On the Beginning of Time

December 3, 2008

Did time have a beginning? If time began, then each point in time will be reached given sufficient time. But what if time did not have a beginning, and always existed? Then, every point in time will be preceded by an infinite amount of time. Just as adding to a finite number will never reach infinity, so subtracting from an infinite number will never reach a finite number. We may take the present as a finite reference point; the passage of time, by its very nature, is finite. Thus, if time has no beginning, the amount of time preceding the present is infinite; no passage of time, necessarily finite, could possibly reach the present, a clear absurdity. Therefore, time must have had a beginning.

But we must be very careful about what it means to say that time had a beginning. It does not mean, as we mean when we say that anything else had a beginning, that there was a time when time did not exist, a clear contradiction. But if time had no beginning, something must lie beyond it; if not time, then what? We refer to this meta-time eternity, which at this point we must define by simple negation: eternity is the condition of time not existing. The defining characteristic of time is its passage; thus, in eternity, their must be no passage, no “before” and “after”. But with no before and after, then there can be no change, for change implies a before when one thing is true, and an after when it is not. Thus, eternity is, most simply, changelessnesss, without even the change of growing older.

But some created things, such as souls and angels, are immortal, and thus never cease to exist, and yet in the Apocalypse of John, we read “and time shall be no more”. Nothing created can be eternal, for being created implies change. Thus, we must designate a third status, aeviternity. Aeviternity is, as it were, a created eternity, having a beginning, but no further change.

Thus classification solves, I think, many commonly raised problems. For example, one objection raised against divine creation is that it implies that God at one point did not see fit to create the world, and then did, implying that God changes his mind. But this supposes that God lives within time and that time was not itself part of the creation; in reality, time just is, without being preceded by a different time. Thus, God simply created the earth, just as the Son simply proceeds from the Father, without the procession involving temporal change. The only difference is that that the Son exists in eternity, and thus it is appropriate to use the present tense, while the earth exists in time, and thus it is appropriate to use the past tense. All times the present with respect to God, and thus a change occurring in time implies no change in God.

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The Present Defined

November 2, 2008

I have been long intrigued by the fact that, in Greek, both past and future times can take the simple aspect (action completed at a time, i.e. “he ran”) in the aorist and future tenses, respectively, but that the present tense conveys only progressive aspect (action continuing through a time, i.e. “he was running”). Ultimately, the only explanation is to define the present as the widthless boundary between past and future. Thus, progressive action cannot occur in the present because, as the present occupies no time, it can only encompass an action taking no time, and such an action is inconceivable (as it would then be possible to repeat that action an infinite number of times simultaneously). The past and future, on the other hand, are more than even definite, non-zero periods of time, but are rays, extending indefinitely away from the present. Thus, while an action can continue to both sides of the present (progressive aspect), terminate at or before the present (perfect aspect) or start at or after the present (to which no simple Greek aspect corresponds), no action can take place in the present (simple aspect).

But this definition of the present, while philosophically sound, is unsatisfying for certain practical purposes. Thus, I would like to advance a separate definition, for the purposes of praxeology: the present is that period of time demarcated by (but not including) the last point in time at which one can receive information regarding reality in a certain place and the first point at which one’s action can influence reality at that point. The most startling aspect of this definition of the present is that it is not absolute: such a present is defined only with respect to a certain actor, and has a different extent at different places and with different technology. At the same time, I think that these attributes of the present so defined are useful for certain purposes. While it matters very much to a general in his planning room whether a comment was made five seconds ago or will be made in five seconds, it matters very little whether a given event in the battle happened even five minutes before or after the time of his action, if it would take ten for news of the battle to reach him or for his orders to reach the battlefield. Historically, I think that this well explains the infamous Battle of New Orleans: from our modern perspective, it seems horrible that a battle should take place two weeks after the signing of the treaty, but if one considers the primitive communications available at the time, the two events may well be considered contemporaneous. Philosophical nuances may, in places, have very little bearing on practical reality, and time seems to be one of those instances.