Thursday, January 10, 2008

On Time and on Counting - The Missing Link

The monthly podcast of The Missing Link had a bump in its schedule on account of the holiday, but it is back. As usual with two essays. One by host Elizabeth Green Musselman (EGM) and the other by a guest. EGM has been inviting listeners to offer their essays and here we have the first to take on the challenge. Listener Scott Lough talks to us about time. This is the first installment, the second part will come in a consecutive issue of the Missing Link.

Time is hard to understand. Difficult to hook into or get a grip on. Biologically we are in sync with the daily and the lunar cycle, but hardly the yearly. And when we somehow try to fathom at least that, what we could not imagine is time flowing backwards. However, physics allow that. What physics and even astronomy also allow is: the end of time. Also hardly fathomable.

Green Musselman offers an essay about quantities. (A follow-up on the previous program) Our modern culture puts heavy emphasis - EGM explains our quantifications with our economical nature. The homo economicus is a quantifier. Is the homo sapiens, necessarily a homo economicus and thus always counting. EGM takes us to the pastoral cultures of Africa, where economy works entirely differently, or, pot otherwise, culture that is not commercial at all. What is an amazing find is that the African peoples are not counting. The Europeans who arrived in South Africa in the 18th and 19th century found to their astonishment that the Xhosa, Zulu and Botswana did not count. They herded sizable amounts of cattle, but they couldn't tell how many of them they had. Alternately, they were able to tell in an instant, even of a herd hundreds strong, whether individual animals were mssing. They had a way of knowing the individuals, without knowing the numbers.

More Missing Link:
Strength in Numbers,
Constant Companions,
From Berlin,
History of Science.

More Elizabeth Green Musselman:
Environmental History in South Africa (Exploring Environmental History Podcast).

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