[note: If you've already been through the introduction
this link will take you directly to a selection point
for the further sections of this thesis]
THE SETTING FOR A PERCEPTION
We are creatures of Earth, bearing a certain intimate relationship to the nature of this particular planet. This is not hard to establish. We live within a narrow spectrum of temperature variation, we breathe an oxygen-rich mixture of gases characteristic of Earth's atmosphere, our well-being is restricted to equally limited ranges of gravity, solar radiation and other terrestrial forces that we take for granted. It is irrational to suppose that we were lucky enough to "happen upon" the rare planet that supports life as we know it; rather, our being is attuned very finely to the nature of this singular orb. Reality for us, as for all the creatures who share it here, is narrowly limited to the reality that prevails on Earth.
I open this thesis in the history of ideas with such an all-encompassing statement in order to emphasize at once our degree of identity with all other life forms on the planet, not only as to conditions of existence but also as to parameters of reality. For we are going to concern ourselves with a single defining element in this shared reality that comes under the heading, above noted, of "other terrestrial forces that we take for granted."
The subject is Time. Not as a physical constant (if such a thing indeed exists), but as a condition of periodicity. That is to say, as it appears subjectively to us here on Earth.
It might seem odd, on first notice, that time in any form at all should be regarded as a defining or qualificational aspect of reality. The common notion of time considers it merely a dimension, like space -- a limitless containment within which all aspects of reality are merely situate, either pin-pointed or stretched along its linear continuum but not in any way given characteristic by it. But if we consider the way in which we know time, we shall quickly see it to be otherwise.
By cosmic happenstance, as it were, Earth pursues three motional periodicities from which most of our very singular notions of time are derived. 1) An axial rotation brings a regular cycle of day and night that we have evenly divided into 24 hours. 2) In roughly 365 of these revolvements Earth completes an orbit around the sun, giving us our notion of the year. 3) In the course of our year there is a secondary periodicity caused by the tilt of our rotational axis to a modest 23.5 degrees. The orientation of this tilt is not to the sun, but to the orbital plane, which results in the subjectively perceived effect of a year-long wobble cycle, familiarly seen as the cycle of the seasons.
To note the particularity of our situation once more, it didn't have to be as it is, here on Earth. The other planets have axial tilts that range from a mere 3 degrees to a whopping 177 degrees. It is hardly necessary to observe that our familiar seasons could be vastly different from what they are.
The seasonal periodicity is of singular importance to the present study, for we shall be looking at the "seasonality" of experience. The province of this paper is the influence of the annual seasonal round upon non-agricultural human affairs, and the extent of both subliminal and lost cultural awareness of such influence.
Seasonality is essentially an agricultural concept in our world, with little more than metaphoric application to other human affairs. Or it references a time of year, but without much more significance than the mere calendar placement. But a closer look at the term reveals other dimensions. The root word, season, derives from the Latin sation-em, the act of sowing, and was later extended to the idea of ripening, or becoming "seasoned." In this form it found a wider range of utility in human affairs, applying easily to anything which can be said to go through a maturational process. Hence, we have not only seasoned wood, but seasoned ball-players, ripening relationships, overly-ripe investments, well-seasoned ideas, etc.
It is this ripening aspect that differentiates seasonality from periodicity or simple cyclicity. The seasonal year, in other words, is not just a repeating cycle of change but a process of maturational growth in periodic stages. The distinction is critical, for it adds a qualitative dimension to time that is conceptually as removed from the purely cyclic as the cyclic is removed from the linear.
Nor is growth, alone, the qualifying feature. Maturation further connotes a sense of completion, of fullness, of "arrival," which serves to remove it from the realm of the purely mechanical and lends it a value-orientation.
It's possible to describe the distinction between a ripening and a cycle in other ways. For illustrative purpose, the cycle is often portrayed as a sine-wave curve, the familiar "S" shape turned on its side, which features -- if only in idealized form -- a climbing course that is mirror-imaged in its subsequent descent. The ripening curve, if given a stylized image, would have no such descent, but would reach a plateau and then begin again at base, somewhat in the form of a cresting and breaking ocean wave.
Because of this difference, any assignment of beginning or end, on the cyclic path, is often purely arbitrary, whereas there is a normative point on the repeating ripening curve that can be so indicated. To emphasize the point once more, this is a notation of quality rather than mere quantification.
The sense of fullness or completion is perfectly apparent in any agricultural context, where ripeness is understood as having exactly that meaning. Ripeness when used outside of an agricultural context, however -- and the term "seasoned," as well -- has been severed from its calendar connection. It will be the purpose of this paper to show that the connection has been, in other cultures, a common perception . . . that the seasonal calendar has been understood to apply as readily to the organic ripening of human activity as to agricultural growth.
It is entirely possible, to be sure, that the claimed effect is an interaction between seasonality and consciousness, such that the maturation of human affairs is a perceptual assessment with no basis in actuality. But if, on that account, we should discount its reality-effectiveness, then the very contribution of mental patterning to the social construction of reality must be thrown open to challenge. I believe, however, that the evidence will rather indicate a perception of nature that has simply been lost to us.
Whether a function of consciousness or of nature itself, this ripening aspect of development, to whatever extent it is perceived, has come to be regarded as a strictly biological function, merely situated in time. Where it manifests in a non-biological context, we give no thought at all to a possible source in nature. The boundaries of materialistic dualism prevent us from any such recognition, and it thus escapes any systematic investigation. Plainly put, any ripening process other than biological is regarded as entirely separate from nature's organic influence.
It remains, of course, to demonstrate evidence of this relationship, which is one of the tasks that this paper undertakes. And as the present effort is organized around the history of ideas, it will be its further task to illuminate evidence of an early and widespread cultural recognition of the general maturational effect of seasonal time. The two concerns, in fact, are inseparable.
The implications of any discovery that time has an inherent kind of quality, as well as (and possibly in place of!) a quantity, must necessarily be profound, and they are not the province of this paper. Nor will this effort attempt to show any scientific basis for the indicated effect. It will be a sufficient task merely to present the evidence and the inference that such a seasonal/ripening relationship, originating at a deeper or more cosmic level than the merely physiological, does exist.
NATURE, LIFE AND REALITY
We need first to seek a normalizing definition for two terms that will receive much usage in this inquiry: nature and reality. They are terms so loosely and broadly employed in modern life that no thesis engaging them can assume that they will be readily understood as per the author's intent. It is doubtful, in fact, that any precise usage can be maintained, even with the best of intentions; but we should begin, at least, with a degree of clarity as to how those terms are intended.
Nature is generally seen in one of two broad contexts: either as "out there" to be mastered, kept at bay and profitably used; or as "out there" to be protected, savored, enriched by. It is understood that we are, in some indisputably large way, "part of nature," but nevertheless sufficiently distinct from it as to be able to hold such separatist attitudes as each of those is. Even naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch (If you don't mind my saying so, pp. 336-7), in drawing down his own definition, lets it revolve around the distinction made evident by "that part of the world which man did not make and which has not been fundamentally changed by him." And he goes on to observe that while "man is, of course, himself a part of nature . . . he is also in so many ways so unique that it is convenient to speak of man and nature."
Such a view, while difficult to disagree with, is grounded in an anthrocentric perspective that views nature as the embedding medium, and evaluates human-kind, then, as either within or outside of it, or even as having some ability to escape its province. But nature is not such a containment, any more than life, itself, can be said to "contain" certain things (such as animals or people) and not other things (such as stones and clouds). Rather, some things are infused with life; and in the same sense, every living thing is infused with nature, governed by its laws and informed by its processes.
I must allow that non-living things are also infused with nature, but somehow not in the same degree or essential that is the concern of our inquiry. Hence, my particular use of nature is almost synonymous with life itself; and here it may be necessary to make note of the distinction between life and individual lives. A given life is only the embodied timeframe during which nature's process -- called life -- takes place. And this is where we make our primary distinction: Life is the format for the manifestation of Nature, as I shall be using the term. Life is not enacted within nature; nature is manifesting through life. To define nature without reference to life, in this perspective, would be about as meaningless as defining life without reference to living things. And to define life, on the other hand, without reference to nature would be sheerly impossible.
In taking this approach -- that nature is within the human rather than the other way around -- we somewhat free ourselves from the often ego-burdened controversy of whether humankind is part of, or separate from, the animal world. That controversy could very easily prove a stumbling block to what I am endeavoring to bring out, for my thesis posits a certain level of necessary equivalence between the human and other elements (both plant and animal) of the perceived natural world.
I am not unmindful of the extensive philosophical implications of such a conceptual switch, but they are not to be pursued here. The within-nature or separate-from-nature controversy has plagued speculative philosophy from the time of Plato, and it is rash to suppose that it might be so easily disposed of, even though my resolution feels sound enough. By claiming the temporary ground of a supposed resolution, this paper establishes a neutral relationship to the controversy which enables it to better focus on substantiating its thesis.
Fully aside from those considerations, this definition of nature is integrally necessary to the process we'll be looking at -- a nature that works internally to impose reality as insistently upon human life as upon other life. A kind of reality, I should categorically say, that cannot be "sheltered against." One doesn't "turn off" the sense of Spring, to apply an instant example. It is as much a reality as the bursting blossoms that accompany it. But to assume that it's a reaction to those blossoms is simply an associative construct that has never been challenged.
The "sense of Spring" is often referenced poetically, and in idle romantic allusion, but never considered as an actual event in internal reality. So we don't know how to define it in terms of reality. Can it be called a motivational reality? Or perhaps an "impulsional" reality? These assignments are outside the range of how we ordinarily define reality -- which is within a schema traceable to our insistence on mastery of the environment. So long as reality is purely physical (i.e., "real" in a physical sense) we do not compromise the primacy of reason and free will in the contest we regularly wage with the world at large. For animals, such elements as motivation and impulse are assigned to instinct, but the closest comparable category for human beings is a biological drive. The sense of Spring is clearly not a biological drive . . . so it fails to qualify as reality.
Our usage of reality, then, will encompass a range of subtleties of this nature: internal realities that have commonly been projected outward, grafted onto the external environment. But not these alone. It would not be possible to consistently project internal reality on the outside world if there were not concurrent and related events, supportive of such a projection, actually happening in the "real world" -- events that we would never suppose were causally attributable to a seasonal effect, but which would easily qualify as seasonal in the framework of a ripening in human affairs. Such parallels do, in fact, occur and with remarkable frequency, and I shall be developing material that will bear this out.
There are two possible ways to account for such things, and both are problematical. One is to premise a metaphysical material/psychic interface for which we have no present proof. The other, even more in a "twilight zone," is to suggest that human events in the outer world, at least some of them, are somehow brought to phenomenal actualization by the ripening seasonal force of nature itself. I will explore these questions as they develop for us. They are noted here only by way of indicating how the term "reality" will be employed in this thesis.
I have not actually made a clear statement of thesis yet, and it may be time to do so. It must be obvious, by now, that I embark on a voyage of discovery in largely uncharted waters -- regions that have not hosted scholarly inquiry, very largely because of the bordered limits of western science and rationalism. But these borders have increasingly been challenged in recent decades for their arbitrary rigidity, and I am encouraged that my "vessel of discovery" will at least not sink of its own weight. It may be that I've delayed the thesis statement so as to gain sufficient introductory ballast, if I may maintain the metaphor, to assure the sea-worthiness of my proposition:
THE SEASONAL ASPECT OF TERRESTRIAL TIME IS A NATURE-INHERENT RIPENING PROCESS INFLUENCING HUMAN LIFE AT PERCEPTUAL AND MOTIVATIONAL LEVELS, AND REFLECTING SOMEHOW IN THE ACTUAL DEVELOPMENT OF EXTERNAL EVENTS. THIS HAS BEEN SENSED BY, OR CONSCIOUSLY KNOWN TO, EARLIER CULTURES, AND THERE ARE DOCUMENTARY TRACES AND ARTIFACTUAL REMNANTS OF THAT AWARENESS AVAILABLE TO US.
The development of the thesis will be pursued as follows:
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