against All

18 October 2016

What great overarching “thingness” is devouring all diversity?

I really began reflecting on this after reading a passage from one of Robert Bringhurst‘s talks (from the collection the Tree of Meaning):

The European colonists’ arrival in the New World marks the escalation of a war that had been fought in Europe and Asia for more than two millennia and continues even now. It is the war between those who think they belong to the world, and those who think that the world belongs to them. It is the war between the pagans, who know they are surrounded and outnumbered by the gods, and all the devotees of the number one – one empire, one history, one market, or one God – and who nowadays insist on the preeminence of everyone for himself: the smallest number one of all.

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the Labyrinth of Solitude

14 May 2015

Life and Thought in Mexico by Octavio Paz (translated by Lysander Kemp)

“The other does not exist: this is rational faith, the incurable belief of human reason. Identity = reality, as if, in the end, everything must necessarily and absolutely be one and the same. But the other refuses to disappear; it subsists, it persists; it is the hard bone on which reason breaks its teeth.”
–Antonio Machado

III. the Day of the Dead

New Year celebrations, in every culture, signify something beyond the mere observance of a date on the calendar. The day is a pause: time is stopped, is actually annihilated. The rites that celebrate its death are intended to provoke its rebirth, because they mark not only the end of an old year but also the beginning of a new. Everything attracts its opposite. The fiesta’s function, then, is more utilitarian than we think: waste attracts or promotes wealth, and is an investment like any other, except that the returns on it cannot be measured or counted. What is sought is potency, life, health. In this sense the fiesta, like the gift and the offering, is one of the most ancient of economic forms.

This interpretation has always seemed to me to be incomplete. The fiesta is by nature sacred, literally or figuratively, and above all it is the advent of the unusual. It is governed by its own special rules, that set it apart from other days, and it has a logic, an ethic and even an economy that are often in conflict with everyday norms. It all occurs in an enchanted world: time is transformed to a mythical past or a total present; space, the scene of the fiesta, is turned into a gaily decorated world of its own; and the persons taking part cast off all human or social rank and become, for the moment, living images. And everything takes place as if it were not so, as if it were a dream. But whatever happens, our actions have a greater lightness, a different gravity. They take on other meanings and with them we contract new obligations. We throw down our burdens of time and reason.

In certain fiestas the very notion of order disappears. Chaos comes back and license rules. Anything is permitted: the customary hierarchies vanish, along with all social, sex, caste, and trade distinctions. Men disguise themselves as women, gentlemen as slaves, the poor as the rich. The army, the clergy, and the law are ridiculed. Obligatory sacrilege, ritual profanation is committed. Love becomes promiscuity. Sometimes the fiesta becomes a Black Mass. Regulations, habits and customs are violated. Respectable people put away the dignified expressions and conservative clothes that isolate them, dress up in gaudy colors, hide behind a mask, and escape from themselves.

Therefore the fiesta is not only an excess, a ritual squandering of the goods painfully accumulated during the rest of the year; it is also a revolt, a sudden immersion in the formless, in pure being. By means of the fiesta society frees itself from the norms it has established. It ridicules its gods, its principles, and its laws: it denies its own self.

The fiesta is a revolution in the most literal sense of the word. In the confusion that it generates, society is dissolved, is drowned, insofar as it is an organism ruled according to certain laws and principles. But it drowns in itself, in its own original chaos or liberty. Everything is united: good and evil, day and night, the sacred and the profane. Everything merges, loses shape and individuality and returns to the primordial mass. The fiesta is a cosmic experiment, an experiment in disorder, reuniting contradictory elements and principles in order to bring about a renascence of life. Ritual death promotes a rebirth; vomiting increases the appetite; the orgy, sterile in itself, renews the fertility of the mother or of the earth. The fiesta is a return to a remote and undifferentiated state, prenatal or presocial. It is a return that is also a beginning, in accordance with the dialectic that is inherent in social processes.

The group emerges purified and strengthened from this plunge into chaos. It has immersed itself in its own origins, in the womb from which it came. To express it in another way, the fiesta denies society as an organic system of differentiated forms and principles, but affirms it as a source of creative energy. It is a true “re-creation,” the opposite of the “recreation” characterizing modern vacations, which do not entail any rites or ceremonies whatever and are as individualistic and sterile as the world that invented them.

Society communes with itself, during the fiesta. Its members return to original chaos and freedom. Social structures break down and new relationships, unexpected rules, capricious hierarchies are created. In the general disorder everybody forgets himself and enters into otherwise forbidden situations and places. The bounds between audience and actors, officials and servants, are erased. Everybody takes part in the fiesta, everybody is caught up in its whirlwind. Whatever its mood, its character, its meaning, the fiesta is participation, and this trait distinguishes it from all other ceremonies and social phenomena. Lay or religious, orgy or saturnalia, the fiesta is a social act based on the full participation of all its celebrants.

The opposition between life and death was not so absolute to the ancient Mexicans as it is to us. Life extended into death, and vice versa. Death was not the natural end of life but one phase of an infinite cycle. Life, death and resurrection were stages of a cosmic process which repeated itself continuously. Life had no higher function than to flow into death, its opposite and complement; and death, in turn, was not an end in itself: man fed the insatiable hunger of life with his death. Sacrifices had a double purpose: on the one hand man participated in the creative process, at the same time paying back to the gods the debt contracted by his species; on the other hand he nourished cosmic life and also social life, which was nurtured by the former.

Perhaps the most characteristic aspect of this conception is the impersonal nature of the sacrifice. Since their lives did not belong to them, their deaths lacked any personal meaning. The dead – including warriors killed in battle and women dying in childbirth, companions of Huitzilopochtli the sun god – disappeared at the end of a certain period, to return to the undifferentiated country of the shadows, to be melted into the air, the earth, the fire, the animating substance of the universe. Our indigenous ancestors did not believe that their deaths belonged to them, just as they never thought that their lives were really theirs in the Christian sense. Everything wa examined to determine, from birth, the life and death of each man: his social class,, the year, the place, the day, the hour. The Aztec was as little responsible for his actions as for his death.

Space and time were bound together and formed an inseparable whole. There was a particular “time” for each place, each of the cardinal points and the center in which they were immobilized. And this … space-time possessed its own virtues and powers, which profoundly influenced and determined human life. To be born on a certain day was th to pertain to a place, a time, a color and a destiny. All was traced out in advance. Where we dissociate space and time, mere stage sets for the actions of our lives, there were as many “space-times” for the Aztecs as there were combinations of the priestly calendar, each one endowed with a particular qualitative significance, superior to human will.

VIII the Mexican Intelligentsia

Alfonso Reyes offers us not only a criticism of language but also a philosophy and an ethics. It is not surprising, then, that while he defends the clarity of words and the universality of their meanings, he also points out a duty. The Mexican writer has certain specific obligations beyond the fidelity to language which should characterize every writer. The first and most important of these is to express our own nature – or, as Reyes put it, “to seek the soul of our nation.”This is an extremely arduous task, because we have only a received language, not one we created ourselves, to express the thoughts and feelings of our confused, inarticulate people. That is,we must use the language of Gongora and Quevedo, Cervantes and St. John of the Cross to express a very different world. For us, writing means breaking down the Spanish language and re-creating it in such a way that it becomes Mexican without ceasing to be Spanish. Our fidelity to language thus implies fidelity to our people and to a tradition that is ours only through an act of intellectual violence. Both terms of this immense obligation are vitally present in the writings of Alfonso Reyes, and for this reason his best work consists in the invention of a universal language and form that can contain all our unexpressed conflicts without smothering or disfiguring them.

IX the Dialectic of Solitude

Love is one of the clearest examples of that double instinct which causes us to dig deeper into our own selves and, at the same time, to emerge from ourselves and to realize ourselves in another: death and re-creation, solitude and communion. But it is not the only one. In the life of every man there are periods that are both departures and reunions, separations and reconciliations. Each of these phases is an attempt to transcend our solitude, and is followed by an immersion in strange environments.

the child must face an irreducible reality, and at first he responds to its stimuli with tears or silence. The cord that united him with life has been broken, and he tries to restore it by means of play and affection. this is the beginning of a dialogue that ends only when he recites the monologue of his death. But his relations with the eternal world are not passive now, as they were in his prenatal life, because the world demands a response. Reality has to be peopled by his …. Thanks to games an fantasies, the inert natural world of adults – a chair, a book, anything – suddenly acquires a life of its own. The child uses the magic power of language and gesture, symbol or act, to create a living world in which objects are capable of replying to his questions. Language, freed of intellectual meanings, ceases to be a collection of signs and again becomes a delicate and magnetic organism. Verbal representation equals reproduction of the object itself, in the same way that a carving, for the primitive man, is not a representation but a double of the object represented. Speech again becomes a creative activity dealing with realities, that is, a potic activity. Through magic the child creates a world in his own image and thus resolves his solitude. Self-awareness begins when we doubt the magical efficacy of our instruments.

The feeling of solitude, which is a nostalgic longing for the body from which we were cast out, is a longing for a place. According to an ancient belief, held by virtually all peoples, that place is the center of the world, the navel of the universe. Sometimes it is identified with paradise, and both of these with the group’s real or mythical place of origin. Among the Aztecs, the dead returned to Mictlan, a place situated in the north, from which they had emigrated. Almost all the rites connected with the founding of cities or houses allude to a search for that holy center from which we were riven out. The great sanctuaries – Rome, Jerusalem, Mecca – are at the center of the world, or symbolize and prefigure it. Pilgrimages to these sanctuaries are ritual repetitions of what each group did in the mythical past before establishing itself in the promised land. Teh custom of circling a house or city before entering it has the same origin.

The myth of the labyrinth pertains to this set of belies. SEveral related ideas make the labyrinth one of the most fertile and meaningful mythical symbols: the talisman or other object, capable of restoring health or freedom to the people, a the center of a sacred area; the hero or saint who, after doing penance and performing the rites of expiation, enters the labyrinth or enchanted palace; and the hero’s return either to save or redeem his city or to found a new one. In the Perseus myth the mystical elements are almost invisible, but in that of the Holy Grail asceticism and mysticism are closely related: sin, which causes sterility in the lands and subjects of the Fisher King; purification rites; spiritual combat; and, finally, grace – that is, communion.

We have been expelled from the center of the world and are condemned to search for it through jungles and deserts or in the underground mazes of the labyrinth. Also, there was a time when time was not succession and transition, but rather the perpetual source of a fixed present in which all times, past and future, were contained. When man was exiled from that eternity in which all ties were one, he entered chronometric time an became a prisoner of the clock and the calendar. As soon as time was divided up into yesterday, today and tomorrow, into hours, minutes and seconds, man ceased to be one with time, ceased to coincide with the flow of reality. When one says, “at this moment,” the moment has already passed. these spatial measurements of time separate man from reality – which is a continuous present – and turn all the presences in which reality manifests itself, as Bergson said, into phantasms.

If we consider the nature of these two opposing ideas, it becomes clear that chronometric time is a homogeneous succession lacking all particularity. It is always the same, always indifferent to pleasure or pain. Mythological time, on the other hand, is impregnated with all the particulars of our lives: it is as long as eternity or as short as a breath, ominous or propitious, fecund or sterile. This idea allows fr the existence of a number of varying times. Life and time coalesce to form a single whole, an indivisible unity. To the Aztecs, time was associated with space, and each day with one of the cardinal points. The same can be said of any religious calendar. A fiesta is more than a date or anniversary. It does not celebrate an event: it reproduces it. Chronometric time is destroyed and the eternal present – for a brief but immeasurable period – is reinstated. The fiesta becomes the creator of time; repetition becomes conception. the golden age returns. Whenever the priest officiates in the Mystery of the Holy Mass, Christ descends to the here and now, giving himself to man and saving the world. The true believers, as Kierkegaard wished, are “contemporaries of Jesus.” And myths and religious fiestas are not the only ways in which the present can interrupt succession. Love and poetry also offer us a brief revelation of this original time. Juan Ramon Jimenez wrote: “More time is not more eternity,” referring to the eternity of the poetic instant. Unquestionably the conception of time as a fixed present and as pure actuality is more ancient than that of chronometric time, which is not an immediate apprehension of the flow of reality but is instead a rationalization of its passing.

This dichotomy is expressed in the opposition between history and myth or between history and poetry. In myth – as in religious fiestas or children’s stories – time has no dates: “Once upon a time…” “In the days when animals could talk…” “In the beginning…” And that beginning, which is not such-and-such a year or day, contains all beginnings and ushers us into living time where everything truly begins every instant. Through ritual, which realizes and reproduces a mythical account, and also through poetry and fairy tales, man gains access to a world in which opposites are reconciled and united. As VAn der Leeuw said, “all rituals have the property of taking place in the now, at this very instant.” Every poem we read is a re-creation, that is, a ceremonial ritual, a fiesta.

The theater and the epic are also fiestas. In theatrical performances and in the reciting of poetry, ordinary time ceases to operate and is replaced by original time. Thanks to participation, the mythical time – father of all the times that mask reality – coincides with our inner, subjective time. Man, the prisoner of succession, breaks out of his invisible jail and enters living time: his subjective life becomes identical with the exterior time, because this has ceased to be a spatial measurement and has changed into a source, a spring, in the absolute present, endlessly re-creating itself. Myths and fiestas, whether secular or religious, permit man to emerge from his solitude and become one with creation. Therefore myth – disguised, obscure, hidden – reappears in almost all our acts and intervenes decisively in our history: it opens the doors of communion.

Contemporary man has rationalized the myths, but he has not been able to destroy them. many of our scientific truths, like the majority of our moral, political and philosophical conceptions, are only new ways of expressing tendencies that were embodied earlier in mythical forms. The rational language of our day can barely hide the ancient myths behind it. Utopias – especially modern political utopias (despite their rationalistic disguises) – are violently concentrated expressions fo the tendency that causes every society to imagine a golden age from which the social group was exiled and to which man will return on the Day of Days. Modern fiestas – political meetings, parades, demonstrations and other ritual acts – prefigure the advent of that day of redemption. Everyone hopes society will return to its original freedom, and man to his primitive purity. Then time will cease to torment us with doubts, with the necessity of choosing between good and evil, the just and the unjust, the real and the imaginary. The kingdom of the fixed present, of perpetual communion, will be re-established. REality will tear off its masks, and at last we will be able to know both it and our fellow men.

Every moribund or sterile society attempts to save itself by creating a redemption myth which is also a fertility myth, a creation myth. Solitude and sin are resolved in communion and fertility. The society we live in today has also created its myth. The sterility of the bourgeois world will end in suicide or a new form of creative participation. This is the “theme of our times,” in Ortega y Gasset’s phrase; it is the substance of our dreams and the meaning of our acts.

Modern man likes to pretend that his thinking is wide-awake. But this wide-awake thinking has led us into the mazes of a nightmare in which the torture chambers are endlessly repeated in the mirrors of reason. When we emerge, perhaps we will realize that we have been dreaming with our eyes open, and that the dreams of reason are intolerable. And then, perhaps, we will begin to dream once more with our eyes closed.

the Lucifer Effect – Updated

26 November 2014

What this says about what make us behave in ways counter to our expectations, or, how to turn good people evil.

the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) has become notorious for how quickly it spun out of its designers’ control. It was a shocking lesson in how particular situations can set people against their better natures. There is a lot written about it,  – the Lucifer Effect is the first thorough presentation of the experiment and its conclusions.

the Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo

Life is the art of being well-deceived; and in order that the deception may succeed it must be habitual and uninterrupted.
–William Hazlitt, “On Pedantry,” The Round Table. 1817

Our sense of power is more vivid when we break a man’s spirit than when we win his heart.
–Eric hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (1954)

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Time Maps

26 April 2014

Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past by Eviatar Zerubavel


Chapter 1 The Social shape of the Past

Plotlines and Narratives

p 13

One of the most remarkable features of human memory is our ability to mentally transform essentially unstructured series of events into seemingly coherent historical narratives. We normally view past events as episodes in a story (as evident from the fact that the French and Spanish languages have a single word for both story and history, the apparent difference between the two is highly overstated), and it is basically such “stories” that make these events historically meaningful.


I believe that we are actually dealing here with essentially conventional sociomnemonic structures. As is quite evident from the fact that certain schematic formats of narrating the past are far more prevalent in some cultural and historical contests than others, they are by and large manifestations of unmistakably social traditions of remembering.



A perfect example of such a plotline is the general type of historical narrative associated with the idea of progress. Such a “later is better” scenario is quite commonly manifested…


Furthermore, as a brainchild of the Enlightenment, progressionism is a hallmark of modernity and has certainly been a much more common historical outlook over the past two hundred years than during any earlier period.



Whereas progress implies an idealized future, nostalgia [decline, deterioration] presupposes a highly romanticized past.


Often articulated in nostalgic visions of some mythical golden age after which things have essentially been going “downhill,” such as pronouncedly regressive mnemonic tradition is also quite apparent in the general tendency to remember our ancestors as larger-than-life, almost superhuman figures.

A Zigzag in Time


As one might expect, such “zigzag” narratives assumes one (or some combination) of two basic forms. One is the rise-and-fall narrative


The other, essentially obverse form is the Cinderella-like fall-and-rise narrative… A perfect example is the conversion narrative… or the recovery narrative

Turning points are the mental road signs making such perceived transitions.

Ladders and Trees


…the essence of unilinearity is the vision of a serial progression, a one-dimensional sequence of unmistakably successive episodes such as Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age; the 1950s,t he 1960s, and the 1970s; or childhood, adulthood, and old age.

– unilinear narratives

– evolutionary narratives

Circles and Rhymes


As odd as it may seem to us now, until relatively recently that was the way humans had probably always experienced time. Only in the last couple of millennia, in fact, did our uncompromisingly linear view of the past… actually come into being.

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

–Mark Twain

Mountains and Valleys

p 30

Another extremely useful social site of memory in this regard is the calendar. As a cycle of “holy days” specifically designated to commemorate particular historical events, the calendar year usually embodies major narratives collectively woven by mnemonic communities from their past. Examining which particular events are commemorated on holidays can thus help us identify sacred periods in their history.


As far as national memory is concerned…the social shape of the past is essentially bimodal, with most of the events commemorated on national holidays having occurred either in the very distant past or within the last two hundred years. Events that are calendrically commemorated by nations thus typically form two chronologically dense clusters representing their respective spiritual and political origins and separated from each other by long stretches of commemoratively “empty” time.


Yet societies often encompass more than just a single mnemonic community, and some countries consequently observe holidays of two (Syria), three (Suriname), four (Bangladesh), and even six (India) different religions, thereby officially commemorating side by side multiple pasts that are quite independent of one another. As one might expect, when nations trace their spiritual roots to more than one religion, their calendars often embody commemograms reflecting the structural complexity of their identities.


…as far as calendrical commemoration is concerned, the eighth, tenth, twelfth, and fourteenth centuries are considered virtually “empty” worldwide!

Legato and Stoccato


Regardless of the specific form of historical narrative we use to help us impose some retrospective structure on the past, there are two basic modes of envisioning the actual progression of time within it. … gradual, abrupt.

Chapter 2 Historical Continuity


…many [historical narratives], in fact, regard the present as a continuation of the past. Thus, instead of one replacing the other, the two are viewed as part of an integrated whole.

…the present is largely a cumulative, multilayered collage of past residues continually deposited through the cultural equivalent of the geological process of sedimentation.


Continuous identities are thus products of the mental integration of otherwise disconnected points in time into a seemingly single historical whole. More specifically, it is our memory that makes such mental integration possible, thereby allowing us to establish the distinctly mnemonic illusion of continuity.

Same Place


Despite the fact that mnemonic bridging is basically a mental act, we often try to ground it in some tangible reality. Indeed, one of the most effective ways of bridging the gap between noncontiguous points in history is by establishing a connection that allows them to almost literally touch one another.


Constancy of place is a formidable basis for establishing a strong sense of sameness.


pilgrimage is specifically designed to bring mnemonic communities into closer “contact” with their collective past.

Relics and Memorabilia


…relics basically allow us to live in the present while at the same time literally “cling” to the past.

“Same” Time


Solidifying such periodic fusion with the past through the establishment of an annual cycle of commemorative holidays is one of the main functions of the calendar. (In helping ensure that we periodically “revisit” our collective past, the calendar also plays a major role in our mnemonic socialization).

Historical Analogy


Like any other symbol, historical analogies clearly transcend their historical specificity.

Chapter 3 Ancestry and Descent

Chapter 4 Historical Discontinuity

History and Prehistory


Consider also the ritual haircut that marks the transition from civilian to military life, or the formal renaming of religious converts, slaves, and nuns. Such rites of separation are specifically designed to dramatize the symbolic transformations of identity involved in establishing new beginnings, essentially implying that it is indeed quite possible to “turn over a new leaf” and be somehow “reborn.”

Chapter 5 In the Beginnings



As we very well know, each of the different parties waging such heated mnemonic battles tend to regard its own historical narrative, which is normally based on its own typically one-sided “time maps,” as the only correct one, which is quite understandable given the unmistakably partisan political agenda it is specifically designed to promote.


…there are not only many different patterns of organizing the past in our heads but also various different methods for arranging each of those specific patterns. Only a pronouncedly multiperspective look at several such “maps” together can provide us with a complete picture of the inevitably multifaceted social topography of the past.











Hidden Rhythms

11 April 2014

Hidden Rhyths – Schedules and Calendars in Social Life

by Eviatar Zerubavel


p xiv

The discussion of the symbolic function of calendrical systems indicates that people clearly view time not only as a physico-mathematical entity, but also as an entity which is imbued with meaning. .. One of the fundamental essences of many religious systems is the necessity of achieving a total separation of the sacred and profane domains so as to maintain a conceptual distinction – and, thus, prevent any moral confusion – between them.

Time plays a central role in facilitating the dichotomization of the universe into sacred and profane domains which are mutually exclusive, since it allows man to establish in a clear-cut manner and with minimum ambiguity whether something “belongs” within one sphere of life or another.


Chapter One – Temporal Regularity


let me first delineate the major dimensions of the temporal profile of a situation or event. One fundamental parameter of situations and events is their sequential structure, which tells us in what order they take place. A second major parameter, their duration, tells us how long they last. A third parameter, their temporal location, tells us when they take place, whereas the fourth parameter, their rate of recurrence, tells us how often they do.

There are many forms of temporal patterns. Basically, however, they all fall into one of the following categories: physiotemporal patterns, biotemporal patterns, and sociotemporal patterns.


…this phenomenon [of temporal rigidity] is probably one of the fundamental parameters of any social order. It is definitely among the main characteristics of modern social life, one of the key phenomena that provide it with an unmistakable structure. As Lewis Mumford put it, “The first characteristic of modern machine civilization is its temporal regularity.”

see Mumford, Lewis Technics and Civilization


…in many non-Western civilizations, it is human activity that regulates the calendar, in the modern West it is the calendar (along with the schedule) that regulates human activity!

see Evans-Pritchard, EE Africa


It should be pointed out, … that we probably would have never felt the need to invent daylight saving time were it not for the fact that our standard wake-up time is dictated by the clock rather than by the sun!


…we ought to remember that the calendar day, month, and year are slightly modified versions – and, therefore, only approximations – of their original astronomical models.


As Kevin Lynch has pointed out, “As men free themselves from submission to the external cycles of nature, relying more often on self created and variable social cycles, they increasingly risk internal disruption.”

see Lynch, Kevin What Time is this Place?


It is a well-known fact that regular physiotemporal and biotemporal patterns provide us with such a high degree of predictability that we can use our natural environment in itself as a fairly reliable clock or calendar. It is quite easy, for example, to tell the time of day by reference to the position of the sun in the sky. In a similar fashion, many of us can easily tell the season – if not the actual month – by referring to the temperature, the color of the leaves, the birds and animals around, the flowers that blossom, or even our allergy symptoms. Societies that lunar or lunisolar calendars can also tell the approximate date by the phase of the moon.

Given this [sociotemporal] map, it is quite often relatively easy to tell the time by simply referring to our social environment. !


We very often use our natural environment in order to tell what season or time of day it is. However, only our social environment can be of any help to us when we try to figure out what day it is.


One of the major contentions of cognitive psychology is that man essentially perceives objects as some sort o f “figures” against some “ground.” … A “groundless” figure or situation cannot be defined in any way which would make sense and is, therefore, totally meaningless.


Very often, when we perceive a certain figure against its “normal” temporal ground, we may not even notice it, because the entire gestalt passes as “normal.” However we would most likely become somewhat surprised if not actually alarmed, were we to perceive the very same figure against a “wrong” temporal ground.

Chapter Two – the Schedule


The first major institution that man invented in order to establish and maintain temporal regularity was the calendar. The calendar is primarily responsible for he creation of most of the temporally regular patterns through which nearly all societies, social institutions, and social groups manage to introduce some orderliness to their lives. They do that mainly by regulating the temporal location and the rate of recurrence of socially significant collective events..

… That level of temporal regularity, which is so uniquely characteristic of modern life, has become possible only with the invention of another institution – the schedule.


The earliest instance, in the West, of a rigid schedule that imposed temporal regularity … is none other than the Benedictine “table of hours” – the horarium.

Schedules – the Conventional Dimension


quoting Berger and Luckmann from the Social Construction of Reality

Reification is the apprehension of human phenomena as if they were things, that is, in on-human or possibly supra-human terms.. Another way of saying this is that reification is the apprehension of the products of human activity as if they were something else than human products – such as facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestations of divine will. Reification implies that man is capable of forgetting his own authorship of the human world. … The reified world is, by definition, a dehumanized world. It is experienced by man as a strange facticity. … The objectivity of the social world means that it confronts man as something outside of himself.

Routine and Spontaneity


…gaining control over the calendar has always been essential for attaining social control in general.


the establishment of routine is accomplished only at the expense of spontaneity.

the Utilitarian Philosophy of Time


…from the very start, the evolution of the schedule in the West has always been embedded within a pronouncedly economic philosophy of time.

Schedules and Social Solidarity


The temporal coordination of complementary differences among [group members] enhances their interdependence and, thus, functions as a most powerful basis for a strong organic solidarity within the group. The organization of rotations, shifts, night duties, calls, and vacations among hospital staff is a perfect case in point.

Chapter Three – the Calendar

Calendars and Group Identity


The fact that Jews have persistently maintained their practice of resting on Saturday even though, for many countries, they have lived among Gentiles who rest on Sunday (in the Christian world) or who regard Friday as their holy day (the Moslems) obviously helped to actually segregate them from their surrounding social environment. …

This explains why it was particularly during the period of Exile…that the Sabbath grew to be such an important institution of Jewish life. …

Ironically, the Christian ecclesiastical week originally derived from the Jewish week, and the Christian practice of resting on Sunday … was originally a reaction against the Jewish practice of resting on Saturday.


quoting Joshua Manoach from “The People of Israel – the People of Time” in Calendar for 6000 Years.

–   The soul of Israel, its religion and its customs, is anchored in its time. Replacing its national-religious time by the time of others… is suicidal for a distinct and independent people.

–   Every people has its own time, which ties it to its land and place, and in which its history and holidays are embedded. … Every people that has tried to separate itself from its time has disappeared and is no longer remembered among the living.


from the Book of Jubilees (6:30-32) and the Book of Enoch (74.12, see also 82.6)

–   And all the days of the commandment will be two and fifty weeks of days, and these will make the entire year complete. …And command thou the children of Israel that they observe the years according to this reckoning – three hundred and sixty-four days, and thee will constitute a complete year.

–   And the sun and the stars bring in all the years exactly, so that they do not advance or delay their position by a single day unto eternity; but complete the years with perfect justice in 364 days

this calendar was quite distinct from the one adhered to by the Jewish community at large around that time. It was based on a 364-day annual cycle that was divided into fifty-two weeks, as well as into four 91-day seasons, each of which was thirteen weeks long and consisted of three 30-day months plus an additional memorial day.


from Jacob Licht

The [Dead Sea Sect]’s adoption of the 364-day calendar was the single most decisive factor of its separation, for practical symbiosis of two groups using different calendars is impossible.

…[the prophet Mohammed] managed to utterly dissociate the Islamic religious holidays he introduced from the pagan Arab festivals from which many of them actually derived, by establishing an entirely new annual cycle. He abolished the intercalary month of Nasi … and, thus, replaced the lunisolar calendar that had prevailed in Arabia with an entirely lunar calendar.

Calendars as Symbols


The tremendous symbolic significance of the calendar is quite evident from the fact that substantial calendrical reforms have always been associated with great social – political as well as cultural – reforms.


As becomes quite clear from the strong resistance toward the introduction of the Gregorian calendar to Britain in 1752 and to Greece and the Greek Orthodox church in 1924, man has a general tendency to cling to traditional practices of time reckoning and dating.

Toward a Universal Calendar


In 1873 and 1875 Japan and Egypt became the first non-Christian countries to adopt the Gregorian calendar. .. That set a most significant precedent; from then on, adopting the “European” calendar has been regarded as an actual facilitator of international communication as well as a symbol of modernization and Westernization.

In order to gain its universal stature and validity, the Gregorian calendar clearly had to be stripped of any particularistic associations it might have originally had. and, indeed, at this stage, it cannot be regarded any longer as a Christian institutions rather, it has become one of the major symbols of Western civilization at large.


The history of the Gregorian calendar, however, seems to indicate quite clearly what the prevalent trend of the last few centuries has been – a shift from particularism toward universalism, to the point of standardizing time reckoning and dating even at the global level and establishing no less than an international temporal reference framework.

Chapter Four – Sacred Time and Profane Time


quoting Clifford Geerts from ” Person, time, and Conduct in Bali” in the Interpretation of Cultures (1973)

[The calendar] cuts time up into bounded units not in order to count and total them but to describe and characterize them, to formulate their differential social, intellectual, and religious significance.

…people clearly do not relate to time only as a psysico-mathematical entity. They also view it from a qualitative perspective, as an entity which is imbued with meaning.


…the meaning of social acts and situations is, to a large extent, temporally situated. In other words, time seems to constitute one of the major parameters of the context on which the meaning of social acts and situations depends.


In order to accomplish such a total separation between the sacred domain and the profane domain, man has learned how to employ various dimensions of the world for the purpose of encoding the fundamental mutually exclusive conceptual distinction between the categories of the sacred and the profane. Time is definitely one such dimension…


Through the dimension of time, the mutual exclusiveness of the sacred and the profane spheres of life is both manifested and sustained.

quoting Durkheim from Elementary Forms of Religious Life

It is necessary to assign determined days or periods to the [religious life], from which all profane occupations are excluded. … There is no religion, and, consequently, no society which has not known and practiced this division of time into two distinct parts, alternating with one another.

Sabbath and Weekdays


It is essentially through interrupting the continuity of nature, by transforming an undifferentiated continuum into discrete classes and categories, that we manage to transform nature into culture. This is quite evident with regard to temporality: as cultural beings, we have cultivated a special cognitive ability to carve out of the continuum of the time segments that are handled discretely, as if they were quantum units.


…according to Edmund Leach, “Social time is made to appear discontinuous by inserting intervals of liminal, sacred non-time into the discontinuous flow of normal secular time.” Leach has proposed a “pendulum view of time,” claiming that temporality is essentially discontinuity of repeated contrasts, a “succession of alternations” between the sacred and the profane, with festivals marking the temporary transition from one opposite to another.

Basically, whereas profane time is historical and is being represented in a linear fashion, sacred time is essentially ahistorical and is represented in a cyclical manner.


In those days at this time

Chapter Five – Private Time and Public Time

the Bureaucratization of Professional Commitment


If I had to point out the single most significant temporal feature of the modern work situation which symbolically represents the official recognition of the modern individual’s right to e professionally inaccessible at times, I would definitely point out the temporal rigidity of modern work schedules. I believe it to be one of the key structural characteristics of modern social organization.


That so many wage earners today are being paid by units of time such as he hour or the day also reflects, as well as reinforces, the temporal rigidity of their work schedules and the partiality of their professional commitments.

Moonwalking with Einstein

27 December 2013

The Art and Science of Remembering Everything


Without time, there would be no need for a memory. But without a memory, would there be such a thing as time? I don’t mean time in the sense that, say, physicists speak of it; the fourth dimension, the independent variable, the quantity that compresses when yu approach the speed of light I mean psychological time, the tempo at which we experience life’s passage. Time as a mental construct. …

“I’m working on expanding subjective time so that it feels like I live longer,” Ed [Cooke] mumbled to me on the sidewalk outside the Con Ed headquarters, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. “The ide is to avoid that feeling you have when you get to the end of the year and feel like, where the hell did that go?”

“And how are you going to do that?” I asked.

“By remembering more. By providing my life with more chronological landmarks. By making myself more aware of time’s passage.”

I told him that his plan reminded me of Dunbar, the pilot in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 who reasons that since time flies when you’re having fun, the surest way to slow life’s passage is to make it as boring as possible.

Ed shrugged. “Quite the opposite. The more we pack our lives with memories, the slower time seems to fly.”

Our subjective experience of time is highly variable. We all know that days can pass like weeks and months can feel like years, and that the opposite can be just as true: A month or year can zoom by in what feels like no time at all.

Our lives are structured by our memories of events. Event X happened just before the big Paris vacation. I was doing Y in the first summer after I learned to drive. Z happened the weekend after I landed my first job. We remember events by positioning them in time relative to other events. Just as we accumulate memories of facts by integrating them into a network, we accumulate life experiences by integrating them into a web of other chronological memories. The denser the web, the denser the experience of time.

It’s a point well illustrated by Michel Siffre, a French chronobiologist (he studies the relationship between time and living organisms) who conducted one of the most extraordinary acts of self-experimentation in the history of science. In 1962, Siffre spent two months living in total isolation in a subterranean cave, without access to clock, calendar, or sun. Sleeping and eating only when his body told him to, he sought to discover how the natural rhythms of human life would be affected by living “beyond time.”

Very quickly Siffre’s memory deteriorated. In the dreary darkness, ,his days melded into one another and became one continuous, indistinguishable lob Since there was nobody to talk to, and not much to do there was nothing novel to impress itself upon his memory. There were not chronological landmarks by which the could measure the passage of time. At some point he stopped being able to remember what happened even the day before. … As time began to blur, he became effectively amnesic. Soon, his sleep patterns disintegrated. Some days he’d stay awake for thirty-six straight hours, other days for eight – without being able to tell the difference. When his support team on the surface finally called down to him on September 14, the day his experiment was scheduled to wrap up, it was only August 20 in his journal. He thought only a month had gone by. His experience of time’s passage had compressed by a factor of two.

Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next – and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.


Within the category of declarative memories, psychologists make a further distinction between semantic memories, or memories for facts and concepts, and episodic memories, or memories of the experiences of our own lives. Recalling that I had eggs for breakfast this morning would be an episodic memory. Knowing that breakfast is the first meal of the day is a semantic memory. Episodic memories are located in time and space: They have a where and a when attached tot them. Semantic memories are located outside of time and space, as free-floating pieces of knowledge. These two different types of remembering seem to make use of different neural pathways, and rely on different regions of the brain, though both are critically dependent on the hippocampus and other structures within the medial temporal lobes.


It’s thought that sleep plays a critical role in this process of consolidating our memories and drawing meaning out of them. Rats that have spent an hour running around a track apparently run through the same track in their sleep, and exhibit the same patterns of neural firings with their eyes closed as when they were learning the mazes in the first place. It has been suggested that the reason our own dreams so often feel like a surreal recombination of elements plucked from real life is that they are just the by-product of experiences slowly hardening into long-term memories.


Most of the evolution that shaped the primitive brains of our prehuman ancestors into the linguistic, symbolic, neurotic modern brains that serve us (sometimes poorly) today took place during the Pleistocene, an epoch which began about 1.8 million years ago and only ended ten thousand years ago. During that period – and in a few isolated places, still to this day – our species made its living as hunter-gatherers, and it was the demands of that lifestyle that sculpted the minds we have today.


What our early human and hominid ancestors did need to remember was where to find foo and resources, and the route home, and which plants were edible and which were poisonous. Those are the sorts of vital memory skills that they depended on every day, and it was – at least in part – in order to meet those demands that human memory evolved as it did.

The principle underlying all memory techniques is that our brains don’t remember all types of information equally well. As exceptional as we are at remembering visual imagery… we’re terrible at remembering other kinds of information, like lists of words or numbers. The point of memory techniques is to…take the kinds of memories our brains aren’t good at holding on to and transform them into the kinds of memories our brains were built for.


In Australia and the American Southwest Aborigines and Apache Indians independently invented forms of the loci method. But instead o fusing buildings, they relied on the local topography to plot their narratives, and sang them across the landscape. Each hillock, boulder, and stream held a part of the story. “Myth and map became coincident,” says John Foley, a linguistic anthropologist at the University of Missouri who studies memory and oral traditions. One of the tragic consequences of embedding narrative into the landscape is that when Native Americans had land taken from them by the U.S. government, they lost not only their home but their mythology as well.”

Present Shock

31 July 2013

When Everything Happens Now

Present Shock – When Everything Happens Now by Douglas Rushkoff
Chapter 1 – Narrative Collapse

Storytelling became an acknowledged cultural value in itself In front of millions of rapt television viewers, mythologist Joseph Campbell taught PBS’s Bill Moyers how stories provide the fundamental architecture for human civilization. These broadcasts on The Power of Myth inspired filmmakers, admen, and management theorists alike to incorporate the tenets of good storytelling into their most basic frameworks. Even brain scientists came to agree that narrativity amounted to an essential component of cognitive organization. As Case Western Reserve University researcher Mark Turner concluded: “Narrative imagining  story – is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning,and of explaining.” Or as science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin observed, “The story – from Rapunzel to War and Peace – is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind, for the purpose of gaining understanding. There have been no societies that did not tell stories.”

Chapter 2 – Digiphrenia
Time is Technology

We tend to think of the assault on our temporal sensibilities as a recent phenomenon,something that happened since the advent of computers and cell hones – or at least since the punch clock and shift workers. But as technology and culture theorists have reminded us at each step of the way, all this started much, much earlier, and digiphrenia [digi for “digital,” and phrenia for “disordered condition of mental activity”] is just the latest stage in a very long and lamented progression. At each of these stages, what it meant to be a human being changed along with however it was – or through whatever it was – we related to time.

Of course, humans once lived without any concept of time at all. In this early, hunter-gatherer existence, information was exchanged physically, either orally or with gestures, in person. People lived in an eternal present, without any notion of before or after, much less history or progress. Things just were. The passage of time was not recorded or measured, but rather experienced in its various cycles. Older, wiser people and tribes became aware not just of the cycles of day and night, but of the moon and even the seasons. Since farming hadn’t yet been invented, however, seasons were not to be anticipated or exploited. Beyond gathering a few nuts as it got cooler, there was little we could do to shift or store time; the changes around us were simply enjoyed or endured.

Many religions and mythologies look back longingly on this prehistoric timelessness as a golden age, or Eden. Humanity is seen as a fetus in the womb, at one with Mother Nature. False notions of a prehistoric noble savage aside, there is at least some truth to the idea that people lacked the capacity to distinguish themselves from nature, animals, and one another. While living so completely at the mercy of nature was fraught with pain and peril, this existence was also characterized by a holism many media and cultural theorists consider to be lost to us today in a world of dualism, preferences,and hierarchies. As media theorist and Catholic priest Walter Ong put it, “Oral communication unites people in groups Writing and reading are solitary activities that throw the psyche back on itself. ..For oral cultures, the cosmos is an ongoing event with man at its center.” People living in this oral, timeless civilization saw God, or the gods, in everything around them. While they had to worry about where their next meal was coming from, they felt no pressure to succeed or to progress, to achieve or to improve. They had nowhere to go, since the very notion of a  future hadn’t yet been invented this stasis lasted several thousand years.

Everything changed, finally, in the Axial Age with the invention of text. The word-pictures of hieroglyphic writing were replaced with the more discrete symbols of an alphabet. The progenitor of a more digital style of storage, letters were precise and abstract. Combined together, they gave people a way to represent the mouth noises of oral culture in a lasting artifact. Like a digital file, a spelled word is the same everywhere it goes and does not decay. The simple twenty-two-letter alphabet popularized and democratized writing, giving people a way to record promises, debts, thoughts, and events. The things written down one day could be read and retrieved the next.

Once a line could truly be drawn in something other than sand, the notion of history as a progression became possible. with the invention of text came the ability to draft contracts, which were some of the first documents ever written, and described agreements that endured over time. With contracts came accountability, and some ability to control what lay ahead. The notion of a future was born. Religion, in the oral tradition, came from the mouth of a leader or pharaoh, himself a standing-in for God. Text transformed this passive relationship to God or nature with a contract, or, more precisely, a covenant between people and God. What God demands was no longer a matter of a tyrant’s whim or the randomness of nature, but a set of written commandments. Do this and you will get that.

This resonated well with people who were learning agriculture and developing a “reap what you sow” approach to their world Seeds planted and tended now yield a crop in the future. Scriptural laws obeyed now earn God’s good graces in the future. The world was no longer just an endless churn of cycles, but a place with a past and a future. Time didn’t merely come around; it flowed more like a river, forming a history of all that went before. In the new historical sense of time, one year came after the other. Human beings had a story that could be told – and it was, in the Torah and other written creation myths. Pagan holidays that once celebrated only the cycle of the seasons now celebrated moments in history. The spring equinox and fertility rites became the celebration of the Israelite exodus from Egypt; the solstice became the Hanukkah reclamation of the Temple, and, later, the birth of Jesus. Periods in the cycle of nature became moments in the flow of history

The new metaphor for time was the calendar. A people was defined and its activities organized by its calendar, its holidays, and its memorials. Calendars tell a culture what matters both secularly and religiously. The time for sacred days was held apart, while time for productivity could be scheduled and even enforced. The calendar carried the double-duty of representing the cyclical nature of the lunar moths and solar year while also keeping track of historical time with the passing of each numbered year. There was now a before and an after – a civilization that could measure its progress, compare its bounties from one year to the next, and, more important, try to do better. The great leaning forward had begun. We progressed from what social theorist Jeremy Rifkin called “the Earth’s universe” to “God’s universe,” conceiving ourselves as participants in a greater plan and subject to a higher law and an external gauge of our success over time.

Some of the most devout members of this religious universe were responsible for breaking time down even further Fro their new Islamic faith, Muslims were required to pray at regular intervals.Their methodical call to prayer sequence used the height of the sun and measurement of shadows to break the day into six sections. In Europe, it was Benedictine monks who organized not just the calendar year but every day into precisely defined segments for prayer work, meals, and hygiene. Handheld bells coordinated all this activity, making sure the monks performed their tasks and said their prayers at the same time. Surrendering to this early form of schedule constituted a spiritual surrender for the medieval monks, for whom personal time and autonomy were anathema to their new collective identity. Although their schedule might look simple compared with that of an average junior high student today, the monks were exercising radically strict temporal discipline for the time.

As they became more concerned (some may argue obsessed) with synchronizing all their daily routines, the monks eventually developed the first mechanical timepieces. The Benedictine clocks were celebrated for their escapement technology – basically,t he ability to control the descent of a weight (or expansion of a spring) by breaking its fall slowly and sequentially with a little ticking gear. The real leap, however, had less to do with escapement than with ticking and tocking itself. What the monks had discovered was that the way to measure time was to break it down into little beats. Just as ancient Buddhist waster clocks could mark four hours by storing the combined volume of hundreds of relatively regularly falling drops, the Benedictine clocks broke down the slow, continuous descent of weights into the regular beats of a pendulum. Tick-tock, before-after, yes-no, 1/0. Time was necessarily digital in character, always oscillating, always dividing. As an extension of the new culture of science (a word that originally meant to separate one thing from another, to split, divide, dissect), the clock turned time into something that divides, and, like any technology, created more preferences, judgments, and choices.

Even though the Chinese had accurate water clocks for centuries before the Benedictines, clocks and timing did not come to spread and dominate Asian culture the same way they did in Europe. Westerners believed this was because the Chinese didn’t know quite what to do with all this precision. But it may have had less to do with a lack than with a bounty. The Chinese already had a strong sense of culture and purpose, as well as a different relationship to work and progress over time. The introduction of timepieces capable of breaking down time didn’t have quite the same impact on a people who looked at time – for better and for worse – as belonging to someone else, anyway.

Arriving on church bell towers at the dawn of the Industrial Age, the clock was decidedly more interesting to those looking for ways to increase the efficiency of the new working classes. Ironically, perhaps, an invention designed to affirm the primacy and ubiquity of the sacred ended up becoming a tool for the expansion of the secular economy. Trade had been expanding for a century or two already, and keeping track of things numerically – as well as temporally – had become much more important. If the previous era was characterized by the calendar, this new clockwork universe would be characterized by the schedule.

The bells of the monastery became the bells of the new urban society. Trade, work, meals, and the market were all punctuated by the ringing of bells. In line with other highly centralizing Renaissance inventions such as currency and the corporation, bells were controlled by central authorities. This gave rise to distrust, as workers were never sure if their employers were measuring time fairly. The emergence of the clock tower gave everyone access to the same time, allowing for verification while also amplifying time’s authority.

Thanks to the clock tower the rhythms of daily life were now dictated by a machine. Over time, people conformed to ever more precisely scheduled routines. Where the priority of the calendar-driven civilization was God, the priorities of the clockwork universe would be speed and efficiency. Where calendars led people to thinking terms of history, clocks led people to think in terms of productivity. Time was money Only after the proliferation of the clock did the word “speed” (spelled spede) enter the English vocabulary, or did “punctual” – which used to refer to a stickler for details – come to mean a person who arrived on time.

The metaphor for the human being became the clock, with the heartbeat emulating the ticks of the escapement, counting off the seconds passing. Management of people meant management of time (the word “management” itself deriving from putting a horse through its paces, or manege). People were to perform with the precision and regularity of the machines they drove – and, in some senses, were becoming. By the 1800s, workers punched clocks to register their hours. A mechanical engineer named Frederick Taylor applied his skill with machines to human beings, inventing a new field called scientific management. he and his assistants would spread out through a company armed with stopwatches and clipboards to measure and maximize the efficiency of every aspect of the work cycle. The time it took to open a file drawer was recorded down to the hundredth of a  second, in order to determine the standard time required to complete any job. Once that was known, the efficiency of any particular worker could be measured against it. The efficiency movement was born, for which glowing accounts of increased productivity over time were published and promoted, while evidence of worker dissent was actively suppressed.

Now that human beings were being tuned up like machines, the needs of humans and machines became almost indistinguishable. The entirety of the clockwork universe may as well have been a machine, with new innovations emerging primarily to assist technology or the business on which those technologies depended. Thanks in part to the legal arguments of a railroad industry lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, for example, the rights of local municipalities were subordinated to those of corporations that needed thoroughfare for their trains and cargo. Time and timing began to mean more than place. Transcontinental commerce required synchronized activity over great distances, leading to “standard time” and the drawing of time zones across the map. “Greenwich Mean time’s placement in the United Kingdom represented the British Empire’s lingering domination of the globe.) Likewise, the telegraph emerged primarily as a communication system through which train crashes could be minimized. Directing the motion of trains with red lights and green lights was eventually applied to cars and ultimately to people navigating the crosswalks – all timed to maximize efficiency, productivity, and speed. In the clockwork universe, all human activity – from shift work to lunch breaks to TV viewing to blind dates – involved getting bodies to the right place at the right time, in accordance with the motions of the clock. We were as clocks ourselves, with arms that moved and hearts that counted and alarms that warned us and bells that went off in our heads. Jut wind me up in the morning.

If the clockwork universe equated the human body with the mechanics of the clock, the digital universe now equates human consciousness with the processing of the computer. we joke that things don’t compute, that we need a reboot, or that our memory has been wiped. In nature, our activities were regulated by the turning of the Earth. While the central clock tower may have coordinated human activity from above, in a digital network this control is distributed – or at least it seems that way. We each have our own computer or device onto which we install our choice of software (if we’re lucky), and then use or respond to it individually. The extent to which our devices are conforming to external direction and synchronization for the most part remains a mystery to us, and the effect feels like top-down coordination than personalized, decentralized programs.

The analog clock imitated the circularity of the day, but digital timekeeping has no arms, no circles, no moving parts. It is number, stationary in time. It just is. The tribal community lived in the totality of circular time; the farmers of God’s universe understand before and after; workers of the clockwork universe lived by the tick; and we creatures of the digital era must relate to the pulse. Digital time does not flow; it flicks. Like any binary, discrete decision, it is either here or there. In contrast to our experience of the passing of time, digital time is always in the now, or in no time. It is still. Poised.

Time in the digital era is no longer linear but disembodied and associative. the past is not something behind us on the timeline but dispersed through the sea of information. Like a digital unconscious, the raw data sits forgotten unless accessed by a program in the future. Everything is recorded, yet almost none of it feels truly accessible. A change in file format renders decades of stored files unusable, while a silly, forgotten Facebook comment we wrote when drunk can resurface at a job interview.

In the digital universe, our personal history and its sense of narrative is succeeded by our social networking profile – a snapshot of the current moment. The information itself – our social graph of friend and likes – is a product being sold to market researchers in order to better predict and guide our futures. Using past data to steer the future, however, ends up negating the present. The futile quest for omniscience we looked at earlier in this chapter encourages us, particularly business, to seek ever more fresh and up-to-the-minute samples, as if this will render the present coherent to us. But we are really just chasing after what has already happened and ignoring whatever is going on now Similarly, as individuals, our efforts to keep up with the latest Tweet or update do not connect us to the present moment but ensure that we are remaining focused on what just happened somewhere else. We guide ourselves and our businesses as if steering a car by watching a slide show in the rearview mirror. This is the disjointed, misapplied effort of digiphrenia.

Yet instead of literally coming to our senses, we change our value system to support the premises under which we are operating, abstracting our experience one step further from terra firma. the physical production of the factory worker gives way to the mental production of the computer user. Instead of measuring progress in acre of territory or the height of skyscrapers, we do it in terabytes of data, whose value is dependent on increasingly smaller units of time-stamped freshness.

Time itself becomes just another form of information – another commodity – to be processed. instead of measuring change from one state of affairs to another, we measure the rate of change, and the rate at which that rate is changing, and so on. Instead of proceeding from the past to the future, time now proceeds along derivatives, from location to speed to acceleration and beyond .We may like to think that the only constant is change, except from the fact that it isn’t really true – change is changing, too. As Mark Mcdonald, of IT research and advisory company Gartner, put it, “The nature of change is changing because the flow and control of information has become turbulent, no longer flowing top down, but flowing in every direction at all times. This means that the ability to manage and lead change is no longer based on messaging, communication and traditional sponsorship. Rather it is based on processes of informing, enrolling and adapting that are significantly more disruptive and difficult to manage for executives and leaders.

Or as Dave Gray, of the social media consultancy Dachis Group, explains it, “Change is not a once-in-a-while thing so much as something that is going to be happening all the time. Change is accelerating, to the point where it will soon be nearly continuous. Periods of sustained competitive advantage are getting shorter, and there are a host of studies that confirm that. It’s not just something that is happening in technology either.It’s happening in every industry.”

These analysts are describing the new turbulence of a present-shock universe where change is no longer an event that happens, but a steady state of existence. Instead of managing change, we simply hope to be iterated into the next version of reality that the system generates. The only enduring truth in such a scheme is evolution, which is why the leading spokespeople for this world-after-calendars-and-clocks tend to be evolutionary scientists: we are not moving through linear time; we are enacting to discrete, punctuated steps of a program. What used to pass for the mysteriousness of consciousness is shrugged off as an emergent phenomenon rising from the complexity of information. As far as we know, they may be right.

Pacing and Leading

By letting technology lead the pace, we do not increase genuine choice at all. Rather, we disconnect ourselves from whatever it is we may actually be doing. Bloggers [ahem] disconnect themselves from the bets they may be covering by working through the screen and keyboard, covering the online versions of their subjects. Designers base their fashions and handbags on the computer readouts of incoming calls from housewives at 1 a.m. Lovers expect immediate and appropriate responses to their text messages, however tired or overworked (or drunk) the partner might be. Programmers expect themselves to generate the same quality code at 2 a.m. as they did at 2 p.m. earlier – and are willing to medicate themselves in order to do so.

In each of these cases, the bloggers, designers, lovers, and programmers all sacrifice their connection to natural and emergent rhythms and patterns in order to match those dictated by their technologies and th artificial situations they create. They miss out on the actual news cycle and its ebb and flow of activity. They work less efficiently by refusing to distinguish between naturally peak productive and peak restorative hours. Designers miss out on quite powerfully determinative cultural trends and cycles by focusing on the mediated responses of insomniac television viewers. And their articles, programs, and creative output all suffer for it.

It’s an easy mistake to make.The opportunity offered to us by digital technology is to reclaim our time and to program our devices to conform to our personal and collective rhythms. Computers do not really care about time they are machines operating on internal clocks that are not chronological, but events-based. This happens, then that happens. .They don’t care how much – or how little – time passes between each step of the sequence. This relationship to time offers unique opportunities.

Pacing and Leading

At the beginning of the new moon, for example, one’s acetylcholine rises along with the capacity to perform. Acetylcholine is traditionally associated with attention. “The mood it evokes in us is an Energizer Bunny-like pep. That vibe can be used to initiate social interactions, do chores and routines efficiently, and strive for balance in our activities.”

Nearer to the full moon, an uptick in serotonin increases self-awareness, generating both high focus and high energy. Serotonin, the chemical that gets boosted by drugs like Prozac, is thought to communicate the abundance or dearth of food resources to our brain. “When under its influence we can feel euphoric, spontaneous, and yet composed and sedate. Whereas acetylcholine worked to anchor us to our physical world, serotonin buoys us to the mental realm, allowing us to experience the physical world from an embodied, more lucid vantage point. .We actually benefit from solitude at this time, as when an artist finds his muse.”

Over the next week, we can enjoy the benefits of increased dopamine. This chemical – responsible for the rush one gets on heroin or after performing a death-defying stunt – is responsible for reward-driven learning. “It allows us to expand our behaviors outside of our routines, decrease our intensity, and essentially blend with the energy of the moment. If acetylcholine is the ultimate memory neurotransmitter, dopamine is the ultimate experiential one. functionally, it serves us best when we’re doing social activities we enjoy.” In other words, it’s party week.

Finally, in the last moon phase, we are dominated by norepinephrine, an arousal chemical that regulates processes like the fight-or-flight response, anxiety, and other instinctual behaviors. “We tend to be better off doing more structural tasks that don’t involve a of reflection. Its binary nature lets us make decisions, act on them, and then recalibrate like a GPS with a hunting rifle. The key with norepinephrine is that if it’s governed well, we experience a fluid coordination of thought and action so much so that we almost fail to feel Everything becomes second nature.” So instead of letting the natural rise of fight-or-flight impulses turn us into anxious paranoids, we can exploit the state of nonemotional, almost reptilian arousal it encourages.

Further, within each day are four segments that correspond to each of these moon phases. In the new moon phase, people will be most effective during the early morning hours, while in the second phase leading up to the full moon, people do best in the afternoon.

Admittedly, this is all a tough pill for many of us to swallow [really?], but after my interviews with [Dr Mark] Filippi, I began working in this fashion on this book. I would use the first week of the moon to organize chapters, do interviews, and talk with friends and colleagues about the ideas i was working on. In the second, more intense week, I would lock myself in my office, set to task, and get the most writing done. In the third week, I would edit what I had written, read new material, jump ahead to whatever section I felt like working on, and try out new ideas And in the final week, I would revisit structure, comb through difficult passages, and recode the nightmare that is my website. My own experience is that my productivity went up by maybe 40 percent, and my peace of mind about the whole process of writing was utterly transformed for the better. Though certainly anecdotal as far as anyone else is concerned, the exercise convinced me to stay aware of these cycles from now on.

Chapter 3 – Overwinding
Time is Money

In America, certainly, there is already more than enough stuff to go around. We have constructed so many houses that banks are busy tearing down foreclosed homes in order to keep market value high on the rest of them. The US Department of Agriculture burns tons of crops each year in order to prevent a food glut that will impact commodity prices. Viewed in this light, our challenge with unemployment is less a problem of an underskilled population than that of an overskilled one – or at least an overproductive one. We are so good at making stuff and providing services that we no longer require all of us to do it. As we are confronted by bounty, our main reason to create jobs is merely to have some justification for distribution gall the stuff that is actually in abundance. Failing that, we simply deny what is available to those in need, on principle.

We cannot consume ourselves out of this hole, no matter how hard we try, and no matter how much time we compress into each consumptive act. This because we are asking our consumption to compensate for a deeper form of time compression – one built into the landscape of economics itself. For not only is time money, but money is time.

We tend to think of money as a way of stopping time: As pyschologist Ernest Becker argued in his classic text The Denial of Death, our bank accounts are emotional stand-ins for survival. We accumulate money as a substitute for being able to accumulate time. .the time we have left is always an unknown; the money we have left is quite certain it is solid – or at least it once was. gold held its value over time, no mater who was in charge, what the weather did, or which side won the war. Money was valued for its durability and solidity. This was especially true after local coinage was outlawed in favor of long-distance currencies. People had readily accepted the value of their local currencies, even though they were printed on worthless foil because they personally knew the grain stores accountable for them. Centrally issued currencies were more impersonal and had to function across much wider distances. Monarchs were not implicitly trusted, nor were their reigns guaranteed, so they were forced to include a standardized measure of scarce metal into their coins for them to be accepted.

In spite of this outward bias toward storage and solidity, centrally issued currency actually had the effect of winding up a nation’s economic mainspring. That’s the impact of simple interest on money: interest-bearing currency isn’t really just money; it is money over time.

Money used to grow on trees – or, rather, out of the ground. Local currencies were earned or, quite literally, grown into existence by grain farmers. Cash was as abundant as the season’s harvest, and its relative allure fluctuated with the size of the crop This wasn’t really a problem, because the purpose of money was to allow for transactions. As long as people understood what their money was worth, they could use it.

Central currency is loaned into existence, at interest. Most simply, a person who wants to start a business borrows $100,000 from the bank, with the requirement that he pay back, say, $200,000 over the next ten years. he has a decade to double his money. Where does the additional $100,000 come from? Ultimately, from other people and businesses who are in the same position, spending money that they have borrowed. Even the wages that workers receive to buy things with were borrowed somewhere up the chain.

But this seems to suggest a zero-sum game. Each borrower must win some other borrower’s money in order to pay back the bank. If the bank has loaned out $100,000 to ten different businesses, all competing to earn the money they need to pay back their loans, then at least half of them have a fail. Unless, of course, someone simply borrows more money from the bank, by proposing an additional business or expansion.

Therein lies the beauty and horror of interest-bearing currency. Interest is expansionary. As long as the economy is growing, everything works out. The requirement to pay back a the rate of interest motivates businesses as surely as the loan shark encourages his borrowers to keep up their weekly installments. Running a business and growing a business end up meaning the same thing. Even if one business pays back everything it owes, this only puts some other business into debt. As the debtor seeks to expand to meet its interest requirements, the debtor either takes territory from an existing business or finds new territory. Standing still is to lose.

That’s why in the centuries following the implementation of interest-bearing currency, we saw such a rapid and, in many cases, merciless expansion of colonial European powers across the globe. They had no choice. The bias of the money supply toward growth biased these powers towards growth, too. Interestingly, the Ottoman Empire utilized a series of noninterst-bearing regional currencies under the millet system and did not suffer the same growth requirement. While the empire still had its conquests, they were not economically required for the fiscal system to remain solvent Sustainability was still an option.

when the only value left is time, the world becomes a clock.

Winding Up

Taking their cue from nature, many businesses and organizations have learned to pack time into one phase of their work so hat it can spring out like a fully formed pup tent when it is needed. The Shaare Zadek Medical Center employed this strategy to erect an instant set of operating rooms, clinics, and wards in a soccer field in Japan, serving victims of the 2011 tsunami. Although field hospitals have been used by the military for close to a century now, the doctors at Shaare Zadek took this concept to a whole new level by creating ready-to-ship, expandable medical centers that can be air-dropped virtually anywhere. “If you drop our group in the middle of a desert, we can work,” explains one of the hospital’s cardiac surgeons.”

…As a time-management scheme, Shaare Zadek models spring-loading at its best: weeks of physical loading and preparation plus years of experience and learning are all packed into shipping containers that open and expand instantaneously on site, where they can be used in an emergency – when there is no time to spare.

Chapter 5 Apocalypto

Everything Old is New Again

If one’s god is fighting for control of the universe against the gods of other people, then there’s no problem. Just as in polytheism, the great achievements of one god can be undremined by the destructive acts of anotehr But what if a religion, such as Judaism of the First and Secodn Temple era, calls for one god and one god alone? how do its priests and followers explain the persistence of evil and suffering?

They do it the same way Zoroaster did: by introducing time into the equation. The imperfection of the universe is a product of its incompleteness. There’s only one true god, but he’s not done yet. In the monotheist version, the precession of the gods was no longer a continuous cycle of seasonal deities or metaphors. it was now a linear story with a clear endpoint in the vicotry of the one true and literal god. Once this happens, time can end.