Wednesday, September 04, 2013

It's About Time

One of the most common arguments that I've seen online is the question on whether time is "real" or is it an "illusion" or doesn't exist. I've addressed this before quite a while back. In fact, that blog entry actually became a "reference" in a Wikipedia entry!

Last week's issue of Science had an interesting article. It is actually a review of Smolin's book "Time Reborn", with the review written by Huw Price (Science v.341, p.960 (2013)). What is interesting about the review here is the impression that I got that, even in philosophical circles, there is really no serious argument on the question on whether time exists or not (it does!). Rather, the question is really on the nature of time.

The differences between the two camps on the nature of time is described in the article:

I’ll come back to that question, but first to the dispute itself, which is one of philosophy’s oldest feuds. One team thinks of time as we seem to experience it, a locus of flow and change, centered on the present moment-“All is flux,” as Heraclitus asserted around 500 BCE. The other, my clan, is loyal instead to Heraclitus’s near contemporary, Parmenides of Elea. We think of time as it is described in history: simply a series or block of events, lined up in a particular order, with no distinguished present moment. For us, now is like here—it marks where we ourselves happen to stand but has no significance at all from the universe’s point of view.

And it brings me to the main point in which the differences really is not about the question whether time exists, or if it is real.

To Parmenideans such as Williams and myself, this attitude is just linguistic imperialism, cheeky and rather uncharitable. Of course we believe that time is real, we insist. (It is as real as space is, the two being simply different aspects of the same fourdimensional manifold.) What we deny is just that time comes carved up into past, present, and future.

You'll notice that the argument that time is as real as space is the same argument that I used in that earlier post that I linked above.

So really, enough of this nonsense on whether time exists or not, or if it is real or not.


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