General Musings

Time, the Universe and the Frontiers of our Existence

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The problem of time and whether it exists has remained a controversial topic in physics, cosmology, and philosophy. Is time relational as Leibniz espouses and therefore measured only in relation to motion, or is it absolute as Newton envisioned, where space and time were fundamental and independent from our perception of it? If we consider time to be real and not an illusion, then time is change, whether these changes are stretched out through our vast universe over billions of years to the immediacy of a thought, though both exist at the very same time in the future. We dream for a few seconds but wake believing we had spent hours in the dream. And yet, there is the past, of consciousness, or is the fundamental nature of reality a series of snapshots contained within the now?
And how is time-consciousness relevant to moral philosophy or love? I have often reiterated that love is eternal. As such, the concept of time became the source of my phenomenological struggles since our perceptions, our experience, thoughts and thus our very being are stitched into the fabric of temporality and all contribute to the essential structure of consciousness, of our perceptions, memory and our imagination and as such preserve our capacity to reach a truthful understanding of our identity. To be honestly self-aware at an atomic level. While I once perhaps held a transcendental-cognitive view that time was merely a construct that my mind created similar to the views held by Kant[1] (however indecipherable his language on the topic!), that our mind contains the necessary conditions to experience the properties of space and time but that experience conforms to our subjective deductions of reality. We must cognitively have innate categories prior to our temporal experience of space and our mind and senses merely verify whether such categories apply to the objects we experience. Think of it as a type of encoded, genetic molecule that converts information as part of a linear yet evolutionary process that continues to expand; without the source of this initial encoded information, there would be no capacity to acquire the preliminary information or experience. A type of thermodynamic entropy of sorts, but the chaos of the immeasurable absorption of information causes the brain by design to transfer large quantities of data and store it elsewhere, for the sake of argument we’ll say our subconscious and instead leaves a residue or ‘picture’ of reality. This is perhaps an unsatisfactory or at the very least an entirely broad understanding of Kant’ view on transcendental deduction. For Kant, ‘categories’ or pure concepts of understanding are unified with our sensory experience; that some apriori concepts (knowledge independent of particular experience) apply to some experiences, but not verified by any empirical means.
When I grew up, I came to realise that such a view on time-consciousness was somewhat unsatisfactory, or at the very least obscure. Whilst I enjoyed traversing through the maximally supersymmetric realm of epistemological foundationalism, the typological concept of time and the relationship between experiences in what ‘appears’ to be linear properties or a temporal order came to be of interest. According to John Ellis McTaggart, there exists a series of temporal positions that appear to us prima facie, namely ‘Earlier’ or ‘Later’ where each position is either ‘Past’, ‘Present’ or ‘Future’ although “an event, which is now present, was future and will be past.”[2] It is because time requires these distinctions that according to McTaggart proves time itself is unreal. In addition, there exists two distinct modes labelled as A-series – where there are a series of positions from past [near and far] to present to future [near and far] – and B-series, which are a series of positions that run from earlier to later.[3] The properties [A-properties] being past, being present and being future, with the relations [B-relations] as being earlier than, being later than, and being simultaneous with.[4] Change is essential to the A-series but an inherent contradiction exists with the properties and relations of change events from future, to present, to past where time appears to be severed from a spatial order of events and instead comprised of timeless properties. Basically, the future, the present and the past are incompatible and yet time itself possesses all three. This infinite regress of temporal attributions or tensed predications is the paradox.[5]
This is the point where I began to muse the possibility that time is an illusion and in doing so, the threads that bounded my existence to reality were suddenly disrupted and I instantaneously collapsed into an anti-social state where ‘vanity’ and ‘existentialism’ seem to consume me within a vortex of a gaping infinity. But, I digress. Phenomenologically, temporality is a requisite for experience, to perceive, to concern or reminisce. Husserl purports that consciousness can intentionally transcend itself, that from infancy we perceive but it is not yet assigned a referent and by referent I mean that the perception of an object is synthesised into a coherent pattern that we ‘see’ and interpret, making perception as interpretation, that the structure of consciousness captures and characterises the modes of temporal objects.[6] From a biological perspective, the brain as a neurological mechanism or tool constructs an interpretation in order to articulate the nature of the physical world, thus reality could remain within the boundary of mere psychology and language [I am planning on writing more on Kant and Deleuze in the near future]. If in the physical world time is an illusion, it seems only plausible and somehow my initial liking to transcendental deduction and the conceptual and subjective formation of time becomes appealing once more. While the brain is fundamental in our capacity to experience the world, the problems of the ‘illusory’ remain. Schrödinger wrote of the paradox of the mechanistic idea of the material world, where atomic singularity is met with a conceived negative tension with the senses:
“Galenus has preserved us a fragment (Diels, fr. 125), in which Democritus introduces the intellect (dianoia) having an argument with the senses (aesthesis) about what is “real”. The former says: ‘Ostensibly there is colour, ostensibly sweetness, ostensibly bitterness, actually only atoms and the void,’ to which the senses retort: “Poor intellect, do you hope to defeat us while from us you borrow your evidence? Your victory is you defeat.”[7]
Thus any objective description of colour – for instance through an electro-magnetic wave – cannot adequately provide an explanation of the conceivable characteristic of it. Is my experience of the taste of pomegranate the same as everyone else? It reminds me of a memory I have when in grade four, where I was sitting at a table with others in my class as we were colouring in and I lifted up the turquoise ‘connecter pen’ with pure joy at both the fact that such a texter could connect with other texters but also the colour, which struck me and in my excitement I turned to the girl next to me to inform her of this blissful opportunity to share the experience I was having. Her perfunctory glance before shrugging her shoulders and turning back to her rather aggressive colouring confused me entirely and I thought to myself that maybe she sees the colour brown, a colour I found aesthetically ugly and had someone shown me that colour that I too would have done the same. I remember actually trying to think of how that would be possible, how I saw turquoise and she saw brown but somehow she was taught to think that the actual, concrete “brown” was called turquoise and though we both saw different colours were somehow tricked into believing the names of those different colours were the same. The problem confused me at that point and I left it at that, a theory I later came to realise was spectrum inversion. There was also a part of me that was sceptical of her state of mind, but physical properties as represented by the object are subjective and that “[w]hat is purely intuitable is not communicable,”[8] thus qualia is subject to intrinsic properties and subjective sensations simply cannot be expressed. Galileo observed that whether a ship was still or moving at a constant speed, the effects on board the ship – such as throwing an apple from one person to another – would be exactly the same and thus, “Galileo had shown that terms like “moving” and “standing still” are merely labels.”[9]
For Einstein, space and time are relative and all events are imbedded into a four dimensional space-time continuum, as said by Minkowski: “Henceforth, space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.”[10] It quite simply just exists, the past and the future stretched on a timeless ‘line’ but rather than delving into the special theory of relativity or time dilation, the relativity of simultaneity returns us back to the question of past, present and future and that it is dependent on the reference frame of an observer. As said by Einstein: “Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent “now” objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated.“ Accordingly, the past, present and future exist simultaneously and that the illusion is to believe that they are separate; to a degree, those moments in time are states that spatially contract to make one whole rather than a static ‘now’.
Quantum mechanics and the theory of time incite discussions of determinism and free will, an especially important debate for me when examining love and our moral obligations. Einstein himself was a determinist and that future events is determined by preceding events, famously stating, “God doesn’t play dice.” This causal completeness purports that therefore a killer will kill at [x] point in time and since it is determined, therein exists no morality or culpability. Newtonian physics fall under the same deterministic umbrella, Halley’s comet an example of causal relationship between the past and nature. According to Michio Kaku, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle challenges nomological determinism since behaviour cannot be absolutely predictable and as such, there exists some free will. From a scientific perspective, this appears inadequate, however, observing the psychological  or cognitive and therefore the perceptions of the individual agent, it naturally leads us to the problem of consciousness. When we observe consciousness at biological level, to be sure determinism plays a major role in mind and ultimately experience, and so it should. Taking a compatabilist approach, why exactly do we need to separate the two? To me, free-will, however, is an extension of determinism, evolutionary to a degree in that competency is designed in the brain and evolves. Having the cognitive capacity to question, to ultimately think “why” in a calculated effort is the very experience of free-will because the moment one questions, they are in a position of responsibility for what comes after, for the deliberation that evolves at conscious level. The obligation rests in our capacity to share information through language and as such, free-will and moral responsibility function mutually.
With the inherent contradictions that capture the enigmatic nature of time, it seems that I would be justified in believing that the universe is a pianola and we are stitched into the musical roll of an eternal pneumatic mechanism that automatically plays “The King Clown” by Joseph Kiefer over and again and yet somehow deluding myself into believing that the opinions of others regarding the way that I dress is existentially relevant. The only element that is disturbing is the possibility of negating free will and yet if ‘now’ no longer exists, then neither does time and thus, neither does existence and therefore death.
[1] A. C. Ewing, Kant’s Transcendental Deduction of the Categories, New Series, Vol. 32, No. 125 (Jan., 1923), pp. 50-66
[2] J. Ellis McTaggart, The Unreality of Time, Mind 17 (68):457-474 (1908)
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] L. Nathan Oaklander, Quentin Smith, The New Theory of Time, Yale University Press (1994) 195
[6] W. Hopp, Husserl on Sensation, Perception, and Interpretation, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 38:2 (June 2008) 219-246
[7] Erwin Schrodinger, What is Life? Cambridge University Press (1967) 163
[8] Gottlob Frege, The Foundations of Arithmetic, Northwestern University Press (1980)
[9] Dan Falk, In Search of Time, Thomas Dunne Books (2008) 156
[10] W.L. Craig, Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity, Springer Science & Business Media (2013) 191

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