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Thursday, March 17, 2016

More Time

We waste, spend, give, take, save, buy, lose time like it's a commodity. Sometimes, this is our time. Sometimes we are in time and sometimes we are out of it. But the times, they are a-changing. Sometimes. So what is it? Time?

Common sense says that we are in time like in the flow of a river. Time passes and so do we as we float by markers on the bank. While time seems to slow and quicken, it goes on relentlessly like the hands of a clock.

Religious time, expressed in myth and rituals, is either cyclical (seasonal) celebrating restored life in spring, or linear with one or more culminations (kairoi) that bestow meaning on the course of time, or eschatological awaiting the end of time or timelessness. Or a combination of the three as in Christianity and other great religions.

Modern science teaches that time is an illusion. In Newtonian science, time is the arrow of entropy going from order to dissolution--winding down. Or in relativity theory time is a 4th dimension of space and therefore without independent reality. The really real is timeless. Time is not necessary to nature and its understanding. However, some scientists (Prigogine, Rovelli, Smolin), critiquing modernity, conjecture time as the fundamental reality from which space and all things emerge.

Contemporary philosophy (especially phenomenology) sees time as constitutive of human existence. In acting humanly, i.e. through imagination, we find ourselves constructing a "not-yet" which is molded out of "what-has-been." We experience our selves personally and collectively as presence, a now in-between past and future, with memory and intention, inhabiting stories that tell us who we have become and stories that tell us what we might become. Our existence is temporal. It is temporality itself bestowing and discovering temporality in nature.

O tempora! O mores!

So what is time?  And so what?
Does it matter if we think in or out of time?
If time is an illusion, is it a useful one? And useful for what?
If time is real, does it (need to) have a beginning and/or end?
And does the gain of a totally new, mean the total loss of the old?

Eras, ages, epochs, generations, times. The best of times, the worst of times. The spirit of the times. All fabrications of thought attempting to put meaning in history. Arbitrary cut-offs. lines of demarcation, to indicate transitions and transformations.

Acting on the side of history. Being with the times. As though history has a law and time has a trajectory. Does it? Hegel and Marx might have thought so. So did Toynbee and biblical scholars. And Adam Smith with his invisible hand. We search through the tea leaves, the entrails of pigs, the oracle of Delphi, the movement of the stars, and the study of history to discover the future--as though it already is somewhere, someplace. If so, then time is not real. Just an illusion. The past, future, and present of the universe just are--already. So chill out. It matters not.

But if we hold that time is real, incurring genuine novelty, open to a never before and never again moment, an unpredictable future that cannot be prescribed from the present, then we participate a universe evolving. The universe evolves by indeterminate natural selection of matter and energy which retain and refresh the universe. The universe is without an end that has been foretold or forecast and perhaps without a beginning or original conditions that determine its trajectory. An eternity of novel events. If time is the reality, our thoughts and actions, our thoughtful actions matter and matter greatly. They make it possible for unforeseen potential, for miracles that contradict and revise earlier laws of nature.

If time is real, the universe is an unfolding, unfinished symphony where all the players improvise while keeping and making time. If the universe is time and we are time's events, vessels of time, non-duplicable moments of time, then perhaps we do know God. God is Time.

Wait! Time is not a succession of unique moments as Smolin seems to be saying. It is not a snapshot. Nor is it a stream of snapshots or frames that make a running film that you can stop at various points to edit along the way. Or maybe we can say that time is the Moment. Time is the Event stretching back and forth, in and out, here and there, unique and universal, prime and infinite. Time is not a reality out there in the universe. It is the universe expanding out and collapsing in on itself. Not real, not illusion.

Time is the Subjectivity of the universe--just as mystics and philosophers express that existence, intentionality, consciousness is temporality. The "within" of nature. That's why there will never be a complete, comprehensive theory of nature. David Deutsche conjectured that a complete theory of the cosmos would include epistemology or the theory of the theorizing. But of course that is quite impossible. For as soon as we land on a correct theory of knowing, we have stopped the film on a frame. When we concentrate on an event in time to understand it, we lose sight of the Event of time itself. We cannot objectify time. We can only live it. We cannot stop time. But we can live and be it as it goes.

Or, in other words, Time is forever objectifying itself, Nature engendering nature. Temporality is the act of creation of the world in us. Time is Brahma waking up. Evolution becoming conscious.


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jennifer anderson said...

if you stay up late enough, it is always today :)