In the language of physics, which gives a reasonably exact and economical description of natural events, there exists no word or concept equivalent to “now.” Most human cultures have such an idea, together with terms implying that “now” progresses from the future into the past. This paper attempts to identify aspects of the physical world which in contributing to the human experience of time give rise to metaphors of passage. Two facts are discussed in the language of physics: that our knowledge of the past is of a different kind from our knowledge of the future, and that while our acts have consequences for the future, there is nothing we can do to change the past. Both these facts are corollaries of the general increase in entropy asserted by the second law of thermodynamics, which in turn depends on the laws of physics and the overall history of the universe. To carry the analysis further and distinguish what depends on law from what depends on history seems impossible within the present disciplinary limits of science because to distinguish between scientific law and scientific fact requires that one can believe the fact could have been otherwise, and contemplation of the universe gives no grounds for such an opinion. Finally, it is suggested that the “passage of time” can be considered as a metaphorical expression of the pervasive consequences of the general increase in entropy required by the second law.
KeywordsHuman Consciousness Plain Language Pervasive Consequence Time Asymmetry Entropy Flow
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- 1.J. T. Fraser, ed.. The Voices of Time (Braziller, N.Y., 1966).Google Scholar
- 2.H. Bergmann, Der Kampf um das Kausalgesetz in der jüngsten Physik (Braunschweig, 1929).Google Scholar
- 3.B. L. Whorf, “An American Indian Model of the Universe,” in Language, Thought, and Reality (MIT Press, Cambridge, 1956).Google Scholar
- 4.“There are two ways of knowing: to possess knowledge (for as we say that one knows when he possesses knowledge); or to put the knowledge into practice.” Aristotle, Magna Moralia 1201 b 12.Google Scholar
- 5.O. Costa de Beauregard, Le second Principe de la science du temps (Eds. du Seuil, Paris, 1963).Google Scholar
- 6.P. C. W. Davies, The Physics of Time Asymmetry (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1974, 1977).Google Scholar
- 7.J. T. Fraser suggests a strategy that uses a hierarchial scheme for classifying these levels in terms of the temporal concepts which must be introduced in order to explain them: Time as Conflict: A scientific and humanistic study. (Renouf USA, Brookfield, Vt., and Birkhäuser, Basel, 1978).Google Scholar
- 8.There could indeed exist a little world inside a box, even if we have no way to make it, in which events occur in such a way that inhabitants of the box assign the word past to our future and vice versa but only if the walls of the box isolate its contents from all interaction with the outside universe. See P. Morrison in A. DeShalit, H. Feshbach, and L. Van Hove, eds., Preludes in Theoretical Physics (North Holland, Amsterdam, 1966).Google Scholar
- 9.H. Nakamura, “Time in Indian and Japanese Thought,” in Ref. 1.Google Scholar
- 10.For detailed criticisms of the view which takes the metaphor as reality, see D. C. Williams, “The Myth of Passage,” in Principles of Empirical Realism (Thomas, Springfield, 1966); A. Grunbaum, Philosophical Problems of Space and Time (Knopf, N.Y., 1963; Reidel, Dordrecht, 1973). For examples of how time can be discussed in plain language without the use of metaphors of passage, see M. Schlick, The Philosophy of Nature (tr. A. von Zeppelin, Philosophical Library, N. Y. 1949), especially Ch. 7; J. C. C. Smart, “Spatializing Time,” Mind 64, 239 (1955); Ref. 5 above; and D. Park, “The Myth of the Passage of Time,” in The Study of Time, v. 1 (Springer, N.Y., 1972). The paper of S. Watanabe, “Creative Time,” in the same volume illuminates with profound insight many of the points only touched on here.Google Scholar