Friday, June 30, 2017

Now Free Online: 3rd Edition eBook of Deconstructing Time in PDF format

Complete Collection Of This Blog
 In PDF Format 
 3rd Edition 
Free to view online or download
 Click on links at the bottom of this blog
 to view and/or download 

It's been almost three years since I updated the eBook version of this blog: DeconstructingTime. This 3rd edition eBook is well over 500 pages long.

Deconstructing Time is an eBook about the human experience of time. This 3rd Edition is almost twice the size of the 2nd Edition and is organized into sections. With over 500 pages, 60+ articles and 400+ photographs and diagrams, this book covers the human experience of time starting with human biology through the Paleolithic time period to our modern concept of time and includes personal and cultural aspects of time. This fully illustrated work is the result of almost five years of independent research from 2012 - 2017.  

These articles were first published here in Doble's blog DeconstructingTime which has recorded over 50,000 page views and has been seen by readers in more than half the countries of the world. Individual blog articles were also published separately for the academic community as PDF documents at and and have recorded over 2000 views and downloads. Doble's work has consistently been in the top 2-5% of documents accessed at A number of articles have been reprinted on the Internet by various websites.

This eBook is published under the Creative Commons Copyright, so that scholars, students and researchers and others can use the information in this book without permission as long as they credit Rick Doble and the name of the eBook.

View this PDf document online at and/or download:

You can also download from

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

3rd Edition eBook of DeconstructingTime Coming Soon

Complete Collection Of This Blog
In eBook & PDF Format
3rd Edition
Free to view online or download

It's been almost three years since I updated the eBook version of this blog: DeconstructingTime. In the next month of so I plan to add these last three years to the most recent edition, the 2nd Edition, and also organize the blog-essays into relevant sections. The final eBook should be well over 500 pages long.

So stay tuned! When the eBook is finished, I will publish it in eBook epub format with an official ISBN number for libraries and other cataloging services and also in PDF format. In addition I will copyright this 3rd Edition under a Creative Commons copyright -- which means that scholars, artists, educators, etc. will be able to quote and use my information without any problems as long as I am credited.

The 2nd Edition was published in September 2014 and you can get a copy of it in either PDF or eBook format at these addresses. You can view and or download the PDF version at this address, but you must download the eBook version as it cannot be viewed online.

PDF Version of eBook: Deconstructing Time, 2nd Edition: Illustrated Essay-Blogs About the Human Experience of Time

Epub Version of eBook: Deconstructing Time, 2nd Edition: Illustrated Essay-Blogs About the Human Experience of Time

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Creation Myths and Consciousness

The Metaphor of Consciousness in Creation Myths

Recently I came across the book creation myths by David Maclagan. He emphasized that words and language were frequently key elements in creation stories around the world. Often words spoken by God or gods were what created the universe.

For example a Christian website said the following:
God spoke the universe into existence by a word. 
Genesis 1:20-21, 24 "And God said... and it was so."

It is well established that many 'primitive' (for lack of a better word) rituals and myths were/are based on metaphors derived from human existence and that these were/are used to explain or to tell stories about the world in general. For example, a number of creation stories involve an egg, a womb, a pregnancy, a birth, a mother and a father. These clearly are metaphors taken from the human condition.

The "attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities and is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology" according to Wikipedia and is known as anthropomorphism and also personification. 

(Left) A personification of winter in the form of "Old Man Winter."
(Right) A personification of the North Wind blowing in a storm.

What struck me was that 'words' are uniquely human. Further I believe that the invention of language and the development of language was a key element in the development of human consciousness. This led me to the idea of consciousness itself and how it came about -- a major question in science today.
For more about the development of consciousness see my blog:The Human Revolution: Symbolic Culture 
David Maclagan makes the following point in his book creation myths about the unique power of language.
Because of its unique correspondence to the structure of the world -- because in effect, by articulating it, it creates that structure -- language has a power that is more than notative or descriptive.
I would also say this about the power of language: Separate tribes, separate groups of people each developed their own language. Their words were interconnected within their language and interconnected in relation to their culture and in relation to the world at large. So each language created a complicated virtual world that had a reality all its own and that was shared by those who spoke it.

The journey from preconsciousness to consciousness must have been quite remarkable. But it was conscious verbal humans who invented stories of how the world came to exist. Since language had in a sense helped in the birth of their consciousness, it was also the perfect metaphor for how God or the gods created the Universe. 

So it occurred to me that some of these creation myths could also be stories of humans becoming conscious. To say it another way, the story of human beings building a complete and complex symbolic world through language -- in a sense creating a conscious world that had not existed before and which clearly separated them from all the other animals -- might have been the metaphorical basis for a number of creation myths. Humans creating a virtual world with words became a metaphor for God or gods using words to create the world. 

(Left) Athena was, among other things, the goddess and personification of wisdom.
(Right) A figure who is the personification of geometry.

But there is another aspect to this use of language. The word 'word' is derived from the Latin verbum in which 'word' often indicates an action. 
...the nature of the world as we know it is marked, not only by man's material techniques, but by his use of language. The very word 'poetry' comes from a root which means 'to make'.               David Maclagan, creation myths
'Word' is used in the sense of 'making' in the very first sentences in the Gospel of John in the New Testament of the Bible.

The Gospel of John (King James Version)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

As I have pointed out in my essay on language, actions in all languages are given a kind of time stamp, such as actions in the past, present or future. So not only does the 'word' create the world through actions, it also adds the element of time and places the world in time.

The old man who is a personification of the year just past (right) hands over the symbols of time, the scythe and the hour glass, to the young baby (left) who is the personification of the New Year.
BLOG: How Our Concept of Time Is Embedded & Derived from Our Language
A comprehensive study of creation stories and myths concluded that all of them included an understanding of time -- and this understanding was conveyed in the language of the culture in the telling of the creation myth.
In addition to reveling or expressing essential elements of particular cultures, creation myths, when compared, reveal certain universal or semi-universal patterns or motifs. The first and most important of these is the fact that the creation myth always expresses the given culture's, and, by extension, the overall human place and role in time and space; in the world and the cosmos. [ED: bolding is my emphasis]  David A. Leeming, Creation Myths of the World - An Encyclopedia


There is a modern account of a person who went from a preconscious state to a conscious one, the story of Helen Keller. Her account shows remarkable similarities with some creation myths.
See more about Helen Keller and her journey into consciousness in my blog: Time & Consciousness
Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness [ED: my emphasis]...and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r" meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!  Helen Keller
Helen also said the following -- which is an edited composite of some things she wrote:
Once I knew only darkness and stillness.
My inner life, then, [ED: before consciousness] was...without past, present, or future.
It was not night—it was not day. .      .      .      .      . 
But vacancy absorbing space, 
And fixedness, without a place; 
There were no stars—no earth—no time—



This story is from the second and fourth Brahmanas of the Brhad-arayaka Upanishad, which was written in India in the 700s or 600s B.C. The principal actor in this story can be taken to be Praja-pati, the Lord of Creation, or Brahma the Creator. (Quoted from the website listed next.)

In the beginning there was absolutely nothing, and what existed was covered by death and hunger. He thought, "Let me have a self", and he created the mind.


Rigveda X 129
The Rigveda is part of the sacred texts of Hinduism known as the Vedas.
Veda means knowledge, i.e., awareness, consciousness.

Was neither Being nor Non-Being then...
No sign to mark day from night...

Poets, seeking by reflection in their selves
Made out, within Non-Being, Being's thread.

From David Maclagan, creation myths

Australian Aborigine

From an Australian Aborigine creation story:
There was a time when everything was still. All the spirits of the earth were asleep - or almost all. The great Father of All Spirits was the only one awake. Gently he awoke the Sun Mother. As she opened her eyes a warm ray of light spread out towards the sleeping earth. The Father of All Spirits said to the Sun Mother,
"Mother, I have work for you. Go down to the Earth and awake the sleeping spirits. Give them forms."
Quoted from this website:


The Popol Vuh is the  creation story of the Quiche Maya of Guatemala. 
In this story, "the first real men are given life by the sole power of the word: 'It is said they only were made and not formed; they had no father, they had no mother...Only by a miracle, by means of incantation, were they created and made by the Creator.'"
David Maclagan, creation myths


In Genesis from the Old Testament of the Bible God creates the world with words:
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  
After that He creates the rest of the world by speaking His commands.
Further He creates the stars so that humans can tell time
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years..."
Then He gives humans the power to invent their own words:
And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field;  

It could be argued that when Adam and Eve ate from the 'tree of knowledge of good and evil' and because of that told God that they were naked and felt ashamed, that they had reached full consciousness. The innocence of preconsciousness, in which nakedness was be natural, was now lost to them.
NOTE: When the 'tree of knowledge of good and evil' was mentioned, the word 'knowledge' in Hebrew can also mean awareness. This also ties in with the notion of consciousness,since consciousness from the Latin means 'with knowledge' and after all what is knowledge but awareness. With this interpretation, then, eating the fruit from the 'tree of awareness' caused a separation from the original state of oneness with nature -- and also indicated a separation since good and evil are particularly human and not animal concerns. For more about this please see:  

As I wrote in my blog (see link next) The cost of becoming conscious was quite high. Before consciousness humans had been part of nature. When they developed full consciousness, they were removed and separated from nature.
"Man is distinguished above all animals by his self-consciousness, by which he is a 'rational animal'."   Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
See my blog: The Development of Consciousness & the Origins of Religion 

In 1900 an allegorical woman representing the dawn and hope of the 20th Century holds "a standard identifying her as "XXth Century". She has an electric light bulb atop her head and stands on a winged wheel, representing Progress." 
Quoted from:


The central idea of this blog-essay is pure speculation on my part. Yet I do believe there is a good chance that some creation myths contain information about how human consciousness occurred. In the quest to understand the beginnings of human consciousness, these myths might be a good place to start and could yield valuable clues about how consciousness developed.

Book Cited:
Maclagan, David. creation myths. New York: Thames & Hudson, Inc., 1977.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Proposal for a University Department for 'The Study of Time'


by Rick Doble


Today circular repeating time (right)  is being replaced with 
linear time as the digital clock on the left shows.

Time is the most used noun in the English language according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. This is probably true for most other languages as well. 

Time is critical to everything we do as individuals, as nations, and as human beings who inhabit the Earth. Consider: On your gravestone will be your name and the date you were born and the date you died. Time is that important.

There are, however, distinctly different ways of dealing with and understanding time in countries and cultures around the world. Further, time has been understood quite differently throughout human history. While the physics of time is fascinating, the critical area of concern for us as homo sapiens sapiens is the human experience of time -- as our experience and our ability to understand time is crucial for our survival as a species.

Because the human experience of time is so important, I propose that there should be departments at a number of universities for 'The Study of Time'. I find it odd, that while science is forging ahead with significant studies on a variety of topics from brain studies to climate change, there are virtually no university departments for The Study of Time.

I have a Master of Arts in Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I am a great believer in the importance of academic studies because they can focus on important issues and guide the discussion and inquiry with professional rigor. But this kind of work is not being done by universities, as far as I can see.

These departments should NOT be about the physics of time such as that of Einstein and the theory of relativity, but instead time as we humans experience it from 9-5 on workdays, during time off on weekends, from New Years to New Years year after year and from generation to generation.

Yet there are few studies about the many different aspects of time other than time and motion studies for factories, i.e., studies only for commercial purposes. 

A search of the Internet revealed that there are two principle centers for the study of time:

The Centre for Time at the University of Sydney in Australia

The International Society for the Study of Time
This society was founded by J.T. Fraser who almost single handedly mapped out areas of time that should be investigated.

In addition I found only one university course that is currently being taught about the human experience of time, yet even so it is only offered every other year during the fall semester:

Course Listing:
KULH1112 - Fast Forward -The Cultural History of Time: Texts, Things, and Technologies
The University of Oslo
Course content: In the course we will focus on time as a cultural and historical phenomenon and explore how experiences of time have changed throughout history, mainly in the Western world. 


Our understanding of the passage of time, plus our human perception of the future and what to do about it, may determine the fate of our species. 

A good example is climate change or global warming. If climate change happens quickly it will be hard to adapt; if it happens slowly, then we could learn how to cope and make plans to deal with, for example, rising sea levels. The amount of time we have and the time needed to understand climate change and to build technologies that deal with climate change is pivotal for the survival of the human race. But just as important is the time it will take to develop the political will on a global scale that can deal with the consequences and modifications of our fast moving (there's that time thing again) technology that has led to climate change in the first place. Humans can handle day to day, month to month, and year to year time quite well. However, longer term time demands are problematic. 

I believe that a comprehensive study of time as outlined below will yield answers. This study will begin to reveal how humans relate to time and consequently how important issues can be framed that take this relationship into account.

However, coming to terms with climate change is only the most urgent aspect. There are many other ways that an investigation of our relation to time could affect life-styles, cultures, businesses, commerce and a sense of well-being for the individual. 

Yet we often lack the most basic vocabulary. I have proposed, for example, that we think of 'hard time' as time that is unforgiving and irreversible such as the death of a parent or a car accident and 'soft time' meaning flexible time that can be changed or managed such as going to the store today or waiting until tomorrow. There are quite a few aspects of time that need to be explored such as terminology. These can work toward developing a sophisticated understanding that will make us more aware of how time operates and also make us better able to work with time and to be more comfortable with time demands.


The following 10 areas of study could be included in such a department -- with examples of essays from my blog DeconstructingTime:

Modern Time Technology: 
This area of study would include the increasing accuracy and standardization in the keeping of time along with the coordination of time and how these have affected human societies. It would also include a study of new technologies that can record time related events such as photography, film and music and how these have changed the human relation to time.

How Photography Changed Time: Part 1

How Photography Changed Time: Part 2

The Environment & War Technology

A Revolution in Time

Today time is exact worldwide, 
since Internet time is synchronized to an accurate atomic clock. 

Language and Symbolic Thinking: 
This area of study would include how concepts of time are part of all languages and how those concepts differ. It would also include how cultures share symbolic structures for a shared understanding of time.

How Our Concept of Time Is Embedded & Derived from Our Language

The Human Revolution: Symbolic Culture

Virtual Human Meta-Time

Prehistoric and Ancient Timekeeping: 
This area of study would include how time was marked and understood in the past.

The Ancient Manipulation of Time: Part 1

The Ancient Manipulation of Time: Part 2

Computing the Winter Solstice at Newgrange:  Was Neolithic Science Equal To or Better Than Ancient Greek or Roman Science?

Winter Solstice Celebrations: Roman Saturnalia and Modern Christmas

The neolithic Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland was able 
to determine the time of the winter solstice 5000 years ago. 
The passageway was carefully designed to align 
with the rising sun on the day of the solstice.

This area of study would include how each culture teaches its children about time during the education process.

School's Most Important Subject: Time

This area of study would include how business affects and changes a culture's relation to time.

Modern Time: Time as a Commodity

The Individual: 
This study would include an understanding of how the human psyche deals with time demands, especially time on and off the clock.

Choosing Your Personal Time-Style

The Future: 
This area of study would include how human societies make predictions about the future and then make decisions based on those predictions to build and plan for the future.

The Protective Bubble of Civilization

Global Warming & The Future: Part 1

Global Warming & The Future: Part 2

This area of study would include how the human brain has a unique sense of time unavailable to other animals.

Animal Senses Compared to the Human Sense of Time (my most popular essay)

Art and Sport: 
This area of study would include how various art forms and cultural forms use time.

Games & Time

How Culture Plays With Time

This time lapse series shows the motion of a baseball pitcher. 
Time and motion is at the heart of sports' contests.

The Nature Of The Human Sense Of Time:

Time & The Human Sense of Duration

Continuity & Time

Patterns & Memory

New Terminology About Time


The above areas of study are, of course, merely suggestions. Each department would need to decide how it would organize it's field. 

The above linked essays were derived from my blog: 

See the 3 Year Index for these blogs divided into categories:

But isn't the Department of History about time you might ask? In a word, no, not at all. History is about events and the sequence of events. History does not generally deal with the nature of time itself. History will be important in my proposed department but it will be a history of how humans have understood and dealt with time. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

How Our Concept of Time Is Embedded & Derived from Our Language

How Our Concept of Time Is Embedded & Derived from Our Language


For words are to thought what tools are to work; 
the product depends largely on the growth of the tools.
Will Durant, History of Civilization: Part 1

letters from the world's languages
Some letters from the world's written languages. This is the Wiktionary logo.

Words and language are the primary tools a culture uses to conceive of time and to manage, plan, and communicate time. Embedded in every language is a concept and a structure of time that is understood by each individual but that is also shared by the culture as a whole.

In each language, in virtually every sentence, a kind of time stamp or time code is implied, such as verb tenses which vary from culture to culture and language to language.

I do not think that we as a species would have the power to manage time -- which I believe is the key reason we humans have become the dominant species on the planet -- without these time tools. We are the only animal that can place a number of events in sequence both in the past and in the future. This is because we are the only animal that understands the concept of *when*: when in the past, when in the present, and when in the future. 

See my blog about the unique human sense of time
which has recorded 3000+ views and downloads:
Animal Senses Compared to the Human Sense of Time

Language is a set of symbols invented by humans. Without these shared symbols, a tribe or group of people could not work with time because they could not plan or coordinate their activities. Without these shared symbols, we would be lost in time. Without this ability to navigate in time, our cultures, our civilizations, our inventions, our way of life would be impossible.

The key point is that language allows each one of us to manage time and also allows us collectively, in a coordinated manner, to navigate in time. 

New Year's Eve -- New York City, Times Square
New Year's Eve at Times Square in New York City. A collective celebration of time.

This blog is about the human experience of time. If we want to understand that experience, we need look no further than our language and how it is used -- e.g., the expressions -- to understand that our basic concept of time is part and parcel of the language we have all learned from an early age. 

But each language and culture has a different understanding of time. Perhaps through a study of time contained in all the world's languages we could gain an overall understanding of the human relation to time and how we can best work with time to insure the future survival of the human species.



In the next hundred years or so climate change will radically affect our planet, our cultures, our way of life and our survival. Understanding how we relate to this looming future involves our understanding of time and what we must do now to prevent even worse consequences in the future -- as well as planning for things that appear to be inevitable such as sea level rise.

For example, one of the very few universities that includes a Study of Time,
The Centre for Time at the University of Sydney in Sydney Australia, offered the following conference about the future of humanity:

An interdisciplinary conference on the relationships
between time, personal identity, and the future of humanity. 
Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, Grindavik, Iceland: 6th-8th July, 2015

Despite being aware (and reminded on a frequent basis) of the difficult future we face (both as individuals and as whole, including future people) if we don’t curb our consumption, our numbers, our carbon footprints and so on, in general we tend to fall back into our old ways. This is despite the fact that the future people might include ourselves and our family and offspring. Why is this? Is it not deeply irrational? Why do we privilege the now (present selves) and discount the future (and future selves)? Of course, there has been much work conducted on impulse control, self-regulation, temporal discounting and on the identity over time of selves, but rarely are these approaches brought together in the study of the pressing problem of humanity’s future. Time is deeply entangled with the problem, and so this conference aims to bring together researchers from a diverse set of fields, all engaged in some way with our behaviour over time, our stance towards time, or the nature of time in the universe, to think of new ways of integrating knowledge both to get a better grasp on the sources of humanity’s projected problematic future, [ED: my emphasis] and to possibly serve up some initial strategies for resolution.


From the moment a child is born he or she hears words: that of the doctor, the mother, the father, the nurses, the brothers and sisters. Although the child cannot speak, it is surrounded by language. And when the infant starts to speak, this is seen as a major step in the child's growth. 

Book for teaching the alphabet to children
This French book was created to teach children the alphabet and the French language.

All your life you are immersed in words and speech. Language is so much a part of us, we forget that it is a uniquely human invention of symbols about things -- but also symbols that describe a shared imagined time structure. 

With language we can move back and forth in space and time such as the party we went to last week or will go to next week or talk about a place we know that is miles away. With the aid of language we can move in our minds forward and back instantly from home to office or to our vacation spot. I believe this virtual world each one of us has is in part a by-product of language. 

See my blog:
Virtual Human Meta-Time

We are all immersed in language, or perhaps more accurately, blanketed by language. Language gives us the power to talk in generalities, such as about trees in general. It allows us to engage in abstract thought. It gives us the power to share our thoughts and plan and coordinate our activities. Yet language also confines and limits us.
We do not realize what tremendous power the structure of an habitual language has. It is not an exaggeration to say that it enslaves us through the mechanism of s[emantic] r[eactions] and that the structure which a language exhibits, and impresses upon us unconsciously, is automatically projected upon the world around us.                                                         Korzybski (1930)           
If we want to understand obtain an overview of how the human animal understands time, then the various concepts and structures that are built into our many languages is a good place to start. While all of this could be a fascinating academic study -- it also has immense practical value such as how to plan for global climate change and how to prevent further damage as I said earlier. 


While language can be about things, generalities and ideas, it is always about time. Virtually every sentence you speak has a time stamp or a time code. Something did happen, is happening right now, will happen in the future.  Language is quite good at pinpointing events on a thread of time, a timeline, both past, present and future by specifying 'when'. 

Take this simple sentence:

When I finish this project this afternoon, I will be done for the day.

This is a ordinary sentence that no one would have trouble understanding, but embedded in it is a very sophisticated sense of time. 

Lets take it apart:

When: This is the key word -- as I have said we are the only animal on the planet that can work with different points in time.

When I finish this project this afternoon: This means that finishing this project is in the future

I will be done: This is the most intriguing phrase because it means that in the future, the future project now completed will be in the past

done for the day: The future project now done and in the past means that in the future when you have completed your task, your work for that day will be completed.

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE: Now that we have parsed this sentence, there is one more aspect to it. This sentence was spoken to someone, lets say a colleague. What this means is that the colleague can now understand your moment in time and also plan and coordinate his or her activities based on what you communicated. 

No other animal on this planet can conceive of such a thought other than we humans.

Diagram of sections of the mind relating to concepts and language
This 1840 wood engraving showed the mind/brain with a number of compartments or sections, many of which were created by language.


The built in 'time code' is an essential part of our communication which has shaped our conceptualization of our world. It is now believed by some that this time code is basic to all languages.
Some linguists working on Universals of semantics, such as Anna Wierzbicka and Cliff Goddard, argue that there is a Natural Semantic Metalanguage that has a basic vocabulary of semantic primes including concepts such as TIME, WHEN, BEFORE, AFTER.  [ED: My emphasis]                                    
Thousands of languages have evolved for tens of thousands of years, possibly hundreds of thousands of years. Assuming that concepts of time were/are a part of all of these languages, this points to the importance of time in all human societies.

"There are roughly 7,000 languages spoken and signed around the world, and these languages have been evolving for at least tens of thousands of years, if not many more..." 

For example, a comprehensive study of creation stories and myths, such as Genesis in the Bible, concluded that all of them included an understanding of time -- and this understanding was conveyed in the language of the culture in the telling of the creation myth.
In addition to reveling or expressing essential elements of particular cultures, creation myths, when compared, reveal certain universal or semi-universal patterns or motifs. The first and most important of these is the fact that the creation myth always expresses the given culture's, and, by extension, the overall human place and role in time and space; in the world and the cosmos. [ED: bolding is my emphasis]                                                                         David A. Leeming, Creation Myths of the World - An Encyclopedia

Illustration from the Mexican Creation Myth
A page from a description of the Mexican creation mythology.


Although each language contains a concept of time, various societies and cultures which speak the same language may view time differently. 

Logo for the Elgin Watch Company in the USA, 100 years ago
Promotional logo of the Elgin National Watch Company in the United States 100 years ago. The logo combines Father Time (derived from the Greek God Chronos) holding an Elgin watch along with his traditional sythe and an hour glass at his feet. But for a modern touch an airplane floats in the sky.

Example from a trip to the Bahamas:
My wife and I took a trip to the Bahamas some years ago. When the locals asked us how long we were staying, we would say we are leaving on a plane in a few days. Always, when we said this, the locals corrected us and said "You HOPE you are leaving on a plane in a few days." So even though the Bahamians spoke English their understanding of time was quite different from the US concept.

In the modern world today there are a number of distinctly different ways of relating to time. See the following article for an explanation of different contemporary time relationships.
Linear, Flexible, and Cyclical Time: Analyzing Time in Cross-Cultural Communication, by Sana Reynolds, PhD, Association of Professional Communication Consultants 
In addition to conceiving of the flow of time differently, some cultures conceptualize time in an entirely unique manner. This is especially true with hunter-gatherer societies and indigenous cultures. For example, the "traditional Hopi way of experiencing time as tied closely to cycles of ritual and natural events, [ED:is quite different from] the Anglo-American concept of clock-time or school-time." In fact many cultures see time as cyclical (sunrise returns to sunrise, the seasons repeat each year) rather than linear as we do in the west. 
NOTE:This is not to suggest that the modern view or western view of time is superior -- but rather that time can be understood and shared within a society in a variety of ways. I suspect that the modern world could learn a lot from these less technological cultures.
For a totally different way of understanding time, consider the Lakota American Indians who lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

The nomadic Lakota believed that different areas of the Black Hills were connected with the sun's path as it moved through different constellations, which in turn indicated the time of year. Over a year's time the Indians moved around the Black Hills according to these beliefs. So the landscape of the Black Hills became, in a sense, their calendar and was a way of keeping track and in harmony with time and the seasons. The constellations, the different areas, the seasons all had names -- so their sense of time was shared and communicated via their language.

What makes their case particularly interesting, though, is the added dimension of timing. Cosmic harmony is preserved by being in the right place at the right time and performing the appropriate rites. The terrestrial world is connected to the spirit world both in space and time, and the key to this connection is the sky. Not only are places in the landscape associated with particular asterisms, but the time to be there is prescribed by reference to the sun’s passage through the stars.                                                                                                                Clive Ruggles, Ancient Astronomy: An Encyclopedia of Cosmologies and Myth


Languages not only work with time but also contain a metaphor for viewing time. In the west this concept tends to be spatial such as "back in time" or "the future is ahead of us."  

However, in the Stanford University study entitled How Languages Construct Time by Lera Boroditsky, time was seen quite differently in a number of ways across various cultures.

Across the studies cited here, people in different cultures or groups have been shown to differ in whether they think of time as stationary or moving, limited or open ended, as distance or quantity, horizontal or vertical, oriented from left to right, right to left, front to back, back to front or in cardinal space east to west.

This study went on to say:
The findings reviewed in the first four sections above demonstrate that the metaphors we use to talk about time [ED: meaning as part of our language] and other cultural factors have both immediate and long term consequences for how we conceptualize and reason about this fundamental domain of experience. How people conceptualize time appears to depend on how the languages they speak tend to talk about time, the current linguistic context (what language is being spoken) and also on the particular metaphors being used to talk about time in the moment.                                                                  

Lera Boroditsky, How Languages Construct Time


A current brain study implies that from the earliest development of speech, language contained an understanding of time. This study looked at regions of the brain that were activated when using language or tool-making and found that the regions were the same. This suggests that time was a crucial component for both language and tool-making because language was needed to conceptualize time and to communicate and coordinate with others. This understanding of time was crucial to tool-making since a tool was made for a specific purpose which required forethought. Making a tool required planning along with a number of skills that needed to be done in a certain order. And then in addition these finished tools needed to be available at the appropriate time such as for a hunt or for a harvest.

The study is entitled: Language and tool-making skills evolved at the same time

This study of brain activity has shown that: 
"The same brain activity is used for language production and making complex tools, supporting the theory that they evolved at the same time.
"Dr Georg Meyer, from the University Department of Experimental Psychology, said: "Our study found correlated blood-flow patterns in the first 10 seconds of undertaking both tasks. This suggests that both tasks depend on common brain areas and is consistent with theories that tool-use and language co-evolved and share common processing networks in the brain."
The study went on to say:
"Darwin was the first to suggest that tool-use and language may have co-evolved, because they both depend on complex planning [ED: e.g., a complex understanding of time] and the coordination of actions but until now there has been little evidence to support this."
See this report: Language and tool-making skills evolved at the same time 

In the late 1700s Benjamin Franklin put forward the key idea of man the toolmaker.
Man [is a] tool-making animal.
Quoted by James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson, April 7, 1778 (1791).

While the idea of 'man the tool-maker' has been questioned recently because chimpanzees were found to use rudimentary tools and even crows use sticks as tools, the notion is still profound. While humans may not be the only animal that uses tools, I believe we are the only animal that makes tools that in turn are used to make primary tools such as a bow and arrow. Or to put it another way, we are the only animal that can plan and execute a complex process that requires many tools and materials to make the final tool and many steps which must be done in a certain order.

Basic stone age tools used to make other tools; these tools used to shape stone.
The caption of this photo reads: Tools Used In Shaping Stone
i.e., tools used to make other tools.
The photo is from the History of Inventions, by the United States National Museum.
Numbers 1,2,4,5 are tools from the Stone Age; the others are from the American Indian and Alaskan Eskimo indigenous cultures 100 years ago

The recent study cited above finds that the same areas of the brain are activated when using language or making tools. Since complex tool-making requires considerable thought about tools used to make tools, the use of various materials, and the order of steps in the process, it seems likely that language and its concept of time was an integral part of both making tools and passing that information on to succeeding generations.


Here is a description of one specialized tool used just for making an arrowhead. Making the arrow, the bow and bow string required many more tools, materials and steps.

"A billet is a specialized tool designed for making arrowheads. 
It is cylindrical and usually made from hard wood or antlers." 

Here is a recent article about a study at the University of Tuebingen as reported by the DailyMail in the UK.
Researchers from the University of Tuebingen say that...making the bow [ED: in Paleolithic times] took 22 raw materials and three semi-finished goods (binding materials and multi-component glue) as well as five production phases. Further steps were needed to make the complementary arrows, reports the Cambridge Archaeological Journal.Other primates such as chimps are able to use tools, but complex processes such as making bows are beyond them. 


"Time" is the most used noun in the English language according to the 
Concise Oxford English Dictionary --  which attests to its importance. I assume that it is also the most used noun in many other languages as well.

#1. A concept of time appears to be fundamental to all languages.

#2. It seems quite likely that our understanding of time and our ability to work with, manage, navigate and coordinate time comes in large part from language.

#3. In addition it seems likely that each society's particular understanding of time is a direct reflection of the specific language that is spoken -- and that the time structure/metaphors in each society have been created by that language.

#4. The conception of time will be different from language to language and culture to culture.

#5. If we want an overall understanding of how humans relate to time, a study of the world's languages is a good place to start.


When I was eighteen I saw the movie, The Miracle Worker. The story was about the blind, deaf and dumb Helen Keller who suddenly comprehended language after having lived in a kind of primeval darkness all of her life. 

In the key scene her tutor, who had been unable to find a way to communicate with Helen, splashed water on her hand while spelling out the word water on the other hand. All at once the intelligent Helen 'got it' and the world of words, the world where everything had a name, opened up for her. And it was one of those moments for me as a movie goer when chills ran down my spine -- to see a person step from an inner darkness into light. 

Here is what Helen said about that experience:
Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness...and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r" meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!

A few years ago, writing for this blog, I read what Helen had to say about time when she went from being wordless to knowing language. The following is from her 1908 autobiography The World I Live In.

(This is an edited composite of things she said)
Once I knew only darkness and stillness.
My inner life, then, [ED: before language] was...without past, present, or future.
It was not night—it was not day. .      .      .      .      . 
But vacancy absorbing space, 
And fixedness, without a place; 
There were no stars—no earth—no time—

When I read these words, I realized that before Helen understood language she had no sense of time. And after she understood what language was about, that every object had a name for example. But in addition she also understood the concept of time past, present and future -- and that each object existed in time.