Perception of Time

“Do not squander time,” said Benjamin Franklin, “for that is the stuff life is made of.” Our consciousness, even more than it is posted in space, unrolls in time. I can imagine abolishing space from my awareness—if, say, I were floating in a sensory deprivation tank or became blind and paralyzed—while still continuing to think as usual. But it’s almost impossible to imagine abolishing time from one’s awareness, leaving the last thought immobilized like a stuck car horn, while continuing to have a mind at all. For Descartes the distinction between the physical and the mental depended on this difference. Matter is extended in space, but consciousness exists in time as surely as it proceeds from “I think” to “I am.”


How long is the specious present? The neuroscientist Ernst Pöppel has proposed an answer in a law: “We take life three seconds at a time.”80 That interval, more or less, is the duration of an intentional movement like a handshake; of the immediate planning of a precise movement, like hitting a golf ball; of the flips and flops of an ambiguous figure like those on pages 43 and 145; of the span within which we can accurately reproduce an interval; of the decay of unrehearsed short-term memory; of the time to make a quick decision, such as when we’re channel-surfing; and of the duration of an utterance, a line of poetry, or a musical motif, like the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Time, at least as it is expressed in the grammatical machinery of language, also differs from Newtonian time in not being measurable in units. A language’s tenses chop the ribbon of time into a few segments, such as the specious present, the future unto eternity, and the history of the universe prior to the moment of speaking. Sometimes the past and future are subdivided into recent and remote intervals, similar to the dichotomy between here and there or near and far. But no grammatical system reckons time from some fixed beginning point (as we do in our technical vocabulary with the traditional birth of Jesus) or uses constant numerical units like seconds or minutes.81 This makes the location of events in time highly vague, as when Groucho told a hostess, “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”


Folksonomies: perception time

/science (0.385630)
/science/phyiscs/atomic physics (0.262714)
/science/mathematics/geometry (0.225703)

specious present (0.942251 (negative:-0.585775)), sensory deprivation tank (0.922211 (negative:-0.565401)), time (0.890313 (negative:-0.351024)), stuck car horn (0.874998 (negative:-0.607486)), unrehearsed short-term memory (0.862906 (neutral:0.000000)), neuroscientist Ernst Pöppel (0.862138 (neutral:0.000000)), perfectly wonderful evening (0.824795 (positive:0.650892)), constant numerical units (0.814232 (neutral:0.000000)), stuff life (0.670876 (positive:0.343258)), Benjamin Franklin (0.670072 (neutral:0.000000)), Newtonian time (0.665517 (negative:-0.209388)), grammatical machinery (0.650406 (neutral:0.000000)), ambiguous figure (0.644513 (neutral:0.000000)), intentional movement (0.641410 (neutral:0.000000)), musical motif (0.640776 (neutral:0.000000)), immediate planning (0.640195 (neutral:0.000000)), golf ball (0.637994 (neutral:0.000000)), precise movement (0.635821 (neutral:0.000000)), remote intervals (0.630582 (neutral:0.000000)), quick decision (0.630111 (neutral:0.000000)), traditional birth (0.630094 (positive:0.359582)), technical vocabulary (0.627950 (positive:0.359582)), beginning point (0.624937 (neutral:0.000000)), space (0.543581 (negative:-0.360657)), consciousness (0.501294 (neutral:0.000000)), duration (0.500495 (neutral:0.000000)), language (0.478901 (negative:-0.387195)), utterance (0.468880 (neutral:0.000000)), flops (0.464163 (neutral:0.000000)), handshake (0.463008 (neutral:0.000000))

Benjamin Franklin:Person (0.858575 (negative:-0.360657)), Ernst Pöppel:Person (0.604621 (neutral:0.000000)), Descartes:Person (0.560719 (negative:-0.282548)), Groucho:Person (0.548920 (neutral:0.000000)), golf:Sport (0.520468 (negative:-0.203153)), three seconds:Quantity (0.520468 (neutral:0.000000))

Time (0.966778): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Mind (0.518245): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Specious present (0.448916): dbpedia | freebase
Universe (0.434547): dbpedia | freebase
Future (0.421730): dbpedia | freebase
Present (0.382591): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Consciousness (0.323744): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Benjamin Franklin (0.280665): website | dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago

 The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Pinker, Steven (2007), The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, Retrieved on 2015-05-31
Folksonomies: language semantics