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The Rush Of Capitalism Defies Eternal Concepts Of Time

Our linear, utilitarian view of time may be simply a construct of this modern, materialist civilization. What's the rush? What does it mean?

Ever fleeting
Ever fleeting
Darí­o Sztajnszrajber


BUENOS AIRES — Our conception of time is based on certain unresolved paradoxes. On the one hand, there is Saint Augustine's classic proposition that capturing the present is impossible, that this very instant is inconceivable. While our binary logic thinks through definitions that create limits between what is and what is not, the moment flows and becomes, being and not being simultaneously. Every time I want to conceptualize the now, it has ceased to be. Time always evades us.

Then, as the philosopher Paul Ricoeur would say, there is the impossibility of resolving the question of whether time is subjective or objective. We are in fact conscious of time subjectively, in terms of "my" or your past, present and future. Yet time surpasses us. We neither create nor dominate it. It comes and goes. There is an objective time, but we access it subjectively.

Thus our culture has gradually normalized a linear image of time that is also associated with a string of established values like productivity, profit and efficiency. What is linear time? It is the idea of time as a progressive line with a certain continuity of meaning, as if the progression ensured the completion of a whole. It is the purposeful vision philosophers call teleology. Instants here are like road markers or sign posts that mean nothing yet, but will acquire meaning when seen from the end of the linear stretch. We are thus fulfilling a purpose in the course of our time. It is like an assembly line whose only glitch is that we are its final product.

There is clearly a Christian root to this idea. After the original sin, worldly time appeared to be nothing more than an attempt to reconcile ourselves with the Divine. Living is carrying out commands that assure salvation. Beyond the religious story, the linear, teleological matrix persists in the modern world. To live is to be here for a purpose you must fulfill: The meaning of life is to ensure life has a meaning. And Capitalism will duly turn any remaining time on our hands into a productive investment, even if at the end, whatever its returns, the production chain will stop.

Could we live the time experience another way? Perhaps less quantitatively, and more qualitatively? We could perhaps think of our time not from an economic, but from an artistic perspective wherein time becomes a poem or a song whose every verse is valid in itself and within the whole, and whose last chord terminates and completes the opus. Escaping the productivity matrix, we thus reformulate notions of profit and loss. Instead of making use of time one could discard it, and make the inversion a doorway to let in the unforeseen.

Alternative pace, different directions — Photo: John Bastoen

Walter Benjamin suggested that a single historical course or direction could be equally viewed as progressive or calamitous. The Jewish Sabbath interrupts the work week to create a space that is unproductive, and existential. The Latin carpe diem advice to "seize the day" on the other hand seeks to fragment that time line in order to give depth and significance to every instant.

But as some of the great thinkers have pointed out, the definition and duration of a moment is an open question. Moments do not last, but express another means of relating to time. When we sit "awhile" to read or do nothing, we are making a break in our linear conception of time, or interrupting its putative progression. But does time move, or run or even "run out?" Does it have inherent meaning, or does our conscience seek a meaning we know to be absent? Where does this leave the notion of haste? Indeed, what's the hurry since we are all heading straight for oblivion.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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