Fractal Time and Time as Capital - New Ways to Experience Time


Symposium ISST- AFAS "Time and Globalization"
Palais de la Découverte - Paris, Novembre 5, 1999

Original reference : "L'homme Symbiotique", Editions du Seuil, 1995, pp. 340-354, To be published by McGraw-Hill in March 2000 under the title "The Symbiotic Man"


1. A highly complex system (such as a living cell, or a large network of computers) traps a certain amount of time. Through this closure, it creates a bubble of time, which is its own proper time, and which represents the environment of its evolution. Human creation nourishes itself on the degradation of energy into entropy, but saves some time in the great reservoir constituted by information.


The amount of information available to each person, measured in bits by neurons and processed with the help of the complementary prostheses of the brain, is nowadays increasing at an exponential rate. The intensity of time is increasing. Temporal bubbles form and evolve with their own dynamics. The creation of new information, the sharing of information through new networks curve space-time, produces a basin, an attractor. In contrast to the way in which thermodynamic capital is diminished when one uses it, irreversibly transforming itself into entropy, what could be termed a "symbiotic" capital increases its value with increased usage: it produces more and more interests.


If one adopts a non-linear management of one’s time, one can generate niches for new activities, without necessarily eliminating others. To reach this goal, it is necessary to invest time in the creation of a Time-Capital. This new approach to time seems to me to lie deep at the heart of symbiotic evolution.


2. In order to describe the processes of evolution, I often use words such as acceleration, auto-catalysis, or self-organization, as well as more common terms like revolution, mutation, crisis, or rupture. These terms introduce a particular relation between time and duration. Words such as revolution, mutation, and explosion, express the non-linearity of phenomena, their exponential acceleration, and (as I will explain below) the premise of the "lock-in" of a sector through virtuous circles. This scenario describes the case of the explosion in communications. The merging of networks, of computational and multimedia techniques, increases the density of time so much that the whole sector is self-selected, and self-organizes from a substrate of lower density. Planetary co-evolutions that occur between the biosphere, the technosphere and the ecospheres (both the economical and the ecological ones) and now theintrosphere, evolve at different rates of processing; each of these respective spheres become more immaterial all the time, and link up inside several superposed evolutionary layers. At the scale of the world, the isolation of the more developed societies in their highly densified temporal bubbles poses the problem of exclusion. In a world with scarce resources, the ever-quickening appropriation of vital flows by the few, progressively eliminates larger and larger numbers from the human race. The densities of the flow of time are mutually exclusive, in the way that two people who want attempt to exchange objects, one riding in a high-speed train and one riding a bicycle, are prevented from crossing paths with one another. Yet such an exchange is absolutely necessary if one wants to avoid irreversible processes of radical exclusion among communities, peoples and nations. The cybiont (the planetary superorganism under construction) begins its development and evolves in a temporal bubble which is overaccelerating. It is the duty of mankind to avoid the creation of prejudiced inequalities that would jeopardize its own future.


3. The greatest challenge of the future will not be a technical one, but a social one. The big choice that humankind is facing, and which we probably will have to make as soon as the next century, will be to slow down the blind flight of the privileged few, and to organize our society and our planet for the well-being of all men and women. The formative choices of tomorrow will not entail whether to synchronize different times according to standards set by an elite, but the harmonization of those times. Sharing, solidarity and a harmonization of times with respect for differences will be the new rules, the new modes of a symbiotic mankind.


Symbiosis leads toward a unified approach of organizations and of time, leading to human action, either individual or collective. Natural and artificial matters, arts and technologies, cultures and civilizations are now linked together in a coherent ensemble. To conceive and to plan the cybiont for the wellbeing of mankind, thanks to a better knowledge of natural laws, represents the new horizon for the human world in the next millenium.


Everything that gives human beings the potential to innovate renders them the master of their own future. Creation is what saves time. Saved time, put in parallel with natural flows, densifies duration. Salvation lies in the present, dilated from within. The future of the world, a minuscule spot in a cold and distant universe, no longer depends solely on cosmological spaces. The future of the world is inside the time of human beings. The time of the cybiont and perhaps also a time of even deeper and denser superorganism will come after it.


Joël de Rosnay 

Director of Strategy

Cité des Sciences et de l'Insdustrie – La Villette – Paris – France 

If you make use of this article, please quote the original reference



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