A number of things struck me as I looked at this sundial.
The first thing I did was look at my phone to see “what time it is” and my phone said midday. Yet, the sundial said ten o’clock. How come? Is the sun slow today? Or did someone make a mistake when they carved out this sundial? Or has time changed since this sundial was created?
The next thing I noticed was that the sundial starts at 4 am. That’s quite early for France. I know up in Scotland in the summer time it will be light by then but in Paris? Maybe….I don’t know. Perhaps more strangely though, it seems to finish about 3 pm. Surely that wasn’t anywhere near sunset, even centuries ago! So there must be a reason they didn’t think it useful to measure time after three in the afternoon. Or was it just that the sun didn’t cast any shadows on this particular sundial after that time in the afternoon..?
Henri Bergson, the philosopher, wrote a lot about time and he mentions two kinds of time – measured and experienced. I hadn’t thought about time that way until I read him. But it’s true, we humans haven’t always measured time. With our sundials, our clocks and watches, we divide everyday life into pieces, naming the pieces as hours, minutes or seconds, and counting them. But this is completely man-made. It’s totally artificial.
In reality time passes, not in discrete pieces, but as a continuous flow. This chopping it up into bits is a human invention. I’m not saying it hasn’t been useful to do that, but it’s just a bit of a surprise when you suddenly realise that. We could have agreed to chop it up differently. Couldn’t we? Have you ever thought about that?
I saw a watch for sale the other day. It was called a “slow watch”, not because it ran slowly but because the face had 24 hours on it and it only had one hand which moved slowly from hour to hour. Maybe that’s not so different from this medieval sundial!
Bergson talked about experienced time as “duration” – we experience time passing, but we don’t experience it passing in a steady, consistent of constant way do we? Sometimes “time flies past” and sometimes “it drags”.
Csikszentmihalyi, describes “flow” as being a particular experience of time. I love his description of that. Here’s his TED talk about it –
So how do you experience time?
Might be fun to stop and think about that a few times over the next few days and see just how differently we experience, or make, time in our own lives.