Living in Three Types of Time

In Slavery and Freedom (1944), [Nicholas] Berdyaev described three forms of time or modes of existence in which all people live—cosmic, historical, and existential.

Cosmic time, nature’s cyclic rhythmic time, exists in the past, present, and future as objectivized time, which is subject to mathematical calculations and division into parts. Symbolized by the circle, cosmic time is the motion of the earth around the sun, the calendar, the clock, and the cycles of birth and death, which exists in an objectivized sense because movement and change take place. In cosmic time, the present falls between the past and the future. It annihilates the past to be annihilated by the future and is not interested in the fate of personality.

Historical time, symbolized by the straight line, operates in cosmic time at a deeper stratum of existence. It reaches both forward to determine the disclosure of meaning and backward through memory and tradition to reveal the inner sense of the periodicity and passage of time. In historical time, the past and future exist in the same moment. History establishes a link between periods through memory, giving birth to illusion as it searches for the fullness of achievement and the perfection of meaning. Likewise, historical time cannot find completeness in the present. Illusions of the past and future exist simultaneously and it too is enslaving to the personality.

In contrast to cosmic and historical time, which is objectivized and subordinate to number, existential time is the individual’s inward, subjective, qualitative experience—moving one from the realm of objectification into the realm of spirit where there is no distinction between the past and the future. Instead, time is dependent on one’s inward change in the intensity of the moment. This self actualizing moment, as an event in existential time, is a symbolic exteriorization and objectification of what is not expressible in an object. For example, creativity, ecstasy, and suffering occur vertically, not horizontally.

Source: Gordon, Susan. (2012). Existential time and the meaning of human development. The Humanistic Psychologist, 40(1), 79–86. doi:10.1080/08873267.2012.643691 p. 81


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