Natural vs. Artificial Time

In recent times, a new temporal space has emerged where humanity inhabits and is governed by an artificial speed that is different from the speed of nature. This new speed influences us and is the inspiration for this article.

Not long ago, we lived in a world that was governed by a time inherent in the natural world: the time of plants, of seasons, of traveling on foot. With the development of science and technology – especially the Internet – a newer, much faster, artificial time has emerged that we inhabit daily, parallel to natural or biological time.

time and nature


For example, a trip from Kailua to Honolulu 200 years ago would have taken at least an entire day, and over its course we would have seen and felt how the landscapes changed, the differences in temperature, humidity, where the sun rose and set, etc. Our biological human time wasn’t that different from natural or universal time, but rather a part of it. Not today: in 25 minutes we go from one side of the island to the other, and from evening in Kailua we can arrive at a Honolulu still bathed in sunlight. Another example is traveling by plane from Hawai‘i to Argentina: in 25 – 30 hours, we can be in another hemisphere, another season, another time zone, etc. That is the time-space in which we live today, but which our internal clock can’t always keep up with and, in consequence, is altered, sometimes resulting in problems like jet lag. Another example: you’re loading a movie on Netflix and it’s taking a few seconds longer than usual. You’re already thinking about changing your computer or switching to a better Internet service, only because it’s taking a few seconds longer than usual…

The paradox is that in spite of the heightened speed in the world around us, the general feeling is that there is less time than before. We could think that by doing things faster we would be happier, but this doesn’t always happen: high speed often brings anxiety with it.

In this new time-space, far from feeling that we are living more, we have the opposite sensation: that by living very quickly, we’re living less. And this is where the practice of tai chi or kung fu can be useful. In training, there isn’t a technological or high-speed time, but only natural, human, biological time. You advance step by step, experiencing your progress without the possibility of accelerating it artificially: you can only move forward according to the internal speed of your own body and mind. And this is partly why this practice can feel so good and be so beneficial in this era. It’s impossible to learn a form at a speed that isn’t natural to your own organism. Learning must simply take place according to your biological time, no artificial replacement is possible. In our practice, when we exercise, feel, move and sweat, small epiphanies of rediscovery and personal growth occur within this natural, universal time that is both inside and outside us.

Thousands of years have passed in which we’ve related with time in a natural way, but now technology has created new and increasingly high-speed experiences. This demands that we voluntarily create spaces in which to fall back into natural time, to those activities where it isn’t possible to alter the velocity of nature or generate tension between our internal biological time and an external, artificial time. Taking walks, working in the garden, reading a book, practicing tai chi or kung fu are all good ways to achieve this.

By Bruno Ballestrero.

This article was inspired by an interview with the Argentine playwright Mauricio Kartun.