Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Fruit

Ahh, finally Friday has arrived and mostly diffused into the space time continuum, leaving only the bit after I finish work and get home. And now that I am home I'm having a nice guava and a hot cup of tea - perfect. The guava is fresh too; None of that two-week-old, picked-too-early produce that fills the shelves of the supermarkets and markets back home. No, I can be pretty sure, despite not being able to ask them due to a non-existent mastery of the Chinese language, that a large proportion of the fruit and vegetables I buy are grown by the guy or lady I'm giving my money to. I can also be pretty sure that what I buy here is a lot fresher than the stuff back home. That's one of the great things about my existence here.

I was thinking today about how strange life would have been for our ancestors living in an age before time was being tracked and measured. In a time before clocks and calendars. In a time where... how did people conceive of the passage of time? They would have had the daily diurnal cycle, the passage of the sun through the sky and the transition from dark to light to dark again. The concept we know as the day would have been pretty obvious as the cycle takes place relatively quickly, fast enough to be noticeable. I'm sure that they would also have, over time, seen and predicted the seasonal rhythms, the transition through summer to winter and back to summer again. Thus they would have been familiar with the concept we know of as the year. But beyond that unit of time, what else is there? There is nothing else. Nothing external to human goings-on anyway. Beyond the yearly cycle there is only repetition of what has gone before. What kind of sense of the greater passage of time did our ancestors have?

I suppose that throughout the span of an individual's life he or she would experience and afterwards live with the evidence of the accumulated changes that took place as they lived their lives. You could look at it another way in that perhaps, lacking objective and properly quantitative measures of time, their sense of the passage of time was more qualitative. If I lived in those halcyon days where you could work a few hours a day and spend the rest at leisure (as Jared Diamond suggests) wouldn't I have a sense of how my own body had been changing over time? I would have been aware of how a living human body physically ages over time from birth to death and I would have some idea of where my own body belonged on that spectrum, giving me an idea of my age relative to other humans. I think this would also provide a sense of the passage of time that extended beyond the current generation to generations that had gone before (direct ancestors known to the current generation) and generations to come. I think that the length of a human life would have been a very important ingredient in whatever conceptualisation of a greater time scale people possessed. You could then measure the seasonal cycles that came and went and it would mean something when viewed in the context of human lifetimes. You could work out how long an average life was by keeping track of the seasons that passed and measure the greater passage of time in terms of generational lifespans. Thus you would have at least a rough measure of time greater than a year, the largest afforded by our environment.

My guava was very good.

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