The Fourth Philosophy: Of Past and Present

~ The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

The Achilles

Achilles running to overtake a crawling tortoise ahead of him can never overtake it, because he must first reach the place from which the tortoise started; when Achilles reaches that place, the tortoise has departed and so is still ahead. Repeating the argument we easily see that the tortoise is always ahead.

The Arrow

A moving arrow at any instant either at rest or not at rest, that is, moving. If the instant is indivisible, the arrow cannot move, for if it did the instant would immediately be divided. But time is made up of instants. As the arrow cannot move in any one instant, it cannot move in any time. Hence it always remains at rest.

~ Zeno of Elea

Time is the ultimate concept and measurement that binds everything in this world together. The existence of time is one of the fundamental truths that cannot be doubted. Without time, all reality knowable to the mind would cease to exist. Time is change and because of time, almost everything changes. All matter in reality changes either in form or shape when subjected to time. Therefore the mind’s conception and perception of reality must not be static but dynamic in relation to time.

“Nothing in the entire universe ever perishes, believe me, but things vary, and adopt a new form.”

~ Ovid

Absolute time in that every watch with high precision would register the same measurement of time is a myth. If one would take an accurate timepiece and travel around the world, one would realize that the time registered on this timepiece would be different than that of a similar timepiece that has stayed stationary in a certain place. A number of empirical evidence have indeed proven this to be true and conclusively showed that even time is subject to relativity.

Even if every individual have his own personal clock, time is in general unidirectional as in being a one way flow from past to future. For the observable mind, time cannot flow backwards in any occasion without constituting a collapse in our understanding of reality. Time is therefore a continuous flow from the past to future that permits no regression and no changing of the past. In stating so, time must be understood as an accumulation or a growth. One cannot see broken glasses becoming whole by itself as surely as one can remember the past but not the future.

“Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.”

~ John Archibald Wheeler

The best evidence of the existence of time is in motion. As the Earth rotates around the sun, all things on Earth must also move in accordance with the Earth’s celestial movement. Things are only perceived as static because gravity binds them to Earth. In reality, all matter on Earth is moving and changing! Time is this dimension of change while matter is bound by the three dimensions of space.

All reality must be understood in relation with time and hence, change. This is because all things observable to the human mind are subjected to time. The relevance of time to knowledge is a priori because we cannot conceive a reality with the absence of time. The persistent and permanence of the property of time for all men and all things ensure that time must be the absolute factor that must be taken into consideration.

“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”

~ Marcus Aurelius

All experiments and knowledge seeking endeavors must include the time factor in order to be considered relevant and reliable. Cause and effect, action and reaction are only observable and measurable when they include the time factor. Without taking into consideration the affects of time, all knowledge would be void because their relevance and reliability would be compromised by their inability to avoid fallibility. One should always examine whether a ‘truth’ is true at all times. Should a truth be unable to fulfill this criterion, one must state the timeframe or period in which a perceived ‘truth’ is true.

Time is the final frontier of the mind. It is the ultimate limit that restricts human understanding. Most of the time, our intellect catches only the static state of reality and not its constant flux of continuous movement. An idea once written on paper becomes rigid and tangible as compared to the flexibility it has when it is intangible in the mind. Thought is a dynamic movement with multiple ideas and is more of a process rather than a product.

“Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.”

~ John Archibald Wheeler

To view things in its static state is like attempting to understand a person through a photograph. The static state of things is just a small part of the big picture. The German word gestalt, in which the sum of all things is more important than its individual parts, is the best way to describe the relationship between the mind and time. Due to the inevitability of life and death, an individual mind cannot experience what is eternity and infinity on a personal basis. Time places a limit on how much of the big picture an individual mind can see. Hence time limits human understanding.

The understanding of the concept of present is also a common flaw in human understanding. The present is an illusion that does not really exist. The present is the static instance in the continuous flow of time. Essentially, the present is a snapshot of a moving reality, and thus it is a static state. Life is impossible inside a static state. Unless the present is defined as a period of time in a relevant future, the present is non-existent. The moment the word present is uttered, it has already gone into the past. This is why Achilles and the tortoise cannot race unless they start at the same time and race within a particular time limit.

“The present is a point just passed.”

~ David Russell

It is imperative that philosophy must always include the time factor into consideration. We must always be prepared to acknowledge that our own perspective of things may not be true at all times and under all circumstances. Right and wrong can only be determined when we carefully set the conditions and boundaries to which they would apply. The present is an illusion that must be replaced with the reality of the near future.

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