How one man changed the meaning of past, present & future

#1
C C Offline
https://aeon.co/essays/how-one-man-chang...and-future

EXCERPT (Emily Thomas): . . . Pastness, presentness and futurity seem to be real features of the world, but are they really? Philosophers disagree, and this debate pervades books [...] How did this disagreement come about? Although it sounds like the sort of thing that philosophers have wrangled over for millennia, I say it’s relatively recent. I think the debate was started just over 100 years ago, by one man: John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart.

[...] From his earliest work, McTaggart obsessed over time. In itself, this was not unusual – during this period, many philosophers were similarly absorbed. What was unusual is how McTaggart thought about time.

Like most human things, philosophy has fashions. In Western philosophy, time jumps on and off the menu. [...] By the mid-18th century, time had slipped off the menu again, especially in Britain. ... This was partly due to the Scottish Enlightenment, which discouraged studying abstract, abstruse topics. British interest picked up following the work of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, but this attitude shift took decades to arrive.

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781) put a new spin on time. He twists an argument made by absolutists. Many absolutists argued that we cannot imagine deleting time from the Universe. Even if you destroyed the Universe, time would remain, implying that time exists independently of us. Kant argues that the fact that we cannot dis-imagine time doesn’t tell us anything about the Universe. Instead, it tells us something about our minds. Time is rooted in us: it is a form of thought, a precondition for experiencing anything. Human minds are wired such that our experiences are always temporal, and that’s why we can’t even imagine a nontemporal world. Nonetheless, the world outside our heads, as it really is independent of us, might be nontemporal. Because we must perceive things in time, we don’t know what things-in-themselves are like.

[...] Although there was nothing unusual in McTaggart rejecting time, there was something unusual about how he did so. McTaggart thought hard about what time might be like if it were real. This emerges in his paper ‘The Unreality of Time’ (1908). Imagine three events: a rainstorm, a flash of lightning, and rumble of thunder. How do we order them?

McTaggart put events into two series. Both the ‘A-series’ and the ‘B-series’ order events according to whether they are earlier or later. The lighting flashes after the rain starts, and before the thunder rumbles. Additionally, the A-series takes some event to be special: ‘present’. It brands earlier events ‘past’, and later ones ‘future’. If the lightning flash is present, then rain fell in the past, and thunder will growl in the future.

McTaggart’s argument against time has two steps. First, he argues that the A-series is essential to time. On the B-series, nothing changes, for every event will always occupy the same position in time: the lightning will always flash after the rain. In contrast, on the A-series, things really change as the present moves on: the rain falling was once present, and is now past. The thunder lies in the future but will be present. McTaggart claims that time must involve this kind of change, from future to present to past.

Second, McTaggart argues that the A-series cannot exist. Being future, present and past are incompatible, contradictory properties. An event can be future or past – not both. Yet, McTaggart argues, every event has all these properties: the rainstorm was once future, then present, then past. As these properties are contradictory, he reasons that they are unreal. If the A-series is essential to time, and the A-series doesn’t exist, then time doesn’t exist. Time is unreal. He concludes that reality is timeless and changeless, even though we can’t help perceiving things in time. It’s as though we look at the world, as McTaggart put it, ‘through a window of red glass’, and so misperceive the world to be red.

What inspired McTaggart’s argument? He doesn’t tell us, but I argue that he was drawing on a new, French line of thought [...] French philosophers such as François Pillon, Charles Renouvier and Henri Bergson began stressing the importance of time. Bergson was especially widely read. From the 1880s to 1930s, he rejected what he called the ‘spatialisation’ of time. [...] Countable moments of time are strung along a line. Time seems static, motionless. Bergson describes this spatialised time as ‘mathematical’. He argues that this misses the true, pure nature of time.

Pure time is durée. It is ‘free from all alloy’, as it doesn’t involve space. Unlike mathematical time, pure time is not divisible into countable units. Bergson implies that only conscious beings can experience pure duration. When we listen to music, a C note can melt into a D note in such a way that we cannot mark off one note from another. The past and present notes form an organic whole that cannot be divided into units, and this is how we experience durée. Pure time is melting, changing motion.

McTaggart’s argument for the unreality of time is original. Yet I suspect, in setting up the A- versus B-series, it drew on Bergsonian mathematical versus pure time. There are similarities between Bergson’s mathematical time, and McTaggart’s B-series: both eliminate past, present and future; both are changeless or motionless. There are also similarities between Bergson’s durée and McTaggart’s A-series: they stress the past, present and future, and are all about change or motion. Even if McTaggart didn’t read Bergson firsthand, Bergson was ‘in the air’ of early 20th-century Britain. From the 1900s, Bergson’s books were translated into English, and influential philosophers such as Samuel Alexander and H Wildon Carr published English-language book reviews in major journals.

McTaggart’s ‘The Unreality of Time’ soon drew fire. [...] As the 20th century wore on, these critiques continued. ... Philosophers have since written tens of thousands of pages about it. Twenty-first century thinkers have cited it more than 1,600 times so far ... You might think that these attacks would have eradicated McTaggart’s argument, but instead they invigorated it. As the saying goes: ‘All publicity is good publicity.’

[...] If all the parts of time exist, then 1066 is just as real as 2055 [...] And, in the course of bombarding McTaggart’s argument, philosophers adopted its framework. While defending the reality of time, they aligned their realism with McTaggart’s A-series or B-series.

[...] Following Hermann Minkowski and Albert Einstein, a view that Donald Williams dubbed ‘manifold theory’ gained popularity: physicists unified time and space into a single manifold, spacetime. On manifold theory, all the parts of time are as a real as the parts of space. This lends itself to B-theory, the view that ‘now’ and ‘here’ depend on your point of view. Yet some philosophers disliked manifold theory for exactly that reason: if all the parts of time exist, then 1066 is just as real as 2055. Some felt that this picture of time is too static, failing to capture time’s flow, its ‘jerk and whoosh’, as Williams put it. Philosophers who accept A-theory often reject manifold theory, denying that all the parts of time are real. For example, in 1923 C D Broad argued that the past and present are real, yet the future is unreal.

Today, the philosophy of time is riddled with the A- versus B-theory debate. It’s so pervasive, there is a tendency to think that this is what philosophy of time has always been about. But it isn’t... (MORE - details)
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#2
Big Grin  Zinjanthropos Offline
Probably not related to the subject matter but as I was reading this a thought popped into my head. In a 3D + 1 dimensional universe are the coordinates for your location in it permanent? I mean Spacetime is constantly warped and twisted by ever-present mass influences and as far as we know it time can't be reversed. So does pinpointing my position & time mean anything? Or is the time coordinate the only dimension that never changes? And I guess...Why aren't we in a 1 + 3D universe? Smile
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#3
C C Offline
(Jan 31, 2020 04:28 PM)Zinjanthropos Wrote: Probably not related to the subject matter but as I was reading this a thought popped into my head. In a 3D + 1 dimensional universe are the coordinates for your location in it permanent? I mean Spacetime is constantly warped and twisted by ever-present mass influences and as far as we know it time can't be reversed. So does pinpointing my position & time mean anything? Or is the time coordinate the only dimension that never changes?


In these four-dimensional views, coordinates would presumably designate everlasting, co-existing, incremental "differences" rather than the fleeting "changes" (global snapshots) constantly replacing each other in a "now" box. Such philosophical presentism supposedly reflecting our commonsense belief. The conflict might be conceived as substantive existence versus simulation-like existence. (The latter dream-like in terms of events having no endurance, but vastly more highly regulated and coherent than an ordinary dream.)

I'd personally view any curves, warps and distortions in a "space-time" geometry to be more immutable than those of a roller coaster or a road traveling over and around a range of undulating hills. Since asserting that the extended whole was subject to alterations would seem to invite yet another dimension of time (or "super-time" as variable parallel sequences of cosmic development) to accommodate those changes (or thereby to also relegate them to mere appearances).

I mean, once you go for a model that treats existence as a substantive configuration -- rather than as a simulation-like process that's outputting ephemeral global states -- then you probably have to stick with it. Allowing the return of "existence as a process" at a later stage might conflict with why you dismissed the original "temporal solipsism" to begin with (i.e., only now is real) for a substantive/enduring world.

People seem to forget that the basic idea didn't begin with McTaggart and Minkowski.

Paul Halpern: Other late-19th-century mathematicians began to imagine the fourth dimension as something far more familiar: the passage of time. The pages of Nature and other scientific journals featured speculations about a four-dimensional amalgam of the three-dimensions of space along with an additional dimension of time. These notions eventually received a concrete mathematical treatment in Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which enabled physicists to reclaim higher dimensions from the spiritualists. Long before then, though, they left their own imprint on popular culture.

H G Wells took note of the idea of a temporal fourth dimension when setting the stage for the Time Traveller’s journey in his novella The Time Machine (1895). Before setting off on his voyage into the distant future, the Time Traveller explains to his friends that time is simply another dimension. As he elucidates:

"There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time. There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens that our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives."

The trope of navigating through time the way that we navigate through space has been a staple of fiction ever since. If anything, it seems more widespread than ever today.
--The occult roots of higher dimensional research in physics

Quote:And I guess...Why aren't we in a 1 + 3D universe? Smile


We then might be worms without width and depth whose entire lifespans extended as meandering paths through an edge-less container filled with all possible configurations of a string world. Various directions for "time" or the experience of differences/changes in that one dimensional world and our one dimensional selves. Although with limitations like that I'm not sure what number of permutations (if any) would be possible. Probably never able to move around each other, barring quantum teleportation jumps.

Biological organisms actually couldn't arise and function, but just facetious exploration, anyway.
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#4
Zinjanthropos Offline
Does the universe have frame rate (frames per second....FPS)? Movies generally operate at 24 FPS and we easily detect motion. If we took the shortest measure of time which I think is Planck time and divided that into 1 second we would arrive at some incredibly large number of FPS. Can we determine that time is absolutely necessary to observe an animated universe? If each Planck time increment is a photographic still then would continuous time be a series of stills?

Lets say we have two consecutive fps of reality. At planck time length separation, it would be for all intents impossible to differentiate between the two scenes, at least I think so. Not sure where I'm going here but I don't think it out of the realm of possibility to say one scene superimposes upon the other when they surely don't. So is it possible that when we measure the very small that we cannot make the distinction between Planck length frames at the lowest of frequencies? Time, particles et al would be somewhat hazy at that level I think. I know what this sounds like but I'm not proposing anything, just asking.
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#5
C C Offline
(Feb 1, 2020 02:58 PM)Zinjanthropos Wrote: Does the universe have frame rate (frames per second....FPS)? Movies generally operate at 24 FPS and we easily detect motion. If we took the shortest measure of time which I think is Planck time and divided that into 1 second we would arrive at some incredibly large number of FPS. Can we determine that time is absolutely necessary to observe an animated universe? If each Planck time increment is a photographic still then would continuous time be a series of stills?

Lets say we have two consecutive fps of reality. At planck time length separation, it would be for all intents impossible to differentiate between the two scenes, at least I think so. Not sure where I'm going here but I don't think it out of the realm of possibility to say one scene superimposes upon the other when they surely don't. So is it possible that when we measure the very small that we cannot make the distinction between Planck length frames at the lowest of frequencies? Time, particles et al would be somewhat hazy at that level I think. I know what this sounds like but I'm not proposing anything, just asking.

Our irregular, micro-seconds long increments of human cognition (pertaining to why cinematic frames can be finite in number and still effectively work for animation) is of course vastly too large an elephant to serve as a measurement unit for changes at the particle level; and the potential billions of instructions per second performed by the fastest computer processors. This erratic, temporal increment of consciousness is subjective to begin with, so it's a specious act of our commonsense realism to reify such, although it might serve as a legit standard in "only minds and their phenomenal manifestations exist" metaphysical worldviews.

Plank time is an analytical proposition that arguably has no physical significance (for now anyway). Just another artificial, abstract unit of time measurement among many types, according to the practical purposes they're recruited for. But an objective portrayal of commonsense temporal solipsism ("only now exists") would have to endorse some smaller order of magnitude for time as its global present, to accommodate sub-atomic changes and rapid computer operations.

The difficulty or impossibility(?) of even discriminating a distinct measurement that could serve as a "now" in philosophical presentism -- or for some "mysterious flow" posited as unnecessarily occurring in the context of rival eternalism -- seems to emphasize a substantive continuum rather than existence as a process of ephemeral global configurations of the universe replacing/annihilating each other in sequence. Or the former would be the internal narrative which the experienced (represented) world seems to be conforming to (after rational investigation) in terms of IF there was an archetypal or non-mental version of itself. (Abstaining from commitment here purely for the sake of metaphysical neutrality.)

- - -

Samuel Blankson: Following Einstein, ideas about time have changed; they have become more sophisticated, more complex, and so the units of time the brain can accommodate have become smaller and smaller, all the way to the infinitesimal cesium units. Time is still the same [phenomenal time as our experiences]; but now how it comes about is understood differently. How it is sub-divided is also different. We now accept that general time does not exist, and that all time is invented locally (whether we realize it or not) with the point divisibility of space—hence 'space-time'. It comes from our own space and mathematics. These must be different from those existing elsewhere. They are also different from what they were before, so our ideas about time have changed to enable us to realize that it is the product of points as applied to space, any space. Thus it is impossible to over-estimate the importance of Einstein's discovery about time, I put it first on his long list of important discoveries. It will happen again. The Einsteins will become more common in the future. As what we have to leam become more complex, the brain can only grow in complexity. It all depends on the good care of infants and children.

The second role played by the brain in the having of time, I think, is this: external time may be defined as scenes of physical reality passing by. It is the same as space passing by. The irreversible passage of existence. Internal time is the sense of duration. The two had to be linked so that units of time would be relevant to the outside world---e.g. the months and the seasons. So that the division of the year into so many months is directly related to physical reality The same process determined all the other units of time derived from the earth- year, before and after electronics. However the brain controls all our activities. The sub-divisions of space to accord with duration in the mind is controlled by the brain so that it determines what units it could accommodate, that is, before electronics (and also after electronics.) In actual fact, the crude divisions of time has not changed in some societies. In some backward communities, still, the units of time known are as large as they were originally created by the crude brain they know of the day, mid-day, evening, and night; the week, month (quarter moon, half moon and full moon), and the year. The second, the minute, the hour are not known, or used very much in places where they are aware of them. But take their infants away for training and they can become electronic wizards, capable of sub-dividing the second a million times. Normally we do not bother about the sub-divisions of the second, except in sports; outside sports they are either completely unknown, or not used much.

Before Einstein the brain could only recognize general time; Minkowski exploited that to make his theory (appear to be) convincing. When the further sophisticated analysis of time is brought in, the Minkowski formula falters, not least on his imaginary time coordinates. I don't think he would even have dared to mention imaginary time coordinates if he did not believe that duration would make it sound convincing--- namely, time is in the mind. It is; but there is also the outside world to take account of to make the internal time sense accord with external features of the world, otherwise twenty four hours would not bring in a new day, and so forth.
--The Einstein Theory of Space-time Without Mathematics pages 55-56

- - -

With regard to mention of "outside world" in the quote: It is the content of our extrospective sensations and perceptions (all minds come equipped with an obvious and undeniable external world, so to speak). At best such is a representation of an archetypal manner of existence, and we don't know how the latter exists independent of the outer appearances of corporeal phenomena and the elaborate constructs of our reasoning and inferences (concepts and models consisting of technical descriptions).

Any purported presentation of an existence that's totally independent of mental properties is inescapably corrupted by just that: Those native mental materializations (of the innate system) and items invented by human activity in the course of cultural development and investigation (the descriptive affairs). Eliminate the phenomenal experiences and the products of intellect, and what remains is the disappearance of everything, like what supposedly ensues after death. ("Evidence of existence" ironically doubles as the only manner of "existence" we've actually ever had contact with.)
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