Saturday, December 11, 2010

Internal and external time

I am still thinking about Brightly's objection to my arguments here and elsewhere. Is the impossibility of a Cantorean transfinite consciousness - a conscious moment preceded by an infinite number of conscious moments before that - simply down to the length of time such a consciousness would require? One simply cannot wait for so long. Or is it as I maintain, that the discontinuity between the transfinite consciousness and the finite one is such that the traversal of such a sequence is impossible?

Every conscious moment leads to the next, but that 'next moment' must be finitely far away. For conscious time and physical time are fundamentally different. I cannot 'cheat' infinity by sleeping for an infinite number of days then waking up on the infinitieth day. The physical time is irrelevant, for in my consciousness the passage of an infinite number of days goes unnoticed. The infinitieth day is indistinguishable from any other day in the finite series. Therefore (I would like to argue) in order to get to the infinitieth day, it is essential to be conscious of every one of the previous days. Every conscious moment (i.e. every moment of my consciousness) must be either (a) conscious of some previous moment or (b) conscious of nothing previous, in which case it is my first conscious moment, and nothing of mine preceded it.

Augustine (in the Confessions, e.g., see here) made a similar distinction between 'internal' (conscious) and 'external' (physical) time, holding that only internal time is real.

For if there are times past and future, I desire to know where they are. But if
as yet I do not succeed, I still know, wherever they are, that they are not
there as future or past, but as present. For if there also they be future, they
are not as yet there; if even there they be past, they are no longer there.
Wheresoever, therefore, they are, whatsoever they are, they are only so as
present. Although past things are related as true, they are drawn out from the
memory, -- not the things themselves, which have passed, but the words conceived
from the images of the things which they have formed in the mind as footprints
in their passage through the senses. My childhood, indeed, which no longer is,
is in time past, which now is not; but when I call to mind its image, and speak
of it, I behold it in the present, because it is as yet in my memory. Whether
there be a like cause of foretelling future things, that of things which as yet
are not the images may be perceived as already existing, I confess, my God, I
know not. This certainly I know, that we generally think before on our future
actions, and that this premeditation is present; but that the action whereon we
premeditate is not yet, because it is future; which when we shall have entered
upon, and have begun to do that which we were premeditating, then shall that
action be, because then it is not future, but present. (Confessions XI.18.23).

On this view, however, it seems difficult to explain the passage of time.

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