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Is Time Simultaneous?

Philosophy and Theory

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Sep 19, 2010, 8:49pm Top

I've been reading into the concept of time (doing my best to break away subjectivity, but what can you do?) and I've reached a speed-bump. We have conceptualized past, present, and future, respectively living in the middle with the limited ability to understand and learn from the first, whereas the last is almost entirely left up to guessing.

If we are to believe in the linear time (past, present, future), is there a way to suggest that we are the past to someone's future? That the future exists as we exist simultaneously? If true, what does this mean for free will?

I know this is probably coming across as sci-fi speculation from someone who has tried to make heads and tales of physicists' predictions of time travel, but I have no interest in time travel itself. I'm more interested in aspects of Eternalism and the idea of the simultaneity of time: the past, present, and future all exist as they are at the same instant. Does this create an infinity?

For sake of clarity, I'll leave the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics at the door and assume that the time we made is what is (ex: my future is actually the result of my lifting my left arm, instead of there also being a future where I lifted my right, etc.).

This is assuming that time is a dimension; feel free to criticize that assumption.

Sep 19, 2010, 9:39pm Top

Time is one of the great mysteries, I think, although some physicists wanting to keep cause and effect will assert that the second law of thermodynamics forces a direction on time. There may be a couple of other asymmetries that are fairly convincing; they don't come to mind now.

That intelligent, long term thinkers on the subject disagree about it seems to me to be a sign that there is something interesting to the subject. For a long outline, if you haven't looked at Wikipedia on the philosophy of space and time, you might want to.


Sep 19, 2010, 10:10pm Top

I've been looking through some of the Wikipedia pages, mostly for the backbone of the theories and to pick up some book ideas, but thank you for the link to an overarching content.

Edited: Sep 19, 2010, 10:22pm Top

You might also look at something like Kamm's Morality, mortality, Volume 1 for a host of other issues raised by time.

Edit - One of the thought problems in there.

If given a choice, would you prefer...

To be at the end of your life, say 6 months to live, having cured cancer, made millions and surrounded yourself with a loving family.


Know that you have another thirty years to live, knowing that all thirty years of it would be mediocre at best?

And why would you choose whichever you choose?

Sep 19, 2010, 10:50pm Top

4: Unfortunately, I no longer have access to Jstor articles, and I can only find minimal articles on the book on-line. However, what I have found has grabbed my interest, especially the discussion of prenatal nonexistence and future nonexistence. Thank you for the suggestion.

As for the issue, assuming that death is final:

On a whim, I would prefer the former, because I would find something calming in knowing I have six months to live. We all know we're going to die, though due to asymmetric knowledge we are uncertain what happens after, but with a set date it's easier to prepare; besides, life is suffering, so after a point death is more welcoming a wager. But that may be due to my mental angst and depression, so it may only sound pleasant to me at the moment.

However, the only way this truly effects me is in life. Assuming there is no after-life, I won't be able to care how I lived or what my surroundings were upon my death bed. Further more, in life, it won't matter when the future is my present, because it will be what it is.

I'll have to mull further on this as the site shuts down for maintenance.

Sep 21, 2010, 10:26am Top

I've been pondering over how one-world Eternalism and free will can possibly co-exist. On one hand, if the future exists how it is then nothing we do can change how the future is; on its head, this looks like determinism. On the other hand, if you are bent on sitting and waiting for the future to come, knowing that nothing you do can alter the future, then of course the future will reflect your having sat there and done nothing; does this somehow reflect both determinism and free will?

Then let us take into account how the past has (and continues to, in accordance with eternialism) effects our present, and vice versa. And the influence both have on the future and the future on them. If past, present, and future are all influencing and being influenced by one another, does that not create an equilibrium? And does that not preserve some idea of free will, that all can have an affect on all?

Sep 21, 2010, 3:56pm Top

If existence is fully determined you have no choice in whether you believe in free will or determinism. All of your beliefs will be as determined as whether there are fresh doughnuts at Dunkin' Donuts.


Sep 22, 2010, 2:34pm Top

MMMMMMMMM fresh fated doughnuts

Sep 22, 2010, 10:37pm Top

What if life hands you a stale raspberry-filled doughnut?

Sep 23, 2010, 9:25am Top


Sep 23, 2010, 6:47pm Top

If there's no mold, it should still be fun to eat. And to bring time into it, I would linger with the raspberry jelly on my tongue. This kind of subjective construction of time strikes me as possibly interesting but not fundamental or near fundamental. My changed perception of time as I approach the speed of light strikes me as one of the more interesting subjective renderings. I also wonder whether we construct time in a quasi-subjective way as suggested by Barbour or in some other way analogous to our construction of a particle from a wave when we observe it.


Sep 24, 2010, 2:54pm Top

To conceive of time as "simultaneous" is to change the very definition of time. You said that we can conceive of a past, a present and a future. If all of the qualified moments (past moments, present moments and future moments) exist, then the concept of time loses the attributes we had previously distinguished.

The fact that human beings can conceive of the categories of past, present and future is a result of the way that we perceive the world. Language is used thus: the past WAS, the present IS, the future SHALL BE/WILL BE/ MIGHT BE.

It is possible to conceive of a unity with respect to existence. In the fictional worlds portrayed in films and novels, all moments exist simultaneously in the sense that every individual moment can be conceived and it is not necessary for any individual coherent moment or sequence of moments to be perceived prior to or following any other or others.

However, simply being able to conceive of an existence that has such a unity attribute (it is logical) does not imply that actual existence has such an attribute.

Logical does not imply actual.

Edited: Sep 24, 2010, 3:40pm Top

I did not mean to imply logical implies actual, and I certainly do not agree with it. Haven't discoveries in physics implied that certain things in space are acting logically, that our perceptions of common sense can be tossed away? And can we not only say that because we humans are defining what is and is not logical?

Anyways, I've been trying to look into the special theory of relativity, at least according to Einstein so my knowledge of it may not be recent. Doesn't a lack of an absolute reference frame imply that past, present, and future (or hell, our perception of time in general) are all just relative? I could say I live in the present, but from another reference frame I am someone's past and someone's future. And that while it seems you and I are living in the same present moment, we actually are not?

Like the muons. To our relative perception, they live 2.196 microseconds, which means even traveling at the speed of light, they should only get about 660 meters of the 25 kilometers travel to the upper atmosphere before decaying. The only reason they live long enough to make that 25 kilometer trip is because their internal clocks are running slower to ours.

So if our clocks are running slower and faster compared to other things, there exists a simultaneous past, present, and future? If that makes any sense?

Sep 24, 2010, 4:55pm Top

Your last sentence may not make sense because to realize it you would have to be in more than one reference frame at a time, and you cannot be. I don't know about the mathematics of it.

One concept of eternity, however, is that everything, past, present, and future, is. You cannot say "all at once" because that implies a time sequence in which everything is limited when in fact it isn't. I suggest again Barbour for the scientific possibility of everything all at once (I am carelessly expedient) with time as a quasi-emergent property.


Sep 24, 2010, 5:34pm Top

"Haven't discoveries in physics implied that certain things in space are acting logically, that our perceptions of common sense can be tossed away?"

What discoveries in physics imply is that common sense is not infallible, not that it should be "tossed out". Common sense helped man to survive the brutalities of nature for eons. Further, common sense and logic are not the same thing.

"And can we not only say that because we humans are defining what is and is not logical?"

We do not define what is or is not logical except to agree on the rules of logic and to proceed from there. The failure of common sense in arriving at empirical truth is not a failure on the part of logic, but a failure on the part of the empirical methods employed (sense perception). Only by employing other observations were people able to use the very same logic to arrive at the truth, or closer to the truth.

"So if our clocks are running slower and faster compared to other things, there exists a simultaneous past, present, and future? If that makes any sense?"

I suppose, but from my understanding of the special theory of relativity (and I admit to having very little knowledge here), it only has significance as you approach the speed of light. Mere humans move very slowly, making the effect virtually nil. In other words, the extent to which there is a near-simultaneous past, present and future depends on how close to the speed of light you are traveling. It is a matter of degree, and for human beings the degree is at the most the next moment and the last. Moments, however, are infinitesimal slices of time.

Sep 24, 2010, 6:13pm Top

The faster one goes or the stronger the gravitational field the bigger the effect, but physicists, and probably soon engineers, are working at differentials in the gravitational field of a foot. GPS satellites have to make relativistic corrections.



Oct 3, 2010, 8:29pm Top

All right, I've been going through Barbour and some other eternalist thought and criticism, and someone pointed out a flaw I do not even know how to begin searching into:

If time is, with no actual change, what is creating the illusion of change in the first place? There can be no movement in an existence with no change, can there?

Dec 24, 2010, 4:58pm Top

In such a case, theoretically, couldn't the illusion of change be a mere sense constantly possessed as a property of the brain? That is, every 'instant' we have the sense that there have been previous and future instants and thus also have the sense of there being change throughout. So, in this sort of case we would just be stationary entities permanently absorbed in this static sense that things have come before and will come after. I don't mean to suggest that I believe this, but it does seem to be a potential explanation for your problem. I suppose its a skeptical explanation in the traditional philosophical sense of the term.

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