Knowing the future

-The desire to know the future is powerful and largely pre-conscious. Before we can even question the idea, we already find ourselves assuming that it’s out there like some space that we are continually walking into.

-In discussing time, Aristotle mentions that before and after are first said of space* and then of time. This strikes many first time readers as odd (sure, we while on a trip through So-Cal we might ask “Is Ventura before Santa Barbara?” but is this really the first sense of “before” we think of?) but the point is very good – we spontaneously think of time as a space, but not space as a time. The past is “back there” and the future is “in front”

-Taken as a space-walked-into, we’ve never actually verified that there is any such future. As Ruyer points out, we can dive into the other car, but not into the accident.

-There are occasional hints of a future “out there” in phenomena like déjà vu or the testimonies of religious witnesses. All of these have a dream-like character, however, and are usually only clarified after the fact. The point of prophesy is not to give bullet-point predictions but to testify to various transcendent (and not merely timeless) realities.

-True, one timeless reality is the plan of God, but “plan” here is simply “the divine idea of temporal creation”. As such, it is a transcendent reality and cause that, like all such things, unifies what is diverse in what it transcends. This unifies time, but it also unifies the necessary and contingent, the free and the determined. Eternity is a timeless and unchanging “now”, but it is also one that brings together total fixity and determination along with the total positive indetermination of freedom. Neville is faithful to St. Thomas’s idea of transcendence when he describes God’s “eternal now” as having all the perfection of the fixity of the past, the conscious awareness and givenness of the future, and the possibility/indeterminacy/ openness to freedom of the future. Obviously, this problemitizes any simple idea of a “divine plan” that has scripted out the future “in advance”.

-Science doesn’t make predictions, it makes claims about what is invariant in time and so will be true any time it is tested. Einstein’s claim about light bending around the sun in an eclipse didn’t have to wait till 1919 to be true. In fact, it’s precisely because we can’t predict that the prediction is useful in science – we can’t be biased by the future because we can’t know it.

-You might as well say that the claim “cats are mammals” is a prediction that we can verify by going out and finding one nursing its young. The point of science is not to know future events but to know what things are, and what a thing is is in invariant in time. This is why nouns have no tenses.

-We want to understand time as the score when it is the music itself. The score exists all at once and we merely read through it while the music has to be bracketed by non-existence in order to be at all. We might see all the notes on the score at once, but to hear them all at once would not be the music.

-From Parmenides to Einstein, all block universes are committed to the idea that what we see is real but what we hear is “subjective” or doxa. What we see is just “there” but what we hear requires memory and so is dependent on us. But the error here is obvious. Of course we hear “what’s there”, and of course there are auditory structures just as there are visible ones (and sight depends on memory too – you wouldn’t actually see something move without remembering where it was) We can’t give perfect objectivity to sight and then just deny it to hearing, even if we try to distinguish primary and secondary qualities.

-The problem of the future reduces to the problem we have in unifying vision and hearing. Vision requires that all exist at once, hearing requires that all does not exist at once. This reduces further to the finite object of our cognitive powers, which both is something and can only be so by not being something else. This reduces further to the first principle of our thought, which only understands what things are by comparing them to what they are not and cannot be (i.e. the principle of contradiction.)

-Any non-divine intelligence or cognitive power depends upon what a thing is not to understand what it is. Vision needs negative space to know definitions, our minds need the principle of contradiction, and angels need some multitude of concepts to know any one concept. The problem of time is a logical implication of this. Even angels presumably have some analogous puzzle about it.


*though he calls it “magnitude” and not space, and the two are quite different. Space is a hypothetical container of magnitudes, which Aristotle thinks can’t exist.

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