The view from my window in Edinburgh.


The Language of Temporality

Winter in Scotland is strange, for the dark is long and dawn comes late. I suffered serious jetlag in the beginning of 2020, after I came back to Edinburgh from a short visit to my home in Taipei. For more than two weeks I fell asleep after I saw sunrise and woke up finding it was already passed sunset. Every night I closed my eyes, hoping to fall asleep before the official declaration of another working day, as if no matter how late (or how early) it was, it was still night as long as the sun had not shined yet. However, the border of day and night is a vague process: The date changes every day at 0 am, gulls start yelling at each other at 3 am, drunken people are still staggering on the street at 4 am, and the sound of truck engine appears at 5 am. For drunken people the night might still be young, yet it is already another day for truck drivers.


People take time as a substance which can be accumulated or measured, while to me it is more like an algebra defined by us, representing an abstract concept in order to be calculated and useful. Ever since clock was popularized in fifteenth century (Mortimer, 2015), we had promptly gotten used to think that clock is the representative of time, and the speed of clock is the speed of time. There are hundreds of reasons for human in need of an absolute time, for the way we manage our life will be completely confused without it. One example is my insomnia during the night while I could not know what time it was or how long/short it was till dawn.


What exactly is time? Is time the status of change? Do we collect changes of things to prove the existent of time? Is time, like Bergson’s word, a passage from rest to rest and absolutely indivisible? (Bergson, [1911] 1988) or is it imagined to be continuous by our interrupted life memories but actually a prisoner of an eternal present? (Calvino, 2009) While both approaches seem opposite but equally make sense, what if time is just an illusion created by our brain so we can find a purpose to live? In our perception of reality, time is a continuing process which we split into countless segments. In order to make the endless process productive (or bearable), people mark periods at almost every moment and constantly look forward to crossing them. When we go to bed, we wait to fall asleep; when we sleep, we wait to wake up. We create these cycles, we follow them, until our eventual death. The restriction of human limited time not only makes our lives meaningful; it also outstands the subjective cognition of now, which constitutes the concept of duration, and of temporality.


Bergson, H., [1911] 1988. Matter and Memory. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Calvino, I., 2009. Shells and Time. In: The Complete Cosmicomics. London: Penguin Books Ltd, pp. 360-365.

Mortimer, I., 2015. Human Race: Ten Centuries of Change on Earth. London: Penguin Random House.

The light during a winter day in Edinburgh
Gulls in Edinburgh