The Binding of Time

Alfred Korzybski,  the founder of the Institute of General Semantics in the 1930’s tells us that man is the time binding animal.

What exactly does it mean to bind time, and how do we do this?  If we think of time as the experience of the flowing of our lives, what stands out is the continuity from one experience to the next.  If I read something at 10:00 AM, and then I have lunch with a friend I can talk about what I read here at lunch although that 10 o’clock no longer exists. I have bound that time through my memory, and can bring it to lunch, no problem.  My memories are the time binding of my life.

Or, I get my birth certificate out of storage to use it to get a passport. The birth certificate “binds” the place and time of my birth, plus it tells us who my parents were, and here 80 years later, I can access information about that event from so long ago.

Or, I read an account of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, some 147 years ago, and that event is here in 2012 for me.

Or, I look at an anthropologist’s account of carbon dating a trilobite fossil, and I am transported 300 million years.

In short, all the ways we have captured our history, our friends and family’s history, the history of the various civilizations that have come and gone these past thousands of years are examples of time binding. All the disciplines of inquiry and investigation we have created to enhance our understanding of the world are ways of binding time.

Perhaps, the most amazing time binding from the standpoint of “age” is the binding of the big bang. Scientists tell us that this bursting sub microscopic beginning of everything in the universe started some 13.5 billion years ago,  a number very difficult to conjure for us. We tend to bog down past thousands, let alone billions, but the time is bound for us nonetheless. Along with this astronomers tell us that they have now estimated that there are something like 400 billion galaxies (yes Galaxies!!) in our known universe, and each one of those galaxies contains billions of stars, numbers we can understand mathematically, but can’t really even begin to grasp experientially.

What does all this time binding mean to us? There are probably as many implications as there are “bindings,” but the one that I want to focus on is what this means for our creativity. As we look to the future, this enormous repository of  information that we have bound from the past to the present is available for us to create what is yet to come. It offers successes and failures, possibilities and dead-ends, growth and decay, tyrants and saints,  laws of the universe and the foibles of mankind, laws and theories, facts and illusions,  all available to us in a variety of ways.  It offers us more than we can ever  use. It is, relative to us as individuals, virtually an infinite source of potential for what we want to show up in our future.

So, when you look to the future, know that you are supported and propped up by this incredible accumulation of time binding, and now with Google and Blink and all the other web trinkets, the details of all this time binding are available to us with a few clicks of our fingers. Our laptops, desktops, IPODs, smart phones, IPads and all the other gadgetry of this 21st century, which are all electronic time binders of incredible virtuosity place all this time binding right in front of us. The binding of time is one of the ways in which we are unique as a species. Bind away and create!

If you would like more of my thoughts in depth, you can read my E-Book:Ten Ways Philosophy is Practical . . . and Counting.

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About The Practical Philosopher

I am a retired Philosophy professor. I taught philosophy for 43 years, and I would like to share some of what I have found pursuing the fascinating journey of philosophy.
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3 Responses to The Binding of Time

  1. A little correction PP for an otherwise enlightening blogpost: Korzybski emphasized over and over that ” ‘Man’ is not an animal”. He referred to humanity as “the time-binding class of life” for the first time in his 1921 book, Manhood of Humanity. Thanks again for your otherwise spot-on post.

  2. Great post – thanks, Bill! It is so true – feels like a web we are constantly binding ourselves into. The Internet has made it more detailed – at least my personal time-bound web. I look up things like, when was x well-known person born or when did y well-known person die, how old is the species we are part of, what year was z movie made…

  3. Thanks for the correction. Korzybski’s Science and Sanity’s “The word is not the thing,” was what I used to start all my Intro courses in Philosophy for more than twenty years. It caught them every time.

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