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The Philosophy of Time: A Brief Overview, Part 1

Sam Taylor

Posted on November 25, 2020 03:10

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In our linear view of the world, we often take the existence of time as a given. Yet, the notion of time is subject to a centuries-old (and very counterintuitive) debate in philosophy.

We frequently take the character of our experience for granted -- and why shouldn't we? Some things are indisputably obvious: surely it's true that there are rules to logic and mathematics, that an objective reality exists, that we are conscious beings who make choices, and so on. But, ironically, these indisputable appearances aren't indisputably accurate; they're often the subject of dense, philosophical controversy supplemented by enigmatic arguments and strange thought experiments. 

Nowhere is this more evident than the philosophy of time. There, an essential aspect of our experience -- the notion of temporal passage, or that the future becomes the present and then the past -- is questioned, even repudiated. For this reason alone, for its challenge to our fundamental intuitions, I hold time to be one of the most engrossing branches of philosophy.

But unfortunately, the field is especially bogged-down with strange terms and detailed, metaphysical descriptions. For anyone interested in the subject, it's horrid to trudge through 40-page essay after 40-page essay, weathering through tiringly technical wording to gain any tangible information regarding it.

To circumvent this issue, and open the world of temporal philosophy to at least a slightly wider demographic, I've decided to give a brief overview of the most essential features of the topic.

First and foremost, there are two primary groups in the philosophy of time: the A-theorists (those who believe that time, as we intuitively conceive of it, is real) and the B-theorists (those who think that temporal passage is illusory -- that time doesn't actually exist). Expectantly, the views of each group are termed the A-theory and B-theory of time, respectively.

At first glance, it's hard to imagine how a timeless world could exist (i.e., how the B-theory could be accurate). When we try to comprehend what the universe would look like without time, we inevitably conjure up images of a frozen world; we envision an immutable picture of unmoving cars, still joggers and cyclists, rain stuck in midair, and the planets inert. But here's the tricky part: when we consider this static picture, we don't really imagine time has stopped -- just that everything has stopped within time. We visualize objects, animals, and people stationary forever, and yet "forever" is a temporal notion; it requires seconds, years, and centuries stretching on infinitely in order to exist. In essence, even a frozen world seems to have time. So, how can time not exist?

Obviously, the B-theory is counterintuitive, maybe even impossible to truly imagine. And yet, it's a prospect entertained by numerous philosophers and, indeed, many physicists. In fact, Albert Einstein gravitated toward the theory, purporting that our temporal commonsense is nothing more than an illusion. Now, why exactly do these academics fancy the idea of a timeless universe?

We'll discuss their reasoning in Part Two.

Sam Taylor

Posted on November 25, 2020 03:10

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Source: Forbes

Guardiola honed his football philosophy alongside Lillo during their time together in Mexico.

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