Our time experience is three-dimensional; past and future address themselves to us in the fleeting moment of the present. We live, of course, in the so-called present, but it can envelop us only if it is interlocked with the other two dimensions. The retrospective mood is one of the major motifs of our time apprehension, and so is the glance that we cast at the silent morrow, at the “not yet,” at the expected or fervently desired or hated. Retrospection, in the sense of reliving and reincarnating, and anticipation, which gives rise to a new world, constitute the central motifs of our unique time experience. We see the distances separating the ages and millennia as not so pronounced as in general history.
Modern man has learned how to conquer relatively long stretches of space and geometric distance. Ancient man did not possess this skill. Yet man today has lost completely his memory and time awareness. He has shortened the distances in space but extended the lanes in the time continuum. He is not capable of this miraculous recessional into the centuries and of the bold and grand procession into unactualized and unlived time. He is isolated in the infinitesimal fraction of the now which is, in most cases, disconnected from the before and the after. Both realms are deserted by the pragmatic, utilitarian, hedone-seeking man of today, and they form a vast wasteland. Man wanders in the present, not daring to approach the gates of these mysterious kingdoms. He lacks continuity with both his progenitors and his descendants. Man forfeits his historical memory and his great vision, and in losing these two endowments he gives away his capacity for love and devotion, his normative awareness and his idealistic stivings. In the present, usefulness and pleasure reigns supreme.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik – Abraham’s Journey: Reflections on the Life of the Founding Patriarch p.5
Yet, standing where we stand, at the start of the twenty-first century (more than thirty-seven hundred years later), it is far from clear that the proliferation of opposing nations is a boon to the race. Mankind as a whole is not obviously more reverent, just, and thoughtful. And internally, the West often seems tired; we appear to have lost our striving for what is highest. God has not spoken to us in a long time.
The causes of our malaise are numerous and complicated, but one of them is too frequently overlooked: the project of Babel has been making a comeback. Ever since the beginning of the seventeenth century, when men like Bacon and Descartes called mankind to the conquest of nature for the relief of man’s estate, the cosmopolitan dream of the city of man has guided many of the best minds and hearts throughout the world. Science and technology are again in the ascendancy, defying political boundaries en route to a projected human imperium over nature. God, it seems, forgot about the possibility that a new universal language could emerge, the language of symbolic mathematics, and its offspring, mathematical physics. It is algebra that all men understand without disagreement. It is Cartesian analytic geometry that enable the mind mentally to homogenize the entire world, to turn it into stuff for our manipulations. It is the language of Cartesian mathematics and method that has brought Babel back from oblivion. Whether we think of the heavenly city of the philosophers or the posthistorical age toward which Marxism points, or, more concretely, the imposing building of the United Nations that stand today in America’s first city; whether we look at the World Wide Web and its WordPerfect, or the globalized economy, or the biomedical project to re-create human nature without its imperfections; whether we confront the spread of the postmodern claim that all truth of is human creation – we see everywhere evidence of the revived Babylonian vision.
Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.243