The Ancient Greek philosophy of opportune moments
Have you ever had a moment in which you felt the timing was ‘just right’? Did you succesfully predict the stockmarket or did you meet your childhood friend at a neighborhood yardsale? The Ancient Greeks had a word for such ‘ripe times’: Kairos.
It is somewhat difficult to define Kairos. But in its most rudimentary form we could call it a timespan in which something is doable or opportune. For instance, if you woke up too late, it is impossible to see that day’s sunrise.
Still, we should realize that Kairos does not include action. A shooting star might be visible in the sky one night, but if you do not look up, you wouldn’t have seen it. Through those two examples you might understand the traditional meaning of ‘Kairos’.
Since the Ancient Greeks came up with the word for this concept, more people have contemplated about the philosophy of ‘critical time’. Modern philospohers have added some thoughts to this ancient theory. Some noted that one does not merely require ‘opportune timing’ but also ‘appropriateness’ to optimally facilitate an act. That is, social standards, expections and history partake in the equasion of critical timing. One cannot always do what one wishes, even though the timing is right.
An example: if you were to see a celebrity in real life you might enjoy to take a photograph. It would be the opportune time to approach your idol, yet it is the question whether the celebrity will accept your request, has bodyguards or does not speak your language.
The concept of ‘Kairos’ has seeped into other disciplines too. Rhetoricians have used the notion quite intensively in their theorizing on the delivery of a speech. These heuretic thinkers realized that speeches, sentences and content should — and always do — stand in relation to ‘Kairos’. The reason why ‘I have a Dream’ has become such a popular speech is not merely due to its content, but also because of its ‘right timing’. It pinnacled a long period of social unrest and protests that was present on a nation-wide level.
Another interesting elaboration on the theory of ‘Kairos’ is Quantum physics. It considers the question of multiple realities. One well-known element of Quantum physics is its notion that observation changes outcome: scientists noticed that the placement of a camera changed the outcome of a repetitive experiment drastically. If observation is included in the equasion of ‘Kairos’, then our earlier example is refuted: if we did not see the shooting star because we looked the otherway, it remains the question whether that shooting star actually existed and if we would have seen it if we did look the right way.
You may feel that the concept of ‘right time’ (Kairos) and time itself have been appropriated strongly in modern times, and that it has now become incredibly hard to understand. We can learn from the essential philosophy that the Ancient Greeks have brought us, and be excited to seek understanding of Quantum physics theory, and for any future revelations.
Originally published at https://onlinemuseum.net.