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time and memory

skindeep's picture

something that we spoke about last week has still been wandering the quiet spaces in my mind - do we 'activate' time by doing things? this was a question posed in last tuesdays class and its still on my mind.

the concept of activating time captivates me. it means that time is only relevant in terms of things that have happened or things that are happening. it means that a man kept in a room with no windows would have no concept of time. but he would still have memory. he would still remember what he did before he went to sleep, after he ate etc. but would that memory be able to survive without milestones or would it all clump together?

yes, time is man made, but its done for convenience, so that we have a manner in which we can separate things, distinguish them, a manner in which to refer back to things. without any concept of hours and days, would we create our own ways to refer to things? our own clock of convenience? or would memory cease to be important?


OrganizedKhaos's picture

moments of ending are moments of judgment

re: Sarah S. "Time Does Exist"

I too agree that human tallying is an indicator of time. The last few days i have been in my carrel crosses off days until my thesis is due and your post really made it apparent how we tally days, minutes, seconds, and even years regularly as we set goals for ourselves in life.

On Thursday we talked about the "measurement of progress" and the idea of non-locality. Though some may deny the fixedness of time and the constant flow of change within life memories and milestone all mark the beginning or "end" of certain periods in our life. Friday marks the end of the week and midnight marks the end of the day. In order to feel comfortable with ourselves and the progress we make on a daily basis, it seems only appropriate that we tally much like other forms of nature be it a tree or sea worm.

phyllobates's picture

Perception of the Present

 Time is something that has also been on my mind recently.  Similar to the notion of activating time I have really been wondering about our perception of the present the present.  What is the present?  I suppose the most correct answer is NOW, but in a theory applicable to our lives where do the boundaries of the present time period exist.? Does yesterday count? Or is yesterday already in the past?  How about the upcoming exam weeks?  From an emotional/personal perspective they seem so close, I just can't wait to be finished! But from an academic perspective they seem far off, I can only worry about my work for this week.  So does time exist differently depending on what perspective we are coming from?  In this way I think we do activate our perception of time.  I'm not sure I would agree with you in saying that time is man made, we see things changing and change can only happen over time (in the sense that time distinguishes one moment from the next), but the way in which we measure time or the meme of time is sort of "man made".  I also don't think you can have memory without time, memory forms from the passage of time, and it is usually very aware of the passage of time. I believe a man in a room would have some account of time, if he had no way to keep track he would naturally fall into a time kept schedule of eating & sleeping, but like you said because he is experiencing no landmark events he would probably encode very little of the time period.  Without formalized time keeping we would certainly have memory and would probably find our own ways to encode time.... otherwise what did our long ago ancestors do?



elly's picture


This is a really intriguing thought, whether or not we could create our own ways of referring to things. It reminds me of a presentation that I had today for my Archaeology class, where we discussed the importance of the stars and cosmology in the lives of the people of Cahokia, a large "city" in Illinois which formed abruptly around the year 1050. They created woodhenges which marked the solstices and equinox and served as time markers for the people of their city and the surrounding villages. I always struggle with taking time back, looking at the ways in which different civilizations approached it. Does it all just come back to the rising and setting of the sun, to the stars and their patterns, and the fact that this serves as a convenient time marker? I do believe that if a man/woman was kept somewhere with no windows or access to the sky or natural light then they would lose all concept of time. Memories would still exist, but the person would have no way of knowing whether that meal they ate was at breakfast time, or dinner or lunch. Or if they are going to bed at night or in the middle of the day. It would make all of his/her actions lack much distinction, as a meal would just be a meal right?

Sarah Schnellbacher's picture

Time Does Exist

In my Biological Psychology class at Haverford we have recently been discussing sleep and circadian rhythms. If a person is removed from the sun then her natural circadian cycle switches to a 24.75 hr day. Although this extra 45 minutes to the day can quickly cause an individual to become off track with the sun, I don't think it is a large enough time difference for her to lose touch with the concept of time. She would still become sleepy in cycles and eat at other regular times based on hormone levels. She would still experience REM sleep and thus would still form memories. The presence of cyclical natural light is not a determiner of memory building; if it were, astronauts would have no memories of space. I also don't think that human tallying is the only indicator of time. If you look at any tree's rings, you can tell exactly how old each tree is by looking at the number of growing seasons. In oceanography we were just discussing a sea worm that forms a tube with a groove at each new growing period. The chambers indcate that these worms are as much as a thousand years old. Time is not a human concept because nature records time.

Cremisi's picture

 This is so very intriguing

 This is so very intriguing to me...for a while I liked to stew over the idea that time is merely all a human construct..that, like money, it's simply another thing humans have created to have some little sort of control over the wildly mysterious and thrashing universe. However, after I read your post, it is all so obvious--it was all right in front of my face. Though complex meanings of time and space do exist, time, at the simplest level that we can understand, does exist in some way. In the biological way, it certainly does you have said, nature does an excellent job of keeping track of it. It reminds me of a Shakespeare quote from Sonnet 2: "...When forty winters shall beseige thy brow, and dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field"... No one can deny the fact that all humans start out small, and as the days pass, their tissue gets older, they become less resilient, and you can see the seasons (another tracker of time) that, as shakespeare said, rest on their brow. There is no doubt that things are born afresh, they age, then they die, then it repeats. There is a linear sequence to events in our own biological reality. This, I now realize, is simply only one of the limited concepts of time. That it is time within other time. If time, in the grand scheme of things is not linear, but circular, then there must be some sort of mini-clock within certain aspects of that time to keep time. We are the little aspects in the grand scheme of time. I see now the possibility of there being many differing concepts and types of time that exist alongside, inside, outside, overlapping, and apart from each other. So, I again am convinced that our time does exist, but it is only one of many.



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