Linear time/cyclical time

I’ve been helping raise some kids lately, and one thing that I keep butting up against is trying to figure out how a person (me) who was raised in a culture that has linear time as a cultural assumption can go about instilling notions of cyclical time in the kids I hang out with. Obviously kid’s books would be easiest, but even just easy conversation topics, stories to tell, etc. would be helpful. Anyone else dealing with this?

and really, suggestions for kids books written from an animist perspective in general would be helpful as well.

Jean Craighead George has written a lot of kids’ books from an animist perspective. These books were very influential for me when I was growing up. Also, “The Mishomis Book” by Edward Benton-Banai is also a very good introduction to the legends of the upper great lakes region, including a lot of basic animist philosophy and a very good introduction to the scientific method.

I came at the idea of linear vs cyclical time in a bit of an unusual way, through theoretical physics. I found Noether’s Theorem relating symmetries and conserved (invariant) quantities. The tine-symmetry of the fundamental laws of nature gives rise to a quantity called energy, and when we look at this on our scale on earth, things get interesting. Macroscopic energy is in a dynamic equilibrium, being in balance between the sun’s light and losses to the microscopic scale and radiation into space. This dynamic equilibrium is what lets life exist on earth and is the basis of ecology. It also gives rise to an interesting near-symmetry that is often described as time being “cyclic”, although a lorentz attractor is a better shape to use as an analogy to use than a loop, being cyclic without ever repeating.

Im writing an essay on this right now, actually, i’ll send it to you when its published.

1 Like

I’ve personally felt that the linear/cyclical time spectrum really shouldn’t be thought of as “either/or” but rather a continuum. Some parts of time are cyclical, some are linear, in my opinion. Our calendar in some ways reflects this–it consists of a year that increases in number, but a month and day cycle that is cyclical. January through December keeps repeating itself, even though the year increases at the end of the new year. Likewise, the seasons keep repeating each other, but people still are born, mature, and grow old. I’m physically different at 27 than I was when I was a teenager, yet many parts of my personality have stayed the same. Why must time be viewed as either linear or cyclical? I personally think that both sides of the story have merit.


time is an interesting word. Many cultures have no word for time. Mentors of mine say that time - or perhaps “experience” is an equally useful word - is holographic (not their word, but mine) and simultaneously proceeds linearly (Sun time), cyclically/spirally (moon time), spherically (all time at once), and more. There is ecstatic time/never-before-seen time. To some the Ocean is the physical face of the deeper reality of all-time-gathered.

Martín Prechtel’s book “the disobedience of the daughter of the sun” is an excellent resource for learning about traditional insights into “time”.

So I agree it’s not an either/or - and not only that, there is so much to learn beyond the simple dichotomy of linear vs. cyclical.

1 Like

Agreed. And Willem, thank you so much for understanding this!

My older (though not old) age has enabled me to understand so much more about the concepts of Rewilding, so much more than the dogmatic approach that I had taken which was what had driven me so mad earlier in my life.

In the end, I share the beliefs that I once read on the website of Dan Moonhawk Alford regarding David Bohm and the Native speakers–that the “either/or” dichotomy of anything truly causes issues.


Beautiful. I love it. Thanks for reminding me of that.

Time does seem to be one of the more deeply entrenched aspects of deomstication. Children learn to view time as linear in our culture practically before they can speak and if they pass through the education system, it is very doubtful that they will be ever be able to think of time any other way. The serious barriers to this, found in the nature of work and even recrreation in our society, only seems to be escapable if one spends time in a (mostly) off-the-grid community for a length of time or participate in some kind of primitve skills program. For much of the time though (and I don’t have experience so I can’t say) it seems like folks would be stuck in the mindset of entering another way of thinking. So even within some serious space for rewilding there will be linear time constraints until the structures enacting those are removed.


Interesting ideas. I remember noticing a different perception of time when I started traveling to an annual weeklong festival that I attend annually in rural Iowa, where I spend much of my time outdoors with no clocks around to tell the time. I too, struggled with the dichotomy for a while. What led me to conclude the time continuum idea, however, was noticing that months, hours, and minutes remained the same each year despite the linear change of the year. I also noticed, when I started high school, that my life began forming a cyclical pattern of attending annual events that reflected the cyclical seasons of my hometown–a four season climate here in the Midwestern United States, and then, after finishing high school, a cyclical calendar of attending annual events. I experienced the perception of cyclical time in the form of these events that would appear in an annual cycle, but still felt the linear experience of aging and going from different stages of my life that did begin and end–in this case, from adolescence to young adulthood, which has had a linear trajectory.

Obviously, we are all different in our perceptions of time. I will say, however, as a person with autism, that time is a big part of the existence of the person with autism, since time governs so much of having autism, as your mind and body often run on a timetable different from many other humans.

1 Like

This old topic seems the right place to ask the following question (inspired by a talk with my mother): does the use of analog clock give a different experience than a digital one?

1 Like

Wow! I have never noticed this before, for me it completely does. When I look at an analog clock I have to actually look at it, to look at the hands and the space and also reference what I see to the environment around me for a.m and p.m. for me analog clocks offer an opportunity for observation and recognition and discernment, while a digital clocks feeds me numbers that I do not need to interact with because they are always “right”.

Time is really complex with a variety of aspects for something that is so one dimensional in direction. That is clearly the case when there are many ways to understand it, and various ways in which it is experienced. There are cyclic aspects to time, yet the cycles are not absolute, and there are always ongoing differences. Without that, there would not be real growth, which there is, and along with that, there is real death, with no return of that which has died. A good way I see for understanding time is as a sequence of experiences, there are all the cycles with these, but they are always with the invariant change, with what has grown since previous experience in corresponding parts of any cycle, and with loss of what has died off. Our inclination is to continue toward what betterment we can, and some betterment is really possible, while we need independence from what undermines that. Being in the wild, while yet with others, who are at least as compatible to be with, will work better for that generally.