Thursday, June 15, 2006

Thoughts on Time

I've had a couple very interesting (and heated) discussions about "time" with friends recently that might be interesting to share. What had inspired one of these discussions was a book I'd read that implied that human's ability for narrative gave way to ideas of past, present, and future, and thus a sense of time that is unavailable to animals.

My friend, ever the philosophical champion of animals (bless his heart) responded that this isn't the case at all. He noted this example: his cat can watch its prey go behind an object and will know its going to come out the other side, so it goes to the other side to trap it when it comes out. So, since it can predict the result from a starting action, it has a sense of a future, and thus a sense of time.

I disagreed with this categorization, thinking that a conception of "time" as a thing is different from the cause and effect knowledge of events in daily life. He replied that it's just a matter of degree, not kind.

My thoughts right now are that there are two things going on here:

1. The subjective experience of time through the events that happen through during the day.
2. An abstract sense of time as something objective and outside just experience.

Whether it’s a matter of degree or kind, some type of symbolic activity (be it language or otherwise) is necessary in order to move from a conception of the first type to the second.

So, what does this have to do with visual language?

Well, many people believe that panels somehow equate to moments, and that "movement through space is movement through time." I believe that the second belief in time underlies these assumptions. The whole sequence of panels (or just physical space) is looked at as an abstract passage of time in which the actual panels (or internal parts of panels) are seen only as parts that fulfil the expectations of the broader whole.

In contrast, a view of panels akin to #1 focuses only on panels as segments of events. That is, the understanding of panels in sequence is far closer to the experiential sense of events than to an overarching sense of time (as I suggested way back in my Buddhism essay).

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