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Science fiction: Interesting idea on the nature of time and mind

Over at Jason Rennie’s Sci Phi: Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy, Michael Spence offers “Requiem for a Harlequin: Two Perspectives on Time, and a Celebration of Kairos, in Three Stories by Harlan Ellison” – a look at Ellison’s sf fantasy stories that involve the nature of time:

In Harlan Ellison’s long career of resisting genre labels, none of his stories has proved more label-elusive than the one most frequently reprinted, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.” The story is not precisely science fiction as opposed to fantasy: the world is presumably our earth, yet the society appears archetypal as well as the only one on the planet, with no explanation why. Nor is it precisely fantasy as opposed to sf: the setting is futuristic, the lifespan-controlling power of the Master Timekeeper is described in technological terms, and one also finds familiar sf devices such as slidewalks).

In his essay, Spence makes the interesting point that, of our two concepts of time, chronos and kairos (measurement vs. moment), the second requires the notion of a mind – an intelligence that comprehends its significance – to make any sense:
Chronos is about seconds, minutes, hours–that is, the time-coordinates one would use to identify points on a t-axis. It rules the logbook, the shift-activity report, the tape emerging from the seismograph or the polygraph. Kairos, on the other hand, is about moments, whether good or ill–the event that marks the turning of the tide in a battle or the fall of a kingdom, the tableau that shows a relationship in its essence. Its domain is the historian’s record, the scrapbook, the photo album. Indeed, when advertisements proclaim “a Kodak moment” or a wedding song announces, “This is the moment I’ve waited for,” they speak of kairos. Various lexicons credit the playwright Sophocles with giving kairos the added flavor of “the right moment,” “the moment of opportunity” (e.g., Hahn, 3:833); such a distinction is quite appropriate, especially from a dramatist, for whom such moments are the tools of the trade.

From the start one notices that the presence of Mind differentiates kairos from chronos. While intelligence is needed to set up a chronological structure, that structure is self-perpetuating as long as clocks continue to function. A deist would view the universe in this same mechanistic fashion – God only takes part in its creation, absenting himself thereafter from involvement as it continues to run on its own. For kairos, however, chronological location is merely a statistic; moments involve the observer’s judgment, will, or appreciation. Indeed, the world of kairos might be more comfortable with quantum mechanics, with its focus on the observer, than with deism.

Much other good stuff to check out at Rennie’s Sci Fi Journal, available as both sound and text files.

(Note: That’s Rennie’s self-portrait, not Michael Spence’s. Spence blogs at Brother Osric’s Scriptorium, and does not look like this. But then neither does Jason Rennie. – d.)

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9 Responses to Science fiction: Interesting idea on the nature of time and mind

  1. Note: The “Search” function of the site no longer functions.
    Mutations? ;-)

  2. Hi, Borne, when I tried it, the message said – accurately – that we have moved to a new server. All may not yet work as hoped. The move was sudden, prompted by traffic problems that the older server could not handle, so there was no opportunity for an orderly rollout.

  3. It is sadly fitting that ID people would love science fiction.

    I think today I shall write an anti-ID post on my blog.

    Not because I don’t like controversial movements (I do!), but because it is good to question even those movements.

    Always keep the brain working!

    NS
    http://sciencedefeated.wordpress.com/

  4. This is also relevant to Dr. Dembski’s article on Theodicy.

  5. Could you include a plug back to sci phi journal please ?

  6. I have to chuckle at notedscholar‘s comment, “It is sadly fitting that ID people would love science fiction.” Who do you think introduced me to the field? ID people? Certainly not! It was such thoroughgoing naturalists as Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke.

    If anything, the “sadly fitting” comment would apply more to those holding to naturalistic evolution.

    (An additional chuckle comes from reading anti-IDist Carl Sagan’s novel Contact. To whom does this sweeping vision credit the structure of the galaxies and even mathematics? To cosmic engineers — intelligent designers!)

  7. @notedscholar

    I read your latest posts about ID and I think you do not understand what ID theory says. It is your problem.

    “Name one technological innovation produced by Intelligent Design.”

    Life.
    Conscience.
    Human.

    Lasers are only the next step.

  8. Yes, this is the old problem of subject and object, and it is just as deadly for the materialists as it was for the Idealists.

    The reality of objective time cannot be denied. If we negate it for the sake of pure subject, pure mind, the result is nothingness. Nothing of substance can be adduced about time through the method that seeks to totalize the difference between subjective and objective time—the difference that makes itself known in our unhappiness.

    It is equally foolish, however, to deny that subject and its own time exist, as the materialists attempt to do, for the simple reason that our unhappiness is real. They want to abolish the difference between subject and object and turn mind into matter; but this desire, this will to power, is rooted in the very difference they discount, as indicated by the strident tone of their rhetoric.

    Unhappiness is a point in time that is not time itself. Unhappiness magnifies points in time when by objective measures all timepoints are of the same value. Subjective time is real; materialism, then, is an empty suit. It lacks the means to address the very issue that brings philosophy into being—the pursuit of the good of happiness.

    Materialism and Idealism are two sides of the same coin, born of a desire for simple answers. Idealism attempts to obtain happiness by negating the complexity introduced by object for the sake of pure subject, while materialism seeks to embrace pure object and negate the complexity of the “I.” Both are a product of the “unhappy consciousness” at war with its own existence, and both lead to nothingness and futility in the end.

  9. Meanwhile, for a 2005 Kuhnian view on the ID vs. naturalistic evolution brouhaha, please see “Naturalistic Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: Paradigm Smackdown!”

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