This is the follow up to my previous post. We are vexed, perplexed, by time. Augustine famously quipped regarding time something along the lines that, “As long as no one asks me, I know exactly what it is. As soon as someone asks me, I have no idea.” Myself, I remain struck by the rhetoric and poetry of a line from the first Star Trek: The Next Generation movie: “Time is the fire in which we all burn,” a sentiment which the film, in the person of Patrick Stewart’s “Jean Luc Picard,” ultimately rejects. Myself, I find both of these approaches unsatisfying, because they both treat time as a “thing” that “is.” Language seems to force this on us. But time is not an “object” lying there on the rug like something the cat dragged in; time is the cat that dragged that thing in in the first place, as well as the rug where it was deposited.
Backing off a bit from my (once again) colorful, and probably not very helpful, language, time is not a “thing” sitting there awaiting our observation and description; time is the context in which all objects present themselves to be possibly observed, described, or otherwise interacted with. Additionally, time is not a string of “point-like” (I often use the term “punctiform,” but this evidently has a medical usage that is NOT what I intend) infinitesimal moments on a string, like numbers on the real line. This latter is how modern physics deals with the subject of time, but this approach substitutes an abstract mathematization for the actual facts of experience, justified exclusively on the grounds that it makes our mathematics simpler. But reality does not pretzel itself to fit the simplicity of our theories, a fact which many people dazzled by mathematics seem to have lost sight of. Our only access to that reality is via our experience, and so our theories must bow to that experience and not the other way around. And time never comes in inexperienceable, infinitesimal points; it is the context through which nature flows, and always presents those contexts in stretches or “durations.” For my purposes, I am taking this fact as given; for a detailed argument about this “point” see chapter 3 of Whitehead’s The Concept of Nature. Continue reading