History as the absence of celestial spheres

At the first level of approximation, natural time moves in cycles. The sun comes up, falls, and comes up again; the same seasons come back every year; the same cycles of growth, death, re-absorption and re-birth typify all living things; and the universe itself is a wheel of stars whose motions can be cyclically predicted down to seconds of arc. This last, great cycle is self-evidently the cycle containing all others, and gives time an intelligible structure. Just as all things are in place in reference to the last place of the celestial sphere, all things are in time from its cycle. We therefore – and this is the crucial part – have a reason to assume that the universe is rationally recurrent and controlled by an intelligible regularity. All we need to do to see this is look up. Look, everything is rotating around the North Star, and every motion can be related back to the uniform rotation about an axis.

At the next level of approximation, all of this structure disappears. We nevertheless still see that nature is intelligible, and so we attribute these regularities no longer to the sphere of the stars but to “laws”. But law is a placeholder for something completely unknown and perhaps impossible. Sure, there are particular natures that account for some regularities, but the intelligibility of nature requires more than this. Without that last sphere in the universe, there is no one time to range over all natural events.* Time becomes both extensively and intensively infinite; it has neither beginning nor end, nor does any natural thing relate one time to another. In the absence¬†of any concrete thing to tie all this together, we posit abstract ones: laws. But these laws are based on unverifiable assumptions, to say nothing of the causal action of the abstract.

Nature becomes intelligible on this account only to one who can comprehend the infinite, and who can recognize it it various anchoring nodes of significance.


*Even if, as happens in Einstein, this one time exists only in our ability to always transform one time into another

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