Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Harre Readings p. 119-136.

Watch. Sundial. Calendar. Hourglass. Clock. These are just a few of the instruments humans have invented over the decades to keep track and parcel time. We are the only species, to my knowledge to do so. We are so obsessed by time that it is difficult to get away from it. Our day is broken up into pieces whether it be the work day, the class schedule or the mall hours. We are a species ruled by time. Even now, I find myself glancing at the clock on my computer to see how much "time" I actually have to spend on the contemplation of time. Amusingly enough, time can also speed up and slow down depending on what we are doing, despite the fact that there are always sixty seconds in a minute and twenty-four hours in a day. I am reminded of Carl Sagan's novel Contact in which the heroine Ellie, experiences time travel in a fraction of a second of human time and thus is thought to have not gone anywhere. To travel instantaneously is out of the realm of belief because the passage of a certain block of time has not occurred in which the traveller has been absent. Harre argues that the temporal dimension has its own dynamic that affects aspects of all issues. I also found it particularly helpful to think about time in terms of the individual, cultural and natural categories Harre presents. Time is such an unusual prospect since we often talk about running out of time or saving time or making time when in reality time will never run out, we will never really save time because we will spend it doing something else and we cannot create time since it already exists whether we are around to observe it or not. Perhaps time could be running out for the human species. After all there is an ice age due to arrive here in the next ten thousand years. The sun is also scheduled to burn out in the next billion or so. As for the abstract idea of time, however, it will still march on. Humans are finite beings so I find it unusual to wrap my head around the concept that complex systems of human interaction can be thought of as timeless. Like those adds for diamonds, does timeless refer to the idea that these interactions will be around long after we are gone from the face of the earth? If so, how can this be defined as timeless if no one is around to recognize them as being such?

As for the environment, humans are constantly manipulating time. We clear rainforests at an accelerated rate that far outstrips the natural growth capabilities of this area. We then develop strains of rice and wheat that will mature in a shorter period of time to counteract the slowness of nature. I also find it ironic the way that Harre presents the central driving force behind taxonomy as the cataloguing of species before they disappear. Once a species is catalogued, it is alright if it becomes extinct, because we have a record of it. Until then, it becomes a race against time or a crisis. To think of cataloguing in terms of extinction does indeed lend the discourse a dramatic flare. When we think of time in nature, we are ascribing to it some individual concept of urgency. However, warping the fundamental circular rhythms of nature is to destroy our own temporal rhythms, argues Harre. In as sense, I guess, we are destroying ourselves by destroying nature.

I must admit that I became confused in the readings when Harre began to talk about cultural and natural time as being fused into the beliefs of Western culture. I also failed to grasp the link proposed by Harre between time and environmental discourse. What is this connection? Is there a connection?