Perception of Time

We often brag about the technological and scientific developments of today’s modern society and how we benefit from these advancements. The barriers that were once created because of the diversity in culture were brought down by the modern trend of globalization. Culture is society’s main foundation that is deeply rooted in our native land. Culture is a broad term encompassing tradition, ways, and means of leaving, traits and values.

Every individual belongs to a certain culture to which he has to fit his activity, values, and attributes. Everyone is raised within the confinements of his or her own culture and brought up by beliefs, traditions, values, and traits which conform to the standards set by the culture that has long been intact in our society. The line of conflict between humans with regards to their culture starts when what is culturally acceptable to us may not be acceptable to others.

Even science that we used to think is universal and adheres to generally accepted human principles is predominated with the culture of the people from the western hemisphere (Bartholomew 36). Some behaviors that do not comply with the standards of a certain culture are often remarked as an abnormality or deviance. Thus, even though science applies universal scientific principles, it is never neutral in determining what is deviant or abnormal and what is not (Bartholomew 36). It can never really explain why some cultures do certain practices that are not culturally accepted in other countries.

We used to separate behaviors and label them as normal, moral and legal. Other traits, practices and rituals that do not fit in what is accepted in our culture are recognized as otherwise. These activities reflect a person’s prevailing norms, values, and beliefs that he adheres to at a particular time and place (Bartholomew 36).

The psychological aspect that is responsible for the discrepancies in people’s culture and how it affects our perception is cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is a theory of knowledge that is responsible for the person’s judgment on what is deemed as acceptable. This judgment is anchored to his or her beliefs, values, and attitudes that are shaped by the culture he or she was accustomed to (Bartholomew 37).

Hence, the culture of individuals influences their perception on things around them. They view things according to their existing beliefs and values. Time is also perceived differently in many cultures. Individuals see time differently today than the people in the past used to ages ago. Through the invention of time devices, the people of modern times are able to track time by the hour, by the minute, by the second, and even by the millisecond. Thus, the people’s perception of time molds them and their minds.

The ancient people were only aware of the fundamental time—the night and day. They used to determine time by making interpretation of the celestial and heavenly bodies. Through the use of these methods, humans also acquired an understanding of the future. They perceived the future in terms of contingencies of cause and effect relationship. People were able to utilize their environment to develop a perception of time. Their ancient clocks and calendars were the daily motion of the sun and moon, as well as the season changes (Falk n.p).

In 1895, H.G. Wells’ book, The Time Machine, was made available for the public. Wells’ fiction novel opens to people the possibility of traveling through time. The idea seemed impossible, but well-known Albert Einstein explained that attaining the ability or means to travel to the future or to the past is not improbable (Gott 8).

Einstein proposed his theory special relativity in 1905, describing the possibility of time travel based on the description of how time is measured differently by moving and still observers. It is further strengthened by his mathematics professor Hermann Minowski, looking at time mathematically as the fourth dimension (Gott 8).

With all the psychological differences explained by cultural relativism, the different perception of time in each culture and society, and the possibility to travel through time, a clear, if not precise, definition of perception of time can be attained.

2.0 Sources

Edwin A. Abbot in Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions provides an overview of a two-dimensional world and guides his readers through some of the implications of life in two dimensions. Meanwhile, Robert Bartholomew, in his article “Borderlands: Deviance, Psychiatry and Cultural Relativism,” explores the problem with cultural relativism, basically defined as the principle in which the belief of an individual is analyzed and interpreted in relation to the individual’s own culture.

Ray Bradbury in “A Sound of Thunder” warns us that traveling to the past can be dangerous. Antonio Damasio, in his article “Remembering When” explains the concept of mind time. Dan Falk’s “Past, Present, Future PERCEPTIONS OF TIME THROUGH THE AGES” presents differences in perceiving time through different ages. Richard J. Gott, in his book Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe: The Physical Possibilities of Travel Through Time, discusses applications of time machine, wherein time travel is possible and how time travel can be explained in terms of physics and quantum mechanics.

Dorinne K. Kondo in her article “On Being a Conceptual Anomaly” presents her experiences as a Japanese American woman. Robert Levine in A Geography of Time: The Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist analyzes what it means to live beyond time or by time event. Richard E. Nisbett in his book The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why confronts conjectures of well-known philosophers with a different take on human thought influenced by cultural ideologies and principles.

The videotaped program Only Human presents few experiments which were created to learn various aspects of human behavior. The book How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age by Theodore Schick, Jr. and Lewis Vaughn provides strange assertions and ideas abound in culture to illustrate the rational assessment of any claim. Finally, the videotaped program Time Travel shows that space is curved, time is relative, and time travel is theoretically possible.

3.0 Results

People live by the underlying rules and principles in the society where they belong. They adhere to the maxims and dogmas that have long been in existence. They pattern their everyday life according to these unwritten rules that governing the society. To conform to the traditional beliefs and values is to live harmoniously with the other people. People coexist in a society that must adapt and do what is culturally accepted to avoid being ostracized by the general public.

3.1 Perception

As mentioned earlier, cultural relativism explains the people’s differences in perception. People’s judgment differs from one another because they pattern things according to their cultural preferences. If something fits their criteria as prescribed by their culture, then it is acceptable for them. Standards set by culture create cultural diversity in the world.

According to Richard Nisbett, Westerners and East Asians looked at things differently resulting in dissimilarities in understanding. This is due to the difference in environment, social structures, philosophies, and educational background. In addition, it was discovered that Asian thought is holistic or a functional relationship of parts and the whole. They do not much rely on formal logic or categories. In comparison to the Westerners, people from the west mostly rely on formal logic to understand their behavior.

In Dorinne Kondo’s article, “On Being a Conceptual Anomaly”, she relays her experiences upon conducting a research in Japan. She was raised as an American so she had a difficult time adjusting herself on the ways of living in Japan. This is because the Japanese perceive White people as different and offensive (Kondo 524). During the course of her stay in Japan, she had to learn their traditions, values, and most of all, their practices to be able to cope up with the new environment she was in. There came a point when she saw herself differently, not as the observer on the immersion she was doing but as part of the participants in her research.

There is an existing dilemma brought by cultural relativism especially in the field of mental health. Psychiatry is a branch of psychological science that deals with human behavior. Through psychiatry, we are able to find out if we have acquired any psychological disorders. Basis on the diagnoses on such behavioral disorders is human behavior only without in-depth consideration of the underlying social, cultural, and political circumstances that brought up such behavior (Bartholomew 38). Examining closely the behavior of people’s conformity to a group is discovering the power and influence of the majority in a certain society (Only Human n.p)

Psychiatry can be considered as the most debatable branch of medicine. There is a necessary clarification on the term mental illness. “Illness” denotes an impairment or injury on any body’s part. People who were diagnosed with mental illness do not have any injury, but only suffering living difficulties (Bartholomew 38). Based from the ideas discussed by Nisbett and Kondo, an American may experience difficulty adapting to an environment different from his usual environment and therefore may be tagged as mentally ill by the Japanese, or it could be the other way around. This just shows that there is an existing conflict brought about by cultural relativism. Due to the diversity of culture, there is no strong fundamental basis on what is a behavioral disorder.

3.2 Time

In a world where time is considered as a necessity while many of us try to squeeze in the tasks that we have to accomplish with the little time that we have, it is fascinating, and at the same time important, to learn how time was viewed and used through the course of human civilization.

Across the centuries, humans have looked and treated time differently the way their ancestors used to perceive time. At present, there is an international standard of telling time and it is universal, for every nation adheres to that standard. Due to the rotation of the earth, people experience differences in time—when it is day in the east, it is nighttime in the west.

Humans have developed a biological clock or circadian rhythm based on the daily activities and lifestyle of a person. This clock is located in the hypothalamus of one’s brain. This is responsible for how a person’s body perceives time. For instance, it is nighttime in his or her biological clock if he or she feels tired and sleepy (Damasio 36).

When the region of the brain that is highly important for learning and recalling new information is damaged, a major disturbance occurs in a person’s innate ability to place events in a chronological sequence. This is what happens to amnesiacs or people suffering from amnesia. They lose the ability to estimate the passage of time in different scales (Damasio 36). Amnesia is a permanent damage on the brain’s hippocampus, a part of the brain essential to memory, and the temporal lobe, a region of the brain that serves as a two-way communication with the rest of the cerebral cortex.

Damage in the hippocampus hinders the creation of new memories. Patients with an impaired hippocampus are known to have anterograde amnesia. They are unable to hold factual memories for longer than one minute. On the other hand, the amnesiacs that are unable to retrieve long-term memories are diagnosed with retrograde amnesia, which is characterized by an impaired in temporal lobe (Damasio 36).

Amnesiacs do not have awareness of the correct time, which makes it difficult for them to place events in the right chronological order and store new factual memories. This deficiency greatly affects their way of living and their social interaction.

The idea of time travel has not escape the imaginative minds of people. In 1895, H.G. Wells published the book The Time Machine, which opened the idea of time travel to the public. The proposition seemed so impossible but the physicist Einstein attempted to explain the possibility of such phenomenon through physics (Gott 8).

In 1905, Einstein developed his theory of special relativity and explained how time is measured differently by still and moving objects. Einstein’s mathematics professor Hermann Minowski expanded his theory and told that time could be treated mathematically as the universe’s fourth dimension (Gott 8). If their proposition is correct, their theory would allow humans to travel back in time or go forth to the future. However, Ray Bradbury stated the dangers of time travel to the past and the possible effects to the present once the course of history is altered. Hence, the events that happened in the past cannot be touched for it will greatly affect the current circumstances.

3.3 Perception of Time

Time is treated also differently in every culture. The differences in perception of things could be attributed to the cultural relativism aforementioned. Awareness of time is very important to humans. Today, we are paid by the hour and our daily routines are based on time. Our early ancestors utilized everything that can be found in their environment to be able to tell time. They used the daily motions of the moon and sun. Assuming an unconventional movement of the celestial bodies resulted in certain phenomena, they were able to perceive the future through a cause-and-effect relationship (Falk n.p). For example, the Babylonians had their way of foretelling events by means of hepatoscopy, which involves sacrificing a liver. They believed that through this ritual, the gods allow them to foresee the future (Schick and Vaughn 97).

Different cultures developed various methods and devices to determine time. For instance, the Romans developed the calendar, which was by Pope Gregory XIII. The perception of time could also be considered necessary in one’s cultural requirements. This is evident in the empires established in Latin America. These empires dictated how to regulate time in order to fix civil, agricultural, and religious dates. On the other hand, Muslims, maintain strict daily routine of timely prayers to keep track of time (Falk n.p).

Today, we treat time as inanimate, passing in a constant rate. We are all considered as slaves of time. We can never hasten up or slow down the passage of time. However, this was not the case for the Maya, as time is organic for them. According to the Mayas, time can be stretched, shrunk, or even overpowered by human activity. In fact, many cultures perceived time as organic in nature. In these cultures, time was told through human activities and not through the constraints of a clock or a calendar (Falk n.p).

4.0 Discussion

In light of the findings provided by the sources, the existence of various traditions, beliefs, and values anchored to their culture has created a disparity in people’s perception. People act in accordance to their culture and society where they live. Behavior and action against the prevailing norms will be perceived by other people as a deviation or as a mental illness. This disparity in perception of right and wrong could be attributed to cultural relativism, or the difference in cultural beliefs and values.

Throughout history, people have developed their perception of time. Our ancestors used conventional tools and devices to be able to tell time. Through the use of astrological components, they were able to acquire an understanding of the future events through cause-and-effect relationship by connecting a certain lunar or solar manifestation that resulted in certain events.

Perception of time greatly depends on the brain’s functioning. An impairment of certain regions of the brain responsible for holding and storing memories and sequencing events in a chronological order deeply affects an individual’s perception of time. An example of this brain disorder is amnesia. Amnesiacs have an incorrect perception of time due to their ailment.

The idea of time travel that seems unworkable was made theoretically possible by Einstein. In his theory of special relativity, he explained that the treating time as the universe’s fourth dimension can make time travel possible. Still, there are dangers in traveling back to the past because it may alter the course of events and the present situations.

There is no universal perception of time. Time is perceived differently in various cultures. Some culture perceive it as inanimate, others treat it as organic that can be controlled by human activity.