The Test of Time

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Reality / Time /
@ K. 2003

In the Eighteenth Century Dr. Johnson pronounced that Shakespeare had by then withstood the test of time and could be honored with confidence.

Dr. Johnson
thanx americandigest

My army buddy spent his junior year at Edinborough where, circa 1958, the poetry professor was comfortable assigning Wordsworth or Byron as well as Shakespeare, but accompanied his teaching of Tennyson or Browning with cautions: they hadn’t yet withstood the test of time.

In English studies the relative chronologies of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Browning … hasn’t changed. Other temporal relationships have changed more since 1958 than they had between Shakespeare’s time and 1958. In 1958 we still believed what we had believed in 1948: and in 1848: that the pyramids were very ancient structures. Then Jericho got a wall or two dated backwards towards ten thousand years. Suddenly, as Isaac Asimov noted, the pyramids are modern buildings!

When I was a kid Latin was the ancient language. Greek was so ancient that … forget it. Hebrew? Hebrew is unmentionable. You really want to piss people off: say Sanskrit. But by the time I was in graduate school if you wanted to trace words to God, you traced them to Indo-European: Latin had been reduced to a transient artificiality of Old Italian. By my teens I was watching National Geographic reports on Louis Leakey’s backwards-stretching of human history.

Our politics requires an economy which requires a standard calendar. Here we are all living a day or two after Christmas, 2003: AD. How many of us realize when we go to church or to temple that the church doesn’t use the same calendar as the temple and that neither uses the same calendar as Washington or Wall Street? Do you realize that the Jewish temples are still counting by the moon!? I think the Muslims do too. But don’t worry: it’s no more absurd than thinking that Portland and Miami can have the “same” “noon,” or that the sun is ever “overhead” in either of those places.

The test of time: has anything passed the test of time? (And just what is that test?)

Test of Time
Test of Time
thanx Jeffrey Stoner

The concept of time has changed from classical physics to the physics of Einstein’s relativity to the non-equilibrium thermodynamics of Prigogine. What did Shakespeare (before classical physics) think time was? Plato? Euclid? Abraham?

Prigogine clearly states his assumption that time is infinite. The universe seems to be finite. Therefore, if both of those things are true, then the universe may be wrapped with time, but time is not wrapped with the universe: the universe occurs within time: they do not co-occur.

Ian McHarg tells a fable of nuclear winter. Some anaerobic bacterium in a lead shielded cave deep in the ocean says to another surviving bacterium, “Well, here we go again. We’ll have to restart evolution almost from scratch”: and is answered, “Yeah, but this time: no more brains.”

What is the age of the universe? Ten to twenty billion years? (What about other universes? Are they all the same age?) What is the age of life? On this planet: three or four billions years apparently. Life everywhere? We have no idea? (Couldn’t life be older than the universe? Couldn’t life have created this universe? as a new universe? specifically to be inhabited?) But three or so billion years at least.

How old is intelligence? A religious might answer “infinite.” A literal reader of the Bible might say “six thousand years.” This or that anthropologist might range in answer from two millions years to forty or fifty thousand years. (Some dissenter might have a different answer.)

So: what is this test of time? The trilobites filled the seas for two hundred and fifty million years. Did they pass it? Shakespeare’s poetry/dramas were one-century-established by Johnson’s time: what would the good doctor think of the trilobites if he knew of them? (Trilobites might have exhibited some five-way symmetry but I doubt if they knew any iambic pentameter among the lot of them.)

This test of time: has intelligence passed it? Has life? (Has God?)

Has existence itself?


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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