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Space And Time

  Space is the three-dimensional expanse in which all material objects are located. Time is the fourth dimension in which all events are located.

Various philosophical questions arise concerning space and time. Are space and time real? Do the past and future exist? Places which are not here exist. But do times which are not now exist? Do space and time have a reality independently of objects and events? Is it possible for there to be an empty space (a space which contains no objects), or an eventless time (a time in which nothing changes)? And do space and time have a reality independently of observers? Does time flow? Is the asymmetry of time necessary or contingent? Are space and time finite? Do they have boundaries? Some have held that space is infinite and unbounded, others that it is finite and unbounded, in the sense in which the surface of a ball is finite and unbounded. (As the example of the surface of a ball makes clear, being finite is not the same as having a boundary.)

Some philosophers have advocated absolute theories of space and time, while others adhere to relational theories. Absolute theories hold that space and time are both real, existing independently of objects and events, and of observers. Things move or are at rest, and this is not a matter of their changing or unchanging relations with other things: even if something were the only thing in the universe, it could move, or be at rest.

Relationalists hold that space or time are merely matters of relations between objects or events. There is no more to space or time than relations between objects or events.

Einstein\'s theory of relativity, to some philosophers, seems to cast doubt on absolute theories, suggesting that whether or not one event is judged to occur before, after or simultaneously with another is always relative to an observer\'s position. Suppose that there are two clocks, A and B, which are millions of miles apart and appear to be synchronized to an observer millions of miles from both. This observer will judge that clock A and clock B strike 12 simultaneously. An observer standing next to A, however, will judge that A strikes 12 before B, for light from A reaches her long before light from B does so. And an observer standing next to B will judge that A struck 12 after B, for light from B reaches him long before light from A does so. This not only suggests that whether or not one event is judged to occur before, after or simultaneously with another is always relative to an observer\'s position. It also indicates that space and time are not independent of each other, but interwoven in a single space-time.

In modern physics, the speed of light, gravity, space and time are all dependent upon each other. We define speed as being the distance travelled in a given time interval hence miles per hour, or metres per second. Originally, time was thought to flow at a perfectly constant rate for all objects, with speed being a less fundamental quantity. Experiments performed in the early part of this century showed that this was not the case for light, and Einstein\'s theory of relativity revealed that the speed of light was of far greater significance than had previously been realised.

We now know that it is the speed of light that is the fundamental constant, not space or time. Both will warp in order to preserve the value of the speed of light. Thus all theories which assume a constant view of time or space have been physically invalidated. Einstein\'s theory has been shown to hold in many different situations, and tested up to speeds very close to that of light in particle accelerators.

The closer an object travels to the speed of light, the slower its internal clock goes. The very highest energy particles that we know of take 5 minutes of their own time to traverse the width of a galaxy, while an observer at rest with respect to the galaxy sees them take several thousand years. To the particles, space and not time has been distorted they see the whole enormous width of the galaxy compressed by a factor of a billion.

Gravity can also have a dramatic effect upon space and time. The tremendous gravity produced by black holes and neutron stars means that time slows down in their vicinity, and light no longer travels in straight lines but bends to follow the warped curvature of space.

Philosophers also have difficulties with the notion of the passage of time. We find it natural to think of time as flowing, of ourselves as moving through time. But this suggests that time could flow quicker or slower than it actually does, that we might move more or less quickly through time. But with respect to what could time flow quicker or slower? One unpromising suggestion is that there is a second-order time, within which time flows more or less quickly.

To anthropologists, space is an element of all social organizations, but it is conceptualized, ordered and used in widely diverse ways. It is to this phenomenon that anthropologists have looked. Some combine it with considerations of its counterpart, time that is, to think of space one must also think of time and vice versa.

Broadly, there are two interdependent senses in which societies take on spatial form. First, space is arranged by means of buildings, boundaries and zones—which, in a circular manner, are dependent on, as well as affect, cultural conceptions about space and its uses. Second, space arranges people in relation to each other. Their distribution and uses of space may reflect a host of features including social and economic position, philosophical or cosmological conceptions, population numbers and environmental considerations.

Related to such ideas is the consideration of personal space, or how the space surrounding the body is adjustable according to the social context and degree of engagement with the participants. The notion of private space or privacy appears to be a feature of modern ‘objective’ societies in the West, where a premium is placed on the desire to preserve one\'s personal space and property from others. In most societies, deployment of both personal and social space is closely related to the status of the person. The status of a person in authority is enhanced by a separated and raised platform in certain contexts. Similarly, the spatial separation between men and women in society reflects cultural conceptions and evaluations about the respective genders.

From the 1960s onwards, structuralist anthropologists (see structuralism) have attempted to trace the relationship between the geographical and physical expressions of space in societies to models of conceptual ordering in the human mind. Central to this is the distinction between nature and culture, or how human-made divisions of ‘raw’ space act to socialize the natural environment. Structuralists argue that even though space may show varying physical expressions the underlying logic to its organization is the same for societies everywhere.

While illuminating, structuralist theories on space attempt to offer grand, universalizing models to the neglect of personal and practical uses of space. It is also underpinned by scientific and geometrical metaphors characteristic of organization in Western society. The Pintupi people, an Australian Aboriginal group, for example, conceive of space in a different way: most aspects of their life, including persons, customs and geographical features are based on the ‘Dreaming’ in which mythological creatures, representing another level of being, created the world through actions such as turning into natural phenomena or going underground. Space is conceptualized on a qualitive, cosmological basis rather than something to be divided, covered and measured typical of predominant views of space in the West.

After Émile Durkheim\'s distinction between sacred and profane in 1912, discussion has also ranged around how sacred space is kept apart from mundane space for everyday usage. Durkheim regarded the sacred as something that was deeply revered, bonding people together. Similar feelings have been associated with sacred spaces, for instance with pilgrim locations like Lourdes, Mecca and Varanasi. Recent social theorists have applied this distinction of sacred and profane spaces to special places visited by the tourist. More generally, it is impossible to think of any geographical location in the ‘raw’ without our ideas moulding our perceptions of it. Space, therefore, is constituted by a continual dialogue between our imaginations, our social and cultural experiences and the actual physical landscape.

So far as time is concerned anthropologists argue that it can be grasped only through the uses and metaphors we apply to its description, rather than simply as a part of an objective experience of the world. We may consider the passing days and seasons, and the process of ageing, as an experience of reality, but these processes through time are also described according to particular sets of social codes. For instance, in Western societies, age is quantified according to the number of years, and these revolve around a set of seasonal markers. Western industrial societies standardize time by measurement with devices such as clocks and calendars. The precise measurement of time is a crucial factor in the rise of capitalism, where ideas of time as a commodity and of time-discipline govern people\'s lives. In some other societies, time appears to be experienced on a more qualitative basis—that is, more directly dependent on the seasons or on personal recollection of past events. Anthropologists have generally referred to this as ‘human time’.

Edward Evans-Pritchard was one of the earliest anthropologists to concentrate on concepts of time in other societies. He did this in relation to the Nuer people of Sudan in 1940, arguing that their notions of time were determined by social structures, principally through the individual\'s passage through age-grades. Studying the Navaho people of North America, Benjamin Whorf concluded that their concepts of time were determined by their language, and were therefore unique and distinct from other societies. Both anthropologists argued that, essentially, notions of time in such societies were cyclical (as opposed to the linear model of past, present and future following one another in a progressive line typical of Western societies).

Such propositions have sparked off anthropological debates on, first, whether concepts of time are cyclical and repetitive or linear and irreversible and, second, whether time is relative to a particular community or the same for people in all societies. Some have proposed that in ritual contexts time is experienced as cyclical, whereas in mundane situations time is conceived as a linear progression. Others have criticized the terms of the argument itself for being reliant on two geometric metaphors to describe time, which are largely a construct of Western society.

Recent anthropologists, acknowledging that there are some aspects of time that are universal features of all peoples\' lives, have turned their attention to the various metaphors and methods of organizing time in societies, instead of trying to attempt the impossible in cracking a code about experiences of time. Such perspectives consider how time is codified, how time reflects religious and cultural values, how it organizes and is organized by daily social routine, and how it relates to other concepts such as space, history, death and personhood. Time is a defining part of our sense of reality and raises some very fundamental concerns, the most important of which is to be vigilant about our culturally learnt assumptions of time. The standardization of Greenwich Mean Time was a key component in spreading the dominance of the Western ethos around the globe, confirming that a Western notion of time or reality is, to a large extent, also conflated with a universal notion of time. AJ JJ RK

See also cultural relativism; ethnohistory; indigenous metaphysics; language; primitivism; rite of passage; tourism, anthropology of; Westernization.Further reading R. Gale, The Philosophy of Time; , Bill Hillier and , Julienne Hanson, The Social Logic of Space; , James Middleton, Myth and Cosmos; , Fred R. Myer, Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self: Sentiment, Place and Politics Among Western Desert Aborigines; , J.J.C. Smart, Problems of Space and Time; , Michael Young, The Metronomic Society.



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