Monday, May 4, 2009

Doing away with Time?

Time is the root. Time is the riddle. Time is what keeps slipping through our embodied and conceptual fingers no matter how hard we try to grab hold of it.

No problem has perplexed philosophers, scientists and theologian more completely than the nature of time. Is it real? Does its reality extend all the way down to the very essence of existence? Is it emergent? Does it come into being only as a result of some meta-principle that is, itself, timeless. Is it an illusion created by a consciousness that evolved to parse the world in way that were advantageous to move one generation into the other. Even the words we use get us into trouble.

Many physicists believe that a deeper and perhaps more radical understanding of time will be the solution to no decades old problem of quantum gravity. A non-trivial subset of the great revolutions in physics were based in re-imagining time and its place in physical reality. To that end I provide a link to a new bloggingheads debate between the independent physicist Julian Barbour (author of the End of Time) and the philosopher Craig Callender. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Blogging Heads Time Debate


  1. Out of all the contexts in which we can think about human being Adam, I wonder if our involvement with time is the most salient. I'm sitting here engaged in the idea of time via your post and find myself becoming amazed by our ability to create a "now".

    What I'm beginning to see, is that "nowing" is our ability to step out of the constant streaming which serves as the basis of reality, and create a space that exists along side of the stream. So here, it looks to me that "now" is an emergent phenomenon, as it can only exist by underlying orders that remain in constant motion without incurring a now: for instance, we refer to a heart that incurs a now as a heart attack.

    On the other hand, without our ability for creating a now, could we have time, or would we only have measured motion?

    What are your thoughts?

  2. This is the one of the subjects of Julian Barbours wonderful book which is very thought provoking but I am not ready to sign on for. I have recently been reading Roberto Unger who is a amazing thinker. He argues that Time is real and goes all he way "down". That may mean "nowing" as you put it is an essential part of existence, perhaps the only part.

  3. What I'm seeing when I use the word, nowing, is how a person can experience their life in terms of going through the motions- which would be analogous to Julian's idea of time from physics; in this case, I might say this person is 'occupying', but I don't think I would call it Being. I think Being is something more than occupying, and has its genesis in now. But I don't see now as something that happens automatically in human consciousness; it seems to require intention.

    Could you go further into your seeing Time as real ? And are you referring to Unger, the social thinker? and which book?

  4. This is a timely post for me Adam, pun intended, as it ties into a 'revelation' I experienced at the Lab last Friday. As Jamie drew out some simple molecules in shorthand, I 'saw' bonds for the first time and asked, what they were made of- she replied, energy.

    This was the revelation to me: molecules provide a means to make something intrinsically invisible, visible. What also changed for me, was in how I had been seeing the particle as primary: now, I'm seeing the bond as primary.

    Time, as you are talking about it seems to share in the same nature that energy does; (potential energy.) in that it's something made visible by something like bodies in motion. Or human consciousness. (hmm, what kind of 'body in motion' does a sentence represent-)

    So this morning, I'm seeing Time, along with Energy, as fundamental to matter.

    As an aside that ties into this discussion, I've grown mystified by the concept of information for the past couple of years, and the way in which you are talking about time, might be the context in which to think about information.

  5. I'm still pondering this one Adam. If I'm understanding you here when you consider time "going all the way down", and Feynmann when he describes time as "what happens when nothing else is going on", then time is fundamental to space: I can imagine time existing without space but I don't know that space can exist without time. Am I accurate? and does this change our conception of Space/Time?

  6. Let me approach this from some of my religious thinking-

    I notice that when Jesus confronts the religious group that called themselves Pharisees, and who to this day I would consider to be the most "law abiding" group to ever exist, he doesn't confront them on a moral basis: he doesn't assert their failure to follow "rules".

    Note the content of this confrontation: " it's the Sabbath; your neighbors ox falls into a big hole: Quick! waddaya do?!

    For the Pharisees, who codified that spitting on the sabbath broke the law because spitting constituted irrigation, this simple scenario and its question put them in quite a quandary; you can see them huddling together to figure out this "trick" question. It's their huddling that is at issue, and I think Christians are mistaken to see Jesus as the champion of morality: he champions something else, something more fundamental and with more vitality.

    I raise this example here because I see time involved in ideas like institutionalize/dogma; eternal; durability and experience:

    When we institutionalize a form, (dogmas, policies, etc.) we freeze something; we create durability by an act of freezing. Something eternal, however, in its primary sense, is something "unaffected" by time, or "outside" of time: something eternal is durable without needing to be frozen.

    This confrontation that Jesus designed, centers on an approach to life: these Pharisees, instead of living from the nakedness of saturated experiencing, kept themselves on the dry land of institutionalized precepts- or dogmas: I see Jesus arguing for a very different kind of metric than adherence to something formulaic.

    As I re-read some of your thinking, I noticing an irony, in that, as you keep coming back to experience, you may be closer to where Jesus was coming from than a lot of Christians in the throes of dogma and frozen time.

    Anyway, just a sample of my approach in christian world.

  7. A short responce (getting ready for finals). By all the way down what is meant that time would be on the same ontological status as, say, matter. There are those who have argued that time is either emergent coming from some other set of principles or it is really an illusion in which the appearence of change is a manifestation of some underlying physics. Either way Time is taken to be less fundemental than other attributes of the world.

  8. Adam, in case you're still engaged in this post, I would like to hear you talk about your sense of time in the context of astrophysics and astrobiology: I imagine, on the physics side, as you organize computer simulations, your code is time dependent in the way we normally construe time. Is it different from a biological perspective? Maybe you could expand on your intuitive hunch that is grabbing you.

  9. I have durable rubber outsole and sheepskin sock that wicks moisture away ugg boots Third, and the most important, simple is my biggest merit. Fresh sense on its universal color is attractive. Simple structure making of genuine material is elegant, proper for whatever situation. An excellent pair should not burden people’s feet even in daily wearing. Last, I always wear four colors of clothes, they are my favorite. And because of that, sometimes I was called ugg Boots Outlet; on another occasions, somebody calls me uggs chocolate mini, mini chestnut ugg nightfall , or uggs classic mni sand boots. So, my dear friend, don’t be confused when you hear the above names or other similar.So why are so many people looking for ugg nightfall boots UK?