Symbolic culture is a domain of objective facts whose existence depends, paradoxically, on collective belief. [ED: such as money or marriage]While all words are symbolic, there are gradations when it comes to their reality. For example, everyone has to share a belief in the value of paper money or it would be worthless -- although the paper itself would still exist.
Long before the late twentieth century invention of the Internet, evolution allowed humans to flit between two realms, reality on the one hand, virtual reality on the other. Symbolic culture is an environment of virtual entities lacking counterparts in the real world.
|This Hungarian money became virtually worthless after World War II. It experienced the worst hyperinflation the world had ever seen.|
What's in a name? That which we call a roseSymbols are both virtual, subjective and shared collectively but also relate to an independent objective reality. Some independent objective realities are more independent than others -- to paraphrase Orwell from Animal Farm. And some symbols are more subjective than others, think of 'love' for example.
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Related to the idea of symbolic culture, the "human revolution" is a term also used by social scientists who study the origins of human beings. This revolution refers to the point in human evolution when the symbolic culture emerged -- and which changed humanity forever.
"The Human Revolution" is a term used by archaeologists, anthropologists and other specialists in human origins; it refers to the spectacular and relatively sudden – apparently revolutionary – emergence of language, consciousness and culture in our species...
Symbolism was not an optional extra – life following the transition became fundamentally organized through symbols. (A summation of the thinking of
Christopher Henshilwood and Ian Watts)
It was into a world of "natural time," based on the sun's march across the sky, and varying with the seasons, that the first mechanical timepieces -- time machines -- were introduced in thirteenth century Europe. At odds with the conception of time as something that flows, with the first clocks came the idea of measuring time by splitting it into equal, discrete chunks and counting those chunks. (Before that hours were variable based on the movement of the sun during the day which varied from season to season.)The combined effect of modern time keeping has been to disconnect us from the natural cycles of the planet. Few people today notice when the solstices or equinoxes occur, for example. Noon, that should be the highest point of the sun in the day, is no longer at the zenith for most locations since time zones mandate that noon be the same for all locations within a time zone. And even though the word 'month' comes from moon, our calendars are not synchronized with the moon and few of us know when the phases of the moon occur. Even fewer people can identify constellations which had been used for thousands of years to indicate seasonal changes.
Keith Devlin from his blog: Devlin's Angle
Instead the modern world has substituted the rhythm of commerce for the natural and more precise cycles of the Earth.
Yet we can imagine that in paleolithic and neolithic societies, and older civilizations up until about 500 years ago -- or about 99% of the time humans have been alive -- people told time by the sun, the moon and the stars. I imagine that members of these cultures were expected to know exactly what phase the moon was in and which stars or constellations were rising or setting. Of course the above is conjecture, yet I believe it is quite reasonable given my research.
If you think such ideas are out of date, consider the fact that much of Asia operates today on a lunisolar calendar. These areas include some of the most advanced and rapidly growing economies. And it you think it doesn't matter see my note at the end of this blog.
|The phases of the moon were critical for most cultures before the industrial age. They organized time based on the moon's cycle.|
Above each month in the Très Riches Heures are the positions of the important Zodiac constellations for that time period. Before the industrial age, the Zodiac was used for telling time on a monthly or seasonal basis.
Drawing from the Works of Galileo Galilei, Volume 2, illustrating the dynamics of a pendulum.
Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.
Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.
"A geometrical and military compass designed by Galileo Galilei," (Wikimedia.org) and built around 1604.
Time is not a reality (hypostasis), but a concept (noêma)...
Antiphon the Sophist, Greek thinker circa 5th century BCE
People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
A digital readout is linear -- time going forward in a straight line with no sense of the cyclical character of time.
A circular clock emphasizes the repeating, cyclical nature of time.
For example, If we look at the moon for a time reference, we might be more in tune with nature itself -- and be less prone to adversely affecting the environment. I think our current commercial type of time affects us in major ways -- but I will save a full discussion for a later blog.