Regarding time, it has always been one of the biggest topics discussed by many philosophers. From Heraclitus to parmenides, from Plato to Aristotle, from Kant to Heidegger, and so on, many great figures in the history of philosophy have defined or deeply discussed time. But what is the time? Does it really exist in the universe? Is it just the definition and imagination of us human beings, just like the brother of space?
In order to know the answers to these questions, please look at the profound exposition and analysis of time by the following expert.
As for the existence ( persistence ) of objects in time, there have been two theories in academic circles: continuation theory and persistence theory.
The former holds that time is the accumulation of continuous moments, and all things are in the change of continuous superposition of this flowing type. The latter holds that time is eternal. It is independent of things. No matter how we change in the world, time still exists there forever.
Two theories of time: present theory and eternity theory.
People who hold the present view think that there is something special at this moment. The existence of a thing at the moment is not identical to the ontological existence of a thing in the past or in the future. I believe many people will agree that this moment is special in terms of time, because it seems to be in line with our intuition and common sense. However, it is extremely difficult to prove the particularity of this moment, especially it probably means not admitting the existence of the past and the future. Those who hold this view are called the present theory, while those who oppose the particularity of the present are called the eternal theory.
Eternity holds that the past, present and future exist, not just at the moment. It seems a little inconceivable not to admit the existence of tomorrow’s sun, but the difference between the theory of eternity and the theory of the present is not simply to admit or deny the existence of tomorrow’s sun. The present theory tries to restore all statements about the past and the future to statements about the present, so as to support the special position of the present in time, while the eternal wheel thinks that any period of time, or an instant or a present, has no particularity or any special position, and time is the same for everything.
People often think of time as a container, such as a glass bottle. This kind of imagination easily makes people think that the container of time still exists when there is nothing, just as the glass bottle still exists when there is nothing in it. This view is that time can exist independently from other things. This view can be called ” Newton’s view of time”. Another view different from Newton’s view of time is naturally that time cannot exist independently from other things. This view can be called Einstein’s view of time.
Imagine if this is possible. Just now we thought that only in the past few minutes, in fact, time has passed for a year or tens of millions of years. In Newton’s view of time, this is possible because the passage of time is independent of changes in things, and the time we experience is only measured according to changes in things.
Relativity practices the measurement of time with exercise, while Newton does not. Einstein’s and Newton’s views on pure time are somewhat inappropriate, because their distinction is only in measurement and does not involve whether time itself is independent. In this way, we call the positive and negative sides of whether time can be measured independently Newton type and Einstein type respectively, and whether time itself can exist independently Aristotle type and Plato type respectively.
Kant’s Time View and Traditional Time View ( Newton’s Traditional Mechanical Time View )
No matter whether the present theory is correct or the eternal theory is correct, time is a feature of the world itself. This is the traditional fundamental view of time. However, Kant opposed this traditional view of time in his novel epistemology, believing that time is only the feature of human cognition, not the feature of the world itself. Kant asserts that time and space are the framework for the mind to know the world. This framework shows what characteristics the mind has, not the characteristics of the world itself.
But whether Kant is right or the traditional viewpoint is right, time still leaves us many problems to be solved. In Kant’s view of time, it is incumbent on us to describe how such a time as a spiritual feature is consistent with the seemingly external time experienced in daily life. What is more difficult is that it may also need to give some speculative explanations of the spiritual feature. If the world itself does not have such characteristics as time, what is the world itself? What is a soul with such characteristics? These explanations are bound to be far from our common sense, and cannot be convincing without strong arguments. Simply classifying these problems as metaphysical categories beyond human cognitive ability cannot curb people’s thirst for knowledge.
The traditional view of time faces no easier difficulties than Kant’s. What kind of entity or nature is time, and how does it relate to the way people know it, these are all very difficult questions. In addition, various specific problems related to time, such as the persistence of things, must also be solved.
One thing to remind is that Kant fully accepts Newton’s physics, including of course Newton’s view of space and time. The only difference between Kant’s and Newton’s views on time lies in Kant’s interpretation of this absolute time as the innate cognitive form of the mind, while Newton takes the form of the external world.
The Nature of Time and People’s Sense of Time
Whether Kant’s view of time or traditional view of time is a view on the nature of time, that is, a metaphysical study. There is another important research field about time, which is to study people’s perception of time. It is controversial how the perception of time is completed and whether a special organ is responsible for it like the perception of color and sound. As human beings seem unable to directly perceive time itself, but can only perceive various events that occur in time, the discussion about the nature of time is more complicated and confusing, and the problems about the sense of time and the nature of time are only closely linked.
Human beings have such an extremely obvious experience: the occurrence of events has a sequential relationship, not all events occur at the same moment. How should one understand such an experience? Of course, this first is a feeling, which is called ” different feeling” and ” simultaneous feeling”.
The study of this feeling itself is the study of the sense of time, just as we can study the nature of color, we can study the nature of the sense of time. The existence of a sense of time does not mean that time itself is a kind of feeling. Every feeling exists in the world and has some connection with the world itself. It is paradoxical to equate time with a sense of time and think that time has no connection with the world – if he admits that the sense of time comes from the characteristics of events. If he does not think that the sense of time is related to the characteristics of the incident, then what he said about the sense of time is completely unknown. We will never deny that there are events and there is a certain relationship between these events. This relationship is related to time ( whether time can exist independently of events is still to be studied ), but this relationship is not a human feeling. We can study not only human feelings, but also the existence beyond human feelings. It is easy for people to confuse the two problems, which should be paid attention to.
Philosophers’ ambition is not only to depict time correctly, but also to depict time itself.
Some Difficulties Faced by the Present Theory
The past and the future do not exist, but only the present, which seems very intuitive. According to this modern theory, time is equal to the present. One of the difficulties faced by this theory of the present is that there is only one or countless, that is, whether all of them are the same now and the same present.
It is a bit inconceivable to say that there is only one present, because if there is only one present, then the world should be static. Of course, this involves the issue of pure time. The theorists of the present can respond in this way: there is only one present, but the things existing in time are not restricted by this characteristic of time, because time and things can be separated. But how can this separation exist? How can a thing have multiple states at a time, and these states present a regular sequence ( according to causality ). There is only one moment, which is inconsistent with the usage of time such as ” the universe has existed for more than 10 billion years” and ” this person has been born for 20 years”.
Said that there are many, many different now, this kind of idea is easy to change into eternal theory, of course, no matter what, it is no easier than admit that there is only one now. If there are more than one present, then which of these present has priority? If all of them are now, although they are different now, there seems to be no reason to say which of them has any special status. This idea gives people a very strange imagination. Many people are now crowded in the universe, like static stones placed in this room of the universe. Our intuition tells us that at least one of them now has a special status. How to solve this problem is still a mystery.
Now the theory is still facing another difficult problem: it is only an infinitesimal moment. how can such an infinitesimal moment exist? What problems become extremely difficult once they involve infinity.
Sense of Time and Moments
It seems that the statement that ” the sense of time is formed by the continuous superposition of many moments” is very in line with our intuition, but this is a wrong idea. In fact, it is very difficult for human beings to experience the feeling of the moment, because with the current human perception ability, it is impossible to fully understand the moment. Our usual experience of time is always one segment at a time, not one moment at a time. Just like our sense of space, the sense of space is never formed by the superposition of experiences of infinitesimal space points, but always experiences a space at once. Since our sense of time is not based on moments, how long is it based on? At present, the definition of human time includes seconds, milliseconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, etc. However, this is only the current segmented definition of human time. How long is the shortest period of time that our human mind can get? This is what psychology calls the problem of sensory threshold.
Here we can talk about the sense of time of some specially trained people. For those who meditate yoga, their time sense unit is much shorter than that of ordinary people, because they have improved their quality in terms of mental acuity and concentration through training. Meditation is a very special state, through which many practitioners can temporarily eliminate various distractions in their ordinary consciousness. How did this happen? There are many ways to settle down, one of which is to constantly focus your mind on the present moment. However, we have already said that human beings are not sensitive enough to grasp an infinitely small moment ( currently, they may only grasp milliseconds ). What yogis can do is to make their feelings towards time as close as possible to the threshold of the sensory threshold, and constantly break through it further so as to sharpen the sensitivity of the mind. However, when people focus their attention on the process of breaking through the threshold of time perception, when people’s time perception is much more acute than usual, they will get wonderful feelings, for example, the present is eternal, and at the same time they will have no distractions and enter the super-high state of mind-matter unity.
The problem does not end so simply. If the passage of time itself is instantaneous, how can the sense of time be continuous? The mind itself exists in time. If time is instantaneous, then the existence of the mind must be instantaneous. How can the mind existing in an instant obtain ” the feeling of a period of time”. Just like, if the mind is a camera, it can only take a picture of the world in an instant and another picture in another instant, no matter how frequently this picture is taken, it will always take a picture in an instant. A photo is just a moment, it is impossible to get a feeling for a period of time. This is a little counter to our intuition, because we really can only grasp a period of time, not a moment. Explaining by recollection cannot solve the problem either, because when we recall, a picture once taken appears in an instant, which is still an instant, not a paragraph. This is the most difficult problem in the study of sense of time. Why can sense of time be measured in a short period rather than in an instant?
The present feeling, the past feeling, the future feeling
In the previous discussion, we revealed a difficulty about time and sense of time, that is, it is inconceivable that sense of time takes a period of time as the basic unit of perception if time goes by like common sense. Here, we also want to reveal that the perception of ” now” is also incredible.
It seems that everyone has a ” present feeling”, but what does this really mean? Is the present feeling the perception of the present moment? How can we seize the moment if it goes by in an instant? We can’t catch it, because once we try to perceive the present moment, it no longer exists, has passed away, and has run away from us. If we want to perceive something, we should at least make it exist for a little time, but ” now” is an instant, an infinitesimal instant, and it cannot stay, because time is always one-way forward and time cannot return. The present is always in the past before we catch it.
” Past feeling” is more incredible than ” present feeling”. The past no longer exists, how can we have a ” sense of the past”? How can there be a feeling of the past? The same confusion applies to the future. It seems that there is no difference between the past and the future, because they do not exist. Since it does not exist, of course there is no difference. If they have distinguishing features, then they also exist. According to the theory of the present, there is only the present moment.
Restoring these feelings to feelings of things will not solve this problem. Matter exists in time, otherwise where does it exist? In addition, the feeling of things also includes the feeling of time. This is a matter of pure time – it is already another matter. If things do not exist in time, it is even more difficult to find out where they exist. This is actually the same question, that is, what are the characteristics of the existence of the world and the mind? This question may pull us completely to the idealistic agnosticism.
So far, we can understand that the sense of time is an alien in the universe, and their existence ( a sense of time, a sense of present, a sense of past and a sense of future ) is inconceivable. It seems that we can draw a temporary conclusion from this: the simple present theory is not very credible. This is also some of the dilemmas faced by the present theory discussed in the sixth chapter.
After reading the above 8 discussions on time, do you think time really exists? How do you think time is perceived or remembered by people? Einstein put forward in his theory of relativity that when things reach the speed of light, space-time bending or time reversal will occur. Do you think it is possible in the future? In the space-time world of the universe, are there many parallel worlds ( multi – dimensional world ) and then there is another you, or more than one you? What is the significance of time to us human beings?