Day 313 of the Calendar Year

Time’s Arrow is a conception of time visualized as an arrow. “A metaphor apparently first used by Sir Arthur Eddington in 1927. This conception has not always been the commonsense view; the ancient Greeks, for example, thought that time consisted of a series of cycles, without beginning or end.” (Paul Davies, New Scientist, 11-1-1997, Issue 2106). In Christianity, time has a more linear sense than in Buddhism or Hinduism. Christians believe that if they lead a good life, they will die and go to heaven. “Hinduism believes in the rebirth and reincarnation of souls. In Hinduism, death is a temporary cessation of physical activity, a means of recycling the resources and energy and an opportunity for the jiva (that part which incarnates) to review its programs and policies ( ). Buddhists have a somewhat similar view to Hindus in that they believe only the body dies but the soul seeks out a new form and is born again.

These views of time as either cyclical or linear (an arrow) seem to be more dependent on where we were born or the religion we embrace than on any actual evidence that time goes one direction or another; or for that matter that time even exists except in our minds. The way we approach the world in Western society appears to be very different than in Eastern societies with a more cyclical view of life. Throughout our lives, we bounce between these two views of time. We live by circadian rhythms but we measure our time in a linear fashion until retirement and old age. We laugh at the inevitable cycles of fads and fashions and trends but we watch in dismay as the new generation replaces the old and throws out the culture and traditions we so cherished. We live by clocks where time goes round and round and by calendars where time is as straight as an arrow measuring each of the 365 days in a year that in one year will be replaced by the next year.

What does “time’s arrow” really mean? For most of us, it might seem to be just an abstraction that hardly affects our daily lives unless we stop for a few minutes and reflect on it. Upon reflection, we can see that it actually does have quite a bit of impact. Our economics, politics, governments and health care are built on a conception of time as either cyclical or linear. Each and every one of us is affected by our own personal view of how time progresses. Do you see time as linear and measure it as running out and running down? Or do you see time as a never ending series of cycles that continually repeat? Will you be born again or will you simply die? What if you could change how you saw time? What difference would it make in your life? Would you lead your life any differently?

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Nov 10, 2009 @ 08:01:05

    Sometimes I feel that our concept of time is driven by our life style. Whether there is a cyclical or linear fashion does not change the fact that we must be somewhere at some time. The idea of death is put off provided we can not see its arrival for several years. However, we do set milestones for ourselves based on the biological reality of life. We must get educated, have a family, start a career by a certain age in order to meet the expectations of the world around us. I believe the vast majority of people in this world ride the “arrow of time”. Those societies that do live linearly appear to be more materially successful than those who do not. It seems to me that in those cultures where reincarnation is accepted, one is still faced with a loss of individual identity. So although, the idea of heaven in Western cultures may appear more restrictive, it does allow the preservation of the individual and his ego such that you remain yourself for all eternity.
    Thanks for the opportunity to examen these ideas.


  2. John
    Nov 12, 2009 @ 13:05:40

    Thanks for the comments Greg. As always, you raise some interesting issues. I wonder though if material success is the same as happiness. Are cultures driven by the “arrow of time” as happy as those that are more cyclical?


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