∆-BERTRAND RUSSELL, does not prove TIME.

On Bertrand Russell, ‘MYSTICISM AND LOGIC’    as it relates to ‘Time’ ,

By Matthew Marsden.

 

The famous philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote a paper entitled ‘MYSTICISM AND LOGIC’ in on section of which he addressed the issue of ‘Time’, and gave his thoughts on the subject.

While I have a great interest in philosophy, my main focus in describing what I see as ‘timelessness’ has been scientific, because I believe most good thinking should be able to be logically and scientifically explained from first principles if it has any real content and is not just a demonstration of logical and semantic juggling.

With this in mind here are my comments on the ‘TIME’ section of Russell’s paper showing where I believe he may have jumped to certain assumptions unknowingly, and how this means the opinions and conclusions he reaches are perhaps unfounded.

> a copy of the original paper may be found here,   if not search the internet for "BERTRAND RUSSELL MYSTICISM AND LOGIC"

    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/25447



On ‘TIME’ by Bertrand Russell.

In my opinion, the essence of the problems with this paper is that the author starts from the wrong foot at the very first step, and from this point on all he and the reader are doomed to only be able to see and reach heavily biased, and not impartial conclusions.

The ‘wrong foot’ can be seen here in the opening paragraph of the section...

The unreality of time is a cardinal doctrine of many metaphysical systems, often nominally based, as already by Parmenides, upon logical arguments, but originally derived, at any rate in the founders of new systems, from the certainty which is born in the moment of mystic insight.

(My underlining)

Here, Russell seems to already be holding the position that

‘if Time does not exist, then this needs to be proven for it to be seen as true’

And that while some logical arguments are put up to disprove time, the foundation of these arguments is often not scientific, e.g. they stem from

the certainty which is born in the moment of mystic insight(see further on)

This may seem like a valid starting position, but it is biased, because it implies that ‘time probably exists unless disproven’ – but no reason or proof has been given that time exists. Instead, it is true that virtually every reader of the pieces will have heard of the idea of time, and may presume that it does exist in some way And although what time is and how it exists may be very different for each reader this will not be confirmed across readers, so everyone will think they are talking about pretty much the same ‘version’ of time.

A more scientific approach, when discussing something that may or may not exist, is to declare this from the outset, and then look at any evidence seeming to support either point of view.  This is because, if I start a discussion asking the reader or anyone else to ‘disprove’ that ‘ghosts’ exist, they will not be able to do so, partially because it is in a sense impossible to prove a negative, and also because by using the word ‘ghosts’ I have suggested the existence of some thing, and also not actually clearly defined what it is I am expecting to be disproven. 

(Thus with any attempt to disprove 'ghosts' conversations can be diverted from reaching any conclusion, by quibbling about definitions en rout. E.g. 'Ahh but that's not what I mean by ghosts' - and likewise if we talk about 'time' or 'the past' without clearly defining them from the outset, then attempts to 'disprove' each undefined term can be (invalidly) diverted by claiming at each stage 'ahh, but that's not what is meant by 'time' etc).


Concerning the issue that some peoples opinion that time may initially stem from "[a] moment of mystic insight"

It may indeed be true that some people reach the initial 'view' or opinion (i.e unproven suspicion) that 'Time' may not exist - from a moment of 'insight'. (to call it 'mystic' insight is distracting)

For a criminal detective a moment of insight might arise when they have collected all the facts and their mind happens to organise them correctly revealing something that could always have been worked out, but just hadn't been worked out at that point. For example they may suddenly realise that one particular person in the case must be lying, or certain assumed facts cannot possibly be justified, or all be correct because they conflict.

This flash of understanding my occur as an insight.And people who think they have an insight that the theory of Time is invalid may have just realised that all of the supposed 'facts' said to point to the existence of time do not in fact do so.

Insights may be right or wrong, they need to be further examined, but one may also ask (Russell) where did peoples opinion that 'Time' - along with a 'massive' and intangible 'thing' or place called 'the future' and  a massive and intangible 'thing' or place called 'the past'  etc,  come from?

The point being that again the invalid starting approach to this discussion is the undeclared, and unproven assumption that 'Time' and all it's mysterious,invisible and intangible 'properties' and 'places' either 'obviously exists', or that Time and it's supposed, fantastic but unseen components, can safely just be assumed to exist, unless this blind assumption is disproved'.



Redressing the balance

So, redressing the balance and making it clear that Russell's essay on 'Time' is not valid if it's opening philosophy is that the existence of 'time' can be just assumed to be true unless dis-proven,

we can insist that to legitimately start suggesting ‘Time’ exists one must at first at least define what is meant by 'Time' instead of just assuming it is obvious, or everyone knows what it is.

So one may say something like...

 ‘Time’, the thing that passes steadily, in one direction, from the future into the past, and which is required, or just passes, as things in the universe move and change’.

Having said this one should then provide some kind of a proof that this thing exists – especially before asking people to prove it does not exist.


None the less we continue....

The arguments for the contention that time is unreal ... must, I think, be regarded as fallacious.

Nevertheless there is some sense—easier to feel than to state—in which time is an unimportant and superficial characteristic of reality. Past and future must be acknowledged to be as real as the present,

Again, first we have not seen an argument to suggest time is real, but more importantly we have not considered that the universe may be ‘just as it seems’. By this I mean that in the universe, either...

Things exist, move and change ‘over time’

Or,

Things JUST exist, move and change.

The point here is that Russell discusses ‘the’ past and ‘the’ future, and how they must be seen to be as real as the present, but he has not proved that these ‘things’ exist in the first place.  

What I mean here is this, it may well be the case that as things move and change in the universe a thing called time ‘flows’ in some way. And thus ‘events’ sink into ‘the past’ as they happen, and ‘new events’ in some sense come out of ‘the future’ – and this view may well make sense and seem to fit all that we observe in and around our lives.

However, with any point on is studying it makes sense to try and see if there is any other, simpler, point of view that may also fit the observed facts. In this case my question is this...

If things in the universe JUST exist and move and change, would this be enough to give us the FALSE impression that there is a thing called time that exists, and flows, between a ‘future’ and a ‘past’ ?

Russell talks about ‘the past’ – but if I ask you a question about ‘the past’ I can guarantee that you will only look at something that is physically ‘here now’ to give your answer. E.g. If I ask you the name of the first school you attended, you may think you are talking about the past as you give me the name, but in actual fact you will find the answer from within the physical contents of your mind, existing ‘here and now’, just as much as a name in a nearby book exists ‘here and now’ whether it is being read or not.  

Now you may think that the answer to this question did indeed come from within your mind, but that it ALSO relates to ‘the past’. And it is here that the key question becomes more important, because the question from another angle is this

- as things in the universe move and change, interacting with their surroundings as they do – is a ‘record’ of all this movement ALSO created and stored in a place called ‘the past’ OR is such a record NOT created and stored ?

The point is, that either ‘the past’ is created, or ‘the past’ is NOT created – critically and logically one can see that if things in the universe JUST move and interact (not also creating a temporal past) then in fact, this alone would be enough to organise the contents of your mind in such a way that you may assume that there is also a ‘temporal past’ – while in fact ‘the organised contents of your mind’ do not prove that there is ALSO some other ‘record of events’ created mysteriously, by some unexplainable system or force, in some intangible ‘place’ called ‘the temporal past’. Thus the idea that ‘the past’ – and thus ‘time’ and thus ‘the future’  exist can be seen to be unfounded – and an invalid assumption arising from not considering both possibilities concerning the idea of time. 

 

Therefore, when Russell says....

Nevertheless there is some sense—easier to feel than to state—in which time is an unimportant and superficial characteristic of reality.

This can be seen as biased and tangled, in my opinion, ‘time’ cannot be seen as an  ‘unimportant and superficial characteristic of reality’ – because time has not been shown to exist. However, if one wrongly assumes something exists, which does not, then I can understand how one may also have the conflicting, ‘resolving’ or ‘justifying’ thought that this (actually nonexistent) thing is ‘also’ ‘unimportant and superficial’.

Similarly, in saying...

Past and future must be acknowledged to be as real as the present,

I would question this, if one mistakenly thinks that the changing contents of one’s mind ‘proves’ the existence of some other ‘record’ of all events , i.e. ‘the temporal past’ – then one may look for the opposite of this ‘past’. In doing so one may see that things around us move and change in both ‘orderly’ and ‘chaotic’ ways. Seeing this, and looking for the ‘opposite’ of ‘the past’ on may describe these types of change as ‘predictable’ or ‘unpredictable’ – and one may then SAY they relate to a thing called ‘the future’. While in fact one has only actually observed that things exist ‘now’ and that they move and change and interact in various ways ‘now’. Specifically one has not seen that ‘events’ disappear in to a past – or that events ‘come out of’ a ‘future’.

Thus, in my opinion, it Is not correct to say

[the] Past and future must be acknowledged to be as real as the present,

Because the assumption that ‘the past’ and ‘the future’ can be shown to be based on false reasoning, thus neither of these things needs to be explained, or incorporated into ‘the present’ – other than to see that ‘the part of our mind’ we call memories of ‘the past’ is in fact, of course ‘part of the present’ (not that there is anything other than the present) – and likewise, parts of our minds where we make up ideas, or models relating to things we observe, and which we SAY relate to ‘the future’ are similarly just ‘stuff’, here now, and  of course ‘part of the present’ (again - not that there is anything other than the present)

The paper continues,

, to realise the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom.

That this is the case may be seen at once by asking ourselves why our feelings towards the past are so different from our feelings towards the future.

The reason for this difference is wholly practical: our wishes can affect the future but not the past, the future is to some extent subject to our power, while the past is unalterably fixed.

But every future will some day be past: if we see the past truly now, it must, when it was still future, have been just what we now see it to be, and what is now future must be just what we shall see it to be when it has become past.

But, all of this can be untangled if, before getting in to discussions and views as to what ‘the past and the future are’ – or what or thoughts and feelings about ‘them’ mean – one first makes sure we are really talking about things that really exist – or not. Because if we are trying to have deep thoughts an discussions about things that don’t really, actually exist – but which are just very complicated ideas we have mistakenly made up (without realising) – then no doubt the conversation may seem complicated and mysterious.

 

 So one stops, removes the mind of any potentially false assumptions, and asks...

As things move and change, IS a ‘temporal past’ created and stored somewhere – OR is a ‘temporal past’ NOT created and stored any where?

(like wise ‘the future’) – this is critical because EITHER the past exists or the past DOES NOT EXIST.

And if the past (and future etc) DOES NOT EXIST – then ‘THE PAST DOES NOT EXIST’ – and that is how things are – ignoring this fact – and attempting to talk about ’the past’, and ‘time’ and ‘the future’ etc,  ‘anyway’ will be invalid, no matter how deep and intelligent or complicated the sentences that follow are.

Thus we can continue the break down...

...asking ourselves why our feelings towards the past are so different from our feelings towards the future.

The reason for this difference is wholly practical: our wishes can affect the future but not the past, the future is to some extent subject to our power, while the past is unalterably fixed.

 

In ‘asking ourselves why our feelings towards the past are so different from our feelings towards the future’ we are in fact, asking ourselves why our feelings towards those parts of our minds that at as a recording of what has happened to us, are different from our feelings towards ‘our ideas about what we want to do’ – or towards ‘our knowledge about what we can do in the world around us’.

In either case, our ‘feelings’ or our ‘ideas’ that there is a past and/or a future do not actually prove anything other than that things can exist and move and change and interact.  Whether this existing and interacting is happening within a human brain, or somewhere else does not change what it proves and does not prove.  

our wishes can affect the future but not the past, the future is to some extent subject to our power, while the past is unalterably fixed.

Our wishes affect the physical location of matter around us, and in moving various objects we may change what else can happen. E.g. I can put a lock on my door, and this makes it harder for someone to open, but I have not proved the existence of the future or that i can change ‘it’.

Saying that ‘the past’ is unalterably fixed is meaningless unless one is very clear about what is meant by ‘the past’ and gives some proof of its ‘existence’ if that is what is being claimed – otherwise the suggestion is...

“as things move and change, I think , but can’t prove, that there is kind of is a model of all events , which is made and stored somewhere, but which can’t be ‘gone to’ – and even if it could be it would be too ‘ridged’ and solid for anyone to be able to ‘change it’ “.  

This is of course a strange and convoluted sentence, of which there is no point trying to make sense, because ‘the past’ cannot be shown to exist, so any  thoughts about ‘it’ are pointless, and not even right or wrong.

All that can be said is that it seems that in the universe ‘things just exist and move and change’ period! – ‘the past’ in not ‘unalterably fixed’ or ‘alterable’ – if it does not exist.

Finally...

But every future will some day be past: if we see the past truly now, it must, when it was still future, have been just what we now see it to be, and what is now future must be just what we shall see it to be when it has become past.

One can try to analyse this, but there is no point unless one proves the things being discussed, (the past and the future) Actually exist. If instead, it is just that things in the universe exist and interact in deeply intricate and fascinating ways  - so as to give human minds the false impression that abstract things like ‘the past’ and ‘the future’ exist – then this IS how it IS. And thus, in my opinion it would be wiser to put effort in to understanding what this does and does not mean, rather than to wonder what it would mean if certain nonexistent things did exist.

Concerning ‘the past and the future’ it can be said that all of the stuff in the universe seems to be constantly moving and changing and interacting – so as to give the impression that ‘events’ or ‘things’ are ‘disappearing into the past’ and that ‘new’ things are coming from somewhere, but this is just a misunderstanding arising from out limited point of view.

 

m.marsden

 continue, book reviews >>> ∆ From Eternity to here. Sean Carroll.

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