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The contrast between physical time, a frame of reference that is outside events and phenomena, and psychological time, which is rich with the intensity of living experience, reveals itself in everyday language as well as in the languages of organization and data processing. We speak of time gained or lost, of shared time and real time, of free time and the lack of time.
To go beyond such conflicts, we must free ourselves from what I call our chronocentrism. The term may seem a bit strange; I use it here in relation to two better-known terms, geocentrism and anthropocentrism. Thanks to the theories of Copernicus and Galileo we have succeeded in getting rid of our geocentrism, the stifling idea that the earth is the center of our world. It was just as difficult to escape anthropocentrism, which put us at the center of all living things. Thanks to the theory of evolution, man is again one species among thousands.
Yet the most difficult threshold
remains to be crossed. We are prisoners
of time and words. Our logic, our reasoning, our models, our representationsof
the world are hopelessly colored by chronocentrism (as they formerly were
by geocentrism and anthropocentrism). From chronocentrism come the conflicts
that paralyze our thinking. Can we free ourselves from them?
Consciousnesses are (and probably will be even
more effectively) interconnected and synchronized through means of
communication in real time and by collective memory. This collective consciousness becomes informed by obtaining information on the universe (through research) and communicating it (through education). All creative action, at all levels of society, contributes in its own way to the organization of the world and its advancement toward higher levels of complexity.
The increase in complexity is neither unavoidable nor irreversible. All organization, no matter what its form, remains subject to degradation, to use, and to aging, whether it be living beings, machines, buildings, or information. Human society could even be destroyed instantly by nuclear catastrophe.
However, it is the individual creative action that compensates for the passage of time. For every original work is analogous to a reserve of time, to a potential time. Along with the concept of potential energy, then, we might propose that of potential time. The significance of the concept can be guessed: potential time is information.
Consider two examples, one at the biological level,
the other at the level of society. The information necessary for the
reproduction and maintenance of the structure of a living being is inscribed within the DNA molecule. This molecule represents all potential time amassed by the past evolution of life. The message is of high improbability; the actualization of this potential in the time of making copies will constitute the short span allotted to existence. The information that was present at the origin of this life will only be irreversibly degraded. Like the noise that covers and slowly blurs the meaning of a message, disorder sets in and increases. Entropy rises and errors accumulate. From reproduction to reproduction, from synthesis to synthesis, the organism ages, then dies. It has exhausted its "reserve of time," its reprieve has expired. It has attained its most probable state--death.
We see the opposite when we consider the life of humanity. The generation of information (potential time) in human society is accomplished at an accelerated rate as a result of the ceaseless efficiency gathered in storage and processing systems. As Gaston Berger has observed, humanity seems to grow younger.
Thus we can distinguish between the evolution of an individual life, which belongs to ontological time (the time of making copies), and the evolution of life that culminates today in the collective life of humanity, which belongs to phylogenetic time (the time of the creation of originals).
The dialectical approach proposed here accepts two complementary languages: that of reason, of scientific knowledge; and that of "meaning," of art, poetry, and religion. The scientific language (mathematics, physics) is rich in information and poor in human content, while the language of meaning (politics, religion) is poor in information but rich in human content.
Using the two languages,
one can try to answer the "how" without neglecting the "why"--without separating
the objective world from the subjective
world. For they form the two complementary aspects of reality
and knowledge, in spite of the enormous disproportions between the objective,
physical universe and the subjective universe of individual consciousnesses
lost in the immensity of space-time.
Joël de Rosnay
Director of Strategy, Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie,
La Villette, Paris, France
Symposium ISST- AFAS "Time and Globalization"
Palais de la Découverte, Paris, November 5, 1999
Summary of the conference
Original reference : "L'homme
Symbiotique", Editions du Seuil, 1995, pp. 340-354
To be published by McGraw-Hill in March 2000 under the title "The Symbiotic Man"
1. A highly complex system (such as a living cell,
or a large network
of computers) traps a certain amount of time. Through this closure, it
creates a bubble
of time, which is its own proper time, and which represents the environment
of its evolution. Human creation nourishes itself on the degradation of
energy into entropy, but saves some time in the great reservoir constituted
If one adopts a non-linear management of one's time, one can generate niches for new activities, without necessarily eliminating others. To reach this goal, it is necessary to invest time in the creation of a Time-Capital. This new approach to time seems to me to lie deep at the heart of symbiotic evolution.
2. In order to describe the processes of evolution, I often use words such as acceleration, auto-catalysis, or self-organization, as well as more common terms like revolution, mutation, crisis, or rupture. These terms introduce a particular relation between time and duration. Words such as revolution, mutation, and explosion, express the non-linearity of phenomena, their exponential acceleration, and (as I will explain below) the premise of the "lock-in" of a sector through virtuous circles. This scenario describes the case of the explosion in communications. The merging of networks, of computational and multimedia techniques, increases the density of time so much that the whole sector is self-selected, and self-organizes from a substrate of lower density. Planetary co-evolutions that occur between the biosphere, the technosphere and the ecospheres (both the economical and the ecological ones) and now the introsphere, evolve at different rates of processing; each of these respective spheres become more immaterial all the time, and link up inside several superposed evolutionary layers. At the scale of the world, the isolation of the more developed societies in their highly densified temporal bubbles poses the problem of exclusion. In a world with scarce resources, the ever-quickening appropriation of vital flows by the few, progressively eliminates larger and larger numbers from the human race. The densities of the flow of time are mutually exclusive, in the way that two people who want attempt to exchange objects, one riding in a high-speed train and one riding a bicycle, are prevented from crossing paths with one another. Yet such an exchange is absolutely necessary if one wants to avoid irreversible processes of radical exclusion among communities, peoples and nations. The cybiont (the planetary superorganism under construction) begins its development and evolves in a temporal bubble which is overaccelerating. It is the duty of mankind to avoid the creation of prejudiced inequalities that would jeopardize its own future.
3. The greatest challenge
of the future will not be a technical one, but a social one. The big choice
that humankind is facing, and which we probably will have to make as soon
as the next century, will be to slow down the blind flight of the privileged
few, and to organize our society and our planet for the well-being of all
men and women. The formative choices of tomorrow will not entail whether
to synchronize different times according to standards set by an elite,
but the harmonization of those times. Sharing, solidarity and a harmonization
of times with respect for differences will be the new rules, the new modes
of a symbiotic mankind.
Symbiosis leads toward a unified approach of organizations and of time, leading to human action, either individual or collective. Natural and artificial matters, arts and technologies, cultures and civilizations are now linked together in a coherent ensemble. To conceive and to plan the cybiont for the wellbeing of mankind, thanks to a better knowledge of natural laws, represents the new horizon for the human world in the next millenium.
Everything that gives human beings the potential
to innovate renders them the master of their own future. Creation is what
saves time. Saved time, put in parallel with natural flows, densifies duration.
Salvation lies in the present, dilated from within. The future of the world,
a minuscule spot in a cold and distant universe, no longer depends solely
on cosmological spaces. The future of the world is inside the time of human
beings. The time of the cybiont and perhaps also a time of even deeper
and denser superorganism will come after it.