∆ Photographs don't prove the 'past' exists.

Picture this...

We've all seen old black and white photographs,clearly taken years ago, of people and things that are long gone now.
An iconic image of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Is this of the past? Or can you see it here, now?


Surely photographs at least prove the flow and one way direction of time, (if not that the 'vistable' past exists). Be they taken with a box brownie a century ago, or camera phone just now, original (un edited) photographs are an undeniable record of what happened. So how can timelessness ever disprove this. 

As always, the questions at we ask at the start of our enquiry are critical. Even a seemingly innocent and open minded question can send us down the wrong track, leading to no hope of the right answer from step one.

If, for example, we start by asking 'don't photographs prove the past exists?' we are already tying ourselves in a knot with the very question we are asking.

A big problem with time is that if we start any enquiry into its nature - with the initial assumption that 'time may or does exist' then everything we see will 'seem to confirm' our assumption. This is like watching a show by Darren Brown, the famous illusionist, with the assumption that mind reading and magic may exist. From this starting point everything you see will 'seem to confirm' what you assumed.

Not only this but your assumption will seem to be the easiest, and most obvious explanation-often a sign that we are on the right track (but not in this case and the case of 'time')

Also, watching a 'magic' show this way will leave us thinking there is no need to check any other possibilities.

Now 'assuming magic exists' and 'assuming time exists' are very different things. Most people know magic is just a collection of deliberately confusing illusions and entertaining tricks, while experts like Einstein, Newton, Galileo, Stephen Hawking NASA and so on all assume that time really does exist. But nonetheless, this principle of being careful about asking asking questions, that themselves may contain the seed of confusion, still applies. 

I'm on a quest...

A question is a 'quest', a journey to find something, typically the truth about something. So questions are valuable tools.   But we should bear in mind we can have 'wrong' or leading or misleading questions, and 'good' questions'. When looking at a photograph, without the assumption 'time exists, and this picture proves it',we can ask the less leading question,


 'what does this object prove to me?' 

Or 

'how is this object created?'

We can also consider the critical question I ask in 'a brief history of timelessness' -

        'if matter could just exist,move,and change, would this be enough to explain all that we see ?' 

Consider the beautiful photograph below...
Fig 1 -What a Photograph does prove is that light can exist, move, reflect, be focused and change photographic plates. 

I cant explain how all of 'this' stuff around us in the universe exists, or why it works the way it does. But nothing about the above process suggests that as well as what we see existing and happening, an invisible past, invisible future, and a one way flow of a mysterious thing called time also exist in any way at all. 

Seeing all this existence and motion, and using the word 'Time' to sum it up, is fine. But to then claim this word relates to or proves the existence of more than it was created to sum up - is possibly the start of a lot of confusion.

How a photograph is formed.

For a photograph to be created, some film has to be made, and some light has to pass through a lens, to hit the film in the right way. So, paper, chemicals, glass for the lens, and light all have to be able to exist and move and interact. 

If these things could all exist, move and interact over time, then you, I and any good scientist would agree that this would be enough to explain how a photograph we are looking at could exist.

But - If these things could all -just- exist, move and interact, then surely this too would be enough to explain what we are holding and looking at.

If as things exist and interact they physically affect the things around them, to create footprints in mud, or more sophisticated photon prints on light sensitive paper. If as things interact, the also leave another record of their having happened 'elsewhere' in 'the past' then that's all well and good, but I can't see how you and I,always being here now, would ever see this 'past' or how it could be constantly reaching out from itself to affect us in the present.

If for example you hold a rock out in your hand, surely the effect you are feeling of something trying to push your arm down, is, the rock - there - now, being pulled by gravity. And not 'the past' constantly chasing the infinity thin present moment, as it rushes forwards with time, so it can constantly effect your hand. Sentences like this may sound overly complicated (or even glib on my part) but the point is that when you try to verbalise in detail ideas such as 'the past is receding behind us, but affects the present' things do get overly complicated - probably because we are on the wrong track.

There is a subtle point to be clear on here. The evidence does suggest that things are happening, and thus that the universe 'has' been in different states, so yes 'in a way, it makes sense to say' 'things have happened in the past'. In World War 2 for example millions died for our freedom and rights and things like this should not be dismissed.

But this expression 'in the past' should not be taken to literally mean 'there really is a place called the past' and 'there are things actually in it'.

We may think that we do see evidence of this temporal past, and that sophisticated objects like photographs are proof of this other record or thing that is created, but as I hope I have shown, they do not. photographs only prove that thing can exist and interact 'now'. 

How and where the atoms of Hydrogen that make up the Sun, and form the light used in the photograph, or where the atoms that make up the flowers, or the photo itself come from is a mystery. The best scientific answer we have is that it all suddenly appeared from nowhere! We can say this happened in the past, but we should not take this to mean there is 'a really past' unless we have some proof that this 'other' record of events - along with the photograph - is also created.

As I said above, if you look at the evidence with the assumption that time exist, then the evidence will seem to confirm what you assumed. But 'seeming to confirm an assumption' is not the same as observing and proving a fact.  In other words while the photograph at first seems to prove 'the past' it really only proves, 'the present exists, and changes'.

As for Mr Brunel, surely even if the photograph is still here, and perhaps some of his descendants are to,  'he' must be a thing of the of the past ? well that depends on how you define 'him'. ( See ...Parents and children.)
m.marsden

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