Introducing a great book!
Jolyon Trimingham’s book Understanding Time is a not only a well informed discussion about the nature of ‘time’ – one of the great mysteries of human experience – it has the essential feature of all great books, it is interesting!
Jolyon’s warmth and enthusiasm is obvious in his writing style, which is both frank and engaging; he makes his subject accessible and enjoyable without disguising his profound understanding of the subject. He begins his discussion with the words: “Understanding Time has two purposes, a negative one and a positive one, which are complementary. The negative one challenges the ‘hijacking’ of time in popular versions of modern mathematical and scientific thought, which have tended to push out of the picture views of time which do not ‘fit in’ with modern physics. The positive one shows how Time cannot be described in terms of its measurement alone. But in supplementing the scientific perspective through the arts, religion, psychology anthropology and history a wider understanding may be reached.”
His book approaches time as a phenomenon which is not the property of any particular discipline, and uses this eclecticism to move towards an understanding of time that unites and transcends narrower perspectives. Philosophy, cosmology, physics, psychology, film, art, sex, mysticism, music and everyday life are all here and given equal value. In this manner it stands apart from most other books about Time. His objective, which to a large extent he achieves, is to describe a paradigm of time which is a synthesis of modern science, ancient wisdom and common sense.
Jolyon studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University. He wrote his undergraduate thesis on Henri Bergson’s ‘Time and Free Will’. Ten years later he studied Philosophy at the Sorbonne, Paris. “I developed a special interest in three writers, Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher of history, Oswald Spengler, and the twentieth century mystic Russian writer P.D. Ouspensky. The seeds of Understanding Time were planted in the reading of their works. When discussing the nature of time they seemed to be talking about different subjects, but the idea dawned upon me that there must be a kind of paradigm shift which could link Spengler’s chronological time, Ouspensky’s mystical time and Kant’s time centred round mathematics and natural philosophy”.
He writes: “In recent years a great number of books have been written by scientists and scientific popularisers about time and the nature of time. These are often dull and tedious. Three examples out of many are (1) Le Poidevin, Robin (2009) Images of Time: An Essay on Temporal Representation), Oxford University Press, (2) Dennet, Daniel (1996) Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, Penguin Science Paperback, and (3) Mellor, D.H. (1998) Real Time II, Routledge. People read these books in the mistaken hope that these works will throw light on the mysteries of the nature of life, explain the origins of the universe and give more meaning to our transitory existence in time.
“Instead of providing illuminating insights the books tend to explain how time is really understandable only through arcane concepts of relativity and quantum physics. They then proceed to describe these in a condescending or misleadingly simplistic fashion. Many intelligent and talented people, after failing to fully grasp the scientific concepts ‘explained’ in such works, may begin to doubt the validity of their own experience, understanding and opinions about time. But those looking for enlightenment on what time is all about and how it affects our lives by reading books ‘popularising’ physics, neurology, mathematics, cosmology or astronomy are not looking in the right place.
Jolyon begins by discussing whether time exists independently of the mind or is it an internal property of human consciousness, examining and comparing time sensed internally and an external time which is perceived in space as ‘clock time’. He explores time as a unique and unrepeatable experience, an experience which cannot be reduced to universal scientific laws or to a fixed algorithmic function. He considers the effects of specific natural and cultural environments on time, in particular the effect of the rise to global dominance of our Western culture and technological achievements. This he reviews within the context of other global civilisations.
He then explores the role of time in Art, giving particular attention to two art forms. Firstly, music because it is the art form most removed from the domination of our spatial interpretations of time, and secondly, the cinema, which uses the temporal deception of the ‘moving picture’ and then adds visual techniques to create what Gilles Deleuze describes as ‘virtual time’.
A lot of attention is given to considering the new physics and objective knowledge, examining why science alone can never explain time. He explores the post-Einsteinian scientific treatment of time starting with Chaos theory, which can just about fit within classical science as modified by relativity and then looks at time in quantum theory, describing the efforts by some quantum theorists to keep both consciousness and a dangerously subjective directional time from threatening to subvert the pure objectivity of physics.
The emergence of revised notions of time by which scientific approaches can be integrated with non-scientific perspectives follow in the remainder of the book.
It is a great discussion, well worth taking the time to read!