19 July 2012

On Time - A Beginning Thought Anyway

For the past few days, and thanks to happening upon Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole on the Science Channel, I have been reading and pondering a lot about time, space, and existentialism. The episode I watched was entitled “Does Time Really Exist?” and it dealt a lot with the physics of time and space, much of which is far above my head as I do not know enough of the maths to understand it, but there was also a good bit of neuroscience and philosophy intertwined. Invariably, this makes sense – no one branch of any subject is immune to having crossover or correlation with some other subject in some way. 

And so, I started researching, trying to find and read anything on the debate of time and its’ existence or non-existence. I have come across many good articles, research papers, encyclopedic entries and whatnot which are all excellent. What I have found, and this isn’t really much of a surprise, is that I found myself gravitating more to the philosophical debate and connotations of the subject rather than the abstract scientific aspects of relativist physical theory.  And I have been cogitating on it ever since, even now while I’m writing this I am still in the midst of four articles on time, spacetime, and two on the debate between endurant and perdurant schools of theory.

Being just turned on to this subject, its’ constituent parts, and the multitude of other subjects that are interlaced within the debate, specifically as related to time, I know relatively very little. What I have surmised from all of this, though, is an understanding of the basics as I see them which has led me to a few conclusions of my own (none of which are grounded in anything save my own personal thoughts). I suppose we should start at the beginning, the original question posed by Morgan Freeman, ‘does time really exist?’

I have always had, ever since I can remember, the thought that time was nothing special. The only reason that we recognize something that we call ‘time’ is because Man, as an entity, has forever had the desire to be lord and master over everything that he sees in his world. Time, for me, has always been nothing more than a cognition that became accepted in the hierarchy of life as a way to oppress and subjugate those who were deemed to be less fit in the scope of Darwinian logic. The abstraction of time, as presently defined, is accepted as an inevitability and that it marches forward in a linear fashion as we cannot move backward or forward within it. Man is at the mercy of time, unable to stop it. And this is a purely fatalistic view, but that is not important right now. 

The passage of time, as it is currently defined, is marked solely because of what many would rightly call ‘observable proof’. We can see the sun moving and, thanks to mathematics, are able to calculate at what rate it moves across the sky (15 degrees every hour). However, this is where the first problem arises (and again, this is all based on the depth of my own knowledge, not full comprehension or immersion). The determination and declaration of exactly how long is a second, minute, or hour has been somewhat of a complicating factor for me. Surely you cannot define something that is an abstraction or potentially has no foundation that is concrete and expect it to then just exist. For if I accept that time itself does exist, then I must accept that all constituent parts that make up the entity of time exist infallibly and are absolute. 

There are a great many tangential relativistic claims, counterclaims and otherwise theorhetorical aspects to the existence of time - McTaggart’s The Unreality of Time (1908) being somewhat of a benchmark piece in dealing with the philosophy of time. For this, though, I really won’t dwell on time quite so much as I probably could, or should, because there are other aspects that I wish to address that I have been trying to reconcile myself with in the scope of where I find myself landing on the issue of the existence of time and the universe as a whole. So for now, as far as time is concerned, I would posit that there is merit to the idea that it really does not exist and is merely a construct of Man’s imagination that has been passed down through “the ages” as fact which really is a very inelegant way of saying that I will explain more as I move on to the related subjects of philosophical thoughts.

Best as I can define this, from what I know, perdurantism is the idea that an object exists throughout the whole of time in various segments of itself. The being persists in existence over the course of time, in other words, and therefore has a past and a future, as well as being in the present. This is most commonly held sort of ideology since there are events that have been chronicled as ‘past’ and there are uncertainties that are labeled as ‘future’. It is not unlike an earthworm’s segmented body, but just imagine that the earthworm is suspended in the three-dimensional special relativity plane of space and time. Each segment exists throughout the whole of the length of time being examined, or in existence, and each segment has specific memory of all those previous and various intuitions about those to come. Using this illustration, many experts have come to call perdurantism the ‘worm theory’ model of time.

This is the more novel theory recently being posited around that all beings and objects are wholly unto themselves. They exist, not segmented across time like with perdurantism, but rather as a whole entity that has both a past and a future but all of those various experiences and instances of that being are coexistent all at once. In simplest terms, as I have read it, endurantism is likened to a series of snapshot photographs that are placed throughout the four-dimensional existential plane of spacetime. These snapshots represent the entirety of the object or being which exists only as itself in different stages of existence, not so much as memories or predicted futures, however, because they all exist presently and are strewn about the fabric of reality as it is perceived by the observer or participant.

I had planned on having a rather elegant and insightful discourse on the entire subject, but because of the intricacies and the fact that I am doing much more research into the philosophy of the whole subject, which entails reading a plethora of articles and journals I just cannot devote the time right now; nor would I want to because it would be an incomplete thought process and be a gross injustice to the whole affair. So as it sits right now, I would have to say that I am leaning more toward the endurantism camp, but that I am an endurantist is a bit of a stretch at this point since I am currently just learning everything.

There are some inherent problems, as I see and understand them, with endurantism but there also seem to be some benefits, at least in my head. The cool thing to me about endurantism is the thought that the snapshots of the being that make up its’ existence are all happening now, right this very instance. The idea that everything that I am/were/ will be or am doing/have done/or will have done all exist concurrently is exciting for a variety of reasons – mostly that because if all of these things coincide in an amalgamated universe there is a distinct possibility that the multiverse theory is credible and that is a mind-blowing thought. Of course, the negative side, as I see it, is that IF all these snapshots are in existence and my entire being is a collective strewn about the four-dimensional fabric of reality all at once, how long are these so-called snapshots? Are they instantaneous like actual photographs, or are they instances of spatially relevant chunks that because four-dimensional spacetime is one entity are like a chapter on a DVD? The third option, as I imagine it, would be a combination of the two where they are all still photographs of my being but because they are in the four-dimensional spacetime they are, as would be inherent to the theory, non-linear and concurrent but in essence nonsensical.

The other really interesting thing, as I mentioned, is the multiverse theory that could be born of endurant thought. If all beings exist wholly as snapshots, and are all coincident with one another, it could be argued that the individual instances of which the snapshots are comprised are then existentially present in their own sub-universal fourth-dimensional spacetime universe. For even though the being is unchanged and wholly present as itself, there will never be a crossover or meeting of the various instances of snapshot beings – I cannot meet myself in a snapshot of myself from the past or future, so that would mean that my being then exists wholly in different universes from itself but the only true experience I can have is in the present snapshot which I find my current self having been stuck in.

Of course, that then gets into the constitution of identity which states that all parts of a being exist as a being unto itself. More simply, the parts of a whole are a whole all their own; both the parts and the whole exist in the same temporal space at the same temporal instance. For example, you have a ball of clay. The clay exists and is clay, but say you then fashion that ball of clay into a statue or coffee mug (doesn’t matter, just make something). Does the ball of clay cease to exist or is it still a ball of clay that you have fashioned into an art project? The clay ball does not cease to exist simply because it is malleable and now a statue, the clay ball still is valid as a clay ball but it occupies the same temporal location as the statue because it is a part of the statue. Conversely, though, you could not claim that the ball of clay is also a statue before you ply and mould the clay into the statue. 

So, you can see where this gets confusing. In short, there is no real conclusion – for me or for anyone else, but thanks to that damn Morgan Freeman I have been occupying my ‘time’ with deep thoughts about the whole ordeal.

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