Wednesday, July 19, 2017

On Time

Paul Davies:

The flow of time is an illusion, and I don’t know very many scientists and philosophers who would disagree with that, to be perfectly honest. The reason that it is an illusion is when you stop to think, what does it even mean that time is flowing? When we say something flows like a river, what you mean is an element of the river at one moment is in a different place of an earlier moment. In other words, it moves with respect to time. But time can’t move with respect to time—time is time. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that the claim that time does not flow means that there is no time, that time does not exist. That’s nonsense. Time of course exists. We measure it with clocks. 

FLG finds time fascinating, so of course he found the interview fascinating.

UPDATE:  Thought it might be useful to explain why FLG finds time fascinating.  It began when FLG was in second or third grade.  He was at Sunday school.

Sunday School Teacher:   And so that's how God made the universe.

FLG:  Ok, but who made God?

Teacher:   God was and always will be.

FLG:  That doesn't make any sense.  SOMETHING must have come before Him.

Teacher:  Before, after.  These require time.   What if God exists outside of time?

FLG:   No time?  It doesn't make any sense to me.

Teacher:  Time is a funny thing.   Einstein tells us that it slows down the faster you go.   But you said it doesn't make any sense to you -- the absence of time.   I'd imagine that if you could talk to a fish, life outside of water wouldn't make any sense to the fish either.  Yet, there is life outside of water.     Just because you cannot comprehend something, doesn't mean it isn't true.   Just because you can't comprehend existence outside of time, doesn't mean it isn't true.  Just so you know, lot's of serious, smart people have asked the same questions.  One day, when you get older, you should read Thomas Aquinas.  (The teacher probably said something like ipsum esse subsistens here, but FLG doesn't remember.  And the funny thing is, FLG isn't even Catholic.)

While FLG generally disliked Sunday school (there are only so many David and Goliath coloring pages a young lad can take), he remembers that conversation well for a variety of reasons.   In fact, his strong, visceral dislike of outspoken scientists who espouse strict materialist visions of the world probably goes back to the feeling he had at the end of that conversation.


Andrew Stevens said...

Physicist Richard Muller: "Einstein considered his inability to account for the flow of time and the meaning of 'now' as a failure. Some modern theorists aren’t up to his standard; they think that anything they can’t explain with their current theories must be dismissed as illusionary. They address the time–space asymmetry―one flows, the other doesn’t―by denying it. They call the flow of time an illusion. But if the flow of time does not appear in their theory, that doesn’t mean that the flow should be dismissed; it means that their theory is incomplete. The legitimate goal of physics is to account for reality, not to deny it."

Andrew Stevens said...

I think Aquinas would have agreed with me. Perhaps Aquinas was correct and it is possible for a being to exist outside the flow of time. But we clearly exist within the flow of time and Aquinas, I think, would have called you crazy if you denied that.

FLG said...

Oh, you and I, and I would agree Aquinas alos, are in complete agreement. I just find discussions of the nature of time interesting, even if I think they are wrong.

It's funny because this whole the flow of time is an illusion reminded me of <a href=">a video with Sam Harris</a> where he argued the self is an illusion. "That the sense we all have of riding around inside our heads as a passenger in the vehicle of the body...that sense of being a subject, a locus of conscious inside the head, is an illusion"

In both cases, this time discussion and Sam Harris contention about the self, I found the argument interesting, but ultimately flawed. Pretty much everybody ever who has discussed what their self experience is like, across time and culture as far as I have seen, describes it as what Harris is calling an illusion. Same thing here with time. As far as I know, we all feel like it flows. If everybody has these understandings, as a Platonist I want to call it anamnesis, of how these things are working, then maybe the problem is with their theory.

FLG said...

Trying to hyperlink in comment == FAIL.

Andrew Stevens said...

Yes, Sam Harris's theory is an idea so stupid only an intellectual could believe it. Of course consciousness is not an illusion. Like free will actually which is also pretty obviously not an illusion.

(You left out a close quote in your hyperlink, though you probably know that already.)

Andrew Stevens said...

I actually only just watched the Sam Harris video now. It's even dumber than I imagined. Short version: "I have, on occasion, purposely disabled my brain through various spiritual/meditation techniques and/or drugs and I am now going to claim that what I experience in that state is the true reality and what normal non-disabled people experience all the time is an illusion."

I actually like Sam Harris a great deal a lot of the time, but on some things he's just completely off the rails.

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