Sunday, January 27, 2019

An Expanded Hypothesis About the Human-Experience-Of-Time

An Expanded Hypothesis
That Relates the History
of the Human-Experience-Of-Time
to Culture, Technology and Belief Systems
in Addition to Language
By Rick Doble
 Creative Commons Copyright



In my last blog, the blog-article before this one (scroll down below this post to read it), I proposed the following hypothesis: As language evolved from the beginning, it developed in tandem with a growing sense of time. In this blog-post, I now want to expand that idea to not only include language but technology, culture and belief systems.

Toward a Comprehensive Hypothesis 
About the Development of Language and the Human-Sense-Of-Time 
Based in Part on Daniel Everett's 'How Language Began'

In my last blog, I proposed a comprehensive hypothesis that linked the development of human timekeeping with the evolution of language. I believe that most of our conceptions about time are embedded in our language and that our language contains various time-tools that allowed us to work with planning and forecasting at different stages of human development. But each stage was quite different and so, in my hypothesis, the concept of time during the Paleolithic era was quite different from the concept of time during the Neolithic era which, in turn, was different from our modern era.

After seven years of writing this blog, I am now convinced that there were a number of ways that an awareness of time was conceptualized and acted on in the past. Therefore an understanding of this idea can help explain and illuminate the evolution of not only language but society, technology, and belief systems.

Family portrait in Western Culture, 1965.
Family portrait in Western Culture, 1965.

Like the demands of the environment, humans had to learn to work with time to gain the greatest survival advantage. Time in many ways is like any environmental condition or resource. It is one thing to know which fish can be eaten in certain parts of the river, but it is another thing to know when is the best time to catch those fish. A proper understanding of time could produce bountiful catches of fish, for example, or allow the complicated planning needed for a hunt of large animals during migration seasons. 

Then later large complex civilizations such as Babylonia, four thousand years ago, needed a completely different understanding of time to organize their cities, their officials and their armies. They were the first to measure time carefully and divide it into hours and minutes. 

This means that the way people worked with and understood time was quite different in each era.

A portrait of a family in the Sami nomadic culture around 1900.
A portrait of a family in the Sami nomadic culture around 1900.

While language contained/contains the basic concepts about time, the customs and rituals of the civilization, the technology, and the belief systems reflected/reflect the sense of time that was/is in place during each era. They, in turn, also affected/affect concepts and ideas about time in the language.



As I have discussed in this blog there are three kinds of time or three dimensions of time. 

#1. There is momentary time which is the fundamental aspect of time. Everything that exists exists in the moment or did exist in the moment or will exist in the moment.

#2. There is cyclical time such as morning to morning, Saturday to Saturday, month to month and year to year. In addition, there is cyclical time in terms of a culture, such as birth, procreation, and death. These also repeat but with new individuals.

#3. And third, there is linear time which only goes forward. In our modern society linear time has been emphasized due to the 'progress' of science which keeps building on past achievements to make new breakthroughs. And in our societies, we teach our young from an early age to get an education which forms the foundation for building a career.

All three dimensions of time are always present, whether an organism is aware of them or not. For example, while deer might live in the moment and be aware of cyclical changes in the daylight or changes in the seasons, they are not aware of linear time. Humans are the only animals that can state 'when' something happened in the past or conceptualize 'when' something will happen in the future. Yet an individual deer is subject to the ravages of linear time, i.e., birth, mating, death, nevertheless. For more about this read: William Roberts, Are Animals Stuck in Time?

These three dimensions of time have always been a part of the human culture but one dimension has often been stressed over another during various periods of human history. And this changing emphasis did not necessarily progress from the first dimension to the last. For example, the Middle Ages emphasized cyclical time whereas the Romans before them had emphasized linear time. 

And even in a particular era, some professions emphasize one aspect of time over another. Individual personalities often favor one dimension over another. A successful actor told me once that he had always been a grasshopper instead of an ant, referring to the famous story of the grasshopper who played while the sun shone in the summer and the ant that stored food for the winter. But being a grasshopper was quite appropriate for him because as an actor he needed to be in the moment when he was acting.

Also, one individual or endeavor can involve all three dimensions at the same time. A painter, for example, could enjoy painting at a regular time each afternoon (cyclical time), and enjoy the momentary pleasure of painting, while at the same time hoping that their work would get better and reach a larger audience over the years (linear time).

It is also important to note that linear cultures will have time periods and holidays when momentary time or cyclical time is quite important and that appropriate behavior is expected of everyone. Even though the United States is a linear time culture, a person watching an important basketball game is expected to be totally wrapped up in the moment-to-moment activity of the game. At Christmas, a cyclical festival, everyone is expected to put a tree inside their home, decorate it, give presents and then attend a family dinner on Christmas day. 

The following very brief outline and overview of different cultures throughout history illustrates how culture, technology and belief systems along with language may have developed and used their concepts of time.



I have written at length about the Piraha tribe in the Amazon who adhere to an Immediacy of Experience Principle according to linguist Dr. Daniel Everett. Their time frame and concepts are built around the moment. This is integral to their language but also to their culture and their technology. Please read this blog for more about them.

The Piraha language may be an ancient and early kind of language according to Dr.  Everett. There is no other language on Earth like it. It is spoken by a people whose roots go back perhaps thousands of years as hunter-gatherers in the Amazon. So it is possible, as I have hypothesized in my earlier blog, that other early cultures such as Paleolithic societies and their languages were present-oriented and they operated primarily in the moment.

The few vowels and phonemes of the Piraha language make this one of the simplest known languages which is why Dan Everett decided it was an earlier form of language, a G2 language as he called it, rather than a G3 modern language. However, it would be a mistake to think of it as 'primitive'. Until Dan came along no one from the outside was able to master it, demonstrating how unusual the language is. In addition, it contains a number of features that do not exist in modern languages but are essential for these hunter-gatherers. For example, it can be sung while in the Amazon forest, which is a way for members of the tribe to keep track of each other over a distance. And the Immediacy of Experience Principle, as Dan calls it, means that there are 65,000 possible combinations of indicators that can be added to a verb stem. These indicators give precise information about the direct knowledge a speaker has. As Dan points out it does the job quite well for this hunter-gatherer culture.

Daniel Everett's New Theories About The Evolution Of Language 

A photo of a Piraha tribe (above) and the Amazon jungle where they live (bottom)
A photo of a Piraha tribe (above) and the Amazon jungle where they live (bottom)
A person who carefully studied the Piraha language wrote: "To the verb stem are appended up to 15 potential slots for morphological markers that encode aspectual notions such as whether events were witnessed, whether the speaker is certain of its occurrence, whether it is desired, whether it was proximal or distal, and so on. None of the markers encode features such as person, number, tense or gender."
Gordon, Peter. Numerical Cognition Without Words: Evidence from Amazonia
"Pirahã also uses suffixes that communicate evidentiality, a category lacking in English grammar. One such suffix, -xáagahá, means that the speaker actually observed the event in question."

But just as important as the language is the culture and the technology of the Piraha. When Dan Everett, who studied the Piraha for thirty years, brought up ideas that could not be verified or he talked about people he had never met, the Piraha were not interested because their culture required verification. When he asked them what the Amazon jungle was like thousands of years ago, they said it had always been the way it is now -- not believing in any long term past. And their belief system did not have a creation myth either.

The Piraha eat what they catch in the river and gather in the jungle and are quite good at doing this on a day to day basis. While they could preserve food for future use, Dan found they were not interested, even though there were days when they went hungry.

My point is that in addition to the language, the culture rejected any mention of time beyond the Piraha's accepted concepts and this was part of their technology -- as they were not interested in expanding their skills to include longer planning. And they were not interested in considering a creation story or mythology about the past -- the Amazon jungle had always been there just as it is right now. 



Map of Neolithic monuments in Malta, some of which   can accurately indicate the day of the seasonal equinoxes and solstices.
Map of Neolithic monuments in Malta, some of which 
can accurately indicate the day of the seasonal equinoxes and solstices. 

While we cannot know the language of the Neolithic period or even their beliefs, we can take an educated guess about their timekeeping. In the last half century it has become clear -- from the passage tomb in Newgrange in Ireland to the Goseck circle in Germany (along with hundreds of other such circles in northern Europe) down to solar aligned monuments in Malta --  that keeping seasonal time was very important to Neolithic societies. All of these  structures could determine the winter solstice with remarkable accuracy, for example.

It is likely that they needed to know the exact yearly time because their farming technology depended on it. It also appears likely that the many buildings they built, which could indicate the time, were also considered sacred and served a religious purpose. So their concept of time and their religion were closely intertwined.
Experts now believe that megaliths stood at the very heart of ritual practice for the networks of communities scattered across western Europe later in the New Stone Age, or Neolithic period, that had begun around 10,000 B.C. Their function was both Earthly and celestial: a focus for rites concerning the movement of the heavenly bodies across the skies, a memorial to the community’s ancestors, and an awe-inspiring site to cement local loyalty and solidarity. The incorporation of astronomical alignments suggests that neolithic ceremonies were closely bound with the changing seasons. These cycles were critical to agrarian communities, whose leaders would benefit from this essential knowledge.
Michael J. Gantley, Europe’s Mighty Megaliths "Rock" the Winter Solstice, National Geographic
Later in the Middle Ages this sense of seasonal cyclical time would return but with the added instrument of the clock.



The star, top left, was the symbol for the goddess Ishtar -- see her picture next. 
"(1186–1172 BCE): The king presents his daughter to the goddess Nannaya. 
The crescent moon represents the god Sin, the sun the Shamash and the star the goddess Ishtar." 

The sacred, powerful and central Babylonian goddess Ishtar.   Her symbol was the star and she was associated with the planet Venus.  " 'Burney Relief' ...from about 1800-1750 BC."
The sacred, powerful and central Babylonian goddess Ishtar. 
Her symbol was the star and she was associated with the planet Venus.
" 'Burney Relief' ...from about 1800-1750 BC."

In a sense the Babylonian empire invented modern time. As one of the first large empires and bureaucracies in the West, it needed to manage time on a daily basis in a systematic and orderly fashion. Managing such a far-flung empire with millions of people would have been very difficult otherwise.

So beginning in the 14th century BCE the Babylonians invented hours and minutes -- the same we use for timekeeping today. They also invented 360 degrees for a circle with (a math system based on twelve) which they projected onto the sky and which they then used to tell time. Many of their notions about time were derived from astronomy. And their astronomy -- which they knew was the most accurate timekeeper -- was quite sophisticated. Their division of the sky into 360 degrees is still used today, virtually unchanged from Babylonian days. 
The Babylonian GU text arranges stars in 'strings' that lie along declination circles [ED: i.e., the circular positions of stars according to the Babylonian 360 degree conception of the sky] and thus measure right-ascensions or time-intervals, and also employs the stars of the zenith, which are also separated by given right-ascensional differences.

Babylonian astronomy was the basis for much of what was done in ancient Greek astronomy, in classical Indian astronomy, in Sasanian, Byzantine and Syrian astronomy, astronomy in the medieval Islamic world, and in Central Asian and Western European astronomy. Neo-Babylonian astronomy can thus be considered the direct predecessor of much of ancient Greek mathematics and astronomy, which in turn is the historical predecessor of the European (Western) scientific revolution.     

But there is more: Astronomy and their belief system were one and the same. They had an objective and precise mathematical way of measuring the movement of the stars and planets including accurate predictions of eclipses (the Saros Cycle) and the Metonic 19-year cycle that reconciled the Moon's cycles with the yearly Sun cycles. Yet at the same time, they believed the planets were gods and their changing alignment in the stars of the Zodiac affected our worldly domain -- an idea which is still alive in astrology today. In other words, their concept of time, their civilization, their technology, and their belief system were intertwined. The men who studied the stars and planets held an elevated position in Babylonian society and were known as astronomer-priests, showing the close connection between science and religion at that time.
During the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, Babylonian astronomers developed a new approach to astronomy. They began studying philosophy [ED: the original term for science was natural philosophy] dealing with the ideal nature of the ... universe and began employing an internal logic within their predictive planetary systems. ... [S]ome scholars have thus referred to this new approach as the first scientific revolution. 

Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa (
"The Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa (Enuma Anu Enlil Tablet 63) refers to the record of astronomical observations of Venus, as preserved in numerous cuneiform tablets dating from the first millennium BCE. It is believed that this astronomical record was first compiled during the reign of King Ammisaduqa (or Ammizaduga), the fourth ruler after Hammurabi. Thus, the origins of this text should probably be dated to around the mid-seventeenth century BCE. (according to the Middle Chronology). The tablet recorded the rise times of Venus and its first and last visibility on the horizon before or after sunrise and sunset (the heliacal risings and settings of Venus) in the form of lunar dates. These observations are recorded for a period of 21 years."



After the classical linear-time era of Rome, a complex sophisticated machine was developed in the Middle Ages to tell time. It was known as the clock. 

In the first book of the Bible (a sacred text to Christians, Jews, and Muslims), in Genesis 1:14, (Common English Bible): God said, "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years." Since this occurred on the fourth day of creation, it was clear that timekeeping was an important part of the world God had made and it was an important duty for humans to keep track of time. Therefore to Jews, Muslims and Christians an understanding of time was given to them by God who expected them to carefully follow the progression of the stars and thus honor God at sacred times.

The invention of the clock was originally part of that sacred understanding. This machine was based on the movement of the stars, the moon, the sun, and the planets -- using the perfect circles and epicycles of the geocentric (Earth-centered) astronomy of Ptolemy. The heavens were seen as God-given and sacred. The clock reflected that spiritual belief. 

The seasonal cyclical panels from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, ca. 1400.
The seasonal cyclical panels from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, ca. 1400.

So the clock was first used in monasteries to provide an accurate way to regulate the activities of monks. The clock, in the beginning, was about cyclical repeating time as was the era of the Middle Ages. Soon clocks were everywhere in Europe but they often showed not just the time but the position of the heavenly bodies. Humans had now, in a sense, made a copy of God's handiwork and brought it down to Earth. The round clock symbolized the repeating and cyclical nature of time. 
Mechanical clocks became widespread in the 14th century when they were used in medieval monasteries to keep the regulated schedule of prayers. The earliest medieval European clockmakers were Catholic monks. Medieval religious institutions required clocks because they regulated daily prayer- and work-schedules strictly, using various types of time-telling and recording devices
Most of the first clocks were not so much chronometers as exhibitions of the pattern of the cosmos ... Clearly the origins of the mechanical clock lie in a complex realm of monumental planetariums... 
White, Lynn Jr. (1966). Medieval Technology and Social Change.

So, in this case, an advance in technology did not lead to a more complex dimension in time, i.e. linear time, time which had characterized the Roman empire, but instead revived cyclical time which had characterized farming communities in the Neolithic era. 

Yet all three dimensions of time are always present. While the activities of monks were centered around cyclical time, each monk, in a sense, also lived in a kind of spiritual linear time in which he hoped he would come closer to god.

NOTE: We live in a linear age of complex technological urban civilizations. For this reason, the Middle Ages has often been seen as the Dark Ages when not much was developed or advanced -- an era when human innovation was stymied. Clearly, this is the prejudice of one culture in linear time looking at another culture in cyclical time. In any case, the Middle Ages brought about many worthwhile things, things that are very important to our modern societies. And not surprisingly these 'things' are more of a spiritual nature or a romantic nature. The idea of a "knight in shining armor" and the code of chivalry, a magic castle as in Disney World, the stunning cathedrals that have lasted as long as a thousand years, and perhaps most importantly the belief in romantic love are all from that era. 

As I said during the Middle Ages, the first mechanical clocks were invented based on a sacred geometry of the heavens. Then these clocks were perfected. And it was these clocks that would be central to the later development of manufacturing in the Industrial Revolution. It is also interesting to note that in England alone there were about 6000 water mills in the 11th Century and these mills were used for a variety of purposes. There were gristmills, sawmills, textile mills, rolling mills, and wire drawing mills. These mills along with the gearing of the clock would later form the basis for the Industrial Revolution. 

How the Discredited Geocentric Cosmos
Was a Critical Component of the Scientific Revolution


Perhaps the most important contribution of the Middle Ages to our current age is the concept of Cathedral Thinking. This concept has now become very relevant as we face the consequences of industrial development which may lead to climate change and yet not be felt for a hundred years or so. 

Cathedral thinking is about the work and the time required to build a great cathedral. In the past many of the workers never saw their work completed and did not expect to. Nevertheless, they were committed to the grand vision of building a magnificent cathedral which became a source of pride to the local community and provided an experience of reverence for the faithful. The work of the builders was seen as an expression of devotion to their spiritual beliefs. 

An example is the York Minster Cathedral in England which was built from 1220 to 1472 or more than 250 years. While other cathedrals did not take this long to build, a hundred years or so for their construction was not unusual. 

Today, as I write, there is another such example, the remarkable Sagrada Família (Church of the Holy Family) in Barcelona Spain which was designed by the innovative architect Antoni Gaudí and begun in 1886. It is still under construction and will not be finished until 2026.

Gaudi's Sagrada Família (Church of the Holy Family) in Barcelona Spain   which has taken more than a century to build and will not be completed until 2026.
Gaudi's Sagrada Família (Church of the Holy Family) in Barcelona Spain 
which has taken more than a century to build and will not be completed until 2026.

A modern-day CEO of a major corporation, Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, had this to say. The following was paraphrased from a speech he gave. Modern-day cathedral thinking is about,"the care and commitment of people who contributed to building the cathedral... Its implications on vision and strategy development seemed to be about their outcome, a recognition that the successful implementation of the strategy may not be measured until long after it's authors have moved on. More specifically, Rogers was looking at the influences and impacts of energy on the environment, noting that climate change is not immediate and that policies and practices put in place today will have their benefits measured only decades from now.This article went on to say"Key considerations ... are intentionality and responsibility. In one aspect, “cathedral thinking” is a bit of hubris, a call to imagine and believe in the grandeur of our pursuit and to equate it with the divine. Another aspect is the call to mindfulness of the future in all that we do, evoking a certain humility and humanness in what we do."



Starting with Galileo around 1600 CE modern science came into its own. It is important to note that time and timing was critical to this new science. Galileo's formulas for gravity and the acceleration of a falling body were the first scientific formulas to include a complex understanding of time as a factor.

Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.
Galileo Galilei 

Galileo realized he needed to know how to measure time accurately. Legend has it that one day during a church service he saw a lamp swinging back and forth, a lamp that was on a long cord that dropped down from the ceiling. As he observed it, he thought he saw a regular pattern. Using his pulse for timing, he was able to determine that each swing of the lamp took the same amount of time. This later became the basis for incredibly accurate clocks.

While clocks had been constructed for about 300 years prior to Galileo, measuring time precisely second to second had not been that accurate. Galileo made this an important part of his life's work and was able, through a variety of experiments, to confirm that a falling body increased its acceleration (i.e. time squared) second to second.

Free Falling Object. 
The value of g [ED: gravity] is 9.8 meters per square second on the surface of the earth...An object that moves because of the action of gravity alone is said to be free falling.
Free Falling Object - Glenn Research Center - NASA

Later the formulas of Isaac Newton incorporated Galileo's ideas and used time in the mathematics of calculus. So a key to the scientific revolution was a scientific and mathematical understanding of time that could then be calculated and used to build machinery.

When Newton discovered the laws of gravity and how the heavenly bodies moved, God began to be thought of differently. He was now seen as the "Great Watch Maker" because the objects in the sky moved in mathematical precision over time just like a mechanical clock.

Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.
Galileo Galilei 

In addition, modern calculus, which Newton invented along with Leibniz, had now incorporated time into an understanding of how the universe operated. Calculus is defined as "the mathematical study of continuous change" (Calculus - Wikipedia) and continuous change occurs over time. Much of calculus is about the mathematical study of time -- which was key to the Industrial Revolution as machines operated very much like clocks and their repetitive sequential motions were at the heart of their ability to produce.

Calculus graphic

Isaac Newton And Linear Time

A specific formulation of linear time began with Isaac Newton who maintained that there was an absolute time in the Universe that continued in a line, like an arrow, from past to present to future. This was an objective reality that was independent of our human existence and our perception. Newton's linear time was important because his calculations needed linear time to work properly. This was also considered the time that God had put in place when He created the Universe. Although it began as a scientific principle, it eventually became part of the common conception of time.



Composite night shot of electric lighting in the United States in the eastern states.
Composite night shot of electric lighting in the United States in the eastern states.

Modern time is decidedly linear. Because we are in a scientific age with significant technological innovations, we know that new discoveries built on old knowledge are the order of the day. Technology is changing rapidly, so rapidly you can be sure that when you buy the latest cell phone it will be out of date in a couple of months or a year at the most.

Science and technology and mass production and manufacturing have given us the modern world with all of its benefits and shortcomings. Yet with linear time in a fast-changing society, we are often discontented. Our consumer society fosters dissatisfaction -- we could own a better car or a bigger house, for example.

Perhaps the best example of modern linear time is the invention of the moving assembly line. In one stroke early automaker Henry Ford translated the "time is money" concept into a workable system which would be copied and modified to make everything from airplanes to doughnuts today.

In 1913 Henry Ford implemented the first moving assembly line. The increase in production and the reduction in cost was dramatic. Before his assembly line, it had taken twelve hours to assemble a car but now it took only two and a half hours. At the beginning of 1913 the Ford plant was turning out 100 Model-Ts a day, by the end, it was turning out 1000 Model-Ts a day. But there was more, much more to this idea. Because the assembly line had simplified the job of installing parts into a car, it did not require highly skilled workers. Instead, Ford needed reliable workers who showed up on time and who did what they were told. And he was able to get just the people he wanted because he paid them much more than the going wage. In other words, Ford's idea was a total concept: dramatically decrease the time it took to assemble a car, pay workers well, and reduce the price of a car. By understanding the dynamics of linear time Ford did all three and in many ways invented the modern industrial world of mass production we live in today.

The downside of Ford's vision was that the work was demanding and repetitive. Many workers could not handle the strain and quit. Work was no longer creative or fulfilling but simply a long extended chore that had to be accomplished. The work had little meaning for the workers and it changed the relationship between workers and the work they did.

This is the legacy of modern technology and it forms much of the world we now live in and the way we think about time.



The mid-life crisis is a good example of the psychological cost of linear time. A psychologist schooled in "the human experience of time" might approach a particular mid-life crisis from the point of view of different expectations about time and also a better way of relating to time.

The mid-life crisis problem:
First: The problem is that the person has not gotten ahead, should be further along, is lagging behind, is not high enough on the ladder of professional success and this is the source of anxiety. 
Second: There is a conflict with the regular daily, weekly, monthly, yearly demands of a family, a marriage, children, friendships, activities. These concerns are more about cyclical time and repeating time than linear time. Yet in many ways, cyclical time may be more important. 

Part of solving the problem may come down to defining success: Which is more important? A good marriage or a successful climb up the career ladder. And while being successful is a worthy goal, the cost of that success needs to be taken into account. For example, does the work on a daily basis give the patient satisfaction? The work one does each day should have meaning and some level of enjoyment. As a friend of mine, Dave Canalos, used to say "The quality of the day" matters. Also is there a way to reconcile the demands of a job with the personal demands of an individual's life?

In this kind of therapy, a patient would learn about the different dimensions of time as it related to her or his situation. So an understanding of momentary time, cyclical time and linear time would be used to bring the patient into better harmony with his or her lifestyle. Rhythm would also be a key element. 

Traffic frustration in the modern world of grid-lock.
Traffic frustration in the modern world of grid-lock.

For example, a professor I knew who worked at a stressful job at a major university, would immediately dig in his garden after work so that he could unwind. The contact with dirt and natural plants helped him restore his own natural rhythm.

In the modern Industrial world, time is man-made. Rather than noticing the position of the sun we notice numbers on a clock. Time has now become quite abstract and yet is no less stern as a taskmaster. With billions of people on the Earth and most living in an urban environment, a precise way to measure and synchronize time is essential for societies to operate effectively and efficiently. This has also allowed us to build a complex man-made industrial world that has brought us the benefits of a much longer life span and creature comforts such as air conditioning and automobiles. Yet it has also created problems of a widespread sense of alienation among many young people. In a recent study, a pervasive feeling of loneliness and isolation was felt in almost half of the people in the US, for example. 

While we think in linear terms in our consumer age, we also treat time as a commodity because of our consumer culture. We can "save" time, or "spend" time or "waste" time or "set aside" time or even "invest" time. This point of view comes directly from our way of thinking due to our modern consumer culture. But it would not make sense to a hunter-gatherer or a Neolithic farmer.

Frustrated man
Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
The Smashing Pumpkins

My wife tells the story of a teacher who pointed to a round circular clock and asked her students to work until a certain time. The only problem was that the students did not know how to read the clock. They were only familiar with numbers for hours and minutes that progressed in a linear fashion as on a cell phone.

Here is a good example of how technology has affected our understanding of time. Consider the phrase, "recorded live." While this does not seem strange to us, imagine trying to explain this concept to a person a hundred and fifty years ago. 

Some people have trouble accepting that there could be quite different concepts of time in the past that are dissimilar from the modern world. However, in our modern world, it is not problematic to talk about quality time and dead time. The idea of quality time has become so important in our mechanistic age where everything has been reduced to mundane numbers, there is now an abbreviation everyone understands, i.e., QT for quality time.

There is a saying in the US: A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work. 
Having free time, even if it is not a good experience, is better than a joy you may have at work? 
aiyu Senior Member

Everyone understands what this means: The passage of time is quite different being on or near the water with a fishing rod in your hand with no deadline or person telling you what to do vs. sitting at your desk at work. A search of the Internet yielded hundreds of times this saying was quoted along with a full range of t-shirts and even coffee cups with those words.

Songwriters: Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson
When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical ...
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible
Logical,.. Oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical...
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd
Please tell me who I am



My point here is quite simple.
Time permeates everything. However, humans can conceptualize time and use time in quite different ways. I went into some detail about this in my earlier comprehensive hypothesis about language and time. And the same basic idea of time, as a key component but with different characteristics, applies to cultures, and technologies and belief systems. 

This means that a larger comprehensive hypothesis about time should also include the development and evolution of civilizations, societies, and cultures along with their technology and their spiritual beliefs.

I realize this is a tall order. But if past societies and eras are looked at in terms of time, we might gain a better understanding of our own time and our own situation.

Also if there is any lesson to be learned, it is that Cathedral Thinking is what is needed today. We must learn to think a hundred or more years into the future, even though we will never see that future. 




Until about one hundred and fifty years ago, science and religion were closely intertwined. Astronomy, in particular, was the first exact science. The study of astronomy led to a precise understanding of time but the heavenly bodies were also assumed to be part of the supernatural. 

Isaac Newton was an alchemist in addition to working out the laws of physics. It is also clear that Neolithic societies were able to create accurate instruments that indicated when the winter solstice occurred, but at the same time, these societies saw the seasonal movement of the sun in mythological terms. 

However, starting with perhaps Darwin, science began to separate from religion. So in our scientific age, we often dismiss mythical concepts as superstitious. 
Nevertheless, in a sense, we are still linked to earlier belief systems because the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are named for Greco-Roman gods.
Even today, religious and mythical ideas have influenced science and led to some major breakthroughs, such as the concept of the Big Bang (the beginning of time) which was formulated by a Jesuit priest, Georges Lemaître. He, nevertheless, made it clear to those in the church that he did not want his science to become part of Catholic dogma. 

All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. 
Albert Einstein

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Toward a Comprehensive Hypothesis About the Development of Language and the Human-Sense-Of-Time Based in Part on Daniel Everett's 'How Language Began'

Toward a Comprehensive Hypothesis
About the Development of Language
and the Human-Sense-Of-Time
Based in Part on Daniel Everett's 'How Language Began'

By Rick Doble
 Creative Commons Copyright


To my astonishment, my previous blog-post that I uploaded as a separate document on has been well received. It was recommended by four people and has gotten almost 300 views and over a 100 downloads.

So following up on this article about Daniel Everett's book How Time Began and its relation to my ideas of the human experience of time, I have now made a full outline of my concepts that dovetail with his. Please see my earlier blog article for more background information.

Or view the article on




My basic premise is quite simple. Early humans (genus Homo) emerged from living instinctively in the present to developing language and time concepts that allowed them to manage time in increasingly sophisticated ways. Language gave humans the tools to work with time, to share, to coordinate and to plan. Without these time-tools, the development of farming and civilization would have been impossible.


No language could have developed without an initial early understanding of time. Period. All verbs, for example, describe actions which occur over time. As language developed, the ability to describe time and express time became more sophisticated, although different languages handled the problem differently. In Mandarin Chinese today, for example, all verbs are present tense but the context describes the time frame. So in Chinese one might say, "He runs today. He runs yesterday." In other languages, the time indicator is in the verb tense.


Humans invented their own concept of time just as they invented language. While time exists independently and objectively, the way that humans conceive and work with time is uniquely human. We have to speak of time in metaphors such as spatial metaphors, i.e., the past is behind us and the future is ahead of us. Or she has been through a lot. So what follows next is another metaphor that explains how we work with time.

Water, like time, exists objectively and independently. Animals must find watering holes where they can drink, or find new watering holes when one dries up; they find rivers to bathe in and shelter when it is pouring rain. When we humans were in our animal stage, we used water in the same way. Then we learned to control it. So we carried water in jugs, drank from cups and boiled water. Soon farmers learned how to irrigate their fields. Then we learned how to store large quantities of water and to create plumbing that went to a number of locations as was done in Rome 2000 years ago. Eventually, we were able to put water under tremendous pressure as in a fire hose. Today steam turbines run nuclear submarines. So while water is still water, in this example, the way that we use water is uniquely human. 

And the way that we use, shape, mold and describe time, I submit, is also uniquely human. We have mathematically divided the day into 24 hours with 60 minutes per hour and 60 seconds per minute which is artificially computed by our man-made clocks which are now in sync with an atomic clock. While this works very well, our methods for dividing time and then keeping track of time are human inventions. 

Photo of first atomic bomb 0.053 sec after detonation on 16 July 1945.
Photo of first atomic bomb 0.053 sec after detonation on 16 July 1945. 
This bomb was code-named Trinity and exploded in 10 millionths of a second after it was triggered.



Using the general timeline for the development of language as proposed by Daniel Everett, I have added my own timetable for the evolution of the human concept of time. Everett believes that language started with Homo erectus more than a million years ago, so I will start at that point as well.

I believe that civilized time as we experience it today (which is continuous time or time as a continuum) evolved hand-in-hand with the development of language. However, to understand this development, the starting point  (the point of departure from animal behavior)  needs to be understood. Otherwise, the development of language in the genus Homo is hard to comprehend. The starting point is that animals live in the moment. 

Animals are tuned into cyclical time such as a dog expecting to be fed by her owner at the same time each day, or birds settling into bushes at sunset or flocks of birds migrating in the fall. Yet cyclical time is quite different from linear time and us humans are the only animal that has been able to comprehend time in this manner.

The following abstract is from a detailed study about the animal perception of time and makes the point that animals are stuck in time, meaning they cannot grasp linear time, they cannot put past, present and future events on a linear timeline with a concept of 'when'. We are the only animal that understands 'when' in any detail.

Are Animals Stuck in Time?
William A. Roberts, University of Western Ontario
People can time travel cognitively because they can remember events having occurred at particular times in the past (episodic memory) and because they can anticipate new events occurring at particular times in the future. The ability to assign points in time to events arises from human development of a sense of time and its accompanying time-keeping technology. [ED: In this paper] the hypothesis is advanced that animals are cognitively stuck in time; that is, they have no sense of time and thus have no episodic memory or ability to anticipate long-range future events. Research on animals’ abilities to detect time of day, track short time intervals, remember the order of a sequence of events, and anticipate future events are considered, and it is concluded that the stuck-in-time hypothesis is largely supported by the current evidence.

A deep-sea fish has probably no means of apprehending the existence of water; 
it is too uniformly immersed in it...
Sir Oliver Lodge, British scientist

Would a fish understand the concept of wet? I doubt it.
Rick Doble

An early member of Homo erectus would probably not be aware of time or the present moment. Like the deep-sea fish, he/she would be so totally immersed in the flow of time, it would be so much a part of life, that the person would not be conscious of it.

So to step from the world of the immediate present into a world where time has a past, present, and future and where time is a continuum and one is aware of the now moment, is like Alice stepping into Wonderland or Alice going Through the Looking Glass. 

To understand how Homo erectus was able to conceive of time, to invent a concept of time, and then invent a language to communicate about time took perhaps a million years. It was a long and difficult process. 


“Alice: How long is forever? White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.”     
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

There are some simple basic facts about time which might seem obvious but which often are missed. I have found that the obvious is frequently the hardest to explain. 
In a sense, there is only now, right now. As TS Eliot stated so well, "Except for the point, the still point, [of the now moment] There would be no dance, and there is only the dance. ...All is always now."
To say it another way: nothing existed in the past unless it existed in the now moment, nothing exists in the present unless it exists in the now moment, and nothing will exist in the future unless it will exist in the now moment. 

Now is the basic building block of time and without it, time does not happen. So the primary state of time is now. 

But we, as modern humans, have learned to work with time as a continuous ribbon, to understand that things we do in the past have consequences for the future. From at least the age of six, when we first go to school, we are taught to build on our knowledge and our skills. Things we did yesterday will be the foundation for things we do today and tomorrow. Many people see their lives as a building that is constructed by their dedication to work that adds to their career, for example. 
And because of this strong cultural bias for planning and time management, many find it hard to conceptualize a different way of understanding time. But that is exactly what I am asking you to do in the next part of this post.

Live for the moment... Indeed, all non-human species do it all the time without even being aware of doing it. But it is precisely awareness, which distinguishes human beings from other species, that makes it so hard for us to live in the present.
Human psychology is evolutionary hard-wired to live in the past and the future. Other species have instincts and reflexes to help with their survival, but human survival relies very much on learning and planning. You can’t learn without living in the past, and you can’t plan without living in the future. 
The other that our intelligent cognition simply denies its existence. Our mind views time as a continuous and linear process. Because it is continuous, any millisecond before the present moment is already past and any millisecond later is already a future.  
Eyal Winter Ph.D., Why Is It Hard To Live For The Moment?, Psychology Today

Boy with chimpanzee

Animals live in the moment, for the most part, and as a result are better at momentary tasks according to one study. As reported in an article from the American Association For The Advancement Of Science, recent studies have shown that animals may actually be quicker and more skilled at momentary tasks than humans. 
"It would be extremely rare to find a human with the “extraordinary working memory” of a chimpanzee...but the reasons for this may stem from a tradeoff between memory and language." [ED: memory mentioned here indicates the human preoccupation with time]
“Chimps are living in the world of here and now,” Matsuzawa said. “We are living in the world, thinking about the past, thinking about the future, trying to understand the meaning of what we see, and bringing the information back to friends and families and colleagues to share the experience.”
Becky Ham,  For Better and Worse, Chimpanzee Minds Are Much Like Ours AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE (AAAS)


But our discussion of the now moment is far from over. The words 'now' or 'moment' or 'present' or 'immediate' are themselves concepts. These concepts make no sense unless a person can understand what they represent. Before these words, humans lived with an unaware experience of time that simply swept by. 

To say 'now' is to be aware and conscious of the passage of time. This basic crucial step was the divide between the animal nature of Homo erectus and the beginnings of civilized human nature. Thinking 'now' puts a person outside of time, it removes a person from the flow of time. That our ancestors were able to make these first steps is remarkable, and even more remarkable that perhaps a million years later, we have developed the concepts of time that we have.

'Now' is an abstract concept, a human concept, and a difficult concept. Why is it difficult? Simple. Now is always changing. It is never the same. It is a moving point of reference and our understanding of time has to keep moving with it. What I just wrote is now past and what you will read later in this essay is in your future (if you keep reading). Yesterday has a different meaning today than it will tomorrow.  

'Now' is the critical concept because everything else in time derives from it. 

Watch with the time set to now

Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future
Steve Miller 

Although we adults live in a time continuum, modern people still have an important need to experience the moment. When we are in the moment, our senses are heightened and our experiences become more intense. The immediacy of the moment floods our being. This feeds a need of our animal nature to return to our roots. To feel fully alive we need to experience the now moment from time to time and I believe we must do so in quite primal ways. At rock concerts many people are swept up in the sound, rhythm and crowd excitement. Music and tribal gatherings are perhaps as old if not older than language. So these concerts are reminiscent of our primitive past. Sports events, especially team sports such as football and basket ball, allow a spectator today to become immersed in the moment of action, often shouting, yelling, and gesturing -- recalling, perhaps, primal memories of the hunt when we lived in the wild. And then, of course, is the most fundamental and primal of all human activities, sex. For many people during sex, time stops or seems to evaporate. 


Nevertheless when this prehistoric sense of time did begin to develop, it was quite different from modern time, the time that you and I live with everyday. Just as you would be hard pressed to survive in a prehistoric culture if you were suddenly time-traveled back to a group of nomadic hunter-gatherers a million years ago, you would also have a hard time dealing with their concept of time. I believe their concept of time was much more immediate and much more grounded in the present. 

I say all of this because most people I have talked to simply think that time is, well, just time. And it does not matter if this time occurred a million years ago or today, time is after all the same. In a chronological sense this is true but in a human sense, it is false. While one day a million years ago lasts as long as one today, we and these prehistoric peoples do not experience it and live within its constraints in the same manner. In fact, the two experiences of time are worlds apart. I say all of this to set the stage for my ideas about the beginnings of the human-sense-of-time.

But wait! There is still more. In order for Homo erectus to carve out the initial beginnings of the human-sense-of-time, something else crucial had to occur. People had to work on their ability to remember things including words and events. Memory must have expanded at the same rate that language developed. 
To conceive of time, we must use metaphors. Time is invisible; it is not even as tangible or apparent as air or wind. Since language generally uses spatial metaphors to describe time, I think that the metaphor of carving out an expanse of time from the narrow confines of the now moment is a good metaphor.

Bison painting in the Cave of Altamira in Spain
There is direct evidence that at least some prehistoric people had an incredible memory. As I pointed out in a blog I wrote six years ago, a 'caveman', in a dark cave hundreds of feet from the entrance, painted a clearly recognizable beautifully drawn bison in color that he only could have done from memory. I am talking about the bison in the Cave of Altamira in Spain. The painting was painted perhaps 20,000 years ago. See my blog on this subject.



Inspired by Daniel Everett's ideas about the development of language, I have mapped out stages for the development of time concepts in human cultures which I believe would have coincided with the development of language.


Unlike most modern linguists, Everett believes the development of language began much earlier than previously thought. It began perhaps two million years ago with the appearance of Homo erectus (Upright man) who was an early ancestor of us modern humans who only appeared about 200,000 years ago. 

Daniel Everett
Daniel Everett

He came to this conclusion after studying the very difficult language of the hunter-gatherer Piraha who live in the Amazon. The language uses only the present tense and it does not allow phrases to be nested or inserted within a sentence -- known as recursion in linguistics. So basically it is a language of direct independent sentences. Instead of saying, for example, "This is the house that Jack built." The Piraha might say "This is the house" -- referring to a specific house in the village, followed by "Jack builds this house." This directness and sense of immediacy of the Piraha have been called the 'immediacy of experience principle' by Everett who speaks Piraha fluently and is the acknowledged expert of this language. This language reflects the Piraha's point of view that everything must be related to direct experience. So they have no creation myths, for example, which again is very unusual. Dan eventually realized that he had come across a very old basic language -- possibly a kind of language that had proceeded modern languages -- that might point the way back to the original development of language.

Members of the Piraha tribe.
Members of the Piraha tribe.

It dawned on Daniel Everett that he had come upon a people who had preserved a civilization virtually unchanged for thousands, godknew-how-many thousands, of years. 
Tom Wolfe, The Origins Of Speech, Harper's Magazine, August 2016

With the discovery of a new category of language, that of the Piraha, Daniel Everett has proposed three basic stages for the development of language:

G1: A basic language spoken by Homo erectus, our ancestor, beginning perhaps more than a million years ago
G2: An intermediate language of immediacy like that of the Piraha
G3: A modern language which uses recursion, verb tenses and ways to express time


What follows next are my time stages, T0, T1, T2, T3, T4 that I believe developed along with Everett's language stages.

T0: The bare beginnings of time and early speech:
The larger brain of Homo erectus and the species that led up to Homo sapiens may have had enhanced cognitive abilities that allowed a consideration of time, the beginnings of words and the beginnings of memory. This initial capability could have developed over a million-plus years. In was in this stage that early people began to break away from living in the now moment and began to live with a different sense of time.

T1: The earliest language of Homo erectus:
This language was probably centered around the now moment; the language strung words together like beads on a string with minimal grammar as Everett has suggested.

T2: Early nomadic, hunter-gatherer time of Homo sapiens: 
This language was probably like the Piraha language; this language would have basic time concepts as needed to plan, share, coordinate, and relocate but would be primarily grounded in recent experience.

T3: Agricultural, neolithic time:
During this period people achieved an accurate measurement of the year and timekeeping of annual cycles, accurate enough for growing crops and harvesting. It was an understanding of time that was tied to the yearly solar cycle. This was probably a G3 language, but the concept of time was quite different from the next stage that I have proposed, i.e., T4. Neolithic time was cyclical, season to season and year to year. T4 or Industrial Time, is mostly linear where time continues into the future in a straight line.

T4: Man-made time; industrial time, factory time, modern time: 
Our modern time is as man-made as cell phones. It is time that is precise down to seconds for ordinary people and down to nanoseconds (a billionth of a second) for computers. Time is coordinated worldwide with mandated time zones and atomic clocks. People are expected to show up on time at work and to understand work schedules and hours that businesses operate. Many things are time-stamped such as receipts, cell phone calls, and digital photographs. T4 is primarily linear time, although annual celebrations such as Halloween and Christmas are honored and are part of cyclical time.

T5: Future Time:
The civilizations of the future will have to adopt a forward-looking sense of time. They will have to plan fifty or a hundred years into the future. They will need to make plans for climate and environmental changes and also for the consequences of their industrial production.

"Clocks slay time. Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels;
only when the clock stops does time come to life."   
William Faulkner



I agree with Daniel Everett that language was shaped and developed by the culture, but that culture was also shaped and influenced by its environment and by its technology. So the development of language also reflected the technology, such as  Neolithic or new stone age technology.


I have suggested that starting perhaps two million years ago early members of the genus Homo may have had an actual sense of time, an enhanced sense of time, just as some animals have an enhanced sense of smell. Their larger brains and unique prefrontal cortex led to their ability to master sequential operations and to make tools -- which required a sense of time. This sense of time then evolved, developed and expanded up until today.  See my most popular article about this topic which has registered more than 6500 views and downloads. 

Animal Senses Compared to the Human Sense of Time

Daniel Everett agrees that the unique part of the human brain, the prefrontal cortex, was critical for processes. sequences and planning. Yet he does not go one step further and say that it therefore must have played a part in the human concept of time -- although these processes. sequences and planning could not  have occurred without a basic sense of time. Also notice that he says the ability to accomplish sequential actions and toolmaking prepared the brain for language -- which to my way of thinking means that a concept of time preceded the development of language.

From Daniel Everett's How Language Began, page 82 & page 96:
-- The growth of the prefrontal cortex, itself associated with toolmaking and sequential actions, helped to prepare the brain for language, by providing the cognitive firepower necessary for actions where procedures or improvised sequences are required. 
-- The manufacture of tools requires planning, imagination (having an image of what the final tools should look like) and, at least eventually, communication of some sort for instructing others in how to make tools. The sequential operations call upon the prefrontal cortex and produce cultural selection pressure for more cortical horsepower, more smarts.


To make a convincing case about an early language, I must work backward from what we do know to what we can logically guess. We know very little about the language or the symbolisms of Homo erectus who may have been the first members of the genus Homo to use language as Daniel Everett has suggested. 

But if we look at the G2 language of the Piraha, an overriding characteristic jumps out -- one which Daniel Everett has made a key point in his study of the Piraha. The language, and the culture and the way the language is expressed is ruled by what he called the 'immediacy of experience principle'.

Everett says that "the Pirahã’s unswerving dedication to empirical reality" means that "the Pirahã accept as real only that which they observe, their speech consists only of direct assertions." For something to be accepted as true or worth considering a person has to have experienced it, he has to know someone who experienced it or she was able to logically deduce something from existing evidence. 
John Colapinto, The Interpreter, The New Yorker

Unlike in English, in Pirahã speakers must state their source of information: they cannot be ambiguous. Pirahã also uses suffixes that communicate evidentiality, a category lacking in English grammar. One such suffix, -xáagahá, means that the speaker actually observed the event in question...Other verbal suffixes indicate that an action is deduced from circumstantial evidence, or based on hearsay. 

This 'immediacy of experience principle' is central to the language and to the way that the Piraha think. And in connection with my hypothesis about the human-sense-of-time, this 'immediacy of experience principle' indicates that the Piraha language is grounded in the present and that recent time is most important. But this immediacy goes even further. There are no past tense verbs and there are no numbers. So things like hours of the day or two days from now could not be said by the Piraha. 

Eventually Everett came up with a surprising explanation for the peculiarities of the Pirahã idiom. "The language is created by the culture," says the linguist. He explains the core of Pirahã culture with a simple formula: "Live here and now." The only thing of importance that is worth communicating to others is what is being experienced at that very moment. "All experience is anchored in the present," says Everett, who believes this carpe-diem culture doesn't allow for abstract thought or complicated connections to the past -- limiting the language accordingly.
Rafaela von Bredow, Living without Numbers or Time, Spiegel Online

Their culture is concerned solely with matters that fall within their direct personal experience, and therefore there is no undefined past or future, only their current personal experience and living memory. They have a concept and expression Xibipíío, meaning “experiential liminality”, which describes something “experiencable” or experienced. They do not value past or future, but instead focus on now, i.e. current  Xibipíío =  current experience. The tribe does not understand unexperienced past; i.e. if you want to say that “he went fishing last week”, Pirahã people will not believe you. First, because such concept of weeks does not exist, instead time is relative and you would have to say that it happened “small time” or “big time” ago. 
Viktorija Gorcakovaite, Happiest Tribe on Earth

It is important to note that the Piraha language is not 'primitive' or less useful than modern language. The Piraha language even has some sophisticated features that modern languages do not have such as "suffixes that communicate evidentiality."  The language is good enough for its purpose while allowing its members to be firmly rooted in the here and now which is essential for the tribal, hunter-gatherer existence. The Piraha face extreme dangers on a daily basis from poisonous snakes, spiders, scorpions, electric eels, alligators -- you name it. They need their full attention in the moment to avoid these dangers which is why their culture is so present-oriented. The same was probably true, only more so, for a G1 language.
What this means is simple. The earliest G1 language, i.e., a language before the Piraha type G2 language, would have been even more immediate. Over perhaps a million years humans would have gradually emerged from living in the moment to a sense of time that was still quite immediate but that contained a sense of the past and an idea of the future -- a concept that the entire tribe would have needed to share so that it could work as a group with coordinated activities. 

In his book, How Language Began, Daniel Everett has indicated that there is considerable evidence that Homo erectus was capable of planning. And because of that, he is quite sure they had a language. But planning can only occur if there is a shared concept of time as well.  

However, initially, this sense of time would have been quite narrow. The earliest language would have been a language that developed from a people who were part animal and in the immediate moment, and part human. The human part of their brain would have contained the earliest awareness of the passage of time.

The concept of time and a conscious realization of the 'now moment' would have taken perhaps a million years to develop so that the tribe could have a common language. While we take these things for granted, these were huge steps which required an extended period to evolve.

A recently published study by the top rated research University of Edinburgh in the UK stated that, "As far back as 40,000 years ago, humans kept track of time using relatively sophisticated knowledge of the stars."  University of Edinburgh, Prehistoric Cave Art Suggests Ancient Use of Complex Astronomy, Sciencedaily.Com

At some point when seasonal time was understood and accurately measured, timekeeping was seen as spiritual, godly, and perhaps even a gift from the gods. While we cannot say exactly when the following occurred, it provides clear evidence of the importance of time to early civilizations. 
In the first book of the Bible (a sacred text to Christians, Jews and Muslims), in Genesis 14, (Common English Bible):God said, "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years."  
In Greek mythology, Prometheus, the father of mankind, also taught men how to tell time from the stars. 
Prometheus said "Listen to the miseries that beset mankind--how they were witless before and I made them have sense and endowed them with reason... [They] managed everything without judgment, until I taught them to discern the risings of the stars and their settings, which are difficult to distinguish." [ED: i.e., how to tell time and the timing of the seasons by the stars]   This quote is from the ancient Greek play Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, 5th Century BCE  (trans. Weir Smyth)


Because of their understanding and perhaps an obsession with time, it is likely that most Neolithic agricultural languages were early G3 languages with the full ability to place past, present and future events on a timeline. And while we do not have much evidence about Paleolithic culture when it comes to timekeeping, we do have significant clear evidence from the Neolithic era.

From Newgrange in Ireland to the Goseck Circle in Germany (along with another such 140 'circular enclosures'), to the monumental works in Malta, there is clear evidence that these cultures had developed sophisticated solar instruments. These instruments and monuments and passage tombs were able to indicate with precision when the winter solstice occurred. 

The passage tomb at Newgrange Ireland, for example, was carefully constructed so that sunlight would enter the tomb and light the passageway down to the end only at the time of the winter solstice.

Why was this so important? These agricultural societies needed to know the exact time of the sun's lowest point so that they could plan their planting and so that they could reconcile their calendars. 

The earliest known calendars were generally lunar/solar and so it appears likely that Neolithic people had lunar/solar calendars. The moon's cycles were used for timekeeping month to month and the sun's cycles were used for determining the seasons and timekeeping year to year. Unfortunately, the lunar and solar cycles do not mesh. This meant that these societies had to develop a way to bring their calendars back into sync each year and they did this, not through calculations -- which the Greeks and Romans would do later -- but with direct observations. And these direct observations were achieved with the aid of their winter solstice instruments -- such as the passageway at Newgrange.  

The monuments, some of which are quite big such as Newgrange, also showed a reverence and a sacredness for the passage of time. 

Experts now believe that megaliths stood at the very heart of ritual practice for the networks of communities scattered across western Europe later in the New Stone Age, or Neolithic period, that had begun around 10,000 B.C. Their function was both earthly and celestial: a focus for rites concerning the movement of the heavenly bodies across the skies, a memorial to the community’s ancestors, and an awe-inspiring site to cement local loyalty and solidarity. 
The incorporation of astronomical alignments suggests that neolithic ceremonies were closely bound with the changing seasons. These cycles were critical to agrarian communities, whose leaders would benefit from this essential knowledge.
Michael J. Gantley, Europe’s Mighty Megaliths "Rock" the Winter Solstice, National Geographic

Niche at the Mnajdra South Temple,
Niche at the Mnajdra South Temple, fourth millennium BCE
The southern [ED: Mnajdra] temple is oriented astronomically aligned with the rising sun during solstices and equinoxes; during the summer solstice the first rays of sunlight light up the edge of a decorated megalith between the first apses, while during the winter solstice the same effect occurs on a megalith in the opposite apse. During the equinox, the rays of the rising sun pass straight through the principal doorway to reach the innermost central niche. Quoted from

As I wrote in my previous blog:
Understanding time as a continuum in a G3 language gave humans tremendous power because now they could plan and organize for the long term. But it had a downside as well. When a G3 level of language evolved, humans became fully aware of the past and fearful of their future. Humans now understood that everything had a past and came from the past. They also understood about the future -- that it was uncertain and that events which had happened in the past, such as floods, earthquakes, diseases, crop failures, and invasions, could happen again. This understanding about the past and future (a kind of linear timeline) led to creation myths which explained where the world came from in the past and a mythology of gods and goddesses who might be influenced by human rituals to assure a satisfactory future.


While this might seem like a stretch, I would date the very beginning of modern time with the adoption of the Julian calendar in Rome on January 1, 45 BCE. Although it is known now as the Gregorian calendar, the calendar we use today is essentially the same as Julius Caesar's with a minor tweak by Pope Gregory in 1582.

I pick this calendar as the starting point because it is solar based and no longer takes the moon into account. Before this, in Rome, the calendar was lunar/solar which caused numerous problems, such as leap months, but also maintained an awareness of the moon's cycles as time passed. The Julian calendar ignores the moon and instead requires that people look at a chart to know what day it is. This calendar begins the disconnect between the natural cycles of the moon and stars and the way that we keep time today.

Then about 200 years later the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in Egypt perfected the ancient geocentric (Earth-centered) cosmology and created a model that accurately predicted the astronomical movements of the sun, moon, and planets. He created a system of perfect circles and then circles within circles known as epicycles. His Earth-centered cosmology was quite accurate but was 11 minutes and 14 seconds too long per year, which later had to be corrected by Pope Gregory when he revised the Julian calendar. And while Copernicus-Galileo-Kepler-Newton were eventually able to establish that the Earth went around the Sun rather than the Sun going around the Earth, the geometry of Ptolemy became a model for gearing and making machines. Clocks were constructed using gears based on Ptolemy's circles within circles. It became the blueprint for large clock towers in the 1300s and spawned a belief that the Universe was a huge well-oiled clock. Then the making of clocks led to the making of machines and the Industrial Revolution -- the revolution which still continues in today's modern world.

Clockmaking was, for long, the pinnacle of mechanical arts and the training ground as well as the inspiration for practitioners in other branches of mechanics. So highly esteemed were the craft and its products that seventeenth century pioneers of the Scientific Revolution and of the 'mechanical philosophy' conceived of a planetary system as a gigantic piece of celestial clockwork and God himself as the heavenly clockmaker.
Donald Cardwell, The Norton History of Technology 

Back of watch showing the gearing

You might think of a clock as a machine that produces the time. Yet it is still a machine. Now to take this idea one step further, we might think of an engine as basically the same as a clock, only instead of producing the time, it produces force or energy. This is because an engine relies on a clock-like series of gears and actions that must be done in sequence. 

The new industry of clockmaking was accompanied by the rise of a new and very superior class of craftsmen. These men became skilled in the design and manufacture of gears and in the different ways in which motion could be transformed and applied...Inevitably, or so it seems, the clockmakers transcended their craft and before long they are to be found designing and superintending the construction of water-wheels; later still, in the early days of the English Industrial Revolution, clock- and watchmakers figured as key engineers for the construction and operation of textile machinery. There was, in fact, a direct link between the medieval invention of the mechanical clock and the enormous industrial change that began in eighteenth-century England.
Donald Cardwell, The Norton History of Technology 

In other words, T4 or Industrial Time is man-made time. In the beginning, with the Julian calendar, people ignored the moon's cycles and referred to a chart. Nevertheless, there was a reverence for time and a feeling that time was sacred. Industrial Time then began because of the Ptolemaic model that described how the universe worked, but later disconnected from the natural world into a more abstract understanding of how gears worked which led to the development of machines and the Industrial Revolution. 

Man-made clock time is an essential part of the modern world. However, with man-made time we are increasingly removed from the natural cycles of the Earth and instead governed by the artificial clock. Today we operate on Industrial Time and we also live in an environment that is almost entirely man-made, i.e., manufactured by our industries. This industrial power, based originally on the clock, is now changing the environment of the entire planet. For example, today we move more earth with our machines than are moved by the natural forces of the Earth.

Humans May Surpass Other Natural Forces as Earth Movers

Traffic in Atlanta, Georgia.
Traffic in Atlanta, Georgia.


About forty years ago, around 1980, scientists issued clear warnings that climate change and global warming would have major consequences in the future. The Industrial Revolution and Industrial Time have created a man-made environment that is incompatible with the Earth's natural environment. Unless humans address this situation there may be serious problems ahead. Unfortunately, things that are done today may not affect the environment for decades or hundreds of years in the future making it hard to plan.
Today, for example, Miami Beach is looking as far as 70 years ahead in their development plans because of rising sea levels, instead of the usual 20 year plans most cities use.
Unfortunately, in most cases, these warnings were ignored in favor of the needs of the current economies, in favor of a modern sense of immediacy. Future generations will have to plan way ahead. They will need to plan beyond their own lifespans. This will be difficult but essential if Homo sapiens are to survive.



My basic idea is quite simple. We human beings are animals who evolved from animals millions of years ago that lived instinctively in the moment and who had no language. Today we have language and a sophisticated sense of time. These are two very simple but basic facts.  So how did this happen? 

I do not believe it happened quickly but, as Daniel Everett has suggested, may have taken a million years or so to evolve. We had to become conscious and aware of time, then aware of the dimensions of time and processes in time, aware of our memories, and then aware of our projections or our imaginings about the future. It seems likely that this awareness of time evolved hand-in-hand with language which gave us the tools to both conceptualize time and to work with time -- in terms of sharing, planning and coordinating. I believe this probably happened in stages, not unlike those that Daniel Everett has suggested for the evolution of language.

Dan Everett has called language Humanity's Greatest Invention. I do not disagree but feel that we need to add the following: Language in conjunction with a sense of time is Humanity's Greatest Invention.

While language gave us the tools to communicate, our unique sense of time gave us the power to manage time. Civilization or, for that matter, any human society, could not achieve the power it did without an understanding of time: past, present, and future.

I think it is likely that both Daniel Everett's stages and mine will be broken down into smaller increments. So while I have suggested T2 as one stage, researchers might divide T2 into T2-A and T2-B etc.

A projection of the impact of climate change on agriculture by the 2080s.