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Is Time Just an Idea?

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.
Neri
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Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by Neri » August 6th, 2019, 9:07 pm

Eternalism refers to the doctrine of Parmenides. It holds that nothing really moves, changes, or happens. In other words, it denies the reality of time and says that only space is real. To Parmenides, the world was a single, impenetrable, and never-changing geometric object. This is sometimes called a block universe. We see this same idea in Einstein’s space/time, wherein time is reduced to an anisotropic space coordinate. McTaggart’s B series describes this view of time.

Eternalism is profoundly incredible, because it says that we were never born and will never grow old or die, Indeed, nothing can ever happen to us, because nothing can move to reach us. We need not worry about war, pestilence, terrorism or global warming, because such things, like all things, are already either included or excluded from a world in which nothing new ever happens. Further, we cannot engage in thinking in this strange realm, for every new thought is a change, and change is not allowed.

Kant argued that both time and space, while native to human thought processes, are not conditions of external reality. Hence, he concluded that motion and change are a matter of human experience but do not represent anything real in themselves. He maintained that time and space are intuitive and not discursive. This view is all the more lacking in credibility for the reasons I just mentioned.

However, if we take the matter the other way round and say that motion and change are primal, real conditions of the world and that time and space are derived from them, the problem disappears. This means that time and space are only ideas, yet they are well founded in reality. However, this does not mean that time and space exactly coincide with reality.

If we say that the world consist of all that happens and that happening is metaphysically continuous in that it defies perfect measurement of any kind, we reduce any so-called perfect interval to only an idea.

Zeno of Elea was a companion and student of Parmenides. He offered a number of paradoxes designed to show the unreality of motion. If one concedes that any motion is infinitely divisible, Zeno’s paradoxes hold true. If, on the other hand, we say that motion cannot be infinitely divided into ever-smaller intervals, his paradoxes are shown to be false. On the other hand, the paradoxes do indicate that time and space are ideal in that they seek to measure perfectly that which defies perfect measurement. The paradoxes reveal to us that a point cannot be part of the real world, for that which has an extent of naught is only an idea. Nothing in the real world can have no extent at all.

Therefore, perfect intervals of time and space and accordingly any series consisting of such intervals are only useful tools of thought that do not perfectly correspond to anything in the real world.

Let us take, for example, the question of the present time. If the present is taken as a point of time, its extent is naught. This is nonsense because it equates time with the absence of time. If it is taken to be a definite interval determined by points called the beginning and end, it can have neither a beginning nor an end in reality but only in the imagination; for in the real world a temporal interval cannot be bordered by no time at all.

The present time can be explained in the following way.

Any experience, including perception, cannot be had without an “expense of time,” however imperfectly estimated.

The mind is able to reflect upon the continuous metaphysical transitions of the world, because consciousness itself is in such a transition. Indeed, consciousness itself is nothing more than a kind of memory.

Perception gauges the continuous flow of reality through memory. Without memory, one would forget the earlier aspects of a perception by the time he got to the later ones. Indeed, without memory, I would forget the beginning of this sentence by the time I got to the end.

But, what do people mean when they say something is happening “here and now”? They cannot mean it happens with absolutely no “expense of time,” for that would mean that nothing actually happened, for no event can occur in an unextended present with no spillover into either the past or future.

By saying that an event is “occurring right before my eyes” or “here and now,” one means:

(1) That, for one reason or another, one has focused upon some local aspect of the continuous happening that constitutes the real world.

(2) The inception of one’s focus becomes the “beginning” of “now,” but “now” must be an undetermined variable interval and not an instant. Nor can “beginning” and end” be metaphysically separated from the rest of the world.

(3) When one loses focus on an event either because he can no longer perceive its progress or loses interest, he says the event has ended.

(4) Hence, his “here and now” is the variable and undetermined interval during which he is in the actual process of perceiving the event to which his attention has been drawn. It is neither an instant not a perfect interval. It has a subjective and not an objective ontology.

[The past consists of memories of events when they are no longer in the process of being perceived. The future is the name given to events that are not yet capable of being perceived. The expression “yet” in this context refers to the fundamental distinction between the potential and the actual.]

The experience of the present, once established, remains continuous until one loses focus. Further, that experience reflects what is actually happening in the real world as it happens. It is the very being in the process of perceiving an event in the real world that one calls “here and now” or the present time.

Further, the progress of the perception is near enough to the progress of the real event for one to take appropriate action to avoid danger should the circumstances require it--else perception would serve no purpose.

The present has a subjective and not an objective ontology. There is no privileged present.

At this point, I should like to say a few words about McTaggart’s A and B series.

The A-series delineates time into past, present and future. McTaggart says that the flow of time and therefore change are accounted for in this series. But he says that the A-series makes no sense because past, present and future are not fixed determinations. There is a continuous shift of the future becoming the present and present becoming the past. Yet, this is precisely what indicates the flow of time.

McTaggart’s analysis is both right and wrong. Time as A-Series is indeed just an idea but it is well founded in reality, precisely because the world is in a constant condition of metaphysical transition. The A-Series reflects this. In other words, change should be taken as a given. Only then should we determine how well the idea of time is useful in dealing with reality.

The B-Series delineates time purely as before and after, which McTaggart says is an invariable geometric relation. It has no change in it but rather amounts to a kind of graph consisting of an anisotropic line preserving the arrow of time. We need say nothing more than because the B-Series does not account for change, it is not well founded in reality.

Einstein’s general relativity describes time as a spatial dimension of a certain type. Therefore, like the B-Series, his time is one without change. It describes a block universe a la Parmenides.

Einstein provided his own explanation as to why we experience incessant change. He claimed that “time slices” arise in our consciousness and create the illusion of change and motion (for motion is but a type of change). In a way he likens the illusion of motion to individual frames of a cine film passing through a projector.

Of course, cine film cannot cause the illusion of motion without actually moving through the projector.
So that to cause the illusion of motion, some sort of motion or change is required in the first place. Even digital televisions need a particular frame-rate change to create this illusion. But GR does not allow change and motion. So that the cine film analogy is a rather poor one, to say the least.

Further, the rise of time slices in our consciousness cannot occur without an A-Series. Indeed, nothing can rise or fall without time as usually understood. When one speaks of such things as rising and falling, he is describing a process and not an entirely static condition. In other words, the argument presumes the very thing it seeks to disprove.

Popper treated this issue in conversations with Einstein. Popper’s comments follow:

“The main topic of our conversation was indeterminism. I tried to persuade him to give up his determinism, which amounted to the view that the world was a four-dimensional Parmenidean block universe in which change was a human illusion, or very nearly so. (He agreed that this had been his view, and while discussing it I called him "Parmenides".) I argued that if men, or other organisms, could experience change and genuine succession in time, then this was real. It could not be explained away by a theory of the successive rising into our consciousness of time slices which in some sense coexist; for this kind of "rising into consciousness" would have precisely the same character as that succession of changes which the theory tries to explain away. I also brought in the somewhat obvious biological arguments: that the evolution of life, and the way organisms behave, especially higher animals, cannot really be understood on the basis of any theory which interprets time as if it were something like another (anisotropic) space coordinate. After all, we do not experience space coordinates. And this is because they are simply nonexistent: we must beware of hypostatizing them; they are constructions which are almost wholly arbitrary. “

— Karl Popper, Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography

MAYA EL
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by MAYA EL » August 7th, 2019, 8:38 pm

Technically speaking time has to be an idea in order for you to think of it. I believe time is a concept made by man and that without mankind this concept would cease to be.

Neri
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by Neri » August 8th, 2019, 12:25 am

Maya el,

I agree. Time as such, exists only in our minds. However, Change will continue to exist even when our species goes extinct. The idea of time is well founded in reality, because it is derived from change--more specifically from motion. Temporal intervals are used to measure whatever happens, but perfect intervals (units of time) cannot really be had, owing to the metaphysical continuity of all things in the world. However, temporal intervals are close enough for any practical purpose of mankind.

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Felix
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by Felix » August 8th, 2019, 2:02 am

I believe time is a concept made by man and that without mankind this concept would cease to be.
All animals have a concept of time, it makes the world go round, e.g., squirrels do not hoard nuts because they are neurotic.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

Kane Jiang
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by Kane Jiang » August 8th, 2019, 6:27 am

To begin with, space has at least 3 dimensions but I believe it has four.

I think time is similar to space in that it has x dimensions too.

Time is abstract. BUT, there are a lot of things that are abstract, like supposition, fidelity, the definition of streak, etc. I believe these abstract things do exist somewhere. Even animals have concepts of some of these things.

As for change, if time stopped existing, change would still exist. If change stopped existing, that would stop time :D.

So change is higher than time.

Bravery is higher than reason.

Lots of things have hierarchies here and I do not believe science can explain everything.

Neri
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by Neri » August 8th, 2019, 10:00 am

Felix,

There is a difference between the idea of time and the sense of time. The former is imagined to be a series, a succession of perfect intervals. The later refers to memory and the flow of our changing ideas, something that is subjectively irregular and varies with age. Others conscious animals probably have a sense of time, for it seems necessary to avoid danger, but it is highly unlikely that they have sufficient intelligence to form the idea of time.

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h_k_s
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by h_k_s » August 8th, 2019, 12:40 pm

MAYA EL wrote:
August 7th, 2019, 8:38 pm
Technically speaking time has to be an idea in order for you to think of it. I believe time is a concept made by man and that without mankind this concept would cease to be.
I agree.

The same is true of mathematics.

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h_k_s
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by h_k_s » August 8th, 2019, 12:41 pm

Felix wrote:
August 8th, 2019, 2:02 am
I believe time is a concept made by man and that without mankind this concept would cease to be.
All animals have a concept of time, it makes the world go round, e.g., squirrels do not hoard nuts because they are neurotic.
We do not know why squirrels hoard nuts nor similarly why cats (of all sizes) and bears cover and return to their carcasses. They could be living in the present and yet still do this.

Neri
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by Neri » August 8th, 2019, 2:12 pm

To make it clear, when we are conscious, we experience “the flow of time" (for lack of a better expression). This is something built into our nervous system.

The idea of time is something quite different, as I explained in my previous post. This is logically determined by us for the purpose of standardizing time by imagining perfect temporal intervals. Intelligence is required to do such a thing.

We note that persons with cognitive disabilities have difficulty understanding the difference between five minutes and one hour. They experience only an unbroken flow of time. This may also be true of higher animals; but, of course, we cannot be sure, because they cannot communicate with us, and we cannot get into their heads.

Our central nervous system also has the ability to reflexively respond to threats when there is insufficient time to ponder the matter. This reflexive response, of course, requires a temporal evaluation of the threat by means of the senses.

In such case, the response in not determined in the conscious areas of the brain. Although we may be conscious at the time, we are aware that the character of the response is not designed by our will. Undoubtedly, other animals have this reflexive ability. In some species, it is all they may have.

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Felix
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by Felix » August 8th, 2019, 2:14 pm

Others conscious animals probably have a sense of time, for it seems necessary to avoid danger, but it is highly unlikely that they have sufficient intelligence to form the idea of time.
Studies have shown that many have a practical understanding of time. Elephants and dolphins have been shown to have a clear understanding of it, John Lilly's studies of the latter demonstrated this. Obviously without a shared language, they cannot explain to us why they did such & such at such & such time.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

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gater
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by gater » September 7th, 2019, 11:30 am

Time is the measurement of the constant interaction of matter. Time does not slow or stop, it is unaffected by gravity or any force in the Universe.

Neri
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by Neri » September 8th, 2019, 12:08 am

Gater,

I agree, but it seems that Einstein disagreed with us both. To him, time was a spatial coordinate. So that nothing new ever happened. In other words,
he considered the universe to be a changeless geometric object (block universe). Popper made a rather persuasive argument in support of change, but this apparently did not alter Einstein's point of view.

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gater
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by gater » September 8th, 2019, 11:21 am

Ive found his special theory to be false. He also claimed that if you travel at C you wont age - this is false. I view Einstein as more of a science fiction writer than a scientist.

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LuckyR
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by LuckyR » September 11th, 2019, 3:27 pm

gater wrote:
September 8th, 2019, 11:21 am
Ive found his special theory to be false. He also claimed that if you travel at C you wont age - this is false. I view Einstein as more of a science fiction writer than a scientist.
Interesting. Care to elaborate? Any of your three sentences would be fine.
"As usual... it depends."

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gater
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Re: Is Time Just an Idea?

Post by gater » September 12th, 2019, 2:58 pm

Sure, his special theory is based on the false assumption that gravity effects time - it doesn't. Im not sure why he thought speed effects time - but this is silly too. Time is a constant - period, nothing effects time. His theories are more science fiction than actual science.

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