Posts Tagged ‘time’

Freud, Russell, Ayer, time

March 21, 2013

Time in CoPhi for FreudRussellAyer, and Hugh Mellor on time (he says relax, it’s not “tensed”). [Freud and Russell @dawn]

A.J. (“Freddie”) Ayer, by the way, apparently had a Near Death Experience of his own. He claimed it in no way impinged on his atheism. But an acquaintance reported that “He became so much nicer after he died… not nearly so boastful. He took an interest in other people.” But again, Freddie denied that the experience made him “religious.” [continues here]

…a sentence is factually significant to any given person, if, and only if, he knows how to verify the proposition which it purports to express — that is, if he knows what observations would lead him, under certain conditions, to accept the proposition as being true, or reject it as being false.

“Stealing money is wrong” has no factual meaning — that is, expresses no proposition which can be either true or false. It is as if I had written “Stealing money!!”

No moral system can rest solely on authority.

There is philosophy, which is about conceptual analysis — about the meaning of what we say — and there is all of this … all of life.


There isn’t a practical reason for believing what isn’t true. It it’s true you should believe it, if it isn’t you should not… it’s intellectual treachery to hold a belief because you think it’s useful and not because you think it’s true.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.

And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence.

Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.

Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists?  [Why I Am Not a Christian… More Russell]



Freud is darker than Nietzsche… Sheer joy and sheer affirmation of life is pretty hard to find, if you’re being absolutely honest about what reality is.

As long as your ideas of what’s possible are limited by what’s actual, no other idea has a chance.

If life is a gift, then the more you partake in it, the more you show thanks.

[Susan Neiman, Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-up Idealists]


Back to the question of time: Mellor’s point is that time lacks objective tense (past, present, future), not that it is an illusion. This may take some time to grasp, for

 if you think of tense as a feature of the world, that is an illusion. [But] what is not an illusion is that we are in the world, and need to think about it, and especially about how to act in it, in terms of tense… time itself– tenseless time, what makes events earlier and later than each other– is indeed a real feature both of the world, and of our experience of it.

So does he agree with Einstein, who said ”the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one,” or not? Yes and no.
Time and again, time after time, the intersection of philosophy and physics is maddeningly inconclusive. Add history to the mix and you get logic-defying paradox. The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined (willdetermine?) that time travel is impossible. But apparently that just goes for this actual universe, at this point in time. Hmmm. Logic aside, however, it’s at least biologically impossible to go into the past and annihilate your own forebears. That should be reassuring, though of course it would destroy a lot of amusing plot-points in film and fiction (not to mention Trek).
BTW: we might want to use this topic as a springboard back to Nietzsche and his strange notion of eternal recurrence. And what about Deja Vu, all over again? Have we all been here before? Well, that would imply the real existence of tense, wouldn’t it?
Does your head hurt yet, Geordi? Or yet again?
I think Tagore’s butterfly still has the best perspective on time.

Ironies abounding freely

November 2, 2012

I shoulda stood in bed, with the girls being out of school today and Younger Daughter sleeping over at a friend’s. That was the plan, until her alarm sounded. So here I am. Post, or grade? Not a hard call.

But I was all set to jump right in to my grading pile, so I don’t really have any particular line of reflection bubbling just beneath the surface of semi-wakefulness, don’t have anything much in mind.

Well, though… It was interesting yesterday to pick up a news item in which I was quoted urging my fellow campus citizens to go ride a bike. Ironic, too, since this was the first week in months when I didn’t ride my own. It was just a bit too cold, by my standards, to ride into a self-inflicted breeze. It’s never too cold to walk, of course, nor was it even too cold to hold office hours out by Saturn.

It was also interesting to take a phone call from someone who said my office number was listed as the contact for a campus organization I’d not heard of, the Students for Environmental Action. Sure enough. And here I am, teaching a course this semester called “Environmental Ethics and Activism.” Irony compounded.

I continue to reflect on, and chuckle at, the amusingly ironic spectacle of my old grad school pal’s upcoming annual appearance at the Tennessee Philosophical Association. His latest technical paper on the Regress Problem (which he’s produced a near-infinite series of papers on, through the years) found no one “stupid enough,” as he put it (in all humility, I’m sure), to volunteer as commentator. So he’s doing it himself. Solipsism never stopped an epistemologist. Or  the epistemologist. Anyway, I might have volunteered (or appeared to) if Older Daughter didn’t require a ride to Memphis next Saturday. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

And then there were our final two report presentations in CoPhi yesterday. Natalie’s on St. Augustine, and Edrell’s on managing money. Was there anything ironic about either of them? Probably. Auggie said time is subjective, but also God’s gift to save us from the chaotic confusion of everything’s seeming to happen at once. From His perspective it does, though. He’s timelessly omniscient. So I still don’t get how we can be as “free” as religiously-imbued students keep telling me we are. Have you ever thought there might be a logical contradiction?

Nor, as I said in class, do I yet understand Original Sin. But I’ll keep asking, every time I’m told I’ve inherited it.

If time is subjective, I guess we might as well say that time is money too. I’d never had a student conclude a report presentation by passing out his business card to everyone in the class, though I’m sure it happens all the time in biz school.

Anyway, it’s probably ironic that Edrell changed his report topic to something less controversial than religion, his original intent. The old folk wisdom was that politics, money, and religion should never be discussed in polite company.

“Ironic” may just be the word for those who say they expect politeness of philosophers.

“When I Think”

May 27, 2012

The concluding snippet of Robert Creeley‘s lovely poem about time’s paradoxical presence in passing. Reminds me of Blake, Beatles (“In My Life”), Santayana, Spinoza, Einstein, Nietzsche, Bill Murray…

When I try to think of things, of what’s happened, of what a life is and was, my life, when I wonder what it meant, the sad days passing, the continuing, echoing deaths, all the painful, belligerent news, and the dog still waiting to be fed, the closeness of you sleeping, voices, presences, of children, of our own grown children, the shining, bright sun, the smell of the air just now, each physical moment, passing, passing, it’s what it always is or ever was, just then, just there. WA

Happy Memorial Day weekend. May your memories of it recur pleasantly, too.


August 21, 2010

Revisited a couple of August rituals yesterday, after coming down from Lea’s Summit.

The annual auto tag renewal chore was one. It was the usual scene, at the County Clerk’s branch office in Green Hills: a long line of bored people waiting to shell out too much for the privilege of risking life and sanity on these metropolitan by-ways.

The clerk’s office is in Grace’s Plaza, just off the beautiful atrium and across from the former independent bookseller where I labored happily during one of the many self-imposed sabbaticals of my gradual school days two decades ago. There’s still a Davis-Kidd, a couple of stone’s throws away. In the mall. It’s not what it was, not the special place where I met good friends, and my wife, and gradually learned that while I didn’t much like being in grad school (“ABD”) I also didn’t like the thought of a lifetime spent retailing books (pleasant as that could be) but not really engaging them deeply.

But I always liked being in that space, when it was a world-class bookstore back before anyone ever heard of digitized e-reading. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but again, it’s not the same.) The atrium included seating for the Second Story Cafe, where I fondly recall many espresso-and-brownie breaks and “important meetings.” It was a place for civilized conversation and rumination and imagination, and now it fills me with longing and regret and remembrance of temps perdu.

Now it’s a bank, and a restaurant whose namesake was my mother’s regrettable second husband. You can’t get a good madeleine cake, or a Mr. Cookie Bar, there anymore. I can’t, anyway.

But, back to the clerk’s line. What was noticeably different about it this time was, at least half the tag renewers in the queue were occupying themselves with personal devices. The other half were starting into space or at the floor. So far as I could tell, no one was looking at the monitor mounted on the wall behind the clerks’ desk showing Puccini’s La Boheme. And no one was conversing with anyone.

A sign of the times.

The other August ritual, last night: the annual Middle School play. (A cute and, as always, colorful and earnest rendition, this time of “Alice in Wonderland Jr.”)  For the first time since Older Daughter entered 5th grade, many years ago, our family was unrepresented on stage. We were all in the audience. And for the first time in all those years, we were unaccompanied this year by at least one grandparent.

A sign of the times of our lives. And a milestone, as time goes by.


November 24, 2009

Time is winding down on our course, and it keeps popping up in our reading selections. Nietzsche, whose “eternal recurrence” thought experiment invites personal reflection on one’s own meaningful relation to past, present, and future, raises the subject this time, and Sartre (remember Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion and their excellent adventure?) chimes in with his claim that since “existence precedes essence and we will to exist at the same time as we fashion our image, that image is valid for all and for the entire epoch in which we find ourselves.” Time is nothing, we are nothing, until we act and choose. But when we do, we create something we can’t run away from. Scary, and– as previously noted (“renunciation“)– not so happy. Recall, too, his distinctively French- intellectual disdain for the distinctively American “myth of happiness” and Americanism generally.  Robert Solomon says Sartre said he never had a real moment of despair in his life. Huh. It was all affected, then. Sounds like “bad faith,” doesn’t it? But “Jean-Paul Sartre is currently dead,” authentically an object without possibilities. So let him be.

We’ve noted the views of at least two Taylors, Richard and James, and of Philip Zimbardo. Is time even real? Well, aging feels real enough. When time passes slowly it feels oppressively real, and when it “flows” it feels unbearably light. “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in,” said Thoreau. Meaning?

Meaning, I suppose, that we experience time as a condition of meaningful, happy-making activity. So it’s as real as happiness, happiness is as real as time, and both are real-as-experienced. We need time to unfold our projects, construct our relationships, and enjoy our lives. When we succeed, we experience them and it together as a subjective unity that closes the loop on each episode of expectation. A closed loop is a moment in time– which may or may not correspond to a conventional moment as measured by our clocks and calendars– that represents fulfillment or (in Dewey‘s language of everyday aesthetic experience, and in Nietzsche’s of self-overcoming, in the clip below) consummation. Enough moments like that will make some of us describe ourselves as happy, whether or not Aristotle would approve.

For Dewey, btw, the thing about time is not that it’s not really  real, but that it’s not just yours and mine: it’s ours. It’s the stream humanity goes a-fishing in. We still have our consummations as individuals, but our largest meanings embrace the “continuous human community.” When we affirm our place in that pan-temporal community, our inescapably-subjective relation to time trades the worst vestiges of misanthropic narcissism for the more sympathetic angels of our nature: social solidarity and species identity. My time then is your time, and our kids’ time, and theirs, and… and aren’t we glad we had this time together?

Does it help, though, to live now and into the always-cresting now of what was the future just a moment ago, to  excise big chunks of the past? Nietzsche (among many others) said happiness requires living in the now. How forgetful must we be, to accomplish that? Must we aspire to the “blissful blindness” of childhood, the animal (“dog-like”) spontaneity of the Cynic, (IEP) or the aphasia of the amnesiac?

“Forgetting is essential to action” and for “the life of everything organic.” That seems right, we accumulate too much informational dross every hour of every day for our finite minds to absorb. We can be “healthful, strong, and fruitful only when bounded by a horizon.”

But then he gives us “eternal recurrence,” the “greatest weight.” The horizon, fixed decisively to the shores of this world, seems suddenly, paradoxically infinite and dizzying. And liberating? “Be calm.”

Opening time

May 29, 2009

Ours is a planet sown in beings. Our generations overlap likefor-the-time-being shingles. We don’t fall in rows like hay, but we fall. Once we get here, we spend forever on the globe, most of it tucked under. While we breathe, we open time like a path in the grass. We open time as a boat’s stem slits the crest of the present.

Annie Dillard

Towing the line of the present moment, being wholly absorbed in experience as we face it, attending to what’s happening right now: it sounds so simple, and for simpler beings it probably is. But we’ve inherited our species’ evolved tendency to ride the wave of consciousness away from boat’s stem. As Dillard said in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,

This is it, right now, the present… this tang of coffee on the tongue, and I am patting the puppy, I am watching the mountain. And the second I verbalize this awareness in my brain, I cease to see the mountain or feel the puppy.

It’s not consciousness per se that spoils the moment, but the hyper-self-consciousness that draws you out of yourself and makes you hover over your own experience instead of inhabiting and enjoying it.  Fortunately what is lost is not forgotten. Focused attention can find it again, and savor and store it in memory.

The second I know I’ve lost [the present] I also realize that the puppy is still squirming on his back under my hand. Nothing has changed for him.

Follow the pup.