by Sandy Ikeda
I seem to remember a good example of the difference between real time and merely dimensional (“Newtonian”) time, probably in O’Driscoll and Rizzo’s The Economics of Time and Ignorance.
Perhaps someone can find the correct reference. In any case, they observed that you can’t listen to music that is condensed in time. You can’t speed listen to Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra” at x10 without losing the music.
Their point was that just as time as duration is indispensible in the appreciation of music, one cannot abstract from real time, and all of its complications, when theorizing about economics without losing something essential. It’s been a long time since I came across that example, wherever it was, but it has always stuck in my mind.
Now, when I studied music I could glance at a sheet of music and get a sense of what it “sounds” like. As I read it closer to real time, however, the time in which it was meant to be played, the more the music was able to emerge from the page. Something essential was lost then the more I abstracted from real time.
By contrast, when it comes to reading words on a page, like most people I can read much faster than the story I’m reading would unfold in real time, such as the conversations between characters, and not lose anything essential. However, poetry seems to be more like music, in which the pauses between the phrases and the rests between the beats, are important. I for one cannot speed-read poetry, which often begs to be read aloud.
In the case of prose (fiction or non-fiction) there is fairly a small and continuous trade-off between reading speed and comprehension. In the case of music and poetry, however, that trade-off appears to be very steep and discontinuous.
But why is it possible to speed-read some media but not others? Why can you speed-read the novel “Emma,” but you can’t speed-watch the movie “Emma”? Can you get the artistic essence of the movie by speed-reading the screenplay (something I’ve never tried to do) or is this more like trying to speed-reading a musical score?
On a different but perhaps related topic, I recall McCloskey arguing, probably in Rhetoric of Economics, that a typical model in standard economics is like poetry because, like the metaphors in poetry (“her heart is a stone”), the mathematical functions employed in them are timeless (y = f(x)). It seems then that poetry and equilibrium models, which don’t embody real time, require an infusion of real time in their interpretation in order to acquire relevance. Thus, we tell stories to explain how price equilibrates quantity demanded to quantity supplied in competitive markets, but those stories are nowhere in that timeless model.