Arrow, Circle, Spiral and Cylinder – Different Conceptions of Time and History
Jürgen Kuhlmann wrote an interesting article about the different concepts of history from a theologist`s point of view (Kreis oder Pfeil, 1982). He noticed, that Christianity (Western thinking) mainly focuses on linear conceptions of time (and history), while Eastern philosophy mainly focuses on concentric structures.
Jürgen Kuhlmann: born 1936 in Swinemünde, 1962 Priest in Rome, 1965 Promotion to Dr. theol. At the University Gregoriana in Rome, 1965-1972 Kaplan in Naila and Nürnberg, 1972 Marriage, 1973 Laisierung. http://www.stereo-denken.de/pfeil-kr.htm
Prof. Dr. Dr. Norbert Lohfink is a specialist for the exegesis of the Old Testament. He explained the development of a linear construction of history in the „Priestly Source“. Around 600-500 BC the Jews were enslaved by the Babylonian empire and lived under hard circumstances in the „Babylonian Exile“. The consignees of their scriptures should see, that the loss of their motherland would only be a temporary state. In this dynamic, the world seems to be stable (if no human misbehaviour would interfere). (Orientierung 1977,147 f).
In “Messianism in linear and cyclical contexts” Jan A.B. Jongeneel writes: Although scholars write about messianic figures and movements in cyclical contexts, they cannot ignore the matter of fact that not one of the holy books of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or Shinto, but the Bible has given birth to the concept of the Messiah. Since that time the Messiah is really at home in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as linear belief-systems. However, it is questionable whether each of these three monotheistic religions can be labeled as a “messianic religion.” All these three religions are indeed “prophetic,” but merely the Jesus movement, known as Christianity, seems to be “messianic.” Neither Moses as the founder of the Jewish religion nor Muhammad as the founder of Islam is proclaimed as the Messiah. But Christians continuously proclaim Jesus of Nazareth, ardent adherent and renovator of the linear view of time and history in the Hebrew Bible, as the Messiah of Israel and the gentile nations. As such Jesus has axial significance in world history. Asian and African Christians take the lead in the dialogue with the adherents of the cyclical view of time and history. They try to harmonize, speaking about the spiral as a bridge of the cycle and the line. M.M. Thomas does not want to value the cyclical view of time and history negatively. He merely wants to add a dimension which is lacking wherever the cycle prevails: “The Christian understanding of historical and cosmic process need not deny the reality of the cycles of nature and life. But it stands or falls with the doctrine of the ultimate divine purpose of that process”. That doctrine culminates in proclaiming the return of Jesus as the Messiah at the end of the times. (Read his article online here or get the pdf here.)
Annotation of the editor: at the same time the idea of the “Natural Philosophy” spread in Greece, which fits perfectly to the model of the arrow: an individual shoots throughout the time like an arrow. The implementation of the circular model is the eternal life after death, like the arrival in the Promised Land.
This picture hangs in my home since I can think. It is called “Der breite und der schmale Weg – The Broad And The Narrow Way”. It is a good example for the linear conception of time in Christian cultures. You get this funny picture in 500kb at Luzius Schneider . Also hard copies are available there.
Bible, Jesaja 43
16 This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, 17 who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: 18 ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. 20 The wild animals honour me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, 21 the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.
Laotzi lived at the same time as the Jews suffered from the Babylonian Exile about 500 years ago. That time China was suffering from never-ending civil wars and a decay of culture. As the leading intellectual of his time, he surely was aware of the great past of his country and searched for the reasons for this cultural decay. According to the changes in nature following different rhythms (moon, seasons, day and night, …) he developed the Dao (Tao) aka The Way, meaning to follow the natural order of nature. This natural order also includes a magic order of numbers. Like day and night, the seasons or the Chinese dynasties, all is due to a permanent change: up & down, raise & fall. Laotzi described those rhythms as circles in the Taoteking (tao te king),which is probably the main Asian contribution to human culture.
The Buddhist Samsara, the Wheel of Life is a model of human life. The devil holds this wheel, biting into the outer ring, representing the direct influence of the evil on daily life. The inner axle is formed by three animals, representing the deep human inner drives.
Taoism and Buddhism both have in common a circular perception of life. Both form the circular model of Chinese / Asian thinking.
See a nice Samsara here (http://brian.hoffert.faculty.noctrl.edu/REL255/03.Jainism.Mahavira.html – broken link)
Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.
The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.
So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind;
Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.
Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.
[dt. v. Richard Wilhelm ,Jena 1921, Nr. 29 and edited by Dan Baruth)
For applications of circular vs. linear thinking please click here.
Swiss journalist Lily Abegg, developed the model of the spiral. She writes according to the limited English skills of the editor: World history is similar to a unique, irreversible process, in which all cultures and individuals swings in a spiral. (…) Eastasians only see the concentric structures and do not see, that the spiral opens. We (i.e. Western people) mostly focus on distances and steps, skipping the concentric structures until the perspective looks linear.
(Ostasien denkt anders (Zürich 1949), 403 f)
In “Social Change and Modernity” Hans Haferkamp and Neil J. Smelser noted: The original Judaeo-Christian eschatology still conceives history within the bounds of a model based on the action period. By virtue of its covenant with a mighty God and the intervention of his Son, a people remembers and experiences its history as the path toward a salvation that, to begin with, was understood in quite earthly terms. This ultimately magical pattern of interpretation was not so much based on the separation of different temporal levels as on the topological difference between the chosen people and the heathens. It was not until after it became obvious that the return of the Redeemer could not be expected within a single lifetime that—under the influence of classical philosophy—the time horizon and the topological difference between life on earth and the hereafter, between God and the world, between the immortal soul and mortal flesh, and between the terrestrial and heavenly realms were expanded and thus diverted attention away from the division between the chosen people and the heathens. There was an added topological difference between the individual and the world historical levels of explanation. The individual was able to make progress along the path to salvation; the world, via the sequence of the three realms (paradise, life after the fall, and salvation), carried out God’s promise of deliverance. Another development of momentous significance was the new form taken on by the process model for change in the secular sphere. The cyclical view of the rise and fall of empires was supplemented by the perspective of the unilinear and irreversible development of the world and progress toward salvation.
Moreover, for history to be seen as the history of salvation, it was also necessary for humankind to be active in its approach and to strive for salvation. Redemption and the reconciliation of earthly life with the hereafter were not solely the work of God but involved humanity as well. This eschatological dualism introduced a comprehensive, positive moment of tension into historical change. No longer was change merely short-term unrest without underlying hope. It now had as its goal and ultimate end the perfection and redemption of the world. The beginning and end of history were in turn determined by the timelessness of paradise, past and future. Naturally, the eschatological process at first remained completely within the bounds of action-theoretical notions: the world has been created by a personal God who issued commandments, and if humanity followed these it would ensure its own progress to salvation. (Get the whole article as pdf here or read it online at The Center For Sociological Research And Development Studies Of China)
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful (1)
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, (2) The Beneficent, the Merciful. (3) Owner of the Day of Judgment, (4) Thee (alone) we worship; Thee (alone) we ask for help. (5) Show us the straight path, (6) The path of those whom Thou hast favoured. Not (the path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray. (7)
Mental Representations of Time in Chinese Language (Mandarin)
The immediate and chronic influence of spatio-temporal metaphors on the mental representations of time in English, Mandarin, and Mandarin-English speakers by Vicky Tzuyin Lai (Neurobiology of Language Department, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands) and Lera Boroditsky (Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, US) – Front. Psychol., 09 April 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00142
(retrieved 31.10.2013 at www.frontiersin.org/Journal/DownloadFile.ashx?pdf=1&FileId=11690&articleId=28033&Version=1&ContentTypeId=21&FileName=fpsyg-04-00142.pdf)
J. Gabriell and T. Hedden “How culture influences Brain”
Asians and Westeners had to answer questions about absolute quantities (is, is not, how many?) or relative qualities (bigger than, higher than, more red than,…)
It became obvious, that Western people have to spend more energy to render relative judgments (bigger than, lower than, …) than Asians. Vice versa it showed, that Asians needed more energy rendering absolute judgments (is or is not).
J. Gabriell and T. Hedden from Mc Govern Institute in TechTalk by MIT (Mass. Institute for Technology), volume 52, No. 14 (30.01.2008)
Download the full pdf here, the article is on page 4 below.
Michael Heeney: Spiral Staircases and Cylindrical Pools: The Implosion of “Circular” and “Linear” Gestalts
In modern German psychology, there is a concept called the gestalt which is useful for this discussion. In it, human beings are viewed as open systems in active interaction with their environment. People naturally organize their perceptions according to certain patterns, which have similar structural properties that influence concepts across the spectrum of human thought. It is essential to use this term when discussing “circular” and “linear” structures of thought, since these seemingly simple terms will come to represent their own individual gestalts, encapsulating multiple binary concepts subsumed and ordered under their respective structuring principles. The author Virginia Woolf provides an ideal springboard to expound upon this, since her novels attempt to encapsulate a fusion of the two structures into a singular, universal gestalt, or structuring principle. In many of her novels, particularly Orlando for the sake of this discussion, the goal of this is a synthesis between two different kinds of minds, the rational masculine and the subjective feminine, to produce the harmonized androgynous. This process is created through the synthesis of two different conceptions of time, the linear historical and circular subjective. Finally, the entire new gestalt is illustrated by how the dialectic of circles and lines combine to synthesize a cylinder, a spatial idea which symbolizes how the new androgynous mind articulates itself through time which respectively, as Kant has said, is merely the form of inner sense. (…)
It appears that in this case, the duality between male and female does have biological origins, but those of cognition, not those of gender. (…)
© by Serendip 1994 2010 Last Modified: Monday, 25Apr2005 11:31:11 EDT
Read the full essay online at http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/evolit/s05/web3/mheeney.html or download as pdf here.
Time as the Action Period
(…) An analysis of this kind starts out from an interpretational pattern that makes no distinction between processes of social action, on the one hand, and processes of social order and social change, on the other hand. There is no recognizable social order standing out above processes of interaction within the framework of this interpretational pattern. The perception of change and temporal alteration is limited to the time-period one has lived through and remembered, to the durée of social action. Hence the “narrative” logic by which action is recounted both frames and structures the logic underlying the passage of time. The “stories” recalled are kept in motion by interaction among a number of actors, and the stories’ beginnings and ends are determined by how the theme of interaction is dealt with.
Both the change experienced in the world during the course of action and the change experienced in the subjects themselves that they remember as they consider own personal experience of getting old are of course limited as long as there is no social structure differentiating among time periods. Aging processes take place synchronously and therefore hardly give cause for the social differentiation of periods of time or of temporal levels. Beyond the period of action and the lifetime as directly experienced the world is experienced as something timeless and ultimately chaotic.
Primitive classifications, which by definition are not systematized by any superordinate principle, clearly show the unordered complexity of the world. They barely offer a topological “toehold” for identifying time that reaches beyond one’s own lifetime or beyond the actions of the present (Lévi-Strauss 1962). The only way in which primitive classification allows a number of lifetimes to be linked together is via the kinship link of conception and birth; this pushes the temporal horizon back into the past and creates an awareness of continuity and change independent of the experience of the present. Evidently, the extension of such a genealogical model of time marks out a line of development running from the action-period notion of time to the socially differentiated notion of time.
Apart from the extension of historical space in Voltaire’s philosophy of history, the natural sciences’ concept of time in the eighteenth century also broke through the barriers of the hierarchical model of temporal levels. The concept of an objective measurable passage of time determined and moved by the laws of nature gradually asserted itself as a point of reference. Against it, historical time appears limited, imprecise, and inconstant. The temporality of the world, on the one hand, and that of the passage of history and experience, on the other hand, are hence ever more sharply delineated by different process models. “Objective” time moves according to the eternal laws of nature, whereas historical time is kept in motion by the progress of the human race (Elias 1984).
An analogous paradigmatic switch occurred in biology when the Linnean classification of natural processes was succeeded by the Darwinian theory of evolution. Darwin’s theory of the origin of the species by natural selection, which was to prove extraordinarily momentous for the theory of society that followed, brings out, in its very name, the temporalization of order. A number of observers have noted that Darwinian theory itself took as its model certain economic theories of the day. (…)
The Temporalization of Social Order : Some Theoretical Remarks on the Change in ‘Change’ by Bernhard Giesen; Publ. 1992 in: Social change and modernity / ed. by Hans Haferkamp … Berkeley : Univ. of California Press, 1992, pp. 294-319
See also A Geography of Time
Written by NoToes
15/01/2010 at 20:18
Tagged with "circular" and "linear" structures of thought, abegg, and Mandarin-English speakers, asian philosophy, asian thinking, axial conception of time, Bernhard Giesen, Buddhism, buddhist philosophy, buddhist thinking, chinese conception of time, chinese thinking, christian, christianity, circular vs linear time china, concentrical thinking, concept of samsara, Conceptions of Time and History, Concepts of Time and History, culture, cyclical view of time and history, dao, Different Conceptions of Time and History, download a geography of time, florence d`arancia, Hans Haferkamp, harmonized androgynous, Immanuel Kant, Intercultural, Islam, israelites in babylonian captivity, J. Gabriell, Jan A.B. Jongeneel, Jürgen Kuhlmann, jewish, Kant, Lao Tze, lao tzi, lao zi, laotzi, lera boroditsky, levine a geography of time, Lily Abegg, linear thinking, lohfink, Luzius Schneider, Mandarin, Matth. 7:13.14, Matthew 7:13.14, Mental Representations of Time in Chinese Language (Mandarin), Messianism in linear and cyclical contexts, Michael Heeney: Spiral Staircases and Cylindrical Pools: The Implosion of "Circular" and "Linear" Gestalts, model of human life, model of the spiral, models of human life, mosaic, mrs. d`arancia, muslim, muslim conception of time, Neil J. Smelser, No. 14 (30.01.2008), Norbert Lohfink, priestly source, quran, robert levine, salvation, samsara, Social Change and Modernity, T. Hedden, tao, Tao te king, TechTalk by MIT (Mass. Institute for Technology), The Center For Sociological Research And Development Studies Of China, The immediate and chronic influence of spatio-temporal metaphors on the mental representations of time in English, The Temporalization of Social Order : Some Theoretical Remarks on the Change in 'Change', Time in Different Cultures, Vicky Tzuyin Lai, Virginia Woolf, volume 52, western conception of time, wheel of life, wwheel of samsara background
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