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Time is real
Posted: 18 July 2008 09:33 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Hugh Mellor, Professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge wrote “Real Time and Real Time II” in which he argues that time is real and not unreal as proposed by J.M.E. Mctaggart in 1908.

http://www.dspace.cam.ac.uk/bitstream/1810/753/1/TimeLives.html

Then there are new semantic theories of so-called indexicals like ‘now’ and ‘I’ (see e.g. David Kaplan’s ‘Demonstratives’ in Themes from Kaplan, ed. J. Almog et al., Oxford University Press 1989), which show why our A-series talk of events being past, present or future cannot be translated into non-indexical B-series talk, as B-theorists once thought it could (see e.g. Perry, op. cit, Real Time II, ch. 6). These theories also show why this untranslatability does not force us either to accept the flow of time or to reject all our everyday A-series talk as false.

The debate about time has thus been moved on, as it has also been moved on by new work in the philosophy of mind, and especially by the development first of behaviourist and then of functionalist theories of mind, which relate the contents of our beliefs and desires to how they make us act (see e.g. Peter Smith and O. R. Jones, The Philosophy of Mind, Cambridge University Press 1986). These theories have shown both how and - combined with the new theory of truth referred to above (Whyte op. cit.) - why our A-series way of seeing the world is as indispensable as it is irreducible.

Our metaphysical debates about time have also been advanced by philosophical work on meaning and truth (see e,g. Donald Davidson, ‘Truth and meaning’, in his Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, Oxford University Press 1985; Kaplan op. cit.), which has shown how the meaning of A-series and B-series statements is related to their so-called truth conditions and thereby, more recently and usefully, to their so-called truthmakers, i.e. to what in the world makes such statements, and the beliefs they express, true or false (Real Time II, chs 2-3).

Hear him talking about time on this podcast at:

http://cdn4.libsyn.com/philosophybites/MellorMixSes.MP3

Your views?

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Posted: 18 July 2008 07:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I tried man…I really did.  I didn’t get much past the 6 o’clock/7 o’clock bit before my brain started leaking out my ears.  I listened to the podcast though, and that was much better. 

He seems to be arguing for the existence of time as a concept for us.  In other words, we use time and are justified in doing so.  As a side note, I think that the concept of time and having memories are probably necessary for consciousness.  So it follows that the concept of time is necessary as well. 

However, with respect to the nature of the Universe, I’m still not convinced that time is real.  No past.  No future.  I’m still of a mind that time only exists between our ears.  If someone has a better insight into this and maybe could explain it better, I’m all for it.

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Posted: 20 July 2008 08:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Chocotacoi8 - 18 July 2008 07:52 PM

I tried man…I really did.  I didn’t get much past the 6 o’clock/7 o’clock bit before my brain started leaking out my ears.  I listened to the podcast though, and that was much better. 

He seems to be arguing for the existence of time as a concept for us.  In other words, we use time and are justified in doing so.  As a side note, I think that the concept of time and having memories are probably necessary for consciousness.  So it follows that the concept of time is necessary as well. 

However, with respect to the nature of the Universe, I’m still not convinced that time is real.  No past.  No future.  I’m still of a mind that time only exists between our ears.  If someone has a better insight into this and maybe could explain it better, I’m all for it.

I agree. It is really mind-bending. FWIW, after that horrible part about 6 and 7 o’clock, Mellor writes:

And here, for McTaggart, lies the rub, since he argues also that time cannot flow, so that in reality there can be no change, and hence, for him, no time. He admits of course that there is a fourth dimension of what we call spacetime, a dimension which we mistake for time. But as he thinks variation in this dimension no more entails change in his sense than spatial variation does, he declines to call it time. That is what he means by saying that time is unreal.

And the conclusion:

Of course some large philosophical questions about time are still open - or at least still debated - but that no more shows a lack of progress than do the ups and downs of atomic theories in physics. Is matter atomic? Well, yes and no, depending on what you mean by an atom. Does time flow? Well, yes and no, depending on what you mean by the flow of time. In both cases the devil, and the progress, is in the details.

Here is an article on the experience and perception of time from the SEP:

http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2004/entries/time-experience/#6

Consider the following causally ordered (but not directed) series:

  Φ-β-κ

Assuming, as perspectivalism holds, that causation is intrinsically symmetric, β stands in exactly the same causal relation to Φ as it does to κ. However, although not directed, the series is ordered in that the relation of causal betweenness holds between items. Thus β is causally between Φ and κ. But then, if this is so, it is not clear how perspectivalism could explain why the following principle holds:

  If β is a perceptual experience, then it cannot have both Φ and κ as its object

This principle does not beg the question against perspectivalism by smuggling in an assumption about causal asymmetry. For it is surely a trivial fact about our perception of time that if A is experienced as occurring before B, A and B cannot be experienced as simultaneous. And it is surely an objective (although non-trivial) fact that our experience of A will be causally between A and our experience of B. Now if perspectivalism cannot answer the challenge to explain the truth of the above principle, it seems that our experience of temporal asymmetry, insofar as it has a causal explanation, requires causation to be objectively asymmetric.

Here is McTaggart’s 1908 article on the unreality of time:

http://www.ditext.com/mctaggart/time.html

And the C series, while it determines the order, does not determine the direction. If the C series runs M, N, O, P, then the B series from earlier to later cannot run M, O, N, P, or M, P, O, N, or in any way but two. But it can run either M, N, O, P (so that M is earliest and P latest) or else P, O, N, M (so that P is earliest and M latest). And there is nothing either in the C series or in the fact of change to determine which it will be.

Our conclusion, then, is that neither time as a whole, nor the A series and B series, really exist. But this leaves it possible that the C series does really exist. The A series was rejected for its inconsistency. And its rejection involved the rejection of the B series. But we have found no such contradiction in the C series, and its invalidity does not follow from the invalidity of the A series.

    It is, therefore, possible that the realities which we perceive as events in a time-series do really form a non-temporal series. It is also possible, so far as we have yet gone, that they do not form such a series, and that they are in reality no more a series than they are temporal. But I think—though I have no room to go into the question here—that the former view, according to which they really do form a C series, is the more probable.

If this view is adopted, the result will so far resemble those reached by Hegel rather than those of Kant. For Hegel regarded the order of the time-series as a reflexion, though a distorted reflexion, of something in the real nature of the timeless reality, while Kant does not seem to have contemplated the possibility that anything in the nature of the noumenon should correspond to the time order which appears in the phenomenon.

There is this interesting philosophical question - If there were no sentient/conscious beings, will time still exist in the universe?

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Posted: 21 July 2008 01:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Quote Kkwan:

If there were no sentient/conscious beings, will time still exist in the universe?

Without sentient beings I can still envision sequences of events - an asteroid colliding with a planet, a star going nova, etc.  It may not be called time without a sentient being to record and consider it, however, the very word “sequence” indicates time.  The concept of cause and effect is meaningless without time as an essential part of it. 

As sentient beings we consider a particular slice of the universe as “the present.”  Without sentient beings we could merely consider the universe as having four standard dimensions (forgetting about the multiple ones defined by quantum physics), length, breath, height, and time.  This is quite easy to imagine (not as easy to envision), so I don’t see the problem with arguing about the existence of time.

Occam

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Posted: 21 July 2008 01:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Quite so. Time is just another dimension like the three of space. That’s Einstein’s result and it agrees with a reading of McTaggart that accepts the C series. The illusion is that of some sort of “specialness” to the present.

[ Edited: 21 July 2008 01:12 AM by dougsmith ]
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Posted: 21 July 2008 01:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Hi Doug,

dougsmith - 21 July 2008 01:09 AM

Quite so. Time is just another dimension like the three of space. That’s Einstein’s result and it agrees with a reading of McTaggart that accepts the C series. The illusion is that of some sort of “specialness” to the present.

Another reason time doesn’t feel like just another dimension is that we think we can travel back to a place in space but can’t travel back to a moment in time.

I wonder again if this is an illusion but this time concerned with the nature of traveling in space. We can travel back to the same place relative to where we are now but it would have moved, wouldn’t it?

Stephen

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Posted: 21 July 2008 02:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Occam - 21 July 2008 01:05 AM

 

As sentient beings we consider a particular slice of the universe as “the present.”  Without sentient beings we could merely consider the universe as having four standard dimensions (forgetting about the multiple ones defined by quantum physics), length, breath, height, and time.  This is quite easy to imagine (not as easy to envision), so I don’t see the problem with arguing about the existence of time.

Yes but it would seem that if we imagine it this way, time has no arrow and therefore no sequence of events.

Stephen

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Posted: 21 July 2008 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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StephenLawrence - 21 July 2008 01:56 AM

Another reason time doesn’t feel like just another dimension is that we think we can travel back to a place in space but can’t travel back to a moment in time.

I wonder again if this is an illusion but this time concerned with the nature of traveling in space. We can travel back to the same place relative to where we are now but it would have moved, wouldn’t it?

Hmmm ... well, this is also something of an illusion. The proper concept is of four dimensions of spacetime, and you can’t—so far as we yet know—travel to any of them more than once.

The ‘arrow of time’ is the one difference that appears to distinguish the temporal dimension from the spatial ones. But is it real? That’s part of what McTaggart is asking. One way people have attempted to distinguish past from future is with the second law of thermodynamics: that entropy always increases as you go into the future (or proceed through spacetime in a temporal direction). Perhaps that’s all there is to a real distinction between past and future, and between space and time.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 08:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Let me rephrase the philosophical question. If there were no sentient/conscious beings to experience/observe space-time, matter/energy and gravity will the universe exist?

The Copenhagen interpretation of QM assert that there will be no decoherence at the quantum level without an observer. Quantum superposition/entanglement will persist as in the Schroedinger’s Cat thought experiment with the paradoxical result of both existence and non-existence:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schrödinger’s_cat

According to Schrödinger, the Copenhagen interpretation implies that the cat remains both alive and dead until the box is opened.

In the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, a system stops being a superposition of states and becomes either one or the other when an observation takes place. This experiment makes apparent the fact that the nature of measurement, or observation, is not well defined in this interpretation. Some interpret the experiment to mean that while the box is closed, the system simultaneously exists in a superposition of the states “decayed nucleus/dead cat” and “undecayed nucleus/living cat”, and that only when the box is opened and an observation performed does the wave function collapse into one of the two states.

In the Wigner’s friend thought experiment:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wigners_friend

Wigner designed the experiment to illustrate his belief that consciousness is necessary to the quantum mechanical measurement process. If a material device is substituted for the conscious friend, the linearity of the wave function implies that the state of the system is in a linear sum of possible states. It is simply a larger indeterminate system.

However, if the universe does exist in the absence of a sentient/conscious observer, who or what will observe, record and inform that it exist?

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Posted: 21 July 2008 09:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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dougsmith - 21 July 2008 08:54 AM
StephenLawrence - 21 July 2008 01:56 AM

I wonder again if this is an illusion but this time concerned with the nature of traveling in space. We can travel back to the same place relative to where we are now but it would have moved, wouldn’t it?

Hmmm ... well, this is also something of an illusion. The proper concept is of four dimensions of spacetime, and you can’t—so far as we yet know—travel to any of them more than once.

Yes, so it seems to me, we can’t time travel (assuming we can’t) in the same way that we can’t space travel, in the sense we can’t really go to and fro between the same places, as we tend to have the illusion of being able to do.

We don’t get threads popping up asking whether we can space travel in this way because we experience the illusion that we can. We do get threads popping up about time travel because the illusion of being able to do this sought of thing in space, causes us to wonder if we can do it in time too.

The ‘arrow of time’ is the one difference that appears to distinguish the temporal dimension from the spatial ones. But is it real? That’s part of what McTaggart is asking. One way people have attempted to distinguish past from future is with the second law of thermodynamics: that entropy always increases as you go into the future (or proceed through spacetime in a temporal direction). Perhaps that’s all there is to a real distinction between past and future, and between space and time.

Would that distinction give us the type of before and after we would appear to need for cause and effect to work, in the way we think it does?

Stephen

[ Edited: 21 July 2008 09:30 AM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 21 July 2008 01:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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StephenLawrence - 21 July 2008 09:28 AM

Would that distinction give us the type of before and after we would appear to need for cause and effect to work, in the way we think it does?

Good question. I’d expect the answer to be ‘yes’, but clearly a lot of deep work needs to be done.

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Posted: 26 July 2008 07:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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In Hugh Mellor’s article, he argues that the A series is unreal, but that the B series is real. In other words, the tenseness of past, present and future (A series) is an irreducible human construct which is necessary for us to function in the world, but reality is tenseless (B series).

According to him, time is a causal dimension, unlike space which we can transverse in both directions. Hence, time is unidirectional since causation do not move backwards:

There are admittedly objections to this causal theory of time, based on apparent or allegedly possible cases of simultaneous or backward causation. Of these all I can say here is that all such objections can be met (see my Real Time II, Routledge, 1998, chs 10-12). And to this claim I would add that I know of no serious alternative to a causal theory of how time differs from space. In particular, none of the other ways of defining time and its direction that have been touted - for example, as the dimension and direction in which entropy increases, or the universe expands, or radiation travels away from small sources - explains why we never affect the past or perceive the future.

Finally, he contends that if the A series is false, it does not translate to the B series that it is also false:

Then there are new semantic theories of so-called indexicals like ‘now’ and ‘I’ (see e.g. David Kaplan’s ‘Demonstratives’ in Themes from Kaplan, ed. J. Almog et al., Oxford University Press 1989), which show why our A-series talk of events being past, present or future cannot be translated into non-indexical B-series talk, as B-theorists once thought it could (see e.g. Perry, op. cit, Real Time II, ch. 6). These theories also show why this untranslatability does not force us either to accept the flow of time or to reject all our everyday A-series talk as false.

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Posted: 26 July 2008 08:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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nvm

[ Edited: 26 July 2008 08:14 AM by PavelR ]
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Posted: 15 August 2008 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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i think time is real.every single speck of matter is in motion.matter can be broken down into the same building blocks that light is made of.light and matter move. anything in motion has speed.speed is a measurement of travel based on increments of time.
maybe time is so ingrained in our existence(like atoms and light) that it is hard to get our heads around it.
when you throw in the fact that we are sentient beings who are aware of our own life expectancy rates,i think our use(?)of time is based on some kind of primordal instinct.
i mean to say that i think in one respect,we are all just ticking oven timers,waiting to chime(i.e.death).
without time there could be no light-without light there could be no time.
of course the whole relativity issue comes into play,but for this forum the only relative light/time continuem is the one were in right
NOW give or take 1 hour or 1 decade(arbitrary figures)

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Posted: 16 August 2008 12:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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dougsmith - 21 July 2008 08:54 AM

Perhaps that’s all there is to a real distinction between past and future, and between space and time.

For what it’s worth, I ran across an experiment regarding the “arrow of time” that might be worth something to this discussion, though I don’t see it proving the existence of time necessarily.

from “Time’s Arrow: Particles cannot go back to the future”:

...now physicists at the CPLEAR experiment have measured directly for the first time that, for the particles called kaons, time is different when it moves forwards or backwards.

...the classical laws of physics discovered by Galileo, Newton and Einstein are time-symmetric, and do not distinguish between the future and the past.

This experiment has observed a microscopic arrow of time, for the first time in the history of physics.

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Posted: 16 August 2008 06:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Interesting, Chocotacoi8. I haven’t heard anything else about these particles or their temporal asymmetry; I wonder if this is just another example of entropy or something else.

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