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I Know Time (What It Is)

I Know Time

Arguably, (perhaps I should start every discourse with such a disclaimer) I was born with an innate conception of what time is. According to the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant, time is an 'intuition' - it belongs at the very root of our personal experience, it's foundational to our ability to understand, which would explain why we are able to grasp the passage of time, as a concept, from a very young age; because we are involved with it, in it, you might say, depending on how fundamental to existence itself you regard time to be. Space and time, if they are the domain of physical material, not just as a shoe box is the container for a shoe, but more as sound waves are the container for music, must pertain to the human perspective in a more naturally comprehensible respect than scientists would tend to have us believe.

Gravity, electromagnetism and the nuclear forces are basic to fundamental theories of physics. But, it might be said, space-time is the fabric; gravity etc. are forces, and quantum physical operations govern their behaviour, while space-time is the arena (itself constituted by elementary particles). We have to relate our personal experience to the passage of time in the domain of space. As a child, could you see physical objects without an awareness of space (or time??) Could you begin to remember your experiences without an awareness of time (or space??) We notice time passing without having it explained to us; prior to the introduction of a language. The passage of time is necessary for learning - no, more than that, learning is achieved through time, so we need to know time right from the get-go of necessity. Time is a vehicle which is constituted by the objects it carries. We don't need a language in order to exist, so experience is not dependent on understanding. Seeing is prior to understanding, intuitively. You have to sense something first, to discover its properties. A perceptual perspective on the environment comes first, then the interpretation, or to put it simply, you have to perceive an object before you can describe it. You could not comprehend something in advance of being conscious of it. A meaningful experience is dependent upon both perhaps, but, to reiterate once more, thought is intuitively a result of sense-experience, not the other way around.

If space and time are part of the same package (as science currently holds), then not only is space physical, but so is time. Consider this - time is physical! Isn't that extraordinary? But it begs the question: is physics' conception of time the same thing as humans' normal everyday understanding of time? - I am arguing that they are exactly the same phenomenon, and can, and should be tied together in a full and proper description of how the universe works (in scientific and philosophical terms). To start with, the imagery associated with a mental conception of time is similar, and similarly valid, in both the scientist's and the casual observer's attempt to construct a conceptual model of the progression of time. I contend there is nothing a physicist/cosmologist could attribute to the character of time, to the properties of time's nature, that could not fit into an example of a non-physicist's model of time; if you can say it about time scientifically, you can argue about it sensibly in the case of our ordinary experience of time.

To return to the aspects of time as an intuition, it makes real sense to consider time as the same phenomenon whether you are talking about the fabric of the material universe, the extension of conscious beings' experience through their lives, or the clock on the wall, because space-time is somewhat individual as a concept whatever the context; it isn't a force, it isn't an object, it isn't an element, it isn't a wave or a particle. It isn't so much a field as it is the major field in which all the other fields exist. It doesn't contain material objects, but rather is composed of material objects. Hence it can readily be considered as a unique phenomenon, one which is universally relevant, to our subjective experience as well as to objective reality.

My own personal view is that space-time should be considered in light of a unifying concept, a larger process, one which already exists in our understanding but presently has no formally ascertained scientific determinants, namely: change. Change is intuitive to us, just as space and time are, but it occurs over space and time. Although it is not a new concept to us, it is very difficult to define without immediate recourse to space and time, and is necessary to, and sufficient for, both. You might say "why not 'progress', or 'variation', or 'development'?" This would be a fair question, but I think 'change' fits into our vocabulary in a particular place where it serves the purpose of encapsulating and explaining space and time appropriately. Its applicability and usefulness in everyday life is no more an obstacle to its pertinence in cosmological theory than space and time's respective everyday application is an obstacle to their formal recognition within the discipline. Sometimes what is needed in a theory is a concept in a specific location to permit more structural coherence and thus explanatory force. 'Change' provides an over-arching concept for placing the ontology of time and space in an explanation of their role within the story of the cosmos.


 
 

 

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