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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Time is a component of a measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify the motions of objects. Time has been a major subject of religion, philosophy, and science, but defining time in a non-controversial manner applicable to all fields of study has consistently eluded the greatest scholars.

Contents

Philosophy

Two distinct viewpoints on time divide many prominent philosophers. One view is that time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe, a dimension in which events occur in sequence. Sir Isaac Newton subscribed to this realist view, and hence it is sometimes referred to as Newtonian time.

An opposing view is that time does not refer to any kind of actually existing dimension that events and objects "move through", nor to any entity that "flows", but that it is instead an intellectual concept (together with space and number) that enables humans to sequence and compare events.

This second view, in the tradition of Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, holds that space and time "do not exist in and of themselves, but ... are the product of the way we represent things", because we can know objects only as they appear to us.

Furthermore, it may be that there is a subjective component to time, but whether or not time itself is "felt", as a sensation, or is a judgment, is a matter of debate.

The Vedas, the earliest texts on Indian philosophy and Hindu philosophy dating back to the late 2nd millennium BC, describe ancient Hindu cosmology, in which the universe goes through repeated cycles of creation, destruction and rebirth, with each cycle lasting 4,320 million years.

Ancient Greek philosophers, including Parmenides and Heraclitus, wrote essays on the nature of time.

Plato, in the Timaeus, identified time with the period of motion of the heavenly bodies. Aristotle, in Book IV of his Physica defined time as 'number of movement in respect of the before and after'.

In Book 11 of his Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo ruminates on the nature of time, asking, "What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not." He begins to define time by what it is not rather than what it is,

an approach similar to that taken in other negative definitions. However, Augustine ends up calling time a "distention" of the mind (Confessions 11.26) by which we simultaneously grasp the past in memory, the present by attention, and the future by expectation.

In contrast to ancient Greek philosophers who believed that the universe had an infinite past with no beginning, medieval philosophers and theologians developed the concept of the universe having a finite past with a beginning. This view is shared by Abrahamic faiths as they believe time started by creation, therefore the only thing being infinite is God and everything else, including time, is finite.

Isaac Newton believed in absolute space and absolute time; Leibniz believed that time and space are relational.

The differences between Leibniz's and Newton's interpretations came to a head in the famous Leibniz–Clarke correspondence.

"Time is not an empirical concept. For neither co-existence nor succession would be perceived by us, if the representation of time did not exist as a foundation a priori. Without this presupposition we could not represent to ourselves that things exist together at one and the same time, or at different times, that is, contemporaneously, or in succession." --Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1781), trans. Vasilis Politis (London: Dent., 1991), p.54.

Immanuel Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, described time as an a priori intuition that allows us (together with the other a priori intuition, space) to comprehend sense experience.

With Kant, neither space nor time are conceived as substances, but rather both are elements of a systematic mental framework that necessarily structures the experiences of any rational agent, or observing subject. Kant thought of time as a fundamental part of an abstract conceptual framework, together with space and number, within which we sequence events, quantify their duration, and compare the motions of objects. In this view, time does not refer to any kind of entity that "flows," that objects "move through," or that is a "container" for events. Spatial measurements are used to quantify the extent of and distances between objects, and temporal measurements are used to quantify the durations of and between events. Time was designated by Kant as the purest possible schema of a pure concept or category.

Henri Bergson believed that time was neither a real homogeneous medium nor a mental construct, but possesses what he referred to as Duration. Duration, in Bergson's view, was creativity and memory as an essential component of reality.

According to Martin Heidegger we do not exist inside time, we are time. Hence, the relationship to the past is a present awareness of having been, which allows the past to exist in the present. The relationship to the future is the state of anticipating a potential possibility, task, or engagement. It is related to the human propensity for caring and being concerned, which causes "being ahead of oneself" when thinking of a pending occurrence. Therefore, this concern for a potential occurrence also allows the future to exist in the present. The present becomes an experience, which is qualitative instead of quantitative. Heidegger seems to think this is the way that a linear relationship with time, or temporal existence, is broken or transcended.

We are not stuck in sequential time. We are able to remember the past and project into the future—we have a kind of random access to our representation of temporal existence; we can, in our thoughts, step out of (ecstasis) sequential time.

Time as "unreal"

In 5th century BC Greece, Antiphon the Sophist, in a fragment preserved from his chief work On Truth, held that: "Time is not a reality (hypostasis), but a concept (noêma) or a measure (metron)." Parmenides went further, maintaining that time, motion, and change were illusions, leading to the paradoxes of his follower Zeno.

Time as an illusion is also a common theme in Buddhist thought.

J. M. E. McTaggart's 1908 The Unreality of Time argues that, since every event has the characteristic of being both present and not present (i.e., future or past), that time is a self-contradictory idea (see also The flow of time).

These arguments often center on what it means for something to be unreal. Modern physicists generally believe that time is as real as space—though others, such as Julian Barbour in his book The End of Time, argue that quantum equations of the universe take their true form when expressed in the timeless realm containing every possible now or momentary configuration of the universe, called 'platonia' by Barbour.

A modern philosophical theory called presentism views the past and the future as human-mind interpretations of movement instead of real parts of time (or "dimensions") which coexist with the present. This theory rejects the existence of all direct interaction with the past or the future, holding only the present as tangible. This is one of the philosophical arguments against time travel. This contrasts with eternalism (all time: present, past and future, is real) and the growing block theory (the present and the past are real, but the future is not).

Time travel

Time travel in fiction, Grandfather paradox

Time travel is the concept of moving backwards and/or forwards to different points in time, in a manner analogous to moving through space, and different from the normal "flow" of time to an earthbound observer. In this view, all points in time (including future times) "persist" in some way. Time travel has been a plot device in fiction since the 19th century. Traveling backwards in time has never been verified, presents many theoretic problems, and may be an impossibility. Any technological device, whether fictional or hypothetical, that is used to achieve time travel is known as a time machine.

A central problem with time travel to the past is the violation of causality; should an effect precede its cause, it would give rise to the possibility of a temporal paradox. Some interpretations of time travel resolve this by accepting the possibility of travel between branch points, parallel realities, or universes.

Another solution to the problem of causality-based temporal paradoxes is that such paradoxes cannot arise simply because they have not arisen. As illustrated in numerous works of fiction, free will either ceases to exist in the past or the outcomes of such decisions are predetermined. As such, it would not be possible to enact the grandfather paradox because it is a historical fact that your grandfather was not killed before his child (your parent) was conceived. This view doesn't simply hold that history is an unchangeable constant, but that any change made by a hypothetical future time traveler would already have happened in his or her past, resulting in the reality that the traveler moves from. More elaboration on this view can be found in the Novikov self-consistency principle.

See also

Books

Organizations

Leading scholarly organizations for researchers on the history and technology of time and timekeeping

Miscellaneous arts and sciences

Miscellaneous units of time




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Time" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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