Why time is a metaphor and the value of thinking of it as such.

There are many metaphors that involve time: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2-12-22) “God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.” (Genesis 1-2). A metaphor gives us an alternative picture of reality. Some metaphors can be taken quite literally, others are more symbolic. Since we cannot feel, taste, see or touch time, most time metaphors have to be symbolic. However, we can measure time, and that fact makes some symbolic interpretations of time very problematic. Could Jesus Christ really have destroyed the temple and rebuilt it again in three days? Did God really create the world in only seven days? Here is a good explanation of the relationship between symbols and metaphors from the website of Dr. Rick Singleton, a professor at Southern Virginia University:

“One of the most recognizable objects from J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is the One Ring. It is the object that controls the other ring wielders, yet it is also the only one that has that power and will of its own. The One Ring symbolizes power, dominance, corruption, and evil. When we take the phrase “One ring to rule them all,” it then becomes a metaphor. Because the One ring is the subject and the object of the phrase, but it’s A is B relationship is simple to understand once we know the idea behind the ring and the phrase behind the metaphor.”

It would be impossible to speak about time without speaking in symbols and metaphors. Each reflection in my these blogs I do represents an abstraction that hopefully many of you reading them can relate to. I have tried to make these reflections interesting and useful by putting these abstractions on time into a different light or by creating new metaphors for some of them. The power of symbols and metaphors is in helping us to see and understand the world and ourselves in a different light. However, as we become accustomed to symbols and metaphors, they lose this power because we take them for granted. We allow them to become worthless because we no longer think about them.

For instance, when you see the Statue of Liberty, do you think about all the immigrants that came over and about the fighting that went on to free us from the British? When it is the Fourth of July, do you see Thomas Jefferson and the Continental Congress debating the text of the Declaration of Independence? Many metaphors become clichés such as: “sharp as a knife”, “he was a lame duck” or they were “like two ships passing in the night.” Repeated use brings dullness to the edge of metaphors. We say them, think we understand their meaning and quickly move on. In doing so, we ignore the deeper implications of each. We miss the more profound thoughts that are hidden beneath our surface understanding. For instance, why were they like ships passing in the night? What happened to them that they lost or missed their chance for a relationship? When did they first start to pass each other? What could they have done differently to not miss each other in the dark night?

My goal in this blog is that these many metaphors, symbols and concepts about time I am presenting will help you to think about the world and your life differently. I hope you will begin to see a different picture of those things that you may take for granted about time. Did God really make the world in seven days? Does it matter? What do you think?

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bgalbreath
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 14:18:00

    As I understand metaphor, it is a way of casting light on something that we do not understand (or understand less) by connecting it to something we understand (or understand more). Time is a puzzle. A river is less so. If we come up with enough different metaphors, each illuminating our target from a different angle, maybe we can approach closer and closer to “real” understanding.

    I don't know if it is metaphorical, but modern physics likens time to the three spatial dimensions. Even though I can't see Paris because it's too far away, I believe it is really there now, as real and the chair I am sitting in. Does the same go for me wetting my diaper (both as a one year old and a ninety year old)? Are they both really there, but at a temporal distance we can't breach? Are they there “now”? I can get to the later dribbler. I travel through time toward him at steady, apparently unalterable rate, but the way to the earlier pisser is unavailable. This is where the metaphor breaks down. I can move back and forth is space, at different velocities, but time is a one way, one speed affair. Why?



  2. John Persico
    Dec 17, 2011 @ 11:25:41

    Hi Bruce, then do you think Time Travel is impossible? If it is possible, it would make Time at least a two way affair? Given the many metaphors and symbols used for time, it is interesting that it must be more complex than most of us think it is.



  3. bgalbreath
    Dec 18, 2011 @ 14:07:38

    Is time travel possible? As I said, we all travel into the future, at a seemingly constant rate. If we could achieve suspended animation, we could travel into the far future, waking up after thousands of years, with no subjective time having passed and with no physical change in our bodies. Neutrinos recently were detected as (perhaps) moving faster than the speed of light. According to Einstein, this should mean that they also moved backward in time. If they can do it now, what is to say that more massive things (like us) shall not do it someday? The greatest evidence that we shall not is that we have not already been visited by people from the future. But maybe we have and just don't realize it, or maybe the visitors can only observe but not otherwise interact with us.



  4. Time Recorders
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 09:50:22

    Its really interesting article , i like it.



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