Monday, July 27, 2009

Splitting time's shadow

Hugh Mellor, in a contribution to philosophy bites, explains why he thinks that "time is essentially tenseless". I agree with this view unreservedly. A neat remark he makes during the piece is: "the present automatically follows you around".

Most physics is all the same, whatever view you take about time. But physicists for some reason have a problem with time. They think there is a puzzle about it. They are not willing to take whatever is measured by clocks, and other devices for measuring time, as just an ordinary physical variable like temperature, or indeed distance in space. And so the last issue but one of the New Scientist had a long and very silly piece in it, by someone whose name escapes me (it had better escape me for the moment) - but the time illusion idea, the history of people thinking that time is an illusion, is very long and rather respectable. For some reason it gets physicists' goat. I have no idea why. The idea that time is an illusion can be traced back to the idea that people have a vague sense that there's something odd about tense - and indeed, if you think that tense is a feature of the world, that's an illusion. What is not an illusion, as I have said, is that we are in the world and need to think in tense terms. But it [tense] is not a property of time itself.

But why people get so upset about this, I have no idea. It's on a par with people who think that splitting infinitives is worse than murdering your grandmother.

4 comments:

AJP CROWN said...

I have something interesting (I think) to say about this, but it requires me to re-read a section of a book that Jamessal gave me (Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff). i keep forgetting to do it.

Stuart said...

I'm sure it's interesting even without being backed up by a book. Having had my books in storage for 7 months now, I've been obliged to express opinions without any recourse to reference works, except for bits and pieces that I find on the net. Actually, having opinions based on nary a shred of evidence has never been difficult for me, but these last months have forced me to polish up the old free-style.

AJP Crown said...

No, i need the book and it's disappeared. I expect it will turn up next week somewhere around the house. He makes a point about how, if you're talking about (say) future time, you can talk about 'the following weeks' and 'the coming weeks' i.e. moving both backwards and forwards ...

AJP CROWN said...

Grumbly, you've been gone for nearly three weeks now.

I bet you were reading a book on the train and missed your stop and ended up in Prague.