THE ENIGMA OF TIME IN VERSE: PART TWO
Dear Friends, having introduced ‘The Enigma of Time in Verse’ in Part One, along with few selected poetic quotes, I now mention what some of the important Philosophers thought about Time down the past centuries. But while doing so, I have tried my best to simplify some of those early concepts for better understanding and appreciation of my readers. If you like it, kindly re-post the poem. Thanks, – Raj Nandy of New Delhi.
THE ENIGMA OF TIME IN VERSE : PART TWO
I commence by quoting Sonnet 60 of Shakespeare about Time,
Hoping to seek some blessings for this Part Two composition of
“Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,
Crooked elipses ’gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.”
PHILOSOPHY OF TIME
Animals are said to live in a continuous present,
Since they have no temporal distinction of past, future,
or the present.
But our consciousness of time, becomes the most
distinguishing feature of mankind.
Though we are mostly obsessed with objective time, -
As the rotation of our Earth separates day from night.
With the swing of the pendulum and the ticking of clocks,
Which regulates our movements, while we try to beat the clock!
But the ancient theologians and philosophers of India and
Who were among the first to ponder about the true nature
of all things,
Had wondered about the subjective nature of time;
Was time linear or cyclic, was time endless or finite?
GREEK PHILOSOPHERS ON TIME:
I begin with Heraclitus, the Pre-Socratic philosopher of 6th Century BC born in Ephesus.
He claimed that everything around us, is in a constant state of change and flux.
You cannot step into the same river twice Heraclitus had claimed,
Since water keeps flowing down the river all the while and never
remains the same.
This flow and change in Nature is a process which is ceaseless.
The only thing which remains permanent is impermanence!
Here is a quote from poet Shelley reflecting the same idea:
“World on world are rolling ever
From creation to decay
Like the bubbles on a river
Sparkling, bursting, borne away.”
Now Heraclitus was refuted by Parmenides, born in the Greek colony of Elea,
On the western coast of Southern Italy, as his contemporary.
Parmenides said that our senses deceive us, since all changes are mere illusory!
True reality was only eternal and unchanging ‘Being’, which was both indivisible and continuous - filling up all space.
Zeno, a pupil of Parmenides, through his famous ‘Paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise’ had shown, that when the tortoise was given a head start,
Swift footed Achilles could never catch up with the tortoise,
Since the space between the two were infinitely divisible, resulting in the impossibility of movement and change in motion!
Now the Greeks were never comfortable with the Concept of Infinity.
They preferred to view the universe as continuous existing ‘Being’.
However, unlike Heraclitus’ ‘world of change and flux’,
Both Parmenides and Zeno have presented us, with a static unchanging universe!
Thus from the above examples it becomes easy for us to derive,
How those Ancient Greeks had viewed Time.
Time has been viewed as a forward moving changing entity;
And also as an illusory, continuous and indivisible Being!
To clarify this further I quote Bertrand Russell from his ‘History of Western Philosophy’;
“Creation out of nothing, which was taught in the Old Testament, was an idea wholly foreign to Greek philosophy. When Plato speaks of creation, he imagines a primitive matter, to which *** gives form as an artificer.”
PLATO AND ARISTOTLE ON TIME:
For Plato, time was created by the Creator at the same instance when he had fashioned the heavens.
But Plato was more interested to contemplate on things which lay
beyond the sway of time and remained unchangeable and eternal;
Like absolute Truth, absolute Justice, the absolute form of Good and Beauty;
Which were eternal and unchangeable like the ‘Platonic Forms’, and were beyond the realm of Time as true reality.
Plato’s pupil Aristotle was the first Greek philosophers to contemplate on reality inside time, and provide a proper definition as we get to see.
He said, “Time is the number of movement in respect to before and after” - as a part of reality.
To measure time numerically, we must have a ‘before’ and an ‘after’, and also notice the difference objectively.
Therefore, time here becomes the change which we see and experience.
Time takes on a linear motion moving from the past to the present;
And to the unknown future like a moving arrow travelling straight.
Aristotle had developed a four step process to understand everything inside of Time and within human experience:
(a) Observe the world using our senses,
(b) Apply logical rules to these observations,
(c) To go back and consult past authorities, if your logic agrees with their logic,
(d) Then only you can come to a logical conclusion.
No wonder in our modern times, experiments conducted by the LDC or the Large Hadron Collider, located 100m underground near the French-Swiss border,
By going back in time simulates the ‘Big Bang’ conditions, that moment of our universe’s first creation.
The scientists thereby, study the evolution of our universe with time, which resulted in the finding of the Higgs Boson ! (On 4thJuly 2012)
NOTES : All elementary particles interacting with the Higg's Field & obtain Mass, excepting for photons & gluons which do not interact with this field. Mass-less photons can travel at the
speed of light with a mind boggling 186,000 miles per second! Now this LDC is a Particle Accelerator 27 kms long ring-shaped tunnel, made mostly of superconducting magnets, inside which two high-energy particle beams are made to travel close to the speed of light in opposite directions, and the shower of particles resulting from the collision is closely examined, presuming that these similar shower of particles must have been produced at the time of the ‘Big Bang’ some 13.8 million years ago, at the time of Creation! Sound like fiction? Well, Prof. Peter Higgs got the Noble Prize for Physics, for locating the particle called ‘Higgs Boson’ among those shower of particles, on 10th Dec. 2013.
NOW TO LIGHTEN UP MY READERS MIND, FEW TIME QUOTE I NOW PROVIDE :
“TIME WASTES OUR BODIES AND OUR WITS,
BUT WE WASTE TIME, SO WE ARE QUITS!” – Anonymus.
‘Time is a great Teacher, but unfortunately it kills its Pupils!’ – HL Berlioz
“Lost , yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two
Each set with sixty diamond minutes.
No reward is offered, for they are gone forever!” – Horace Mann
PLOTINUS & ST. AUGUSTINE ON TIME:
Now getting back to our Philosophy of Time, there was Plotinus of the 3rd Century AD,
The founder of the mystical Neo-Platonic School of Philosophy.
He had followed Plato’s basic concept of Time as “the moving image of eternity.”
Mystic Plotinus tried to synthesize both Aristotle and Plato by saying that the entire process of cosmic creation,
Flows out of the ONE through a series of emanation!
This ONE gave rise to the ‘Divine Mind’ which he called the ‘Realm of Intelligence’ and is an aspect of reality,
When everything is understood in terms of Platonic Forms of Truth, Justice, the Good, and Beauty.
However, the later Christian theologians had interpreted this ONE of Plotinus, -
As the Christian ***, the Divine Creator of the Universe.
For *** is eternal, in the sense of being timeless, in *** there is no before or after, but only a timeless present.
Now this lead St. Augustine, to formulate a very admirable relativistic theory of Time!
St. Augustine, the greatest constructive teacher of the Early Christian Church, had written in Book XI of his ‘Confessions’ during 5th century AD, -
His thoughts about the enigma of Time which had perplexed the Greek philosophers of earlier centuries.
To simplify St. Augustine’s thoughts, I now paraphrase for the sake of clarity.
Time can only be measured while it is passing, yet there is time past, and time future in reality.
To avoid these contradictions he says that past and future can only be thought of as present: ‘past’ must be identified with memory, and ‘future’ with expectation.
Since memory and expectation being both present facts, there is no contradiction.
“The present of things past is memory, the present of things present is sight; and the present of things future is expectation,” - wrote St. Augustine.
This subjective notion of time led St. Augustine to anticipate Rene Descartes the French philosopher the 17th Century,
Who proclaimed “Cogito, ergo sum” in Latin, meaning “I think, therefore I am”, and is regarded as the Father of Modern Philosophy.
Now cutting a long story short I come to Sir Isaac Newton, well known for his Laws of Motion and Gravity.
Newton speaks of ‘Absolute Time’ which exists independently, flowing at a consistent pace throughout the universe, which can only be understood mathematically.
Newton’s ‘Absolute Time’ had remained as the dominant concept till the early years of the 20th Century.
When Albert Einstein formulated ‘Theory of Space-time’ along with his Special and General Theory of Relativity.
Now the German philosopher Leibniz during 17th century, had challenged Newton with his anti-realist theory of time.
Leibniz claimed that time was only a convenient intellectual concept, that enables to sequence and compare happening of events.
There must be objects with which time can interact or relate to as ‘Relational Time’ he had felt.
Ernst Mach, like Leibniz towards the end of 19th Century, said that even if it was not obvious what time and space was relative to,
Then they were still relative to the ‘fixed stars’ i.e. the bulk of matter in the universe.
CONCEPT OF TIME AS 'SPECIOUS PRESENT' :
During late 19th century, Robert Kelley introduced the concept of ‘spacious present’, which was the most recent part of the past.
Psychologist and philosopher William James developed this idea further by describing it as ‘’the short duration of which we are immediately and incessantly sensible’’
William James also introduced the term “stream of consciousness” into literature as a method of narration,
That described happenings in the flow of thought in the mind of the characters, - likened to an internal monologue!
This literary technique was later used by James Joyce in his famous novel ‘Ulysses’.
TIME CONCEIVED AS DURATION: HENRI BERGSON (1859 -1941)
Next I come to one of my favourite philosopher the French born Henri Bergson.
The Nobel Laureate and author of ‘Time and Free Will’ and ‘Creative Evolution’.
Will Durant in his ‘Story of Philosophy’ says Bergson was ‘the David destined to slay the Goliath of materialism.’
It was Bergson’s ‘Elan Vital’ that life force and impelling urge, Which makes us grow and transforms this wandering planet into a theatre of unending creation.
For Bergson, time is as fundamental as space; and it is time that holds the essence of life, and perhaps of all reality.
Time is an accumulation, a growth, a duration, where “duration is the continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future and which swells as it advances.
The past in its entirety is prolonged into the present and abides there actual and acting.
Duration means that the past endures, that nothing is lost.
Though we think with only a small part of our past; but it is with our entire past that we desire, will, and act.”
“Since time is an accumulation, the future can never be the same as the past, -
For a new accumulation arises at every step, and change is far more radical than we suppose…the geometric predictability of all things, Which is the goal of a mechanistic science, is only a delusion and a dream!”
Bergson goes on in his compelling lyrical style:
“For a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature,
to mature is to go on creating one’s self endlessly. Perhaps all reality is time and duration, becoming and change.”
Bergson differed with Darwin's theory of adaptation to environment, and stated;
“Man is no passively adaptive machine, he is a focus of redirected force, a centre of creative evolution.”
Martin Heidegger, the German thinker in his ‘Being and Time’ of 1927, had said:
“We do not exist within time, but in a very real way we are time!”
Time is inseparable from human experience, since we can allow the past to exist in the present through memory;
And even allow a potential future occurrence to exist in the present due to our human ability to care, and be concerned about things.
Therefore we are not stuck in simple sequential or linear time, but can step out of it almost at will!
CONCLUDING PART TWO OF ENIGMA OF TIME IN VERSE
In this part I have tried to convey what the Ancient Greek Philosophers had felt about Time in a simplified way.
Also some thoughts of Medieval and Early Modern philosophers and what they had to say.
Where Sir Isaac Newton stands like a colossus with his Concept of Time, Laws of Motion, and Gravity.
Not forgetting Henri Bergson, one of my favourite philosopher, of the mid-19th and the mid-20th Century.
All through my narration I had tried to hold the interest of my readers, and also educated myself as a true knowledge seeker.
In my concluding Part Three I will cover few Modern Philosophers along with the relativistic concept of time.
Certainly not forgetting the space-time theory of our famous Albert Einstein!
Thanks for reading patiently, from Raj Nandy of New Delhi.
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