An argument against time

The other day in USU 1320 we examined an argument against the reality of time:

1. Time requires change. (As shown by another argument, which turns upon the inherent impossibility of distinguishing two lengths of changeless time.)
2. Change requires (a) a past state and (b) a future state.
3. Any past state does not now exist.
4. Any future state does not now exist.
5. Hence, there is no change now.
6. Hence, there is no time now.

And since this argument can be presented at each and every “now,” it would seem to follow that time is “at all times” nonexistent, i.e., time is unreal.

It’s a nifty argument, since it is so hard to see where anything goes wrong. (And yet it seems wrong, doesn’t it?)

By the way, I think a parallel argument can be given against the reality of space. It gets a little weird around premise 3, but follow along:

1. Space requires some sort of extended dimension (length, width, etc.).
2. Any extended dimension can be divided into an “over there (1)” and an “over there (2)”.
3. But “over there (1)” is not right here.
4. And “over there (2)” is not right here.
5. Hence, there is no extended dimension right here.
6. Hence, there is no space right here.

And since this argument can be presented at every possible spot, it would seem to follow that space is “at all spaces” nonexistent, i.e., space is unreal.

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5 thoughts on “An argument against time

  1. Shaun Miller

    This almost reminds of Zeno’s paradoxes a bit.

    I really haven’t investigated this thoroughly, but couldn’t we challenge premise 3 and 4? Instead of saying 3. Any past state does not now exist and 4. Any future state does not now exist; how about: 3. Any past state has already existed, and 4. Any future state has not yet existed. So if things go from existence to non-existence, or non-existence into existence, wouldn’t this imply change?

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  2. Huenemann Post author

    The argument might be better in the form of a reductio. “Assume there is time (or change, or a past, present, and future)” — then premises 1-4 show the absurdity of assuming so. The problem is that, if we assume time is real, then there is no opportunity for change (since any given moment would be the present, in which there can be no change).

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  3. Stuart

    I think the problem is with 2. Change requires (a) a past state and (b) a future state. It should read Change requires a past state and a later state (with the later state being either present or future). It’s the word “future” that causes all the problems. An event in the past can have a “future” state that is now, it doesn’t have to be a future state even farther in the future.

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  4. Huenemann Post author

    That’s a very good objection. I’m not sure it completely defuses the argument though. It still remains true that one item in the pairs (past, present) and (present, future) does not now exist, and yet both are required for change to exist. But I suppose you might reply, “Right, change doesn’t exist right now. It exists only over a stretch of time.”

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  5. Stuart

    Yeah, that was basically what I was thinking. I still kind of wonder if it makes sense, though, to say change does not take place at certain moments but between moments. Hmm, but I think that’s what I’ll stick with for now.

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