Monday, April 14, 2014

What Time is It?

Well, almost no time again, just enough to quickly proofread this brief blast.

We can't know what abstract time is like, if there is such a thing. Rather, we can only experience time concretely. And even then, we can only experience human time, or what time is like for human beings.

I suppose this is no different than the experience of space. I'm sure an amoeba, an ant, a bat, and an ape all have very different perceptions of space. I'm not sure if it's even possible to truly imagine the space in which the premodern mind existed, with a solid earth floating on the waters below and the closed, dome-shaped firmament above, any more than they could imagine an infinitely open cosmos.

Morson suggests that it may be "misleading to assume a single temporality for all disciplines and all aspects of experience." Rather, we may require different "chronotopes" at different scales.

Again, imagine how the earth rotates on its own axis while revolving around a sun that in turn revolves around a galactic center. Maybe time is like that too: cycles within cycles within cycles.

Think of the different spaces we simultaneously inhabit, from the most intimate, to the private, to various public spaces, and on to the abstract-cosmic. Some people are frightened of the confined spaces -- claustrophobia -- while other are frightened of the expansive -- agoraphobia. (Or think of Pascal's dread of the "eternal silence of the infinite spaces," i.e., agoraphobia on stilts.) Some recoil from the intimate spaces -- e.g., schizoid and narcissistic personalities -- others from the worldly -- raccoons.

What time is it? There is developmental time, biographical time, biological time, historical time(s), etc. Thus, "Just as Galileo maintained that the earth was but one of many planets, so it might be useful to assume that there are always a multiplicity of temporalities to consider."

But of all these various times, there is only one in which this thing called "freedom" comes into play, and may effect the course of time. This is a very mysterious reality, for how could time produce something that transcends time? Or in other words, how can a timebound entity, something produced in time, rise above time?

Some people get around the problem by simply saying it's impossible. While we may feel as if we have free will, this freedom is impossible in principle. It cannot exist because it cannot exist.

I actually appreciate the argument, because at least it is intellectually consistent, following necessarily from first principles. For how does a deterministic world suddenly escape itself and go all indeterministic? How does biology become history? When did this happen? On whose watch? Who goofed?

Speaking of first principles, if the Absolute is Trinity, then it seems to me that God is eternally escaping himself, so to speak. That's what love is like, isn't it? A constant chase with no literal capture, because if you succeed at making the capture, the chase is over. And there are people who are like this, aren't there? Think of the compulsive womanizer who thrills in the pursuit but immediately devalues the conquest.

Thus, it seems to me that transcendence is woven into the cosmic cake, or rather, baked into the cosmic area rug. I read something similar in this book about The Geometry of Love. It is in the context of a discussion of the Eucharist, to the effect that "Eating, before sex, is biological evolution's first step towards transcendence in the animal species because it initiates physical openness to and need for the Other."

But isn't Life Itself already evidence of this cosmic transcendence? In other words, isn't Life, by definition, the transcendence of physics? If it weren't, then physics would be fully sufficient to account for it. When you were sick, instead of going to a doctor, you'd consult with a physicist or mechanic.

But that's not so funny, because there was a 20th century school of psychology called behaviorism which amounted to just that. The human being was reduced to its behavior only, so treatment consisted of rewarding the desired behavior and punishing the undesired.

You will note with the appropriate dread that liberalism attempts the same, only on a massive scale. But at least it is intellectually consistent, since it denies the soul up front. No one with a living soul could be forced at gunpoint to purchase some shoddy state-mandated product.

Back to the question of transcendence. Even before Life Itself, doesn't Physics Itself transcend matter? If not, how do we know physics? In other words, if not for transcendence, then physics would consist of the unreflective sense of touch, if that.


julie said...

Rather, we may require different "chronotopes" at different scales.

I'm reminded again of the mechanics of cell division, and the process by which the DNA strands split and duplicate themselves. It's a mechanism that takes place with a speed and precision that's nearly inconceivable from the human scale, but without which human life would be impossible. I can't help wondering if there would be any scale of existence where it would be possible to perceive the process in action. Then in the opposite direction, if one lived at the time scale of a redwood tree, would the stars appear to be streaking across the sky?

I haven't gotten far in the Morson yet - my kids have their own sense of urgent time which seems to kick in the moment I pick up a book - but it is rich reading so far. Thanks for the recommendation.

julie said...

Oh, dear. And then apparently, there's Latino time...

mushroom said...

This is powerful, and there are so many threads in the tapestry.

Rather, we may require different "chronotopes" at different scales.

As far as at different scales, that might have some validation from quantum mechanics.

We assume the aging of any creature, but especially ourselves, is a function of time in a fairly direct relationship. Physical age and time do correlate really well in most cases.

I remember reading Outdoor Life back in the '60s when Jack O'Connor was the shooting editor. I think he said it was an old Arab proverb, "God does not count against man's allotted time the days he spends hunting."

I don't know if it is true or not, but I have seen a lot of really old hunters in exceptionally good health. Except for their hearing.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Morson suggests that it may be "misleading to assume a single temporality for all disciplines and all aspects of experience." Rather, we may require different "chronotopes" at different scales."

And on that chrononote...

Magister said...

We can't know what abstract time is like, if there is such a thing.

If "we" are involved in any way, then there can be no "abstract time." It's ruled out by definition.

Even the cesium standard of time, however precise and useful, is arbitrary. Some alien civilization in another part of the universe could jolly well use another frequency standard as a clock. In this way, time is not measured by a perceiving subject but by some arbitrary, preferably constant, movement in the physical universe.

It would be nice if the alien civilization were to use the identical frequency. We would then share not only a common temporal vocabulary, but a similarly felt temporal existence. Of course, we would probably organize our "chronotopes" differently, having different life-spans, mile markers, historiography, and so on, along the way.

I'm not sure it's even possible to truly imagine the space in which the premodern mind existed

I believe it's important to try. The historical imagination is one of life's great pleasures, isn't it? There are times when I read about the "waters" in the dome above the earth and muse with a smile about the limitations of empirical observation and the power of shaping narratives, etc. But they were human, too, and that humanity includes skepticism, doubt, and curiosity. I like to imagine an Egyptian scribe, for example, working away at yet another sycophantic puff piece on papyrus for some dead royal ruler (an early quarter-percenter) and regarding all the metaphysics of it as conjectural.

It would be interesting to read a History of Dead Conjectures. This would let history breathe a bit.