Philosophical Prolegomena to a theory of time

1.) By time I am talking about a way in which a thing is necessarily lost to me. There is a way in which it is impossible to attain the same thing again: youth, a missed opportunity, a dinner I ate.

1a.) This sort of necessity is alien to contemporary science. How shall we take this? Perhaps this necessity is from a logical or psychological sense of time. If this is so, and we oppose this to the physical sense, we need to be clear in developing this division. For example, how much of this “logical time” is inseparable from a clock?

2.) Either there is one time for everything or there is not. If there is, and time requires some clock, then the theory needs some idea of what this clock is.

2a.) It’s not plausible at all to imagine that the whole universe has some relation to the cycles of a  caesium-133 atom in Washington DC, and to the more or less perfect approximations to this – like the thing on my wrist or the numbers at the corner of this computer screen.

2b.) It is not at all plausible that the whole universe relates to whatever we choose to measure because it moves uniformly.

3.) If I go backwards in time, time does not go backwards. I take my own clock with me: heartbeats, succession of conscious thoughts, etc. If I returned from the future, I would remember it; if I went to the past, I would anticipate it. If this did not happen, I don’t see what it would mean to say go to a different time.

4.) In understanding time through clocks, we stress two supposed features of time: (a.) its uniformity and (b) its commonality to many. But these seem like an additions we make to time for our own convenience (and by “we” I mean 19th century railroad magnates.)

4a.) Again, is uniform time more a public good than a feature of nature? Just as nature seems to do its business just fine without right angles, straight lines, circles, etc. so too it doesn’t seem to need all that much time precision to make the things it makes. One could hardly set a watch to cycles of generation or growth, that is, to the times in which nature makes and develops things. (N.B. The spin of the earth or the orbit of a planet is not a cycle of generation or growth). Nature, perhaps, is no more uses time (the uniform stuff we want out of clocks) than it uses subjects and predicates.

4b.) Again, nature does not seem to need to relate all things to one clock. This seems to be only necessary of societies of a certain type, where the citizens need to be drilled into sync with machines.

4c.) Is physical time – clock time – simply the absence of interiority, the sub-basement structure of life?


1 Comment

  1. sancrucensis said,

    January 5, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    “One could hardly set a watch to cycles of generation or growth”

    That reminds me of the story told in all German Universities of the professor in an oral exam who says to the student: “You see that tree out there? You can come back again when it has leaves…”

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