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Time in Music and Culture

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Ludwik Bielawski

From Aristotle to Heidegger, philosophers distinguished two orders of time, before, after and past, present, future, presenting them in a wide range of interpretations. It was only around the turn of the 1970s that two theories of time which deliberately went beyond that tradition, enhancing our notional apparatus, were produced independently of one another. The nature philosopher Julius T. Fraser, founder of the interdisciplinary International Society for the Study of Time, distinguished temporal levels in the evolution of the Cosmos and the structure of the human mind: atemporality, prototemporality, eotemporality, biotemporality and nootemporality. The author of the book distinguishes two ‘dimensions’ in time: the dimension of the sequence of time (syntagmatic) and the dimension of the sizes of duration or frequency (systemic). On the systemic scale, the author distinguishes, in human ways of existing and acting, a visual zone, zone of the psychological present, zone of works and performances, zone of the natural and cultural environment, zone of individual and social life and zone of history, myth and tradition. In this book, the author provides a synthesis of these theories.

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8 The zone of historical time and worldview

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8.1 The tempo of historical changes and the logarithmic scale

Thinking about the phases in the course of history, we are inclined to conceive of time as an arithmetic sequence of days, years, centuries, millennia, etc., along which history marks out particularly important dates, segmenting that linear flow of time, dividing it into periods and eras. We tend not to consider that some other scale of time might be applied to history, namely, the logarithmic scale with all its characteristic properties. Yet history is not entirely free from that scale. The fact is that as we approach increasingly distant times, the detail of the results of historical research decreases, and the periodisation covers increasingly large segments of time. Even the output of historical writings tends to accord with the logarithmic scale of time: the closer to our times, the higher the number of works concerning comparable periods.

The sense of a logarithmic scale for history is all the greater in that certain historical processes seem to occur in accordance with it. Here I will draw on an example from glottochronology that gives plenty of food for thought. Detailed research into languages derived from a common source has shown that the percentage of the original vocabulary preserved depends on the length of time for which the languages have been separated. That dependency has even been presented in the form of a graph, which I reproduce here after Charles F. Hockett (Example 8.1a).211 It was...

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