Time is an intriguing and mysterious notion that not everyone considers. It is one of the few things that we encounter in our everyday lives that no one truly understands.
Over the course of thousands of years, countless different cultures have tried to comprehend this difficult concept. Two major ways of understanding time are the linear concept and the cyclical one. Although both centered around the same ideas, they are very different and the way one views time has the power to change the way one experiences life.
The more popular view in our culture today is linear time. This is the Judeo-Christian and Western concept that is familiar to most Americans. This perspective sees time as going in a continuous horizontal movement, always going forward from past to present to future. In this concept time is unstoppable; time cannot be changed and once a moment occurs it is gone forever.
This idea may seem somewhat depressing and harsh. However, the approach keeps us looking forward and in theory, unconcerned about the past. Using the linear idea it seems pointless, a waste of time — which is so central to this view — to fixate on the past, be blind to the future, and to reminisce over what could have been. Time continues forever and therefore there is always another day to look ahead to.
The notion of linear time comes from the belief that God created the earth. In both Judaism and Christianity the world began with Creation. Therefore, in the linear concept of time there is a beginning, which means there must also be a middle and an end.In the grand scheme of things, everything since Creation has been the “middle,” and everything on will still be the “middle.” This middle part of time will continue, progressing in the way time does until we reach the “en.” On a smaller, more individual level, the “beginning” for each person is birth, the “middle” life, and the “end” death.
The other popular view of time is the cyclical concept. This idea began thousands of years ago and was the view of ancient Greek society. Today, the cyclical notion is seen as the Eastern concept of time and is believed by people in many religions, including Hindus and Buddhists. Cyclical time was the accepted view of the Aztecs, Mayans, Incas, Hopis, and many more. This idea is that time moves in circles, or cycles. Those who believe this say that time repeats itself over and over again in a sort of spiral that is continuous.
In the Hindu tradition, this concept comes from the god Brahma. Brahma is seen as without beginning and without end. Hindus believe life on Earth ends when Brahma ends after literally trillions of years. However, when this happens, a new world is created with a new Brahma and the cycle continues. On the non-religious side, the idea of cyclical time was created by ancient cultures watching what was happening around them. They knew that the seasons repeat, they noticed that every few hours there is a day and then a night and then day comes back and so on, they also noticed that events tend to repeat themselves. For example, war. War happens and then is followed by a period of peace, but then war happens again. Looking at it from this perspective, the concept seems logical: similar things do happen and days and seasons of course come again. However, the difference is that they are never the same. No two years are exactly the same and no two days are exactly the same, either.
Although linear and cyclical notions of time are separate from each other conceptually, in a sense they are also very similar. Both ideas see time as something that continues. In neither view can anyone stop the progression of time and simply “get off the ride,” whether the ride is going straightforward or in loops.