Advanced Search

In question 630 about the future, one answer was that "If it's true now that you

In question 630 about the future, one answer was that "If it's true now that you will lose a finger next year, then you will lose a finger next year and zipping into the future isn't going to change that." What if the person cut his/her whole hand off? This would obviously show the loss of the finger, but with a new addition (or subtraction, ha ha!) to the picture: a missing hand. Wouldn't this prove that one could alter the future if it was seen?

If time is not an object how can the phrase "I don't have enough time" be

If time is not an object how can the phrase "I don't have enough time" be considered possessive?

In addition to the points that Richard makes above, we might consider the fact that the expression "time" functions oddly in lots of constructions. Having too much time on your hands is quite different from having too much lotion on your hands, having time on your side is different from having Jack your side, and time's running out is different from Jill's running out.

It might also be useful to remember that we should always be careful not to put too much weight on the surface grammar of our language. Lewis Carroll got a lot of mileage out of this, e.g., in Through the Looking Glass:

"I see nobody on the road," said Alice.

"I only wish I had such eyes," the King remarked in a fretful tone. "To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light."

I LOVE this site. Wish I'd stumbled across it sooner!

I LOVE this site. Wish I'd stumbled across it sooner! Ok, I have a question that I've wanted to ask for some time (ahem) but have been afraid to ask, assuming it would be duplicative. But I've gone through all the questions (26 at this point) and I don't think it's really been asked -- at least the way I'd like to ask it -- though one answer (cited below) touches on it directly then backs away. My question is "Isn't everything always happening or not happening at a given time and for a given duration from a God's (or someone greater than God) Eye perspective? Even if Time "stopped", wouldn't it be stopped for a certain amount of time? Even if time reversed (i.e., the Superman example and Stephen Hawkings old theory that time would reverse and broken objects would re-form etc. if the universe contracted (I know we now believe it's expanding and won't contract) wouldn't that take a certain amount of time? Even if someone went back in time, wouldn't they be gone for a certain amount of time that's...

Let's distinguish between physics and common sense: an adequate physics might or might not include a temporal dimension along which events occur, and this dimension might or might not possess various of the features that common sense attributes to time. That much is familiar from Einstein: it's not automatic that the commonsense conception of "time" is an accurate one---that it correctly captures some real aspect of the physical world. So we have to be careful when answering questions like "Does time have a preferred forward direction?". If we're exploring common sense the answer has to be "of course!", but if we're doing physics then it's a question of whether there really are important asymmetries in a physically real temporal dimension (which is actually a controversial matter: a fascinating discussion is David Albert's Time and Chance). Similarly for questions like "Did time have a first (or last) moment?". As a commonsense matter, the answer is "surely not!", but here too physics might require revision of common sense.

Your questions ask if anything would count as the stoppage of time, or the beginning (or end) of time, or the reversal of time, or travel backwards in time? Distinguish:

  • Physical: could the physics of a universe have a temporal character that includes these phenomena?
  • Commonsense: does time as common sense conceives it allow these phenomena?

It's fairly plausible that the answers to the physical questions are all yes: there are possible universes that work in such a way that there is something that counts as "time", which in a good sense sometimes stops, or has a start and an end, or reverses, or admits of time-travel. What counts as "time" in these universes departs in various ways from our commonsense conception, but not so badly as to lose the right to be called "time" by their inhabitants. If our universe turned out to be these ways, we'd want to say it was time that had these surprising features, not that there is no time after all.

What about the commonsense questions? Does time as ordinarily conceived allow these things? Surely not a beginning or an end. But the issue is less clear as regards stoppage, reversal, and time-travel. There we run into interesting interactions between two important strands in the commonsense picture of time. On the one hand, time is an infinite, objective dimension along which events occur. This dimensional conception of time seems to rule out not only a beggining and end, but also stoppage, reversal, and time-travel (one's being at an earlier time after being at a later one). On the other hand, time is what orders the progression of a process, from its earlier stages to its later stages. This narrative conception of time seems to allow reversal and time-travel. While the standard way of reconciling the dimensional and narrative conceptions of time requires that narratively "later" maps to dimensionally "later", nothing obviously precludes a different mapping, on which some processes unfold or jump backwards in dimensional time.

Is time infinitely divisible or is it composed of individual moments?Seth

Is time infinitely divisible or is it composed of individual moments? Seth

Philosophers are not well placed to answer this kind of question. It's really a question for physicists, who would conceive it, I believe, as the question whether time is quantized.

I have a theory, or at least a concept I wish to propose on the laws of time. It

I have a theory, or at least a concept I wish to propose on the laws of time. It is my belief that time is unalterable, and that the "future" does not exist. I see timeline as a sort of recorder, and we live on the point of recording, the exact present point. It is impossible to go into the future by any means, because there is nothing before the exact present point, merely "unwritten" time, and because time only records in one "direction" at one point in time constantly, it is also impossible to alter previously recorded time. If time travel to the past was possible, the most we'd be able to do is view the past, and not interact with it in anyway, because time does not "rerecord". My question is does my theory on time hold water? I know that time is a man-made concept, but I'd like to know if it's possible my concept of time is plausible.

You won't be suprised to hear that philosophers disagree a lot about the reality of times. Some say that time is a lot like space, and that all times are equally real at all times. On this view, the present is where we happen to be at the moment, but right now the past and the future are also equally real, much as here is the place we are, but other places are equally real even though we are not at those places. At the other extreme, there are those, appropriately called 'presentists', who think that only the present is real: the past has gone out of existence and the future has yet to come into existence. Your view is intermediate: the past and present are real but the future is not. This too can be seen as a kind of spacial view of time, but in an expanding universe. If it helps, think of the universe as an inflating balloon: on your view the temporal dimension is inflating too, so there are more and more real times.

I too find the expanding view of time attractive, in part because the past really does seem to have a kind of reality that the future so far lacks. But one thing we might worry about is whether this expanding view of time can make sense of the truth of future tense statements. It's true, alas, that I am going to die someday, and I think moreover that it's true now that I am going die. But if it's true now that I'm going die, then is looks like there has to be something real now that makes it true. Yet on the expanding view there doesn't seem to be any such thing, since what in fact makes it true that I am going to die is something that will only take place in the future.

Dear Sir

Dear Sir I would like you to ask you that what is the definition of and duration of the present? The harder I try to figure out the answer the more clear it becomes that the present is just the most recent imprint of our senses on our consciousness. In a moment this imprint is transferred to our memories and it fades away. This gradual fading away of imprints from our senses gives us a feeling that time is passing. I think that the feel of time is a function of the fading process of our imprint on our memory. That is why in different situations we feel differently about the passage of time. I think there is no duration of present. Future is directly converted into past. Some part of our consciousness is in future and some of it is in past. Please comment on my thought thanks and regards Omar Javaid javaid_omar@hotmail.com

These are interesting and difficult questions about time. First of all, it's helpful to distinguish our sensation of time from time itself. Time would exist even if there was no consciousness in the universe. It is less clear whether would be any interesting notion of past, present and future. Acording to a 'spacial' view of time, time is very much like space. In particular, just as 'over there' is just as real is 'over here', so on this view all times are equally real at all times. But on other views of time, the present is a priviledged moment, and would be even if there were no creatures to enjoy it. (I'm afraid I'm going to pass on the duration question.)

As for our sense of the passage of time, I don't think this can just be a result of fading impressions. For it would seem that an impression that we are having now, say while half-asleep, could be just as 'dim' as an impression we have of a past experience, yet we still would judge the former to be about the present and the latter to be a memory. Similarly, a memory may become more vivid to us as we think about it, but what we remember need not thereby seem to have happened more recently.

I was once asked at a University PPE interview, Does time have a colour? I found

I was once asked at a University PPE interview, Does time have a colour? I found it both extremely interesting and baffling. My opinion was that as time was not a physical property it could not have a colour yet I questioned myself countless times. What's your opinion - could time have a colour? K(17)

I suspect the point of this question was to see whether you could articulate the idea of a "category error," that is a statement that is syntactically correct but is nonsense because its predicate cannot meaningfully be attributed to its subject.

If this is what the interviewer had in mind, your answer was essentially correct but could have been stronger if you had explained that this was one example of a more general problem. If your interview was at an Oxford college, you probably would have earned bonus points if you had referred to Gilbert Ryle's classic discussion of category errors.

Is it sensible to think that time is more fundamental than space, because one

Is it sensible to think that time is more fundamental than space, because one can just close one's eyes and relive memories, going back in time or prospectively go forward in time to predict something, without actually changing your position in space?

The thesis that time is more fundamental than space is not uncommon among philosophers -- although the significance attached to this, and the meaning of 'fundamental' varies widely. At least arguably, Aristotle, Leibniz, Kant and Heidegger, are committed to some variety of this claim.

Kant's argument has some similarities to yours. All propositions about things and events must, when fully analysed, include a subordinate proposition about time (if only the location in time of the act of thought itself). But not all propositions about things and events must include a subordinate proposition about space. Kant then uses this analysis to argue further that the basic categories of all thought must be understood to be rules for the determination of time relations.

In the first Superman movie, after Lois Lane is killed in the earthquake,

In the first Superman movie, after Lois Lane is killed in the earthquake, Superman appears to reverse time by flying around the Earth and reversing its rotation. Thinking about it, this makes no sense. But in the movie, it has a certain plausibility. So what gives Superman's feat its plausibility? (A friend of mine suggested that the Earth didn't actually reverse its rotation due to Superman flying around it, but that the reversing rotation was just meant to suggest that Superman, by flying so fast, was able to go back in time himself. But this, too, makes no sense.)

You are right that Superman's feat of resurrecting Lois Lane makeslittle sense. The same is true of nearly all films (or stories)involving time travel. The trouble arises when characters 'change thepast'. That whole idea is of doubtful consistency. If Superman makes itthe case that Lois didn't die yesterday, then how come we saw a realityin which she got squashed by the earthquake? Maybe some sense can bemade of this by supposing that reality has a branching structure, andthat Lois dies on one branch but not the other. But even this doesn'tseem to do the trick. Isn't Superman supposed to be saving Lois, not just adding something to a structure in which she is also still squashed?

Analternative would be to suppose that Superman (and we viewers) inhabita Supertime, such that at Superdate 1 ordinary reality contains Loisdying yesterday, but by Superdate 2 Superman has changed ordinaryreality so that Lois survived yesterday. This is no doubt how weunderstand the movie, and why it seems plausible enough at first pass.But I'm not sure that even this really makes sense. (For a start, howexactly do Supertime and ordinary time relate to each other?)

All the above puzzles come from the idea of 'changingthe past'. By contrast, that is nothing immediately incoherent in theidea that the past is (and always has been) influenced by a travellerfrom the future. (Thus Mack Reynolds' classic story 'CompoundedInterest' (1956): a hugely rich man uses most of his fortune to build atime machine in which he then goes back 500 years to depoisit 1 ducatat compound interest so that in 500 years time . . .)

Still, once we admit time travel itself, won't the more paradoxical ability to changethe past inevitably be admitted too? If I can go back to the past,what's to stop me killing my own grandfather? It is a matter of currentcontroversy among philosophers whether the apparent freedom of a timetraveller to cause such paradoxial consequences shows that the idea oftime travel itself is incoherent. (What about the episode of Futuramawhere Fry does accidentally kill his own grandfather, and then consolesthe bereaved fiancee, and walks her home, and stays the night . . .?But of course that wasn't then his real grandfather that he killed.)

If we do not experience* time when we are asleep then does that prove that time

If we do not experience* time when we are asleep then does that prove that time is subjective? *Meaning that when we are asleep we do not acknowledge the time that passes in the same way in which those who are awake do. Steve, 17

No, it doesn't prove that time is subjective. It just proves that we're not aware of it when we sleep. Indeed, since time clearly does pass while we're asleep, that would seem to suggest that time isn't subjective in the strong sense you are suggesting it is.

Pages