Lived vs. clock time, or Einstein vs. Bergson pt. II.

1.) Joe and Mary are married. Joe gets into a time machine and goes a thousand years into the future, but gets lonely and marries someone else. Upon return he tries to explain to Mary that he isn’t an adulterer because she was long dead when he married the second time. The justification is nonsense – there is no sufficiently distant time any more than there is a sufficiently distant place.

2.) Joe gets a three-year sentence for stealing cars which he must start serving it tomorrow (January 16, 2099). Joe gets into his time machine, goes a thousand years in the future, and lives out the rest of his life. He then has his corpse shipped back to January 15, 2099 and has his lawyer explain that he was found dead before the sentence could begin. More sophistry – the punishment demanded a portion of his life, not a portion of calendar time.

3.) Joe’s teacher explains to Joe that Einstein has proven there is a block universe and any moment of his life from cradle to grave is already given to some observer, or even to an indefinite number of observers. Joe then explains that he spent a little extra on his cell phone so that it gets coverage everywhere in the universe and works with all possible alien technologies, and so he happily starts dialing around to find the guy(s) who can observe the rest of his life. His teacher clears his throat and sadly has to explain to Joe that the very physical theory that gave him the block universe makes this procedure impossible. The information about how Joe will be then cannot be a signal given to Joe now.


There are at least two different sorts of time here which share significant overlap but cannot be identified. There is a time of life where we take vows and are faithful (1) or must pay in punishment (2) or in which we can receive physical signals (3) and there is a calendar or clock time that is spooled out and chopped up by machines. Calendar or clock time has all the feel of being more objective – just look at those sharp, straight lines that make the calendar boxes or the whirring count of nanoseconds on the atomic clock! But the suppressed premises are both fascinating and legion, like:

a1.) Why is something more objective when it is the result of a process we devised? We don’t normally think of artificial actions or productions as more objective.

a2.) Say we accept Kant’s famous answer in the preface to CPR. Does the a priori concept of time suffice to give us a both the lived time that is essentially bound up with moral life (1 and 2 above) or even the lived time of an observer that enters integrally into physical theory?  (3 above)

b1.) How did we figure out that what we stripped out lived time was exactly what stripped it down to its essentials? What insight into time was this based on?

b2.) Isn’t it safer to assume, by parity of reasoning, that clocks strip things down to their essentials in the same way any measuring device does? In one sense a scale gets down to what’s essential in a thousand pounds of apples and a thousand pounds of oranges, but not in such a way as to make their color, cost or size accidental. We can’t confuse what is accidental to a mode of considering X with what is accidental to X. Putting a 200 pound man on a scale does not prove that rationality is accidental to him.

c.) If clock time is not time in its simplest most essential form, what is it?


*Another paradox here is how relativity theory can be true for Joe if it is based on things that are unobservable in principle to him. It’s one thing to say that we haven’t found a test for something yet or that Joe isn’t clever enough to pull off the test, but to deny any test in principle counts as some sort of evidence against a physical theory.  

%d bloggers like this: