Wednesday, May 10, 2006

time: explained

"The human mind has two main scales on which to measure time. The large one takes the length of a human life as its unit, so that there is nothing to be done about life, it is of an animal dignity and simplicity, and must be regarded from a peaceable and fatalistic point of view. The small one takes as its unit the conscious moment, and it is from this that you consider the neighbouring space, an activity of the will, delicacies of social tone, and your personality. The scales are so far apart as almost to give the effect of defining two dimensions; they do not come into contact because what is too large to be conceived by one is still too small to be conceived by the other. Thus, taking the units as a century and the quarter of a second, their ratio is ten to the tenth and their mean is the standard working day; or taking the smaller one as five minutes, their mean is the whole of summer. The repose and self-command given by the use of the first are contrasted with the speed at which it shows the years to be passing from you, and therefore with the fear of death; the fever and multiplicity of life, as known by the use of the second, are contrasted with the calm of the external space of which it gives consciousness, with the absolute or extra-temporal value attached to the brief moments of self-knowledge with which it is concerned, and with a sense of security in that it makes death so far off."

Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity, 43-4

3 comments:

djchalky said...

The mean of 1/4 second and one century is

1/4s + 100y
------------------- = 1/8s + 50y
2

50 years and 1/8th of a second. That is my working day.

Jon Baines said...

so - not to put to fine a point on it - he's got his maths wrong?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we're talking about geometric mean here?
i.e. take the square root of the ratio of the numbers and multiply that by the smaller number.
I leave you to work it out...