Time & History: Linear, progressive and infinite.

Posted: January 14, 2014 in History/Philosophy, Society
Tags: , , , , , ,

The new history books in Belgian schools start with a brief discussion of the different ways to view time. Twelve year olds’ first chapter won’t be about Ancient Greece anymore, that’s moved one spot. Instead, they start learning about progression v. digression; linear v. cyclical; finite v. infinite. Interesting! Although I’m having some second thoughts about the classification of the contemporary Western view on time as linear, progressive and (virtually)infinite…

Linear. Years go on and on. Going from the 31st of December to the first of January adds another year to our collection. Yet, our weeks always go from Monday to Sunday and start over again at Monday; months and seasons follow each other, but once their cycle of twelve or four is over, they start again. Every year we have the same special days like Eastern, May First and Christmas. People are at home, come together with family or friends, prepare sometimes for days ahead. Children, students and employees look forward to their day off. We all start our lives as needy and helpless creatures and many of us end-up in a similar way.

It seems to me that the linear view of time is highly popular in history classes in contemporary Belgium, not necessary in our society as such.

Progression. Even though people around me are materially and intellectually well endowed, many of them fear the future. Our parents who are in their 50s fear for their pensions. We, in our 20s, are afraid that we won’t be able to find a steady job, buy a house and settle happy and safely like our parents did. Conservatives fear cultural degradation, liberals fear an attack upon their freedom rights and socialists fear the demolition of a carefully build 20th century welfare system.

Economic uncertainty and cultural changes have made people lyrical about the good old post-WW II 20th century.

Infinite. Time itself probably won’t stop soon, but that doesn’t mean that our view on history is infinite. The end of times according to physics is far away. The end of humanity might be closer. The end of my life even closer. Death of others, diseases or other horrible things might not kill you, but will make history stop from your point of view. Grandparents, parents, I, children and grandchildren, those are in some respects my limits.

Infinity is only accepted in a vague theoretical way. Every aspect of our life and even our conceptions of things we somehow conceive as infinite are always limited.


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