Circa Solar (c. Solar) is a new temporal tool exclusively conceived and created by London based speculative designer Ted Hunt in residency at Somerset House Studios. Circa Solar builds directly upon an interdisciplinary research and prototype originally commissioned by the culture team at King's College London in 2018, as a means to bring together artists and academics, which culminated in the work Sense of Time. Project development was supported by Mobvoi, and workshopped with London Design Biennale and Studio Wayne McGregor.
The project has four bold and URGENT aims that are enacted through one new 'Equation of time';
- 1. To realign Homo Sapiens with the fundamental 'Nature of Time' evolved from our essential relationship to the Sun.
- 2. To boost our individual and collective understanding / practice of Circadian Health embodied in the 'Nature of Being'.
- 3. To recognise and mitigate against the inherent 'Toxic Delusions' embedded within systemic time.
- 4. To introduce and embody a new philosophy of understanding / living in sustained 'Radical Coexistence' with the 99.99% of non-human biomass.
"Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day?"
- Dave Eggers, The Circle
Circa (or c.) derives from Latin meaning 'around, about, roughly, approximately'. As such Circa Solar allows for relaxed natural sense and appreciation of time.
Circa Solar is a design for time that reflects our most fundamental relationship to the passage of time: the choreography of the celestial movements of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon. A celestial choreography which dictate the circadian rhythms and habitats all nearly all living things.
Circa Solar represents a version of time which predates time itself. It reflects our most primitive observations of day and night, and is built upon the same means of measuring the duration of time by the Sun's daily movement across the sky as first observed through sundials, and later demarcated into recognised divisions.
By returning to such eternal rhythms of time we can increase the horizons of the breadths of time we perceive - from the seconds-to-days of standard watch faces to seasons-to-eras.
"It is the unqualified result of all my experience with the sick, that second only to their need for fresh air is their need for light; that, after a close room, what hurts them the most is a dark room. And that it is not only light but direct sun-light they want."
-Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing
Human timekeeping has incrementally lost its sense of a direct relationship to the Sun, yet as circadian beings our relationship to the Sun remains as formative and as enduring as our relationships to our mothers.
The relationship between the choreography of celestial bodies, our external natural environments, and our own body clocks have been delicately synchronised over the course of evolution.
This synchronisation can easily become desynchronised, however, and growing research is identifying both the distinct benefits of synchronised circadian health, and negative consequences of desynchronised circadian health.
Our circadian health, as directly entrained by the Zeitgeber of external day-night cycle light cues, is responsible for multiple interrelated aspects of our everyday health; from our mood, to our sleep cycles, to our productivity and alertness, to our holistic wellbeing, and our ability to navigate mental time travel.
A balanced and synchronised circadian health rewards us with both productive days and restorative nights. The growing recognition and appreciation of the daily /seasonal fluctuations in day-night cycles frees us from the commodified linear time that is imposed upon us.
Circa Solar allows us to be and become tired at night, to know that a lethargic loss of motivation and energy associated with the "winter blues" is entirely natural, and to adapt our perceptions and actions accordingly.
The ultimate, and perhaps defining, aspect of synchronised circadian health might concern the health of our societies, the health of our species, and the health of the planet itself. Our current economic models dictate the aim of an infinite growth curve, this is a form of growth that is unrecognisable in nature. Nature's own growth curves rise and plateau - put simply nature harmonises rather than exploits. In transitioning away from infinite growth, either by choice or by crisis, we might look to the natural phenomenon of diapause which sees a delay in development in order to adapt to the limitations environmental conditions. Just as many elements of nature find dormancy at night or in winter so to might our desire for progress and growth find it's own cycles of activity and rest so that precious resources might be retained for future generations and circumstances.
"We live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame."
- Extinction Rebellion
Time, as we know it to be measured through watches and clocks, is now a technology which reached an innovation maturity in the late 1700's, and broad domesticated maturity by the late 1800's. From which point on time quite literally 'stopped ticking' for the ways that we might both perceive and measure time. The ubiquitous clock face, used by nearly all watch manufacturers, from Casio's to Rolex to Apple Watch, is based on a design which is now more that two centuries old. It is tempting to recall the proverb "if it isn't broken then don't fix it" when considering this fact.
What if time, or critical elements of systemic time, are built upon toxic delusions and are broken and in need of fixing?
Some of our greatest threats (such as the climate crisis / inequality / resource exploitation) are symptoms of toxic systems that have infected the ways we relate to each other as humans, to our environment, and to all life on Earth. To sensationalise the symptoms of these threats, without focusing attention upon the toxic delusions as the causes that create the conditions such symptoms, is in itself a form of toxic delusion.
"The Enlightenment threw out anything to do with mysticism.. and people became fixated on a certain more rationalist, empiricist approach to the world. These changes brought us to where we are today, but they also took away space for imagination or for emotional presence."
- Olafur Eliasson, in conversation with Lily Cole
The social and technological "progress" of the last few centuries has seemingly been orientated towards systematically disconnecting the human experience from the Sun;
- To override the Sun through the ubiquitous adoption of artificial light.
- To disregard the Sun's potency through the extraction of scarce fossil energy rather than harvesting the abundance of solar energy.
- To neglect the relationship between the Sun and our body clocks / circadian health.
Yet all of life on Earth is governed by the Sun, and so to connect with the Sun is to connect with all life. The Sun creates our days and nights, our circadian rhythms, and the Sun created the specific conditions for all life itself. This immutable observation should, and could, see Homo Sapiens reconnect with 'time' (as our primary metaphysical dimension alongside 'space') as 'a part of nature rather than apart from nature'.
Of the Earth’s entire known biomass Homo Sapiens make up just 0.01%. The remaining 99.99% know nothing of our anthropocentric and artificial constructs of time. They, like us, have evolved to align with daily and seasonal fluctuations in time governed by the mechanics of the Sun and Earth’s continual rotations and orbits. An entrained and tethered relationship to day-night cycles is one of the few "realities" that we share with all living organisms. By realigning with our circadian rhythms we are realigning with 3.5 billion years of evolution and 99.99% of nature, rather than a mere 250 years of industrialised progress and just 0.001% of all life.
As Homo Sapiens we observed the rhythms of the Sun as our measurement of times passage for approximately 99.7% of our evolution. Knowing 'The Time' is a recent phenomenon of only the past few hundred years. So it is entirely reasonable to argue that our relationship to the Sun has remained residual in our conscious and subconscious relationship to the world.
In October 1974 the philosopher Thomas Nagel asked “What is it like to be a bat?". Nagel argued that we might be able to imagine what it would be like to hang upside down, but that we can never know what a bat's conscious experience is really like. Given that modern Homo Sapiens are decoupling ourselves from nature through increasingly self-identifying as ‘rational agents’, we might now instead ask: ”What is it like to be a circadian organism?”. Reconsidering and reconnecting with the circadian rhythms we share with nearly all living organism might allow us to both imagine, and experience, the answers to this question. We might never know what it is truly like to be a bat, but we can and do know what it is like to be a circadian organism - because we have each evolved from circadian organisms, and are circadian organisms.
To observe a direct relationship to the Sun, and to be entrained to light, is to know what it is like to be a circadian organism.
“24/7 steadily undermines distinctions between day and night, between light and dark, and between action and repose. It is a zone of insensibility, of amnesia, of what defeats the possibility of experience.”
- Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep
By supporting Circa Solar you are investing in a functioning artwork, rather than yet another App. The core design that Circa Solar is built upon will feature in the major new exhibition 24/7 at Somerset House, London, from October 2019 until February 2020. The exhibition is based upon the book, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, by Jonathan Crary. Many of the key observations and critical arguments contained within the book are embodied within Circa Solar.
Circa Solar be shown on 12 watches within the 24/7 exhibition, each watch set over a 24 hours and 12 months to depict the fluctuations and full spectrum of times natural passage.
Risks and challenges
Wear OS - Low Risk
A working prototype has been developed for Wear OS, significantly lowering the potential risk. Remaining risks are the technical challenges defined below.
Android - Low Risk
The working prototype developed for Wear OS will provide the foundation for the Android app, lowering the associated risk. Remaining risks are the technical challenges defined below.
iOS - Medium Risk
Development for iOS platform through Apple App Store is universally subject to Apple's approval of the app. Although the specification of Circa Solar doesn't breach any Apple guidelines or rules successful approval for release if not guaranteed. Additional risks are the technical challenges defined below.
Apple Watch - HIGH Risk
Apple Watch presents the highest risk investment due to Apple's restriction upon developing alternative system faces for Apple Watch. As a result this version of the app will be developed on an existing 'jailbreak' development, backing this reward should be regarded as a HIGH RISK EXPERIMENTAL INVESTMENT rather than a product purchase. Development for the Apple Watch platform through Apple App Store is universally subject to Apple's approval of the app. Although the specification of Circa Solar doesn't breach any Apple guidelines or rules successful approval for release if not guaranteed. Additional risks are the technical challenges defined below.
The primary challenges are two fold; to syncronise the app's geolocation with local sunrise, sunset, twilight times* / to render the hour hand at apparent solar time (AST).
To overcome these challenges Circa Solar will integrate with existing open-source developments* that currently share solutions to these challenges.
- (31 days)