studies on time at the iea-usp

From March to July, 1988, a group of professors of USP, UNICAMP and the Paulista School of Medicine systematically gathered at USP's Institute of Biomedical Sciences for the creation of a group of studies on the issue of time. This multidisciplinary working group wanted to address time as an integrating element in analysis, in study and in the view of different areas of knowledge.

During that working period in which the feasibility of the proposal has been tested, discussions have been guided by contributions from group members and other participants. There was an attempt for an initial characterization of the treatment given to the issue of time by different areas of knowledge. The interdisciplinary discussion has permitted to effect the exchange and incorporation of particular concepts of each discipline. The theoretical analysis of time led to discussions on the mode of its appropriation and use in physics, music, cinema, psychology, biology, anthropology and astronomy, with a highly positive balance.

The temporal dimension of phenomena is a concern for many areas of knowledge, equally in the field of philosophy, literature and arts as in the field of biological and exact sciences.

This temporal dimension can be analyzed from the point of view of its generality, as a dimension of nature through philosophical issues on the essence of time. The group has also discussed the various appropriations of time made by the various disciplines, through questions about how time is handled in each area of knowledge. Actually, the two questions are complementary, once that each particular appropriation refers explicitly or implicitly to a conception of time as a whole.

Different cultures may have different perceptions of time, for example the linear and cyclic views of different cultures.

It seems plausible that these different conceptions are expressed in different forms of social appropriation of time in art or science, for example.

Time dimension is an important element in artistic, musical and film creation. Through the "temporal project" contained in a work of art, perhaps one can uncover new aspects of this work and enrich our understanding of both the artistic phenomenon as the concept of time. In the same way and as part of this process, there is the study of the mechanisms of time perception in the fields of psychology and biology. In these areas, the temporal distribution of events can be a determining factor of the resultant perception, but also the temporal order can give meaning to events.

In the field of biology, there is a current debate on the temporal organization of living matter; a debate that stems from observation of phenomena linked to biological rhythmicity and demonstration of the existence and operation of biological clocks, and that takes the name of chronobiology.

The examples above illustrate the present concern with the temporal dimension in various disciplines and reflect partial and succinctly some of the previous discussions by this interdisciplinary group.

The balance of the initial discussions led the group to propose their connection with the Institute of Advanced Studies (IEA-USP). The Study Group on Time (GET) was approved by the trustees of the IEA-USP in late 1988. As of February 1989, the GET gathered fortnightly at the headquarters of the IEA-USP for seminars and debates on the issue of time, also elaborating the program of activities for the current year. The GET will sponsor and organize the presentation of seminars, lectures, conferences and / or roundtables. These activities, within an interdisciplinary perspective, are the basic material for discussions between members of the group and the basis for the future development of a summary document of the work of GET. The following themes have been selected for 1989:

1) Time in Different Cultures
2) Time in Philosophy and History
3) Time in the Arts
4) Time in Natural Sciences
5) Time in Poetry and Literature
6) Time in Psychology
7) Time in Media

Text reprinted from "Estudos Avançados" (IEA-USP journal), issue #8

Texts (translation by Aline Kaehler)