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AMCrenshaw
07-28-2009, 11:35 AM
can you think of an argument for the reality of tensed (past, present, future) time while avoiding a circular argument?




AMC

Ruv Draba
07-28-2009, 05:00 PM
can you think of an argument for the reality of tensed (past, present, future) time while avoiding a circular argument?What an interesting question!

If we take reality to be objective then we'll need a what, where and when to describe any piece of it. Let's say that objective reality is whatever we can generally get sensorial agreement on. Time then becomes a property of objective reality -- part of what we describe 'real' to be. 'I see a cat on the bureau now' 'Yes, I do too'

But you've asked the reverse question: is 'real' a property of time itself?

Time's a bit abstract, so let's start with a tangible. Is real a property of 'ed?'I'd say that yes it is, because we can independently agree that things in reality have the property red.

Is 'now' real? I'd say that now is as real as red because we can get agreement that the cat is on the bureau in a common sense of now.

For the same reason I'd say that 'fifteen minutes ago' is real. In fact any time we can record and confirm independently is real. That means most of our lives are quite real -- as are the recorded lives that preceded us, where those lives documented independently.

Beyond that though, I'd say that we're straying into mythic territory. Something may have happened, and it might have been real, but we can't say that the things we imagine to have happened are real.

Is the future real? I'd say bits of it are. We're lucky that when we conduct physical experiments, people can measure the flow of time consistently. We don't know why time is so reliable but while it is we can make some short-term predictions and get independent agreement: e.g. most people can agree on where the second-hand of my watch will be in 30 seconds -- half-way around the watch-dial.

If time were subjective we could play all kinds of games with ourselves: telling ourselves that our age and mortality were subjective too... However our shared experience tells us that time isn't subjective if we get disciplined at measuring it. So most of the time humans play with, is real.

AMCrenshaw
07-28-2009, 07:00 PM
If we take reality to be objective then we'll need a what, where and when to describe any piece of it. Let's say that objective reality is whatever we can generally get sensorial agreement on. Time then becomes a property of objective reality -- part of what we describe 'real' to be. 'I see a cat on the bureau now' 'Yes, I do too'

yes in fact any such truth statement is dependent on indexicality -- what, where, when, who, whom -- but what you are describing is the theory of relativity, in which case, we know tensed time is contrary to itself -- that is, an event can be both past and present.

another question, are those slices real? if not, then 'the present' doesn't exist either, since any notion of presence relies on the sequence of future, present, past.



We're lucky that when we conduct physical experiments, people can measure the flow of time consistently.


How do you measure time except through sequence? Doesn't sequence presuppose tense? Doesn't tense presuppose sequence?



AMC

Ruv Draba
07-29-2009, 12:08 AM
yes in fact any such truth statement is dependent on indexicality -- what, where, when, who, whom -- but what you are describing is the theory of relativity, in which case, we know tensed time is contrary to itself -- that is, an event can be both past and present.I don't think I'm describing the theory of relativity, but a kind of temporal thinking of which relativity is part.

I agree that our sense of time is related to our sense of sequence. If we picture sequence as the 'before' symbol '<' then for any two events A,B we can say either: A < B, B < A, or neither is true. If we were to record events constantly on a long roll of paper we don't actually need a sense of time to work out 'before'. We simply say that A < B if event A is recorded above event B on the roll. Now imagine that we had many hands to write with, we're observing many things and we're writing in columns on the roll, like a polygraph. How does '<' operate now?

When two events are recorded in the same column we know that either A < B or B < A, but not both. When they're in different columns then either A < B or B < A or neither. So now we can create a 'while' comparison ≈. We'll say that A ≈ B when A and B are in different columns and neither A < B nor B < A.

We can also use our roll-model to talk about news (the latest stuff on the roll), vs old stuff. We could try and define 'now' in terms of the latest news, but what happens if it's a slow news day and the roll is just scrolling past? We'd get one big long boring now until the next news event. :) So let's try and improve on that.

Imagine that on our roll we add an extra column, and in that column all we do is watch a sundial. We'll divide our sun-dial into sixty even divisions, and every time the sun-dial goes back to the start we'll count one period. So our periods are numbered 1, 2, 3... and our divisions are numbered 00, 01, 02... 59. Then if we observe it constantly (and assuming that the sun's always shining) we should have on our roll the numbers: 1.00, 1.01... 1.59, 2.00, 2.01, ... 2.59, 3.00, 3.01, ...

Now we have something to record even when there's nothing happening. On a slow news days we can still count the sundial's motion, so there's a constantly-changing 'now' in which something might happen, or nothing does.

Now that we have time-index on our news-roll we can use 'is' to say 'News just to hand: ... !' and 'was' to say 'Old news:... .'


Doesn't sequence presuppose tense? Doesn't tense presuppose sequence?In my version, past-tense arises from sequencing and present-tense arises from indexing. Sequencing just requires that our physical records have a consistent physical order. Indexing requires that we have shared access to a source of regular, periodic change (which is what people often call a 'time-source'). Modern time-sources use a very high-frequency atomic change with a regular period -- watching electrons change state in a cesium atom (http://tycho.usno.navy.mil/cesium.html).

You'll probably wonder now: do people without clocks have a weaker sense of 'now', but just an unfolding past? I think that's a reasonable thing to suppose. I believe that our sense of now has gotten much sharper with clock-watching and regular news bulletins.

AMCrenshaw
07-29-2009, 12:48 AM
All tenses arise together (there is no "present" without a "past" and reverse); so if past-tense arises from sequencing, then so does the present-tense. If present-tense arises from indexing, so does the past-tense.



AMC

?

tarcanus
07-29-2009, 12:49 AM
I think we need as close to an agreed upon definition of 'reality' as we can get in order to debate whether tensed time can be considered 'real'.

I would argue that if we define reality as anything we can experience with our senses, reality is only what we are experiencing 'now'. Past and future are things that have happened or may happen, but through the distortion of memory and the passing of time itself we can longer be assured that something we're told of the past or predicted of the future is/could be real.

As the future enters 'now' is becomes reality, but as it passes into the past it can no longer be considered real as it has entered a state of entropy in our minds.

Of course, the ideas of 'past' and 'future' are as real as the idea of 'now' since we can debate their meaning right now, this instant.

AMCrenshaw
07-29-2009, 01:23 AM
Of course, the ideas of 'past' and 'future' are as real as the idea of 'now' since we can debate their meaning right now, this instant.

You've just indexed an event and created tense. Even then, you're saying so was apparently at 4:49 whereas my reading is at 5:23.

By real, perhaps, I mean "the nature of".


AMC

Ruv Draba
07-30-2009, 02:50 AM
All tenses arise together (there is no "present" without a "past" and reverse);In my model that's actually not quite correct. Before we index our news-roll we can say 'Bird flies into garden before cat sits on the mat'. We can say 'Latest report on cat: cat positioned on mat'. We can also say 'Prior history of cat:...' So we have a relative past, but we don't have a notion of now; just a notion of latest.

Once we index our news-roll through a periodic time-source then we can define our 'now' as the interval between the latest gradation on the sun-dial and the next gradation. Then we can say: 'What's happening in the garden now: ...' We also still have our relative past (A < B), but we also have an absolute past (A at time T1 before B at time T2, and the time between A and B is T2 - T1.

So past results from sequencing. Now results from indexing against a periodic time-source. If you don't index then you don't have a now; you just have a latest.

AMCrenshaw
07-30-2009, 03:09 AM
So we have a relative past, but we don't have a notion of now; just a notion of latest.


To what moment do you compare latest? What's the moment of the event closest to?

Must sequencing occur first? If you index an event without sequence what do you have?

Though finally I think the circularity is out of it, we might consider an a-b theory of time distinguishing between logical and ontological language.


AMC

Ruv Draba
07-30-2009, 04:20 AM
To what moment do you compare latest? What's the moment of the event closest to?Until we index our news-roll we don't have moments, just events. The latest event is the last one recorded on our news-roll. Or we can find the latest event related to the cat, say.


Must sequencing occur first? If you index an event without sequence what do you have?Indexing comes with sequencing for free. If we index using the numbers 0, 1, 2... etc... (or 0.00, 0.01, 0.02, which is essentially the same) then we get two properties:

They're perfectly ordered. In other words, they can queue up at bus-stops one at a time without jostling...
They're discrete and contiguous -- in other words, if the bus-driver calls out 'Next please!' they all know who's next.The perfect order gives us sequencing, and along with discreteness and contiguity gives us indexing.


Though finally I think the circularity is out of it, we might consider an a-b theory of time distinguishing between logical and ontological language.

Before digging too far, let me acknowledge that this model has limits. Really, it's a model for reporting discrete events from finite points of observation communicating instantaneously. Everything in this model is discrete -- the events we report, the times at which we report them. Nothing's fuzzy or smooth -- everything's appears in sharply-defined lumps. It also assumes that the time an event is observed is the time it's recorded.

For many purposes that's pretty much how I think we work with time -- discrete lumps in discrete time intervals. It's the sort of thing that lets us play amateur piano, or record the transcript of a trial. But arguably if we're playing cello or football at elite levels we don't want to think of time like that.

A good cellist may not think of a note as a single event, but rather a flow -- the attack of the bow against the string, the sustain of the note, its gradual decay... Meanwhile, the cellist may be playing another note on another string and that might affect the sustain of the note on the first string. I play slide guitar just well enough to know that there's a huge difference between playing it like a piano-roll and playing it with flow. :)

Likewise, football has a flow. While you're focusing on the ball it's travelling continuously, and so are the people around you. We can approximate that description on the news-roll (much like a football commentator), but we can't recapture the experience.

Which is the authentic description of time? Must there be just one authentic description? Mightn't we perceive and work with time in different ways depending on what we're doing? We certainly perceive and work with space differently depending on whether we're setting out furniture, painting a wall or spinning plates on a stick.

In any case, I think it's demonstrated that we can come up with a model for time that allows us to describe tense without circularity. The question of which model we want might depend on what we want to do with it. :)

RG570
07-30-2009, 06:15 AM
I think it's painfully clear that none of these things actually exist and reside in the domain of the symbolic and imaginary.

But I also realize that to recognize this is also a dangerous skirting of the traumatic Real, and so the desire to symbolize and mediate with "truth" is expected.

Ruv Draba
07-30-2009, 06:26 AM
Time's an abstraction. What we really have to deal with is change. Time is a way of helping to make sense of change -- compare rates, infer causes, predict consequences.

We have emotional reasons for wanting to do that, but practical reasons too. But time is as consistent as mass or colour, and as predictable. So it's as real as the other things we work with. The truths that we work with in the physical realm have shown abundant objectivity.

AMCrenshaw
07-30-2009, 05:56 PM
I was thinking about the passage of time in fairy tales; it seems to me their way of thinking about it seems highly practical, too.


AMC

Kalyke
07-31-2009, 09:54 PM
way over my head of course, but you need to factor in the recording device and also the limitations of human understanding of what reality is and what now is. We understand only on a certain plane-- see only sence wavelengths and buffer and translate only certain concepts. Language (the recording device) factors in to whether tense is appropriate to recording reality. What of languages with more or less tenses than the one you understand? Simply by the formulation of thought there is always going to be a time lag-- that and other filters. An animal's now, take the blue whale, in the sea where the only Now is nearly a constant-- but the whale can hear instructions from whales many miles away, as though they are essentially in the same room talking to them. This reality is so far off from our reality as to be literally alien to us. The now of an ant is a different now than the now of a humming bird, and so now, being relitive, is not a thing that actually "exists" not like a rock. The address of now is up to interpretation of the viewer-- this interpretation extends to the way it is recorded. Yeah-- I guess this is the point of flatland.

Not brilliant, but the best I can do.

Higgins
08-03-2009, 06:04 PM
can you think of an argument for the reality of tensed (past, present, future) time while avoiding a circular argument?




AMC

Tensed time is a categorization of time. It is as real as any classification/segmenting of a continuum. Color is another example, but at least it can be calibrated immediately. For example Red is where Red is on the Spectrum (but how wide is Red in terms of wavelengths? What about "Reddish"...is that a perception or a set of wavelengths combined with other wavelengths?).
It is odd that this discussion hasn't mentioned the pluperfect, ie the assumption (in some language systems) that the past has a complete past. Or that the present tense (in English anyway) can mean "Habitually, ideally, in general"...you can't shift that same habit as easily into the past in English as you can in French.

And of course, there are languages with "literary" or "narrative" pasts and tenses (French and Navaho). So the tense does a lot more than just put time into segments. Which is a good thing because time and chronology are things that the human brain has a lot of problems representing to itself or anyone else...apparently because events are filed by intensity (in the brain) not by date. In fact there seems to be no chronological control built into the human memory system at all.

Ruv Draba
08-05-2009, 04:24 PM
It is odd that this discussion hasn't mentioned the pluperfect, ie the assumption (in some language systems) that the past has a complete past.Yep. It can get pretty complicated. When we try and sort out time in our minds, we sometimes just sequence it (A before B, but we're not sure specifically when), sometimes we do it by epoch (between one big reference event and another), and sometimes we do it on against a clock or calendar. None of those necessarily match or even compare, so how we talk about time often depends on how we remember the history. I suspect too that short-term and long-term memory might calibrate and reference history differently -- but I don't have any good links.

The present I think is even dodgier than our past. We often talk about recent past as 'now' -- especially if, as Higgins mentions, it generalises to our near or distant future.


time and chronology are things that the human brain has a lot of problems representing to itself or anyone else...apparently because events are filed by intensity (in the brain) not by date. In fact there seems to be no chronological control built into the human memory system at all.Yes. Even the sequencing is unreliable. Eyewitnesses to disasters have been known to get the order of events entirely wrong when their testimonies are checked against video footage. They even invent things that didn't occur to help explain why it occurred or how they felt about it at the time.


And of course, there are languages with "literary" or "narrative" pasts and tenses (French and Navaho). So the tense does a lot more than just put time into segments.Yes, and I'm not always sure how to represent truth correctly in temporal statements. I feel like adding 'As I recall' to a lot of statements where I know that my recollection is liable to be largely invention, but I also know that my recollection can be influenced by when I'm asked and who's asking. 'As I can recall for you at the moment' might correctly catch the modality and temporality of memory, but who'd believe a statement preceded by such qualification? And then when people are listening for entertainment and not just fact, they expect you to tell the story differently -- including things you couldn't possibly have experienced or known at the time. Yet we typically twist tenses and viewpoints to make those events fit.

Higgins
08-05-2009, 10:54 PM
Yes, and I'm not always sure how to represent truth correctly in temporal statements.

I was looking at how linguistics describes narratives, ie what is linguistically peculair to narrative language. What you see is that time sequence is very far down the list of things a narrative uses to present itself as a narrative, while various forms of "coherence" (markers and techniques) and intentionality (which can be "grammaticalized" into time indications as with the English "will" or the Navaho "nt'ee" (habit in the past more or less as in "would")). It seems to me that phrases like "It seemed to me" function more as relating present to past intention than they do to keep past and present in some calibrated sequence.

Ruv Draba
08-06-2009, 12:38 AM
I was looking at how linguistics describes narratives, ie what is linguistically peculair to narrative language.Sure and I think that's slightly broader than AMC's original question, but it's still very interesting, and relates anyway -- our time-sense is inconsistent, and doesn't even seem to cohere. And it can't help that we sometimes load our tenses with info about our intention, reactions and decisions. And is that an accident? I suspect not. Maybe those things are important in how we recall time.

As evidence, when we don't have clocks and calendars and diaries handy we often use epochs to partially sequence time. Those epochs are typically calibrated by events of great personal importance. 'I remember that it was after Christmas, but before Jane's first day at school.'

I don't know much about the literary forms of tense -- how they're used or why they might have occurred. Could you expand?

Higgins
08-06-2009, 08:49 PM
I don't know much about the literary forms of tense -- how they're used or why they might have occurred. Could you expand?

Well, sometimes it is simple, as in French were there is a whole set of verb forms that are "literary"...
Sometimes it is very messy as in Kwakiutl where there is a kind of song and dance thing for introducing each segment of the past in a narration (at least in one genre, the "Family Narrative").

But I found this (which is just plain strange):

http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/time/time.html

shackleton
08-09-2009, 03:30 AM
I like the Borges argument: The future is in the imagination, the past is in memory, there is only one possible moment, and it is the present.

Higgins
08-11-2009, 07:39 PM
I like the Borges argument: The future is in the imagination, the past is in memory, there is only one possible moment, and it is the present.

And yet the structure of the verb in some Indo-european languages at least (and Navaho) suggests that each past has its own pasts (eg via the pluperfect) and that the present has multiple, definable futures (via the conditional) and that there are even many co-extensive segments of the present (via the optative or other moods).

"Had he only known what trouble his paper on Dryden was going to cause, he would have been less happy about having submitted it."

And there is the as yet-unseen past of the future:
"Tomorrow, we will have been travelling for three days without a map."

There's even past conditionals: "Yesterday, I would have told you the code to the secret door."

AMCrenshaw
10-15-2009, 10:17 AM
changeless intervals? time seems to require sequence. does sequence require change?








AMC