Saturday, June 30, 2012

Against Dimensionalist Views of Temporality

I would revisit some of the topics in yesterday’s post on temporality, especially since the post likely seems obscure. I will explain some of the background leading to the view of time that I assumed, and I hope that this post is far more clear. I also comment on specific theories of time.

Time is change; it is not the measure of change. Theories that presuppose that one can denote a particular instant, and investigate the determinate nature of a thing at that instant, have insufficiently described time. Those views do not explain how something changed, just that it did change at time t1, t2, etc. I insist that this is not adequately describing the nature of temporality, though I would acquiesce to the rebuttal that my aim is a theory of motion, not of time. In response, I would insist that those so-called theories of time are really theories of measurement allowing change to be treated as indexical, but are not theories of time itself.  When I write that time is change, I could just as well say motion, which is the actualization of time.

I criticized theories of time that treated speaking of “time slices” as a coherent notion. I will now be more specific. I take it that such theories presume that a thing has determinate existence at all moments. Per continuity, it is coherent to speak of “time slices” of a thing, or a at time t is F; however, since time is also a constitutive relation, a representation of a “slice” of time must also include what a thing was and what it might be.

I do not believe that dimensional theories of time can do this, of which McTaggart’s theory appears to be a case. McTaggary conceives of time as a linear series, yet time is not linear or dimensional. Part of what is implied in time being “constitutive” is that what a thing is at a given time can change, such that it is incoherent to speak of a time series. A series is a chain of self-same terms that differ depending upon their relative placement in the series, although it is usually granted that future terms are neither actual nor determinate. My objection is that time has no fundamental unit; this treats time as a unit of measurement, and index, and not a change. As I said before, this view does not explain time or how something changed—just that it did change. It reduces time to an index or a series of indices.

Continuing, I am not convinced that endurance or three-dimensionalist  theories of time succeed. These theories treat an event as fully actual, and explain endurance in time as a series of actualities. This appears to reduce time to an index and shift the burden of explaining change to causality. I have difficulty seeing how this view could amount to anything other than mechanical and efficient views of causality.

Finally, perdurance, “time worm,” or four-dimensionalist theories treat the individual as atemporal yet having temporal parts. The parts come into existence to express the individual, but the whole is atemporal at least relative to any given time. This view appears, prima facie, to presuppose the whole “worm” as past, present, and future, yet this is counter-factual for any present or future. It dodges the serious issues to temporality by postulating the atemporal. Even if such a theorist insisted that the whole individual is historical, and thereby the whole is temporal, the theory still rests on a counterfactual. 

All of these treat time as dimensional, but if time is a constitutive relation it cannot be dimensional. I will admit that some theorists, likely any anti-realist about time or an endurance theorist, will deny that time is a constitutive relation. We then have a substantive disagreement that I might engage at another time. But for those who understand time to be constitutive, these theories offer little.

I will summarize the problem again, since it is difficult to grasp. Any theory that treats time as dimensional, e.g., such that we can speak of a time index, conflates a theory of time with a theory of measurement or indexicality. Yes, we might speak of a “slice” of time, which is valid as time is continuous, but the constitutionality of time requires that any “slice” includes what a thing was and what it might be. I do not think that most theories can do this, including those mentioned above. Why not? Because any given present event is indeterminate; only the past is fully determinate, yet the past does not change. Thus, time can be “sliced,” or denotated indexically by a “at time t”if we only consider past events, but then our theory of time can explain only one phase of the triad. Endurance theories appear committed to this. Series-theories like McTaggart’s reduce time to indexical units and fare little better. Perdurance theories atemporalize individuals and then claim that only a temporal part of an individual exists at any given instant. None of these theories explain time as change itself.

I do not presume to have definitive critiques against these theories, since as a scholar I know better than to presume such given this limited amount of discussion. I intend this to be an opener in a much longer discussion and practice for when I engage argumentation at a much higher level of rigor than blog posts.


  1. part of me wonders if part of the problem is that most approaches to the issue of time just assume the existence of individuals. you say, and I think rightly, that "time is change; it is not the measure of change." but the question that comes with this is change of what, in relation to what?

    for example if a sentient creature doesn't perceive anything around them changing, of changes within themselves (a sort of 'condillac's statue' experiment), then do they feel time 'advance'? of course, animals like humans seem to have pulsing internal clocks, so we always feel 'time' moving, though it does seem time speeds or slows as this chemical clock within us speeds and slows.

    but if the hypothetical observer above has no experiences no change, they might not feel time 'moving', even if, right beyond their scope of vision, for example, something might be changing.

    this raises the question of whether or not a molecule has an experience of time. certainly there are pulse-like things going on within a molecule on the sub-atomic level, but even if you go fully panpsychist (as I do), is this the same as what humans call time? that is, if a molecule has the ability it "feel" the clash of its internal pulses with those of the outside world, is this time? If so, then it would seem that it solves the issue posed above, because any notion of an observer as described above would always be embodied, and hence, have some sort of pulse, even if at the simplest molecular level, with which to "feel" something like time, such that disembodied observers are likely fictional.

    I guess what I'm getting at here is that I think time is always a networked phenomenon. it's not possible to have an experience of time, as I read it, without being able to compare, even sub-consciously, one's internal pulses with whatever impinges upon one from outside as a whole. but even in this sense, unless one is a living animal, does one really have a sense of being an individual, with boundaries? and might not then individuals in the world beyond us be simply the projection of our own individuality into the world?

    living entities only gauge change relationally, comparing their inner pulses with those of the network of exterior influences, and from this can gauge 'change' in relation to which they could even imagine to 'mesure' this. this is clearly a relational phenomenon, and any notion that time belongs to this individual is radically oversimplifying. but time beyond living entities is likely radically more fuzzy and relational, full of intensitities of durational differncing that layer without firm boundaries.

    but even this is embodied time, and I'm not sure it's possible to think 'time' without a body and a world that pertains to that body. luckily, we've yet to experience anything like this, but when we speak of time in the abstract, I think we often imagine this, reifying what is likely a fantasy, and that I think this sort of fantasm of 'disembodied time' continually haunts our attempts to talk about time.

    hope this made sense, I'm a little hung over today...

  2. For now, I will offer a brief reply.

    All that exists changes, because for a thing to persist it must reproduce itself. To deny the necessity of reproduction is to assume atemporal persistence, which I reject and can discuss if queried.

    A thing may exist as individual insomuch as it is actual, but as is clear in the view that I have been giving through a series of posts, there is more to a thing than existence or determinate actuality. This is part of my critique of "dimensionalist" views of time, since they appear to treat temporal existence as fully actual (called "presentism" in analytic) or treat time as an index, e.g., declaring the determinate existence of a thing at a given "time," while omitting an explanation of how change is possible. OF course, explaining change is what modern process views aim to do, and the recent ones adopts very unconventional views of time. I am not alone or unique in this.

    As for the sentient creature examples, that's phenomenology time, and I have posted on that. It's quite different, though I would concur with the statement that "molecule has an experience of time." However, recall the definition of "experience" and "time" used. Experience is the transactivity of individuals or things in nature; it has no necessary connection to sentience or consciousness. Dewey, for instance, chose this odd definition precisely because he wanted to express the continuity of nature and human nature qua consciousness that the history of philosophy either denies or obfuscates. As for time, given what I have written, it is in principle possible that every individual has its own "time bubble." Cosmic habit weighs heavily on the conformance of chance to local natural law (habit), but this is not necessary, and in extreme cases, may be violated as Einsteinian relativity postulates. Only in the extreme cases do we realize the implicit frames of temporal reference.

    Yes, I am also saying that time is a networked phenomenon with no gatekeeper other than the pressure of history as cosmic habit.

    Per individuality, let me just say one word. "Buddhism."

  3. ah, I realize I've stepped into a flow of posts, so if my comments seemed out of stream, I haven't read the flow of earlier ones, my bad. I just saw this title on facebook and liked it and jumped in...

  4. Chris,

    I am going to continue posting. The next few posts will include a discussion of what a "probability structure" (math) is, which is closely related to "potentiality structure" (my philosophy), as well as some basic excerpts from Peirce on time. He directly argues against dimensional or indexical notions. In short, there is no such thing as an instant of time, because any instant much also be an interval if time is to be continuous, but then the supposed instant must include more than an instant. I critique what I call "dimensionalist" notions of time because they insist that talking in terms of instants is coherent, whereas it is not if continuity is to be preserved.